The final installment of Living World Season 3 has come at last! One Path Ends, the highly-anticipated ending to the third season of the game’s lauded Living World, brings the Heart of Thorns cycle to an end and prepares the game for its second expansion, with a live announcement set for Tuesday the 1st of August. This episode attempts to conclude some of the stories opened at the launch of the season, as well as adding more depth to the tale that can be explored as we head in to the game’s Crystal Desert expansion and a new area of the world.
BEWARE! THERE BE SPOILERS APLENTY AHEAD!
The Pact Commander, fresh from an encounter with Balthazar- the Human god of war and fire- sets off on the deity’s trail to stop him from destroying the Elder Dragons of Tyria. Throughout the game’s life, we have been set on finding and destroying these primordial beings, but now to protect the world from certain destruction, we need to save them from the rampaging god, as the release of magic their deaths brings in to the world is proving to have cataclysmic effects. The Commander checks in to the human capital of Divinity’s Reach, questioning a priest of Balthazar to try and obtain his whereabouts. Countess Anise is already in heated discussion with the priest when the Commander arrives, and after fruitless efforts to gain information from the zealot, pulls the Commander aside.
Here, they are informed that The Eye of Janthir is chasing down the remaining Aspects of Lazarus, relics imbued with the essence of the ancient Mursaat, trying to reunite with its former master. Anise also informs the Commander that Balthazar is likely to have one of these Aspects himself, and that following the Eye could take them to him. They rendezvous with one of the Shining Blade Exemplars, whom Anise has told them is also tracking the Eye, and after a heated battle with bloodthirsty White Mantle, the Commander claims a remaining aspect of Lazarus, cautious of the plans this Exemplar might have, and heads back to Divinity’s Reach to question the motives of the Shining Blade.
The Commander is told that to learn what the secrets of the Shining Blade are, the commander must first take a binding magical oath that seals them to secrecy, on penalty of death. The Commander accepts, and is initiated in to the organisation, sworn to protect Kryta and its interests above all else. The Commander learns that the Shining Blade Exemplar plans to resurrect Lazarus the Dire with the aspects they have gathered, and to end his threat once and for all by destroying the revived Mursaat. At this point, the Commander once again sets out after the Eye of Janthir, working in collaboration with the Shining Blade Exemplar, splitting up to look for both Balthazar and the Eye itself. The Commander boards a Shining Blade Ship to the Orrian coast, a new map, containing the Reliquaries of the human gods. They are informed by the Sylvari, who are there attempting to re cultivate the land in honour of the late Trahearne, that both Balthazar and the Eye of Janthir have been sighted in the region. After helping the ghosts of the last King and Queens of Orr, the Commander learns that they went to Abaddon’s Reliquary, the lair of the old god of Secrets. The Reliquary can only be opened once power has been restored to all other god’s Reliquaries, and the Commander goes one by one restoring power until at least only Abaddon’s remains. Inside, they are re-joined by the Shining Blade Exemplar, who helps in overcoming the numerous traps and encounters of the Temple before finally they reach both the Aspect of Lazarus and the Eye of Janthir.
The Exemplar puts her plan in to action, combining the Aspects of Lazarus to confront the Mursaat, aided by the power of the Shining Blade (the sword which the organisation is named for). During the fight, we learn that the Exemplar is none other than Livia in disguise! Livia, an ancient champion of Tyria from Guild Wars 1, and one of the most powerful and most popular heroes, aids the commander in finally putting down Lazarus after a bone crunching battle with the god like figure. Successful in her long-term goal, Livia is left feeling both fulfilled and empty, and sets the Commander on their path with words of encouragement. With the threat of the Mursaat finally ended, the Commander commands the Eye of Janthir, in its dying moments, to show them Balthazar and his whereabouts, triggering an epic cut-scene showing both the Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik engulfed in flame along with the entire Crystal Desert burning before Balthazar. The Commander resigns to the duty of hunting Balthazar down across the sea, and the story ends with their resolve to hunt him down to the Crystal desert and save Tyria.
SPOILERS ARE NOW MOSTLY COMPLETE! MINOR ONES LEFT…
My reactions to this story were mixed, both loving and hating different aspects of the execution. On the one hand, the gameplay in this Episode was absolutely out of this world. The renowned hearts are without a doubt my personal favourite to complete in the entire living world, especially the heart in the Reliquary of Dwayna which uses gliding excellently. The mobs are wonderful, with the Risen making a return appearance as some of the most difficult mobs the game can offer along with the new enemies from the Living World and epic boss fights in the new map. The fight inside the Shining Blade Headquarters, where we recreate the Henge of Denravi battle from Guild Wars 1, was exceptionally well done, with achievements for taking out certain numbers of mobs and for the way in which we take on our own fears in the following encounter.
This gameplay comes to an epic culmination when we battle Lazarus the Dire, who has both intense damaging attacks as well as thought out mechanics requiring close attention and well-timed damage from players. Mechanic rich fights and high pressure situations really add to the feel of the episode, and it was extremely immersive to play in situations that, whether an expert of an amateur, called for attention and timing. The puzzles such as the bloodstone traps and the fire floors also made it much more exciting to play, where players got to use their brains and not just their fists to take on the story, and the many achievements and masteries obtainable in the episode gave it both replayability and goals to work towards for a little while whilst waiting for the expansion.
Where the episode fell short for myself, and for the many angry reddit and forum goers, was in the execution of the story itself. Whilst the season sets up an epic return of the White Mantle and a powerful Mursaat, both Flashpoint and One Path Ends work together to make the entire previous story redundant in order to add in more and more Guild Wars 1 throwbacks and overlap more stories on to one another. As a veteran and huge fan of the older, unclosed stories, on paper I would be super excited to see these stories return to the franchise. However, the execution of the stories was extremely half baked to me, throwing in lots of throwbacks and references all at once in small doses rather than dealing with major story issues as they come and treating the old content with the same grandeur that you would expect from god like figures and immortal, sceptre wielding heroes of Tyria.
This comes through mostly in the dialogue, where the witty and quippy remarks serve not to provide comic relief, but instead take away from the seriousness of the situations the characters are in with ‘cringe worthy’ moments. This stands true only for this current episode, with a great deal of the previous content being much better, and really stood out to me as an anomaly in the usually strong writing from Arenanet. What really sits with me, however, was the character’s acceptance to take the oath and join the Shining Blade. The decision made me want to pull my hair out, watching a Blood Legion Charr, a Legion not even fully at peace with the humans of Kryta, swear to protect and uphold them above all else, was unbearably ill thought out. Other races, like the Asuran and the Norn, come across almost just as unlikely, with self-interest being a key theme in the stories we have previously seen from the game. It showed a very human centric approach to the story that has evolved from both White Mantle, Mursaat, Human God and Human protagonists that ignore the brilliant world building done by the base game.
Having said all of that, I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the episode, and as a self-proclaimed lore buff I probably brought a lot of the problems on myself by having high expectations for the stories I knew a lot about. But in an MMO, players are expected to be immersed, and many diehard fans have been left with a sour taste from the questionable decisions in the story. What it didn’t damper, however, was the HYPE for the expansion, and we all can’t wait for the announcement on January 1st to see where all this story is leading to! Excited for the expansion, or thoughts on the story so far? Let us know in the comments below!