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Zone In, Zone Out - The New Zone Brings Fire, But Can It Spark Your Interest?

Jason Winter Posted:
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It's a new zone! And earlier than expected! ArenaNet originally promised Guild Wars 2 players a new Living Story update every three months, but Rising Flames and Ember Bay came ahead of schedule, just two months after we got Out of the Shadows and Bloodstone Fen. Was it worth the wait... er, non-wait? Well, kinda-sorta-wait?

Story time

I suppose if you think about it, it's been a trend for a while now for GW2's story chapters to be a little less instanced-based and a little more open-world based. The Out of the Shadows story seemed to be more locked into instances, which felt the tiniest bit unsatisfying. There's a big new zone to explore, and I want to explore it with other people – which is a core part of the Guild Wars 2 mission statement – not spend 20+ minutes inside an instance all by myself.

After the first part of Rising Flames – which was a bunch of (admittedly intriguing) exposition and then a less-than-invigorating series of “training” battles with more exposition spliced in – I was already feeling a bit weary. Then I arrived in Ember Bay and nothing else was instanced (until the very end). It was all go-here-do-that stuff which felt a lot more like what Guild Wars 2 should be: less about playing alone and more about playing with other people. Solo instances have their place, but I'd rather see more story content delivered in this fashion in the future, as long as it's not tied to timed events that you have to wait on.

(And thanks to that kind person who rezzed me while those Veteran Jade Bows in Caliph's Steps were cleaning my clock. See, having other people around is better!)

As for the story itself, I won't get into spoilers. Suffice to say that the advancement felt pretty satisfying for me, and probably even more so for old-school Guild Wars players. I'm not so sure about the “surprise twist” at the end – it seems to go a little against character – but it hits on some of the notes that I talked about in my Out of the Shadows review, so I'm interested to see where it goes.

More to explore?

So let's talk about the Ember Bay zone itself. The “Metal Mountain” ambiance is certainly striking, but being a giant volcanic island limits just how varied the terrain can be. There's rock and lava and rock and lava and more rock and more lava and oh, a little bit of green stuff way over there. If you've seen one basalt plain and impossibly steep cliff, you've seen them all.

I get the same feeling I got with Bloodstone Fen – that it's a nice enough zone, but not something that's likely to hold my attention for two or three months. Already, after a couple of weeks of play, I feel ready to move on. I think I've done every major event so far, most of which have one or two lead-up events, followed by a big boss fight against a mountain of HP that's more about lasting long enough and avoiding a few red circles than about any truly interesting mechanics.

People groused about the long and complex event chains in HoT zones, so ArenaNet responded with zones that don't have any real linking in their scattered and mostly unrelated. I like to think that there's a middle ground  – something like Dry Top, the Silverwastes, and maybe even Verdant Brink – that could serve players' desires for immediate action while also delivering rewards for sticking around. Ember Bay and Bloodstone Fen are all about the former while HoT zones are overly reliant on the latter.

Speaking to the larger topic, I feel like the event structure of these new zones is symptomatic of the style of “overadjustment” that's been going on with Guild Wars 2's design for a while. In this case, it's responding – a little too strongly, perhaps – to complaints about HoT zones. Massive changes to the economy (“This item is going cheaply on the TP? Let's require thousands of them.”), content timing (“Every two weeks? That doesn't work, let's try every nine months.”), and raiding (“Our dungeons are too casual? Let's make multi-hour, super-tough instanced content.”) are other examples I can think of. The pendulum swings too hard, too fast, and the old GW2 development style where everything seemed well-thought-out and carefully implemented seems to have been left aside in the rush to “fix” things that aren't as broken as they appear.

There are a few other little things that bug me about Ember Bay, like wanting to use my newly acquired aerial combat skills and POIs that I needed a guide to find. And I could talk about repeatable hearts, but I'm going to go with the old adage of “If you can't say anything nice...”

Looking into the future

You might have noticed that it's been a while since my last Guild Wars 2 article. As I alluded to above, even the new content isn't holding my interest like it used to. The recent zones haven't provided that jump start I was hoping for; I don't feel the same energy when playing and don't want to play as often. Even my precursor acquisition has stalled, as I churn through yet another series of tasks I've already done countless times, and the new system doesn't excite me, being just another long gold grind. It's not so much that there's nothing to do; there just isn't much any more that I want to do, so I've been playing other games and finding more fun with them.

I probably won't be regularly writing every other week like I used to, but will check in from time to time when something interesting happens or the mood strikes me. Maybe it'll even be for something positive, and I'll write some kind of “How Jason Got His (Tyrian) Groove Back” piece but for right now, you're better off not having to deal too much with my semi-coherent, discontented ramblings. You can get enough of that from political posts on social media.


Jason Winter