Last week, ArenaNet opened the doors of its Bellevue, Washington office to let journalists spend some time with its latest experiment in World vs World problem-solving—a new map called Edge of the Mists. Created as a sort of oversized petrie dish in which to cultivate new ideas, Edge of the Mists has three distinctly different areas players will compete to control. And though currently a bit more geographically treacherous than it's probably meant to be, the map offers an interesting alternative to existing WvW maps and beats the heck out of spending your game time waiting in a long Eternal Battlegrounds or Borderlands queue.
Our session began with four journalists and four ArenaNet developers joining groups of guild members currently testing the map. Scattered among servers, the three teams spawned in different starting areas: jungle, desert or arctic zones, each of which was located on a different floating island. My team started in the jungle near a hovering airship. A helpful Sky Captain was stationed near the spawn point, ready to offer useful gameplay information, and assorted vendors and a skill trainer also hung near the ship ready to offer their services. Eager for battle, I dashed after one of the ArenaNet devs and died almost immediately by falling off a ledge. This, much to my chagrin, was to become a frequent occurrence.
Edge of the Mists consists of a series of variously-sized islands strung together by thin rope bridges and chock-full of deadly drop-offs, fissures and chasms. I swear, I died at least as many times from taking an unexpected header off a cliff as at the hands of an enemy. (Some players ignored the bridges entirely and took daring leaps across the gaps. Crazy bastards.) Though the floating island concept is dangerous, ArenaNet figures it's the ticket to a new kind of World vs World gameplay.
Designer Devon Carver had this to say about it:
“Gameplay variety in Edge of the Mists is much, much higher than the current maps—EB and Borderlands. We said (with Edge of the Mists) that we can sit down and design this more like it's a real place. The floating islands idea came from both the art and design sides. It gave us more leeway to do things with the art style. When there's a visual break like a bridge, there can be a desert island and an ice island right next to each other and it's not so visually jarring. Gameplay-wise, there's a lot about positioning and being strategic. There's something satisfying about knocking someone off and there's something fun about being knocked off as long as it's not happening too often.”
The effectiveness of the map's ability to affect positioning remains to be seen, but what was clear at the event was that the map's ideal for players (like me) who don't enjoy the pressure of smaller PvP teams or having bossy commanders barking orders at them. Sure, there are players who think they're in charge, but there's no real need to do as they say since the map and the teams are so large, and the battle's time frame is so extensive. During our roughly ninety minute session, it was easy to alternate between running around achieving stealthier goals on my own, or glomming onto larger groups whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Since winning World vs World depends on fortifying your own structures and constructing siege weapons to take down your opponents', supplies are critical and in the recent past, too hard to get. ArenaNet's made supply retrieval easier in Edge of the Mists by placing supply depots within resource camps, and has also worked to make objectives within the map more PvE-like. They've done this by creating more story context for each area of the map in order to make it feel like a living, breathing part of the game's larger world. As Carver puts it:
“That's the hope with this map – that it'll be a bit of a bridge to World vs World for players who haven't tried it or did and got intimidated. We let the context create some of the design. You run through the Kodan area area and go, 'OK the Kodan, they're in the snow, they have this spirituality stuff going on.' We want stories like that to anchor you in that place.”
Related to this, each area of Edge of the Mists has its own native inhabitants who have built their own altars, temples and statuary to support their unique belief systems. This not only makes the map's objectives more interesting, it adds a fictional layer to the battle that effectively ties it into events outside of it. This makes sense since ArenaNet's larger goal is to remove all separation between existing game modes in the interest of fully integrating World vs World with the rest of Guild Wars 2. They mentioned that this is high on their priority list, because it's important that players participating in one aspect of the game not feel excluded from the rest of it.
From my time spent with it, Edge of the Mists is an interesting map, thanks to its precarious layout, alternation between interior/exterior spaces and extreme meterological changes. Not only do the many ledges add a layer of tension with skirmishes that take place near them, they make it even more dangerous to make a panicked retreat. And yes, I speak from experience. My most memorable Edge of the Mists moment came when I set out to scout an enemy keep. I was nearly to the walls and feeling pretty smug when a huge group of enemies came pounding at me over the rise. Running away, my little Asura necro looked like a shrimpy Indiana Jones pursued by a horde of angry natives.
Edge of the Mists is surprisingly full of areas with limited visibility that are perfect to ambush and trap enemies (or as happened in our session, the bridges provide amazing opportunities for sending enemies plunging into the abyss). It's also a very pretty map full of moss-covered stone ruins, red dirt cliffs and glacial vistas, all of which provide great backdrops for dramatic triumphs and crushing defeats. Traversing its uneven surfaces takes skill and care, (the whole thing's a bit like a giant jumping puzzle which could, depending on your point of view, be a benefit or a curse) and its beautiful interior locations make for some chaotically crazy battles.
Our time with the map was woefully short, but it's currently under close scrutiny by choice (and very vocal) guilds. During the event, ArenaNet emphasized their appreciation of this and their openness to the beta community's criticism and suggestions. When we mentioned the absurd opportunities for falling off the map, they said they've already decided to adjust this, thus upping the strategic aspect of it over the possibility of accidental-death. They also said that feedback from participating guild members has already made them tweak things like enemy difficulty, supply availability, bonuses, hazards and spawn point exit layouts. As the platform upon which all further World vs World innovations are built, ArenaNet says improvements will continue until Edge of the Mists launches early next year (with luck, before the advent of Season 2) and post-launch will be ongoing.