Well tickle me pink, if Season 5 isn’t around the corner! September 17th kicks us off in to Bound By Blood, a Charr prologue to what is going to be the Icebrood Saga; a new twist on the Living World episodes which is aimed at re-invigorating a cycle that players are becoming disillusioned with.
Maybe it was the new currencies in every map. While Volatile and Unbound Magic could be collected in spades, collecting enough of the various mine-able commodities seems to take an absolute epoch to do a complete cycle of all the maps. Thank Dwayna for Tekkit and GW2Taco. Personally, when I want to chill and de-stress I’ll do my daily farming, but after what I hoped would be a change when Path of Fire gave us Trade Contracts, a universal map currency across the expansion, my hopes were dashed.
Maybe it was the feeling that some of it was rushed. Long Live The Lich had a now-infamously unfinished map, with the actual meta event somehow missing from it. Never mind that it was set in a key landmark from Guild Wars: Nightfall, the moon fortress of Gandara with all its intrigue crushed in one incomplete fumble to kill a golem.
You see, just by resting on a few idiosyncrasies and petty annoyances that Guild Wars 2 has rankled us with over the years, it’s so easy to forget how much it brought to us. I, like every other gamer on the face of the planet, dived into World of Warcraft Classic earlier this month because I’m a sheep and wanted to see how badly Azeroth had aged since 2004. And let me tell you, after the sublime joy that is the Guild Wars 2 experience, WoW: Classic handles like a mangled bag of fleshy spanners. The tag-to-kill mechanic, the fighting for resource nodes, the stationary combat, the endless grindy quests; by the time Guild Wars 2 released in 2012 we were so far past that.
People enjoy complaining about the heart quests in the maps they reside in, but the truth is that radial questing like this is a stroke of genius. Everything about the core PvE Guild Wars 2 experience is sublime and I think the playerbase have been too spoiled to realise it. Now, a lot of the grievances are well-deserved, content droughts seemingly part of every Living World cycle and the questionable marketing are two big gripes but when you scrub away all the veteran-jaded mire you’re left with a total diamond of a game. There is nothing else like Guild Wars 2 out there right now, anything new has either been a WoW clone or has struggled for year to right itself. ESO finally got somewhere a couple of years after launch and it’s now doing very well.
In fact, while we’re here, let's take a gander at ESO’s content release schedule. Before Elsweyr shipped, there was already a year-long road map for story content and quality of life updates that was published. New DLC is regularly added, offers a ton of stuff to do and is meaningful in a way that a Living World episode isn’t. The endgame dungeons that release with updates aren’t tied to any current content, or content that you’ll eventually move on from. That said, raids and fractals sort of take on this model but we’ve talked about that enough here over the last few months.
So, what does Icebrood Saga have to prove?
First and foremost, the rebranding of the Living World must mean something. When talking about the map structure at the Moore Theatre just before PAX West, a map system very similar to how Dry Top and Silverwastes were revealed was described. I don’t have any inherent thoughts against that; to be honest at the time it was received well. But we were sold that Icebrood Saga would be different and more epic. Hence the 48 hour countdown, the month long social media campaign and the live announcement in a theatre in front of 500 fans.
The heart quests I talked about a bit earlier, while an innovation, don’t keep players coming back. They’re a delivery mechanic. They’re not story, they’re not challenge, they’re just something to flesh out the world you live in and once you’re passed them you’ll not give them a second thought until you start world completion again. This is what Icebrood Saga must avoid. It can’t be another stamp in the logbook, another checked off list of achievements. The last time we got a Prologue for the Living World was in 2013 and I still get recurring nightmares of the number of signs I had to [F]ix to get my Volunteer title. The quest completion, meta-cycling, achievement tick-boxing has been done over and over in the last 7 years and while I believe the player base still engages with it, it needs to be longer-lasting than the quite frankly boggling speed at which the player base tears through new content.
Despite the wildly disappointing showcase, I still have faith ArenaNet have managed to identify the shortcomings of previous Living World episodes and address them into a refreshingly new and captivating chapter of Guild Wars 2. And if not, I’ll probably just pretend the narrative ended with War Eternal.
Bound by Blood launches September 17th, 2019