Flameseeker Chronicles: Who wants to go kill some afflicted?

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Flameseeker Chronicles: Who wants to go kill some afflicted?
These winds, they are a changin'.

Sorry, sorry. I couldn't resist. Anyway, the first round of Winds of Change content dropped Thursday night, so the Guild Wars community is abuzz with talk of the new content, costumes, and enemies in Cantha.

Several members of our guild were sitting around playing the "What do you wanna do? Eh, I dunno, what do you wanna do?" game when Winds of Change arrived, so we were all pretty much free. Six of us bolted for Kaineng Center, partied up, jumped on vent, and took off.

We were in for a bit of a surprise. You see, most of us have been playing for a very long time and are pretty comfortable with normal-mode content. We threw in a couple of hero monks, loaded up some standard builds, and off we went. We were treating it like a casual exploration thing, heading out to see what was out there.

Whoops. The Live Team has been working overtime, I see. We slunk back to town to lick our wounds and tried again, this time with more (relative) success. So how was it? Follow along after the jump and let's take a look!
The bad

Let's just start with what I didn't like and get that out of the way. This got tedious, as much as I hate to say it. A big part of what thrilled me about the War in Kryta was the intrigue, the planning, and the weaving together of many familiar storylines. I know running back and forth over and over to get all the Shining Blade Camp dialogues to spawn got boring by the time you did it on your fourth character or so, but that's to be expected. When you did it the very first time, participating in events as they unfolded was so exciting.

Watching the Winds of Change content unfold did not excite me. It got predictable and repetitive about five feet out of the gate: Talk to Zei Ri, go to the specified area, kill afflicted. Talk to Zei Ri, go to another specified area, kill afflicted. Rinse, repeat.

After a while, even the promise of a slight variation failed to excite some of our party members. From a story point, I definitely understand why it's like this: The plague is over and we need to get in there and deal with the last of the victims throughout Cantha. The process is part of a much larger, overarching storyline and it absolutely makes sense. It's like this enormous event that spans all of Cantha is creaking into motion, and I almost hate to complain because I can't really offer a better solution off the top of my head. I just wish it would creak with a little more variety, I suppose.

To be fair too, we only made it through seven of the quests. By the time we made it that far it was getting extremely late, the Europeans in the group had dropped out due to the hour, and the Americans were yawning a lot. By the time you read this I'll likely have finished the rest of the content, so I have hopes that it will get better.

The good

Fear not, it's not all complaining, I promise! The framework of the content aside, there was a lot to love here. I mentioned at the beginning that we went in expecting a normal-mode jaunt with no problems and very quickly found ourselves yelling in panic as our health bars zoomed downward. This is a good thing. This content challenged us in a big way, and like any veteran Guild Wars players, we needed that. It's not that we're so fabulous and 1337, just that we've had time to do most of the content multiple times, and even a hard mode Fissure of Woe clear is a way to kick back and relax.

In short, we're a little complacent and this kicked our butts. This made me happy in the same way the Underworld overhaul made me happy: it was ramped up enough to become a true challenge to veteran players. The afflicted aren't just mindless blobs with faces in weird places anymore -- they move strategically, overwhelm you with sheer numbers, and best of all, they use some of the current player meta builds against you. When I realized that the Afflicted Ritualist was using a Signet of Spirits build, I laughed out loud and said to my teammates, "Well, I guess we deserved that." The Necromancers use Discord or Aura of the Lich builds, the smite Monks hit with Ray of Judgement, and so on. All those skills and builds that we've learned to love are now being used to kill us really quickly. Oh, did I mention that everything explodes? Even killing the darn things is painful. I kind of love that I can't just load up a standard build, slump back in my chair, and kill things using muscle memory while chatting with my guild about what everyone had for dinner or who got some cool new armor.

Like I said earlier, this is pretty exciting from a story point of view too. I might have to go through the boring process of cleaning up the last of the afflicted, sure. But you guys, stuff is going to grow in the Echovald Forest! The Jade Sea is going to start turning into water! And we're helping to make it happen! I may have preferred the intrigue and secrecy of the War in Kryta setup, but it was pretty much confined to Kryta. Winds of Change is going to span an entire continent -- it feels so much bigger, and we're going to make some amazing changes.

Because of that, I can forgive the slow start. The bigger something is, the longer it takes to gain serious momentum, so I have high hopes. Bring it on, Cantha.
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