Path of Fire has been a big win of an expansion so far for the majority of the active player base and reviewers, with some of the best new content and gameplay of any major update the game has ever released. Compared to the poorly received Heart of Thorns, Path of Fire has been the ‘golden child’ of the game’s life, and a huge factor in delivering this great experience has been the beautiful exploration available within the Crystal Desert.
Mounts have completely changed the way players can get around, and the wide spaced maps of the expansion compliment their unique travel methods perfectly. But it’s not just the ability to climb up a cliff in a single bound, or glide seamlessly over waves of quicksand, that make exploring such a joy in Path of Fire, it’s the hidden gems waiting around every corner for you to encounter. Every nook and cranny of the desert has been filled with something, whether it be interesting event chains, interactable NPCs, hidden collections or even a new flying companion to take with you. Some of the most detailed and lore heavy parts of the expansion come not in the story, but also in the many events that take place around the desert, rewarding you as you explore. It is a completely different approach from Heart of Thorns, where maps were designed specifically to keep players on the beaten path through either meta chains or clustered events, with a whole heap of empty space that just had nothing in it. Whilst there are some exciting visuals to get to in HoT, Path of Fire keeps these beautiful moments of exploration whilst also giving them a purpose such as events, chests or collections.
To share what was probably my best moment of the expansion so far- wandering through the desert on the back of the majestic Jackal. Around the map are various Sand Portals, that your Jackal, with the required mastery, can run through to be teleported to a place somewhere on the map. One particular portal in the Desert Highlands had me hundreds of meters above the ground, looking down at the vast plains, with the stars above me, along a runway created from shifting, ethereal sands. I followed the path, shifting and flowing around me, looking like I would fall at any second, but finally came to another sand portal. Leaping my Jackal through, I came to a floating platform, with beautiful Elonian pillars, some juicy chests and a Mastery Insight! But what really took my breath away, my ‘Wow’ moment, was the radiant castle floating in the night sky, a ghostly palace sitting in the stars, just out of reach in the sky ahead of me. That was the moment I really appreciated how amazing these art developers are, creating a picturesque landscape within a harsh, dry desert that was able to fully captivate a player. Experiences like this are everywhere within the desert, whether its above, below, or on the ground, there’s always something to do, and that truly makes Path of Fire a win in my eyes.
It’s not just skyscapes, there are amazing events and stories all through the desert, waiting for you to find them. The biggest criticism for the expansion thus far has been a severe lack of meta events to keep players in the maps, and whilst that will eventually hold true, there are weeks- if not months- of content for most players sitting amongst the sands waiting for you, and by the time you have truly been through everything the Crystal Desert has to offer, Living World Season 4 will be kicking off to take players to a new map. It also serves to keep Heart of Thorns relevant, without a ‘be all and end all’ meta to take away from the existing ones. Many of the current meta events like Dragon Stand and Auric Basin remain some of the most profitable ways to spend your time in the game, and have unique rewards locked behind them that encourage you to return and invest time in those metas. This, however, isn’t something many players can do nonstop, and the desert region provides excellent relief with relaxed content that you can take on at your own pace. Of course, now you’re looking at buying both expansions to play the game in its entirety and to get the best experience. This isn’t to me unreasonable, with competitors like WoW requiring you to own all expansions just to play, but is less than what was promised from Path of Fire. In my eyes, although the lack of metas reflects poorly on the expansion as a standalone, it makes it an excellent addition to the existing gameplay, especially for solo or small group players who have criticized the past zerg gameplay.
What are your best exploration moments so far in Path of Fire, and the favorite gems you’ve found amongst the sands? There’s still so much to find, and it’s going to be a long time before we can safely say we’ve seen everything the Desert has to offer, so get out there and explore it with us!