Last week I had the opportunity to preview a couple of End of Dragons maps in Guild Wars 2 and got an inside look at what to expect from this new expansion. Aside from more time on the Untamed and getting to play with some of the new Ranger pets, this taste of EoD whetted my appetite and got me excited for launch. Although I can't talk about everything just yet, let's dive into some of the exciting things I learned and experienced while participating in the preview.
We spent the most time in Echovald Wilds, and I have to say the team working on the environment and general map design have hit it out of the park with this one. In some ways, it was a bit reminiscent of my first steps into Verdant Brink, where there seemed to be danger around every corner; but I was continuously intrigued by everything at the edge of how far I could see. This entire forest/jungle-style map was once petrified by the Jade Wind but has been returning to its natural state over time. Sadly, we didn't get to explore everything this map has to offer, but that would have likely taken multiple days of access, at least. Echovald Wilds seems like an area I'll be exploring and poking around in for a long time to come.
One of the driving forces behind how hostile Echovald Wilds felt is that it's home to a conflict between two rival gangs, one of which is the Jade Brotherhood, who seem to be for the development of new Jade Tech by any means necessary. A Cantha version of the Inquest, if you will. Particularly worth noting is there are a few Tengu members of the Jade Brotherhood, which seems a bit to the contrary of what players know about the Tengu as a whole. What's important to note, though, is ArenaNet has made an effort to show that groups/races aren't monoliths, and although something is generally true about them, there are always outliers. Which is an excellent way to go with things as it makes the world feel more realistic. Although we only got the barest taste of this from the preview, I look forward to seeing more examples of outliers in EoD and hope that it is all done in a way that makes sense and works.
One of the group events in Echovald Wilds is the Fort Aspenwood group mission which, although not part of the meta, is a pretty long series of events that tells a bit of a story about what's been going on there. The high notes are that the Jade Brotherhood has set up shop there, and something has happened that has caused all sentient beings to flee the fort. The first step is breaking into Fort Aspenwood because none of the machines want us in there. This is aided by having Siege Turtles with riders to bombard things and get us inside more quickly. A particularly nice aspect of this is NPCs were driving around Siege Turtles, so players can hop in and be gunners if no one around has their Siege Turtle Unlocked yet.
It's easy to zoom through this event and focus only on the needed things to progress it. Still, there is a ton of environmental storytelling throughout this fort, which is also worth paying attention to. For one thing, it's clear the Jade Brotherhood was conducting experiments of a dubious nature on the local fauna, and that plays a role in everything. Eventually, we made it to the basement and discovered they had built a superweapon called Gods Vengeance, which of course, has gone awry. Overall, it was a blast, and I can't wait to see what the actual map meta is and what kind of story it will tell.
One exciting aspect of strike missions in EoD is they are all an essential part of the story. This doesn't mean players will have to pause their playthrough of the story to randomly team up with nine other players. During story progress, each strike mission will have a single-player version which will more completely tell the story of that particular mission. Then once it is completed as part of the story, the regular strike mission options to join a public or private group, will unlock and players will be able to start their own groups. This allows ArenaNet to have strikes as big story pieces, but not to bog down replaying them with story players have seen tons of times before. Additionally, if you haven't completed the story strike mission yet, you will be able to join other players in their strike mission groups. You'll just be missing the story contextualization for it.
My one worry with this is if the story version will work well for people who usually play through story chapters with someone else. In the past, there have been story chapters where whoever wasn't the instance owner couldn't do much to help at all with what was going on. ArenaNet has gone back and made improvements to those instances so the extra player can help in some way, at least. I hope this was a consideration when building the story versions of the strike missions. Ideally, whoever isn't the instance owner would be able to participate fully, but it also could depend on the mechanics of the particular strike missions.
In the Aetherblade Hideout, we face off against that pesky bandit Mai Trin. We did the ten-player version, so I don't know the story behind why she's here and why we are once again fighting her. Although, for quite a while, it has been speculated that she might be from Cantha originally. Regardless, her bag of tricks has only expanded since the last time we fought her, and this fight kept me on my toes. Interestingly, during this fight, I noticed a pretty significant QoL change coming with EoD in the form of when there's a break bar to be broken, any skills you have on your bars that contribute to breaking it have a bit of a glow effect to them. This is hugely helpful, especially when in the process of learning new specs.
Sadly, we'll be bidding adieu to Eye of the North in EoD as Arborstone will take over as the main base of operations, and all four of the new strike missions will launch from there. Arborstone is also one of the new mastery lines coming with EoD, so your progress with the mastery line will also determine how much is there. Hopefully, this will serve as our hub of operations throughout EoD and its subsequent seasons. It has been frustrating in the past to unlock cool hubs only to swiftly abandon them in the next season, looking at you Sun's Refuge. Considering that the hub will also be gobbling up mastery points this time, it'll be disappointing to leave it for somewhere new in the story season following EoD.
Guild Hall, Skiffs, and Fishing
As is normal with a new expansion, we are getting another beautiful guild hall for guilds to choose from, the Isle of Reflection. This will bring the number of guild halls in GW2 up to four. Just from the small taste of it I had, Isle of Reflection seems like the most beautiful created thus far, which is saying something because I love Lost Precipice and Windswept Haven. One huge improvement coming with the new guild hall, though, is the capture event has been better tuned for small guilds. Previously capturing guild halls could be quite a challenge for small guilds because if you only had enough people to do the encounters one at a time, you could easily run out of time. With the Isle of Reflection, the event is more individual encounter-focused, and guilds should have enough time to progress from one to the next.
Since the new guild hall also comes with quite a lot of water, we also tried out skiff usage and fishing a bit. First of all, riding around on a skiff is a lot of fun, and using emotes to recharge the boost ability is just amusing as hell. I'm sure the novelty will wear off after a while, but it'll still be fun. Fishing was interesting. The controls are simple but slightly unintuitive to me. It seemed like there was one button for casting, for moving things around and playing the minigame once a fish is on the line, and the same button for reeling it in. As a result, I found myself accidentally reeling in the line when I didn't mean to. Once I get the hang of it, I'm sure it'll be fine; I just wish they had used different buttons for each part of the fishing experience. For example, if once a fish bites the two and three keys flipped over with arrows, and you had to use those to keep the bar in the right spot, that would have been cool. As it is, fishing is not AFK fishing, which is fantastic.
One thing we aren't getting with EoD is new guild missions for the new zones. I know, there never was any indication we would get them; after all, we haven't for other expansions. It is, however, something that always feels weird that they aren't included with new expansions. Especially considering one of the functions of a guild hall is to act as a hub and get the guild to the start of the missions quickly. Even if there aren't new mission types, having new treks, bounties, races, and puzzles with each expansion would have been amazing and helped those still feel like a meaningful part of the game.
End of Dragons When?
We sadly weren't given the release date to let everyone know, but it is coming out sometime in February, which is only a couple of weeks away. I can't wait to dive into all the new content, and if Echovald Wilds is any indication, exploring the new maps will be a blast and rewarding on its own.
What are you looking forward to the most in End of Dragons? Are you concerned about anything coming in this expansion?