Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to play through the End of Dragons expansion ahead of launch. Although I was able to experience the entire story and participate in events, how all of this transfers to live servers is still left to be seen, hence the review in progress. As far as the story goes, I will only discuss specifics up to chapter four. Beyond that, I’ll only mention nonspecific observations since everyone should have the opportunity to experience it for themselves. Arenanet wasn’t exaggerating when they said End of Dragons wraps up, the story they have been telling since Guild Wars 2 launched, and it’s worth going into it with as few spoilers as possible.
A fitting end to this chapter
After seeing the trailer for EoD, I quipped that the airship builders would riot and refuse to let us on anymore airships since they tend to crash when the Commander is onboard. It turned out that this airship still belonged to the Aetherblades, and we were pursuing them. Also… this time it is sort of our fault the ship crashed. This whole opening to EoD went entirely differently than I expected, though, and it was a lot of fun exploring and learning about what has happened to the Aetherblades since we last saw them and what things they’ve been doing while we’ve been busy with other things. While playing through the entire story, my biggest suggestion is to take your time. There’s a lot of extra information to be found in nearly every area, which fills in a lot of the blanks and expands a lot on what I thought I knew.
One excellent side of the new storyline in EoD is it felt like there was a lot more voice-over than there typically is. Often during story quests, when there’s the optional step of talking to your companions, those dialogues aren’t voiced. However, in EoD, nearly all of these were voiced, and it added a lot of depth to everything going on. Since these dialogues include options, the Commander can choose to say or not say, the Commander’s lines weren’t voiced, just who I was talking to. This didn’t detract from the experience, though, and I hope this will just be how it is done by default for all voiced characters in the future.
One surprise early on was that Kasmeer sounded very different from before, so much so that I initially thought she had a different voice actor. I confirmed with ArenaNet that it is the same voice actor; she took a different way of playing the character, resulting in her sounding differently. At first, this was a bit jarring, but as the story progressed and I spent more time with Kas, it became clear it reflected how much she has changed over the years. When we first met, she sometimes came off as incredibly naïve, but now she’s much more mature, and while she is still optimistic, it is tempered by everything that’s happened over the years. It was refreshing to see and hear that reflected in her portrayal.
Without getting into spoilers, this is the best story ArenaNet has put together thus far. I enjoyed everything before now, but EoD took it up a notch. Some things played out exactly how I thought they would, while others didn’t at all, but none of it felt cheap or a copout. One thing which surprised me a bit was how much story there was. There were multiple points where I thought, “ok, this is probably the end of the story for now,” but things kept going. Not in an “omg when will this end” sort of way but in a pleasant “oh we’re doing this now” way. End of Dragons is a gift that keeps giving.
Maps, bringing the best of HoT and PoF together
Back when Heart of Thorns first launched, the maps were all constant peril around every corner. Which fit the setting perfectly but was a considerable change from the core Tyria maps where exploration was emphasized above all. As much I loved this change and enjoyed the challenge, which was helped by the fact I switched to Revenant with HoT, the community, by and large, was less happy about it. When PoF came along, there was more focus on encouraging exploration and wandering around the maps. Which was a nice change, but I did miss the feeling of danger and knowing I could wander wherever was a bit boring, even as wonderful and interesting as the maps were.
Another aspect that played into the dichotomy between HoT and PoF maps was the map metas. In HoT maps, every map had a strong meta, and when it came to Dragon Stand, parts of the map weren’t accessible at all without progressing the meta events. Again, this fit well with the theme and story, but if not enough players were pushing the meta events, then players were out of luck. On the other hand, PoF maps had more of the old-style events that would pop up but fewer metas that mattered in terms of doing things generally. Again, this was great for overall exploration and ease of movement, but it made the maps feel less alive, and I often found myself ignoring events altogether unless I needed them for a project I wanted to complete.
