The latest Guild Wars 2 living world release, Echoes of the Past, seems to be a big hit. It's nice to see fans so unreservedly happy with an update since the past few months have been a little rocky for GW2, but ArenaNet has hit it out of the park this time.
If you haven't gotten a chance to play it yet, I strongly recommend checking it out before reading further, if possible. There are spoilers below the cut, and hardly anybody likes spoilers. Except me: the guy who flips to the end of the book sometimes. I'm a monster.
Silverwasting away again in Mordremitaville
It's been a long time since we've gotten an armor set that can be earned through gameplay, but GW2 has been doing very well on in-game rewards in the past few releases. Dry Top added Ambrite weapons, while Halloween brought a slew of new whatsits and a steady stream of candy to buy them with. Although we only have access to the shoulders for now, more pieces of the new Carapace and Luminescent armor sets will be made available in future living world chapters. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that the female version of the armor is more revealing, and the male version is considerably less interesting without the flowers and butterflies, but that's pretty much par for the course where GW2's armor design is concerned.
Gameplay in the new zone, the Silverwastes, is fun with a strong and organized group of players and is reminiscent of both World vs. World and previous open world bosses. My primary concern is that, like Southsun, the Silverwastes might eventually be abandoned as frustrating for small groups and pointless for solo play. It's not a large zone by any means, but like WvW it lacks travel options and the events are primarily group-oriented. This is a tough balance to hit: Players are going to swarm new zones and overwhelm any content that isn't very dangerous, but as time goes on and new content is released, people will be drawn away.
Silverwastes does have a distinct advantage over Southsun in its reward structure, which will probably ensure that it maintains popularity for quite a while. The potential issue with the "WvW in PvE" design is that WvW is self-supporting; it keeps rolling because it's the only source of large-scale PvP in GW2. Even dedicated WvW players are somewhat disenchanted with the lack of changes to the format, so it may wear out its welcome more quickly in PvE where there are no other players to fight and many other ways to get a monster-slayin' fix.
I think one way in which ArenaNet could simulate the impact of temporary content without actually removing new stuff from the game is by retuning zones for fewer players as they age. I'd still love to see a greater variety of normal dynamic events added to existing areas, but barring that it'd be nice to have places like Southsun -- and eventually Silverwastes and Dry Top if they go the same way -- made challenging for latecomers without being quite as group dependent mechanically. Even with megaservers, finding a group of players to help with events can be spotty. Ideally it'd be great to see newer zones designed to support real improvements in the story situation over time, with Mordrem clearing out to make way for different events and enemies as we drive them back, but I don't think it's likely to happen any time soon.
Then again, if recent fan observations are anything to go by, the Silverwastes may already be changing -- and the potential for that is really exciting.
I'm actually not going to go far into the lore implications of this episode (the record-scratching sound you just heard is courtesy of Massively's special effects department). This chapter has an inventory's worth of loose ends being wrapped up, from nods to popular fan theories to straight confirmation of things that have been speculated on for months, as well as directly references to a group of villains players have been hoping to see again for some time. Granted, it's so we can kick them in the face again, but hey! It's for old time's sake.
Guild Wars 2's story has been very coy in the past, dropping hints as if they were going out of style but being stingier on the follow up. The reveal that Scarlet had awoken Mordremoth was a huge payoff, but it took all of season one to get to that point. I think it's important to note that it wasn't teasing that made it frustrating or a refusal to simply hand us the answers; the first releases in the living world model tended to provide too much information on the release site and in patch notes, and that wasn't satisfying either. Speculation is great fun and fuels the community surrounding a story, but it thrives on the connections that can be drawn between different elements. When those connections repeatedly fail to pan out -- or worse, the audience begins to suspect that the hooks they're so interested in have been forgotten or dismissed -- it loses its lustre.
Where this episode went right is not only in confirming some of those connections but in addressing a few that had been cluttering up the table. The presence of Zhaitan's tail in the Durmand Priory library makes it much less likely that ArenaNet is planning on having the dragon rise back up out of its watery grave any time soon, and references to a few other popular theories are dropped in among the library's volumes.
The hints we do get of a new (or rather old) threat are well-hidden enough to make excellent clues but not so vague that they could be interpreted as coincidence. If you're the type to search every nook and cranny, question NPCs until they get tired of you, and zoom in on details in the environment, there's a skritt's load of things to find. Most of those things are appropriately ominous even if you've never played the original Guild Wars and have no context for the various references to the previous game.
My second favorite part of the update was finding out that the Durmand Priory has the Order of Whispers smoked when it comes to cool secret bases (call me when yours is full of books and opens with a full-room gear mechanism, guys). My absolute favorite thing about the update is Glint's lair. Not only is it stunningly beautiful in art, music, and atmosphere, but the gameplay is a great deal of fun and features interesting mechanics that have held up to three playthroughs on my part at the time of this writing. Considering how short my attention span tends to be regarding linear, combat-heavy content, I'm happy about that.
The instance follows a similar pattern to the fights in The Dragon's Reach: It begins by introducing you to the least complicated mechanic, then another, and then puts them together to be dealt with all at once. Having that pacing happen throughout a full instance instead of being confined to a single fight is even better, and it feels as though the mechanics are allowed to be more complex because of it.
Colored light attunement was a mechanic seen in the final boss fight against Scarlet, and it's fairly straightforward here: Kill a small enemy, get a colored light buff, run to the appropriate beacon, and you're able to hurt the boss. The second mechanic, Fragility, requires you to pick up bubbles, which you then transfer to vortex crystals in order to shatter them and do massive damage to the boss. Fragility is my favorite of the two simply because it's more dangerous and requires more situational awareness -- you're fragile while holding the bubble, and the final boss in particular requires you to navigate a minefield of effects to find crystals. If you get hit while fragile, it's an automatic down state.
I was not too quick on the uptake the first time I encountered the mechanic, but fortunately I was with a skilled friend who saved my proverbial bacon. That same friend also followed me around the Durmand Priory library while I read every single one of the books and made indecipherable comments in party chat out of sheer excitement, so I definitely owe her a pizza or something.
Echoes of the Past is the first release that the new Narrative Director, Leah Hoyer, worked on, and she's asked players to provide feedback on the forums. For my own part, I feel more and more strongly that season two picked up and has continued where I wish season one had, and going where I kept hoping it would go. There were some things in season one that I deeply enjoyed, but up until the end I felt as though I was waiting to get back to the plot.
It's not just that I'm being won over by GW1 references as a veteran player, either. Little callbacks like the ones found in the Priory's special collections are great and help add to the worldbuilding, but I wouldn't be excited for the return of the White Mantle or the implications of the Map of the All resembling Abaddon's Realm of Torment if I didn't think they would be plot-relevant and not simply nostalgia bombs.
The story we're uncovering now is not just the story of Tyria in the present but the story of Tyria as a whole. Many of the mysteries introduced in GW1 were never quite addressed, and it makes sense that after 250 years our characters would have the perspective, education, technology, and power to more fully comprehend them and to deal with them. Even when we're returning to the same places -- like Glint's lair -- we're doing so with a different purpose and an expanded view of the world.
How are you enjoying the update? Have you gotten any of the new armor yet? What do you think will come next for the living world? Between you and me, I won't be surprised if those cool Pact weapons show up in Black Lion chests. Talk about it in the comments, and I'll see you in the Mists!
Anatoli Ingram suffers from severe altitis, Necromancitosis, and Guild Wars 2 addiction. The only known treatment is writing Massively's biweekly Flameseeker Chronicles column, which is published every other Tuesday. His conditions are contagious, so contact him safely at email@example.com. Equip cleansing skills -- just in case.