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A (spoiler-free) jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores

Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores update is just around the corner -- that is, if you can consider nighttime to be a corner. What I'm trying to say is that Lost Shores goes live tomorrow. We brought you a content primer a couple of days ago to give you the basics of what's going on. Now it's time to take a closer look at what's to come.

Skip on below the cut for a spoiler-free look at the Lost Shores content. I mean, reasonably spoiler-free. I'm going to tell you that the karka are involved and that there's a dungeon where you fight things. We can't really have much of a conversation elsewise, but what I'm not going to do is give away any big finales or gotcha moments. Now that we understand each other, let's get going.

Gallery: Lost Shores hands-on | 35 Photos

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
Getting started

Things are going to kick off for real on Friday at 3:00 p.m. EST. You'll want to be in Lion's Arch if you want to get in on the action. If you haven't looked around lately, there are some new (as of the beginning of this month) structures, posters, and NPCs roundabout the Claw Island Portage waypoint just West of Fort Marriner. That'll be a happenin' spot on Friday because it's where the karka invasion will begin. Players (of all levels) will have to rally to the defense of Lion's Arch and beat off the karka en masse. In addition to fighting off the beasties, you'll need to start helping Research Assistant Bardus by bringing him karka bits that you've hacked off the young'uns.

Once the karka have been beaten back, research begins in earnest. Over the next day or so, you'll be flitting about Tyria to aid Head Researcher Levvi and Inspector Ellen Kiel as they gather information about this threat from the deeps. The tricky thing about karka, you see, is that they've got a nearly impenetrable outer shell that matures as they age. While stomping out some of the hatchlings and young karka isn't a serious problem for a mighty explorer such as yourself, the big ones are going to require something special -- and it's up to you to figure out what!

Armed with the knowledge of how to defeat these crustacean horrors, you'll find it's time to take the fight to the karka! That means heading to the white shores and shimmering pools of Southsun Cove.

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
A tropical paradise

Southsun Cove is a new sort of environment for the world of Guild Wars 2. What makes it so special isn't its tropical flair, stunning scenery, or new wildlife; it's the fact that, unlike pretty much every area in Guild Wars 2 to date, Southsun hasn't been explored or settled. Upon first landing, players will have events to clear the beachhead, set up camps, and push onward into the island. You won't be able to just discover waypoints; you'll have to escort NPCs around to set them up. You'll see changes to the landscape as you press inland: The Consortium and Lionguard will be clearing trees to make way for forts and roads, paths will appear, and bridges will be constructed. ArenaNet's trying to give players a sense of trailblazing.

Like Orr, Southsun Cove will not have renown hearts for players to complete. After the island is settled and the weekend is over, some of the original events will cycle out, since it wouldn't make sense to have to reclaim the beachhead every time you want to get to a now-settled island.

Southsun is glorious, despite the rather hostile wildlife. Curtains of steam, lines of geysers, gigantic flora, and pale blue pools make the area well-worth the trouble of hacking your way through baddies.

Of course, there's more to explore than just an island.

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
The Fractals of the Mists

The Fractals of the Mists "infinite dungeon" will be introduced over the course of the weekend. This dungeon is accessed from Lion's Arch near the Claw Island Portage waypoint. You'll find an Asura gate chilling back by the Consortium encampment, and that gate will take you and your party into a sort of nexus called Mistlock Observatory. From there you can repair armor, sell stuff, buy fancy stuff (which we'll get into in just a bit), or talk to Researcher Dessa and her Krewe about what you're doing and why you're doing it. Dessa, a particularly brilliant Asura, has found a way to lock down parts of the Mists and make them real and accessible locations. Unfortunately, those locations are now swarming with a "motley menagerie of everything cruel and lethal" -- and it's up to you to sort them out, hero.

From Mistlock Observatory you'll be able to go into the fractals themselves. You'll be sent into three random fractals and returned to the Observatory after you've successfully defeated the foes in all three. Each time you beat three fractals, your difficulty scale will increase by one. If you're going in at a later time, you will be prompted to enter at the highest common difficulty. (So if you have unlocked level five but someone else in your group has only level two difficulty, you'll be unable to enter at anything above level two.) However, you always have the option of selecting a lower difficulty.

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
Beating the final encounter of each fractal will earn you a chest as well as boss loot. Chests award players a handful of items and a number of fractal relics. For level one difficulty runs, that number was five, but I don't know whether that increases with difficulty. Fractal relics can be exchanged at one of the Observatory vendors for a variety of items like a Gift of Ascension, a 20-slot fractal exotic/rare/uncommon equipment box, a consumable that grants you a skill point, obsidian shards, and Infusions. For 75 relics you can buy a Simple Infusion that grants you +5 resistance to Agony in a defensive Infusion slot, or you can go big and spend 225 for a Versatile Infusion that also offers +5 Agony resistance and can go in any sort of Infusion slot.

Each fractal presents a different environment with different goals and scenarios. Fans of Cantha will be thrilled to run through a recreation of the Jade Sea. Staunch Human supporters will be disgusted to find themselves taking on Charr form. Charr will be even more disgusted to find out that they'll be playing as Flame Legion. Disaffected ex-puzzle jumpers will be filled with despair when they find themselves running into mini jumping puzzles. All players will be taken aback when they see what I'm pretty sure was Doctor Manhattan chained to a gigantic mountainside temple. The word "temple" at the end of that sentence makes this a perfect time to segue from the dungeon into the new sPvP map!

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
The Temple of the Silent Storm

The Temple of the Silent Storm map is, like those that have come before it, based around three capture points. The capture system is augmented by the map's unique secondary mechanics, meditations. At different points around the map, players are able to meditate to charge a special boon for their team. Meditating on ferocity will earn everyone on your team an extra three points per kill for a short while. Meditating on stillness will grant your entire team double points for both kills and captures for a short while. Finally, the meditation on tranquility, which spawns every six minutes in contrast to the much shorter respawn rate of the other two meditations, captures all three control points for your team.

The tranquility meditation might sound to those of you prone to woemongering like an insta-win button, but calm down. While acquiring that buff surely isn't going to hurt your chances of success, it isn't going to be a tide-turner all on its own. If your team isn't in a position to hold any or all of the points you've just magically capped, you're not going to make up for a huge point difference. It can make a meaningful difference in the way a match plays out, but it's not going to make up for sucking badly.

The map is riddled with staircases, slopes, and elevation differences. There are multiple ways to get to most points, plenty of chances to avoid foes, and just oodles of opportunities to stomp your enemies off a ledge. It's really quite a joy.

Sunny Southsun Cove A spoilerfree jaunt through Guild Wars 2's Lost Shores
But wait, there's more!

Southsun comes with all the normal bits and bobs of an explorable map like jumping puzzle funtimes, level 80 harvesting nodes, karma vendors, and all that good stuff. Moreover, new crafting materials are being introduced. Karka will occasionally drop karka shells, which can be used in a number of crafting professions. All over Southsun Cove you'll find a new node called the Passiflora, which can be used to acquire two types of crafting materials.

There are, of course, other items coming into the game with this patch. There's been no shortage of talk about the new Ascended item tier, and ArenaNet has made efforts to clarify what that whole deal is about. Unfortunately, acquiring kickass new reward items was not a part of my preview experience in the Lost Shores.

Don't forget that the multi-hour, chaining, one-off, finale event starts Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EST. Get ready to kick some crustacean hiney!

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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