Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Guild Wars 2. Season 4. Episode 6. It’s hard to believe that after nearly 7 years we’re still only on our third Elder Dragon! Well, Primordus and Jormag might be snoozing back home because of some Balthazar-related tomfoolery but since said tomfoolery has ended, we’re on the warpath. Kralkatorrik, the crystal dragon, the oncoming storm that’s able to transform into a sandstorm to ravage the desert, broke our hearts at the end of the previous episode, All or Nothing. Aurene was killed; just as a vision showed to her by Glint, a previous lieutenant of Kralkatorrik, said would come to pass.
The lore surrounding the Crystal Dragons – Kralkatorrik, Glint, Vlast, and Aurene, is head crushing in its complexity but also in places, ridiculous. Through some twist it turns out that Special K is vulnerable to his own magic, which led us to the crafting of Dragonsblood Spears, an item that gave us an edge in the previous episode. It’s a little bit turned around and just about stays on the right side of sensible to keep you going.
So, War Eternal? Is it?
Let’s pick apart what’s going on.
So, the massive emotional play off at the end of All Or Nothing continues into the opening of the first chapter. The Pact is broken, hopelessness abounds, and the sense of impending doom bleeds out of all the NPCs you interact with. The dread, the acceptance of death really weighs on the player character. It’s weird, but the forced walking really adds gravitas to the situation and it’s these little details that ArenaNet add to their story that make their world a little bit more real.
And then it all goes tits up. Suddenly, Caithe pulls out the crystals from Aurene and she’s back on her feet. Literally, it’s a blink and you’ll miss it story beat. As we all predicted, Aurene eating Joko at the end of Long Live The Lich allowed her to transcend death and bring herself back into the story. In the second (of two) story missions that we get Braham explicitly states that while the Commander can die, Aurene can just resurrect herself and thereby is given the most impenetrable set of plot armour since GRRM’s wife told him Arya Stark was her favourite character. I don’t necessarily have an issue with Aurene coming back from the dead. But for it to be literally the first major story beat of the episode cheapens the fantastic finale of All Or Nothing.
However, the biggest issue is this episode is that Kralkatorrik no longer seems like a legitimate foe in the first half of the episode. Part of one instanced mission gives you the opportunity to fly on Aurene’s back and bomb Kralky as he flies through the mists trying to escape and doing serious damage to him. It just seems very odd that we couldn’t defeat him when he was pinned underground and now, he’s flying through rifts between dimensions he’s vulnerable. The actual encounter itself is eerily reminiscent of the Zhaitan finale in the original campaign, one that was disparaged for having the player press the same couple of buttons while the event played out around you.
However, where the first half of the story brought on a feeling of disappointment, somehow ArenaNet pull it back at the eleventh hour. It turns out that as powerful as Elder Dragons are, they shouldn’t really be chowing down on the power of two dead relatives and a vengeful god. The way that Aurene and Kralkatorrik interact, along with the input from the final moments of Glint’s prophecy provide an insight into a tortured being, the Elder Dragon that’s being ripped apart from the inside. And, after all, to preserve the balance of the magics in Tyria and stop the world from ripping apart, the Elder Dragons have to exist to contain all the magical power. It’s just too much for Special K. As you fly through the final mission, diving literally into the belly of the best, you’ll find a dying heart wracked by manifestations of torment within a beast that quite simply wants to die. The tenderness between a revived Aurene and the schizophrenic world-crusher is actually very well done, the world crashing around you as run to deliver the final blow to put a crazed beast at rest.
The big reveal – is pretty darn spectacular. I’ve spoiled enough. Go and play it yourself, but you’ll want to watch it.
With every Living World update comes a new map, and a new currency. Dragonfall, this episode’s map is damn cool. An amalgamation of Silverwastes and Dragon’s Stand, the Pact are pitted against the body of Special K while the finale of the season’s story takes place literally inside him. The thrashing of the paralyzed tail at the edge of the map is a detail that provides one of three very different lanes in a map that feels like it has been worked on possibly more than any other map in this season. The different areas are vivid, with the oft-overlooked Melandru getting their own little patch of fun. There’s a good healthy mix of solo content and group events. Unlike Dragon’s Stand, the map is easy to explore even while the meta is inactive and doesn’t throw massive blobs of enemies that impede exploration. It’s easily the best map meta of the season and while it may have taken a while to get here, the balance of reward and experience are balanced. Stick around to the end of the meta though, it gets fun.
War Eternal also throws mount number eight into the mix; the Skyscale. Housed behind a collection that feels more Griffon than Roller Beetle (which is just to my liking), it offers a more vertical flying experience compared to the Griffon’s extended gliding. Using a secondary endurance bar to gain height, you can then grip on to walls to regain some of that to be able to fly even higher. Breaking out of the map is about to get super fun. The dismount, a nice spicy AoE fire ring matches up with the mount perfectly and while it can be a little clunky to start with, once you’re familiar with it you’ll be scrambling up mountain sides and jumping over roofs faster than you can say “Caithe, why did you start your own weird blue crystal cult?”.
War Eternal focuses on spectacle over substance in quite a few places. The first few major story beats fall flat, some contrived and some utterly predictable. However, the final instance, cutscene and epilogue provide probably the greatest moments of the entire season and I led out an audible gasp of surprise, wonder and satisfaction during the ending cutscene. Add to that a great open world map, some cool events, and a shiny new mount, War Eternal finishes Season 4 of the Living World off in a grand fashion with a hopeful road ahead to Season 5 and reinvigorated ArenaNet.