It's finally here! New content that isn't a raid! Rejoice!
OK, maybe it's still a little early for too much celebration. The optimist in me wants to put a happy face on today's content drop, but the pessimist remembers how thrilled we all were about Heart of Thorns and how that attitude shifted after a few months. Especially for open-world content, it takes a long time to form a proper opinion when it takes weeks or months of repetition to get a proper grasp on how entertaining the content is.
As such, I'm not even going to attempt to rate the open-world content in Out of the Shadows. ArenaNet extended press invitations for all three aspects of the update, and I decided to focus on the new PvP map and the new Fractal. I'll give my analysis of the new zone and story content after I've had some significant time with them because a half-hour press preview just isn't going to be enough to do it justice. Besides, by the time you read this, you've probably already had more time with the new zone than I did as I write this.
So here are my first impressions at the new PvP and Fractals content in Out of the Shadows:
A dish best served cold
First up was my taste of the new PvP map, Revenge of the Capricorn. As with most other PvP maps, it's a capture-and-hold map with three control points and the object is to score 500 points before your opponents can do the same. The map's theme makes it look like the old Lion's Arch, with wooden-plank walkways and brown stone everywhere, making it a great nostalgia trip for long-time players.
In the center of the map is a pavilion with a bell. It unlocks every three minutes and the team that can gain control of it scores 25 points the first time, then 50, then 75, and so on. When you gain control, cannons will fire on a pirate ship in the harbor, but that's just for cosmetic purposes and doesn't affect gamplay. But explosions, woo!
And that's about all there is to say about the new map. While the aesthetics are visually pleasing, the actual mechanics of it seem rather bland compared to trebuchets in Battle of Khylo or the capture-the-flag elements of Spirit Watch, and there didn't seem to be much in the way of alternate paths or varying heights. While PvP purists might like the basic structure of the map – and it's nice that ArenaNet didn't go full-on Skyhammer in trying to do something hugely different – I wish there was a little more gameplay-altering flavor. Raid on the Capricorn at least had cannons players could control, and this map could have used something like that to spice things up, just a little bit.
During the demo, our conversation drifted into PvP in general, with ArenaNet talking about how there was an overall shift to try and speed up PvP and help revanant be more relevant – say that five times fast! There are also more ways to report players for unsportsmanlike behavior, such as going AFK during matches, and you can elect to keep your team for consecutive matches, similar to what you could do in the first Guild Wars. One big thing is that ranked arena will return between seasons, with more balanced teams and a selected map pool. Finally, while the new map returns to GW2's conquest roots for PvP, the team still “exploring new game types” like Stronghold.
Next up was our look at the new addition to Fractals of the Mists, Chaos Isles. Well, perhaps “new” isn't quite the right word, as Chaos Isles blends elements from several different Fractals into one and binds them together with a storyline that's sure to keep players interested for a while.
As you enter the Fractal, a Mysterious Asura – no really, that's his name, for now at least – taunts you and cuts off your communication with Dessa in the Mistlock Observatory. The Fractal itself is a jumble of elements from previous Fractals. You'll wander through parts of Cliffside, Uncategorized, Snowblind, and more on your way to the Fractal's two bosses. In a sort of nod to how people usually handle the latter stages of the Snowblind Fractal, you're supposed to simply run through the dark forest and avoid all encounters – including the Jade Maw's tentacles, making a guest appearance – to get to the final area.
In the first boss fight, the boss – which looks suspiciously like one of those ley-line energy creatures we've been encountering in the open world – occasionally goes invulnerable and summons the golems similar to the cat golems in Uncategorized (but without the adorable names). After you kill them, you can attack the boss again, but then the golems return, smaller in number but tougher, culminating in one champion golem that's tough to bring down. The other boss fight is a little simpler, just one angry charr – a remnant of Urban Battleground, perhaps? – on an electrified floor that continually changes where you can stand safely.
At Fractal level 13, Chaos Isles wasn't too much of a challenge – with the exception of the Uncategorized part, which had some difficult jumps that had us pining for a mesmer – but I imagine that will change at higher levels and their agony requirements. Speaking of Fractal levels, there's a spiffy new interface for when you go to enter the Fractal portal that shows you what Fractals correspond to what levels and helps detail the Fractal daily quests. It's a nice UI tweak that greatly streamlines the process of choosing the right Fractal for your reward bonuses.
Keep it coming
The one thing that made me wince a little during my demo was the talk about the Mysterious Asura and how his story would be told in future updates. I want to believe in the 2-3 month plan for updates that ArenaNet promised on its website, and I want to believe that plot threads like this won't go unresolved, and I want to believe that new Fractals will keep being made to tell that story... but I can't do that, not until we get a few successful releases in a row.
The content drought has done serious damage to my and others' perception of Guild Wars 2. It's going to take some time, and more than one update, to rebuild that sense of trust and willingness to trust again. Guild Wars 2 no longer thrives on hope and potential but on tangible results. I think there's still a good enough team in place to deliver those results, and they've got the core of a good game to work with. What I've seen so far in Out of the Shadows is a good sign, but it's more of a stop along the way than the final destination on the road to re-acceptance.