A Story Worth Dying For - Beware of SPOILERS!
Warning! Countless spoilers ahead!!!
Path of Fire brought with it dozens of incredible features, but undoubtedly the driving force behind Arenanet’s second expansion was the story. The culmination of Living World Season 3, Path of Fire brought fire and destruction to the Crystal Desert, as we pursued Balthazar across the dunes and through the domain of the Elder Dragon Kralkatorrik. To me, this story was highly successful and one of the best that Guild Wars 2 has delivered to date, both extremely enjoyable to play through and delivering intensity in spades. Here is my small reaction to Path of Fire.
Going in to the expansion, there was a lot of trepidation. One Path Ends, the final instalment of Living World 3, had been a mixed bag to me story wise, and so my original approach to Path of Fire was not extremely optimistic. However, the expansion absolutely delivered, bringing back fan favourites Rytlock and Canach as well as Kasmeer to accompany us. From the start of the story players are already experiencing mounts, one of the biggest features of the expansion, utilising them in both the open world and the story instances. This made getting through the maps and through the story much faster and easier than ever before. Rather than take away from the story, it instead allowed developers to devote much more time to the gameplay of each instance. Meaty and full of good gameplay, the instances were the high point of the game, not so difficult to lock players out, but challenging enough to keep even veterans awake. The boss fights were highly telegraphed and mechanic based- something that Arenanet has been constantly improving on in all areas of their game. And throughout this, the player character got to finally experience issues and true defeat that developed both the character and the story.
It would take a mountain of text to go through the story step by step, so instead I want to focus on some of the highs and lows that made Path of Fire such a strong story driven expansion. The introduction of Vlast, another child of Glint, was extremely exciting to see and completely out of left field. A ‘good dragon’ fighting on our side, already mature and battling Kralkatorrik, opened a world of possibilities and story points. That is, until Vlast is murdered by Balthazar, jumping in front of a flaming sword to save us. This was both a high and low, the concept of Vlast and the story he was able to tell even in death was one of the best moments for me, but his sudden death closed so many doors that I was left wishing for more. It absolutely gave the story a ‘Game of Thrones’ feel however, giving us a new, bright hope for the future only to cruelly and suddenly tear it away. Mixed feelings aside, the use of Vlast as a tool to develop both the player character and Aurene was no doubt effective in moving the story forward, and it is always nice to know we can still be surprised.
Meeting Kormir in the Realm of Torment- now the best-looking Library in the world- was an incredible experience. Players from the original game will already be familiar with her story, and it was both an amazing throwback as well as a powerful moment for players. We spoke face to face with a god, and heard firsthand what had caused Balthazar to become a villain. To be frank, I did feel that the reasons that Kormir gave us for not helping were a little lacklustre- not wanting to fight because it will cause large scale destruction. After all, if they do nothing, the entire world gets destroyed, so it seemed like Balthazar might actually have been on the right track, someone both strong enough to kill the dragons as well as absorb their enormous magical power would be great to have on our side. But putting that aside, this development left Tyria in mortal hands, and solidified our role as saviour and fighter. Again, I was breath taken by astounding artwork and zone design, as well as an instance that was even able to make dialogue look good, and I didn’t even take note of the-in my opinion weak- plot points until I was reflecting on it later with friends.
And then we died. No seriously! We set off to return to Aurene, but were ambushed by Balthazar himself, and this time there was no joko’ing around. After toying with them for several minutes, Balthazar strikes down the commander, sending them to the underworld in spectacular fashion. Lost, wandering through the unknown void, the commander slowly recovers their purpose and their memories, seeing their life play out before them before resolving to return to the world of the living and face Balthazar one last time. Usually, any plot that has the main character die and return makes me yawn, the plot armour takes away all the danger from the story. But for once, I think that a game pulled it off magnificently, incorporating the story of the gods and their departure to give a plausible reason that we could make it back. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if players will be making a return to the underworld, given the state we left it in, plus a certain Pal(awa) that we left behind. Something that I thought would be a low point ended up being a fantastic high, delivering nostalgia, building our resolve and given meaningful character development all in one instance.
Path of Fire was a story that I thoroughly enjoyed, and was made even better by the enormous amount of lore and detail that you could find simply by exploring the open world to add to the instanced content. A truly story driven expansion, Path of Fire leaves me optimistic and excited for the next story instalment, and I truly cannot wait to dive in on whatever Arenanet delivers next. Though not perfect (retry button and disconnect progress saved when????) the story of Path of Fire earns its price tag, and is worth playing through by anyone even remotely interested in the franchise.