How about that Guild Wars 2 season finale, huh? Although it's not the major event last year's was, it threw a huge chunk of fuel on the ol' rumor bonfires. Despite the buzz surrounding GW2 lately, I know a lot of players expected ArenaNet to underplay the last chapter of season two.
Instead, we got a massive reveal and a surprise look at what ArenaNet plans to show off at PAX South on January 24th, and it's more full of exciting possibilities than I could have predicted. This article will necessarily contain spoilers, more spoilers, and even more spoilers, so make sure you're up to speed before reading further. Or don't, and suffer the consequences (I love saying that).
If I'm not actually bouncing off the walls over this episode, it's because I've had time to process. I spent the first few days yelling speculation back and forth with my fellow players and throwing myself at the new Mordrem Vinewrath world boss, and then I sat down to have a good think on the episode itself. As much as I enjoyed getting back into Hidden Arcana to see Ogden again, and as awesome as it was to psuedo-Ascend with the help of Turai Ossa's ghost, and as beautiful as the golden cave is, the real surprises come at the end of the episode. I was expecting Wynne's secret and Caithe's burden; I was not expecting a teaser trailer for whatever Heart of Thorns turns out to be.
The in-game PAX South message at the end of the teaser didn't sit right with some people, but it wasn't exactly part of the story. It pops up after you've collected your rewards at the end of the chapter, making it more of an Easter egg. It read less like an advertisement to me and more of a direct message for the fans, and while I've been heavily critical of some of ArenaNet's marketing in the past, I think this was a really cool way of doing things. Sure, it could have been put up on the launcher or the website, but that wouldn't have made it an individual surprise for each player (those of us who avoided spoilers, anyway).
When we discussed the episode, a friend of mine wondered why Caithe didn't choose to kill Faolain instead of Wynne, but while making a stand against her would have been the right thing to do, it wouldn't have been realistic for Caithe at that moment. Faolain's hold on Caithe was very strong, and even after the atrocities at the centaur camp, Caithe showed a willingness to believe that Faolain was a much better person than she truly is or ever has been. I suspect Wynne was able to convince her to keep the secret at least in part because Caithe thought she might be able to save the person she loved from falling irrevocably into evil by doing so.
In the present, I also liked that Caithe mentioned the Pale Tree's difficulty in forgiving her for Wynne's death and being unable to forgive Faolain because the Pale Tree is so often portrayed as gentle, patient and wise, grieving for her lost children but harboring them no ill will. For her to have realistically conflicted emotions about them adds a lot to her characterization. The Pale Tree has been portrayed as vulnerable over the course of the season two episodes, both in a physical sense and because the Sylvari's entire cultural identity increasingly appears to rest on a house of cards. Scarlet or no Scarlet, the whole thing might have collapsed at any time if a few more of them had received a Dream like Wynne's.
I wasn't surprised by the reveal for all of the reasons I outlined in this previous article. I've been ninety-nine percent sure of the Sylvari minion theory for so long, and I've spent so much time debating it and going over clues with a fine-toothed comb that I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel vindicated (along with everyone else who saw it coming). I'm cheering for ArenaNet's writing team because the reveal hangs together really well. Nearly every hint that's been peppered through all aspects of the game regarding the nature of the Sylvari builds to this, from the moment a brand-new salad makes her way through the tutorial and is tossed out into the open world and personal story.
What's been most fun for me is seeing fans dig up older content to find bits that are chilling or significant in retrospect, especially since some of those plot points were frequently used as arguments against the minion theory. In particular, the implications of Malyck's chapters in the Sylvari personal story become far more obvious with the knowledge that not only are the Sylvari intended to be Mordrem but that Caithe knows the truth. The Nightmare Court's Knight of Embers received a Dark Hunt to seek out a "harbinger" who would tip the Dream over into Nightmare; Caithe was desperate to prevent Faolain from learning about Malyck and his pod because she knew Faolain would draw the same conclusions and uncover the secret Wynne died to protect.
Some fans are worried about what might become of Sylvari player characters in light of the reveal; some are are upset that even the Sylvari of the Dream now have some inherent potential villainy to deal with. I stand by what I've said previously: This is a good thing for the Sylvari as a race. A fictional character is only as noble or good as the adversity that forces her to demonstrate those qualities, and the greatest characters develop or maintain those qualities under fire. Hard ground makes stronger roots, after all. This was why I was so excited to see Canach in the Heart of Thorns trailer taking a place alongside the living world cast: He didn't have to fall to Nightmare to choose a morally grey path in life, and if his character arc leads him to grow toward the light it's likely to be a natural progression.
