This weekend, players got to experience the first taste of the Path of Fire expansion. The expansion takes us to the sunburnt wilds of the Crystal Desert, to combat the rising threat of Balthazar, Kralkatorrik and even the Lich, Palawa Joko. Astride their glorious raptor mounts, player got to experience a small chunk of the first map along with the first stage of the story episode that will launch us in to the expansion.
This expansion is already looking to be a huge shake up to some core systems of the game, with some of the fundamental aspects of how we play getting a modern overhaul. At the core of this are, of course, are the beautiful mounts players will be getting to assist in crossing the desert. This was where I spent about 90% of my time in this demo, riding across the sand dunes and the airy cliffs on top of my bipedal companion. I have a huge amount of praise for the mounts, both in the impressive functionality and the beautiful animations. Mounting and dismounting both occur in split seconds, and the unique system of combat engagement skills that come with each mount let you launch yourself into the fray. This alleviated any concerns I had with mounts, as there was a fair bit of worry about losing movement skills like blink and leaps in favour of mounts would turn out in the long run. It was completely unfounded, the mounts give a huge movement speed boost (tested first hand to be faster than either swiftness or super speed) as well as movement skills of their own, unique to each mount, that make travel a breeze. If that wasn’t enough, the time it takes to mount and dismount is almost instant, with the press of a button taking you in and out of travel instantly. To accompany all of this, the mounts look incredible. Not just the art work- which we have come to expect from this spectacular franchise- but the animations themselves are seamless and breathe life in to the mounts, making them as much companions as tools both idle and moving.
Bounties made an interesting mechanic, bringing players to specific areas of the map more frequently than everywhere else and keeping them there. All you had to do was tag the event for credit, regardless of activating it on the board, but activating the board would cause the event to spawn if it was not already up so that you could always do them at your leisure. Each time you fight they have different abilities, which kept the fights relatively fresh, and if it had not been for the small zone and little to do (after all, it was just a demo) it would take a fair while to see all the skills. As it was I was able to experience most, if not all the abilities the mobs could come with, but that’s not to say other maps don’t receive some new ones before launch, and I never truly mastered fighting any of them either.
The loot system will be getting an overhaul in Path of Fire, with Unidentified Gear dropping from events and chests to replace the current loot of blue and green weapons. This was a welcome change for me, and despite some hot debate on reddit about economic implications or potential nerfs and buffs, when I was in game experiencing this system I was in love. The lack of inventory clutter, the ease of use and the ability to salvage stacks at a time totally eclipsed any problems I saw, and made running around the world ridiculously less stop and start, not having to salvage all every few minutes and sort inventory issues. The loot aside from this was off the charts, materials, karma, skins, ectoplasm, all coming in left and right in huge amounts.
This looks like a pretty blatant show of ‘buy the expansion, the loot is amazing!’ and honestly, I can’t blame them. I want to be rewarded for my new content, not just play it once and then go back to the best farm spot, and saw no issue with the amount of gold flowing in (besides of course that it was just a demo and I didn’t get to keep any of it!!!) To be honest, I would even be happy with nerfs to the amount players were getting, as it was pretty overwhelmingly great, but if none is forthcoming then it’s going to make farming for legendries and ascended much much much easier. Getting these items, for most players, is all about farming the gold to buy the materials rather than farming the materials themselves. In Path of Fire, simply farming the materials themselves looked far easier and less time consuming, giving you live progress towards your goal as you play.
In terms of lore, and story, the demo tried its best to hide the juicy secrets of the demo and the upcoming expansion so that we will still be surprised on the day. What can be gathered however straight away is that Arenanet heard and acted upon some of the bigger Heart of Thorns complaints to amend them here. Lore masters for each of the new elite specialisations appear to exist somewhere in this expansion, to tell us all about how we got these new powers. Rytlock and Kasmeer look to be taking on a big role in the upcoming story, which would explain why they spent so long away in Living World Season 3, and this is a welcome sight for the many waiting with bated breath to hear about our favourite Charr’s adventures in the Mists. A large focus on collections once again leads me to believe that a lot of story and lore will hide amongst the dunes of the maps, giving interesting rewards for exploration that add to both the immersion of the world and in filling the 250-year gap that has occurred since Nightfall.
Overall the demo left me feeling fantastic about the upcoming expansion. There is a lot more to see before calling it a success, but from what we have been given it is shaping up to be a great step forward for the game and something that I will be glued to the day it comes out. With the next weekend coming up and including letting us play the new specs, this is 100% the time to jump on Free to Play, as the gameplay we will get to see on the next demo is going to show us even more of what we'll be playing.