This brings us to EoD maps, and they thread the needle between the extremes of HoT and PoF style brilliantly. The first map of Seitung Province is beautiful and drew me, and I wanted to find every nook and cranny and hidden thing there was. We did all group up on one day to experience the meta event in this map, which was a blast, but it is also ignorable if players would rather do whatever they want to do instead of participating. New Kaineng City is a brilliant combo of a city map with what feels like a standard zone map. There are a ton of places to explore, and events are popping up all over the city, as well as a meta event. I have to say that figuring out my way around New Kaineng was reminiscent of exploring Tangled Depths but to a lesser extreme.
The last two maps lean a bit more towards the HoT style, but they also have a lot to explore, and not doing the meta didn’t seem to block me from anything. I found I needed to do a random event that popped up at the exist from Echovald to the last map, but it wasn’t part of the meta, and I was able to dispatch it quickly. One thing that did throw me off in all of the maps was that allies would call for help using the Commander’s intercom when events would pop up. At first, I didn’t realize that was happening, and I thought it was part of the main story, which was confusing depending on what story step I was on. Despite that confusion on my part, this is a good change because it’ll help players who want to do events find them more easily.
The importance of HoT and PoF masteries
As part of the early access, I wasn’t playing on my account, which meant I didn’t have everything available that I would otherwise have. Although I did have all the mounts and gliding available, I didn’t have any of the associated masteries unlocked – I was shocked to realize how much difference that made. It’s been so long since I unlocked the gliding, raptor, and springer masteries that I forgot what it was like to use all of those without the masteries. I stuck to both of those mounts because people starting in EoD can get access to gliding, raptors, and springers without going back to HoT or PoF. So I wanted to get a perspective on what that experience will be like.
When it comes to the raptor mount, I completely forgot the pull-in effect when doing its attack action wasn’t a default part of the raptor. Since round up was one of the very earliest masteries I unlocked to my mind, it’s just how it always worked. As someone who mains Weaver being able to gather a bunch of mobs into a close area and immediately deal a ton of damage not only helps me kill them faster but also helps me stay alive longer. Even outside of that, though, it’s also super helpful when engaging anything with a break bar. I also completely forgot how much canyon jumping increases the distance the raptor can jump. Having the ability to jump further distances would have been an enormous help when exploring, and I sorely missed it as well.
For springer, it’s all about the high vault mastery. As someone who only recently got her griffon and hasn’t even started on the skyscale, the springer is my primary way to scale up everything. This will also be true for any new players who won’t have a skyscale or griffon. Many times during the preview, I was trying to explore an area or get to a story marker, and I would have been able to easily do it if I had the high jump mastery. This is somewhat lessened after unlocking jade bots, and I could use ziplines, but those are only in specific spots, which leaves a lot of areas I just wanted to hop up on the springer.
However, if there’s one mastery I would recommend to new players to go back and get above all else, it’s advanced gliding. This one is a bit of a pain because it’s the second to last mastery in the HoT gliding line and will cost you 19 mastery points to get advanced gliding and the four unlocks before it. I most noticed the need for endless gliding in New Kaineng. That city is a labyrinth, and often the quickest way to get somewhere is gliding, especially before ziplines are unlocked. Although, even after I could use the ziplines, they didn’t always go where I wanted to go. Not having to free fall to save my glider from running out would have been a huge help when moving around that city. In fact, I died the first time I tried to glide around there because I forgot there was a time limit on gliding.
I know for new players, the draw will be to jump into EoD content as soon as possible, but I highly recommend going back to get the few masteries I have mentioned here first. They will vastly increase your quality of experience moving around Guild Wars 2 as a whole. I also highly recommend you play through the old expansions and season content because that will significantly increase your understanding of the story and its impact. I understand that will take quite a while, and why some wouldn’t want to wait for it. One of the great things about GW2 is that old content is always relevant in some way, so you don’t have to worry about missing out if you don’t do things right away. Some things might take a little bit more effort later, but it’s always doable.
Live and final review
I absolutely cannot wait to get into things on my account and see everyone else’s reactions to not just the story but all of the content coming with End of Dragons. I’m hoping to have my final review done next week after I have a chance to delve into everything more deeply and see how everything unfolds once launch happens. In the meantime, though, what do you plan on focusing on first in EoD? Is it all about the story, elite specs, or something else you’re going to focus on first?