The great irony of the Sylvari Mordrem development is that the Grove Sylvari really are the ones who are truly free, while the Nightmare Court has probably been playing directly into the plans of an entity who would happily turn every Courtier into thralls. The Heart of Thorns trailer shows Faolain among the silhouettes of other entangled Sylvari, with her eyes glowing red and a thorned vine growing from her back. I'll be curious to see if all Courtiers accept Mordremoth as their lord and savior without reservation, since now would be the time for them to sprout some ambiguity if it's ever going to happen. Finding out they were intended to be pawns might not sit right with some of them, and we know that the Court can form splinter factions with different goals, such as the Toxic Alliance. Then again, the remaining Court leadership tore itself apart in Faolain's absence, so while I'd like to see a righteously indignant -- if still evil -- Nightmare Court, I might be giving them too much credit.
One thing I don't want to see is the foreshadowed prejudice against Sylvari taken to extremes, or used as an allegory for real-life racism. Everyone on Tyria is a potential dragon minion given the wrong circumstances. Zhaitan's army was fueled by raising the people who fell to it. Of those who attempt to confront Jormag, the men come back as Icebrood, and the women don't come back at all. In the novel Ghosts of Ascalon, Almorra Soulkeeper recalled her warband being transformed into murderous Branded almost instantly as Kralkatorrik flew overhead. While it's not canon, the beta event in which Kralkatorrik attacked the Plains of Ashford revolved around players being transformed into Branded one by one and then hunting down other players to transform them, too. "Local Elder Dragon Causes Issues By Corrupting Citizens" is not news, it's just that this is the first time the Sylvari have been susceptible. And unlike, oh, everyone else, they're vulnerable to only one type of dragon corruption as far as we know. It's a big deal, but people who have seen war against the dragons firsthand should probably know better.
This is not to say that plenty of negative reactions aren't depressingly realistic, but unless ArenaNet decides to portray even those Sylvari living hundreds of miles from Mordremoth's territory as ticking time bombs, it's also realistic for lots of people to stand up for them. If the writers do create a horror scenario in which any Sylvari can turn at any time, it would dehumanize them and give legitimacy to the idea that they're inherently dangerous. This is what would make a message about real racism a poor choice: There is a valid supernatural reason to be worried about Sylvari suddenly transforming into killer drones, and so there's no comparison to be made with real-life bigotry. We even have a heroic character like Rytlock taking a "trust no Sylvari" stance, so right off the bat it's a debate with two sides and players are going to identify with one position or the other. The Sylvari plight needs to stay firmly in the realm of fantasy or else it has the potential to get uncomfortable and upsetting very fast.
We were shown several unexpected details to tease at upcoming content. The going theory is that the floating magical figure in the Heart of Thorns trailer is a Mursaat, more specifically Lazarus the Dire. It's not completely out of left field since the Silverwastes content has heavily foreshadowed the return of the White Mantle, but I'm not fully behind it yet. The floating person has just enough elements of a Mursaat that it could conceivably be an updated design for GW2, but the human mind likes to give weight to connections (I should know), and the figure also looks different enough from a Mursaat that it could be something entirely new. The evidence for Mursaat involvement is pretty strong, though: Floating, using magic, wearing silly pointed hats, and living in a hidden golden city are all things Mursaat are good at.
An even more pointed hint in the teaser is the prominence of spears being used as a land-based weapon. Characters are seen holding them in the standoff with Canach and in the following battle between corrupted Sylvari and what I think are probably Pact forces; in the latter they're omnipresent in the background of the scene. Faolain wields one as well, using it to slay another Sylvari and hoist his body in the air. It would be exciting to see underwater weapons given new life, especially since two of them are Legendaries, and in my opinion spears have some of the coolest skins in the game.
We see another character with what looks like a spear and shield when the Pact launches its attack on Mordremoth, albeit very briefly. As the huge airship takes a nosedive into the jungle, a figure is shown in silhouette, watching it. This is the only character in the cutscene who is completely static: Everyone else is fighting for their lives or being thrown from the ships by vines or impact. It would be hard for him or her to be standing on the bridge of an airship because there is no other airship on that side. The closest one is below it, and from the way the shadow of the big ship falls it seems to be on the opposite side of the prow. It's conceivable that the figure could be on the smaller ship, on top of the blimp or the fins, but he or she could also be on a bridge of some kind in the treetops that the prow of the ship would have passed by.
I'm not going to follow in the footsteps of that guy who analyzed The Shining shot by shot, but everything I know about visual storytelling tells me that this is either a bit of foreshadowing or a really bizarre choice of elements to include. It adds nothing to the scene as it's happening: Just a random person, pretty chill compared to everyone else on the airships falling and dying, carrying a weapon set we don't currently have access to. Ho hum.
What are you most excited for in the coming days? Do you think Heart of Thorns will be announced as an expansion or as something else entirely? Do you feel the Mordrem Vinewrath stacks up against Scarlet's marionette from season one? How messed up is it that some random person gets to float and we can't? Speculate away 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.