Before we can dive straight into our hands-on with the first big expansion of Arenanet’s generous MMO masterpiece, we have to sit through a brief story overview at the behest of the writers. Not that we need it – we’ve been hooked to the bi-weekly episodic story content gifted out to players since Guild Wars 2's initial release. Regardless, we appreciate the necessity. It shows how seriously these folk regard the hundreds of hours we plough into their world.
Said land of Tyria is beset by another Elder Dragon, this time backed up by an army of Sylvari minions. For those clued in as to the significance of that statement, we’ll give you a paragraph to pick your jaws up off the floor. For those wondering what the chuff any of this is about, we’ll attempt to summarise two years of twisty-turny storyline thusly. The Sylvari, a species of plant people and one of the most prominent player races, it turns out were created to be minions of the evil Elder Dragon Mordremoth. What follows is basically Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, but with leafy folk in place of Winona Ryder. Yeah.
The vast new area, set in the jungles of Maguuma, feels like an extension of what Arenanet has started to do with The Silverwastes map in the most recent batch of Living World content. Basically, it’s delicious chaos. From the outset players can snipe from a protruding vantage point over a constantly recycling battlefield, or they can bound down to get stuck in face first. We joined the latter group, navigating fiery wreckages while taking out giant minion-spewing plant protrusions, and tactfully gathering up undetonated explosives then placing them at enemy weak spots. There’s a sense that you could come into these new dynamic events, which feed into each other across the map, and see fresh content or combat scenarios every time you do so. Put that in your MMO clogs and dance, Mr Destiny-lover.
There’s also a whole new player vs player mode and a new map to go with it. Stronghold involves two teams of five facing off across a multiple-laned arena. The aim of the game is to take out your opponent’s Lord, while utilising your own group’s assortment of minions. It feels like someone’s injected the essence of League Of Legends into the Guild Wars 2 mould, though we found that battles were much more fast-paced, ending in under 20 minutes rather than an hour. A little balancing and this could become a rival to the established, and brilliantly unique, World vs World mode.
Speaking of which, there’s a new Borderland to come, though we had nary a whiff during our session. One thing we did get to tinker with was the new Revenant profession. This is both a nod back to Guild Wars of old and an enticingly new MMO proposition. Rather than switching up weapons mid-fight, like most other classes, the heavily-armoured Revenant can switch between stances, imbued with the power of ancient legends from Guild Wars lore. Dwarf A-lister King Jalis Ironhammer lets your Revenant take on a highly defensive role, for example, while the Demon Mallyx decks your utility bar with condition manipulation skills, dealing out Confusion and the like more easily. With more spirits to be announced this is looking like a sumptuously tough-to-tame yet powerful new class.
On top of all this new stuff you still have the Masteries system, which lets you build your character’s skills, introducing a hang glider, mushroom bouncing (as it sounds) and the like, without simply popping a few numbers onto the level cap and undoing all the hard work put in by players thus far. In fact, this seems to be the primary focus of what we’ve played. Guild Wars 2 has always respected our time – we’ll have to wait for a price to be announced before we see how much it respects our wallets. With so much content being gifted for free, Arenanet has really been spoiling us.