Today is the launch of the next season of living story content for Guild Wars 2, Icebrood Saga. However, aside from being the next chapter of the story for Guild Wars 2, this update also brings with it some features we have previously only received with paid expansions. Last week I had the opportunity to check out this new update ahead of release and not only experience the story firsthand, but to also poke around the new map a bit. So let’s dive right in and discuss some of the exciting things arriving today. I’m also going to steer clear of any story spoilers that weren’t shown in the trailer.
We start by returning to check on how things have been going since we were forced to retreat at the end of the prologue. Unfortunately, we find the keep deserted and must start a search for our friends. This search takes us into the new map Bjora Marches, though it should probably be called Bjora Tundra because it’s much more of a frozen wasteland than anything else. Seriously there’s an ice storm that’s continuously going so not only is it snowy and covered in snow, but it’s also sort of hard to find your way around at first.
Sure there’s plenty of wildlife around, and the Sons of Savanir are a huge presence, but the touch of Jormag is on everything. Whenever I went out into the map the raging storm would cause me to get a debuff, which among other things would create a frost effect around the screen. If I ignored it too long I’d get frozen and would have to break myself out, which seemed like more of an annoyance than an actual problem. For example, as soon as I broke out of the ice, I was freed of all frozen effect, which is excellent in terms of gameplay but doesn’t make much logical sense. There’s also the raven statues throughout the zone, which will warm you back up and prevent the frozen effect.
One of the most exciting aspects of this episode is the whispers everyone hears throughout the episode. These whispers are consistently clawing at each character’s most closely held worries and their own perceived failings. Of course, some characters are more susceptible to this than others, but it was fascinating to see how each handles these moments. Aside from hearing their reactions there is also a visual which happens to indicate when they hear the voice in their head. These are small moments for the most part, but it goes a long way towards continuing their story arcs. Especially certain characters we haven’t known for long.
The Mastery system has also been expanded with the addition of this chapter to include masteries to make use of the new resistance system. These mastery tracks use a new type of mastery point, similar to how expansions worked previously. There are three different resistances that players gather from various mobs in the map. Each resistance is related to a type of creature, and every resistance is strong and weak against another resistance. ArenaNet did a great job of outlining the system in this blog post for a more in-depth look at the system.
Anytime I was fighting any type of enemy throughout the fight they’d drop these small orbs, and picking them up would grant me a stacking buff. For example, one is called the Essence of Valor that at thirty stacks gives a buff, which increases Magic Find and gave me resistance to damage from Savanir. When they dropped the orbs it looked like a small circle with the green sphere in the middle, which had the face of a badger on it. Thirty stacks also granted the occasional use of the Night Terror ability, which would deal a great deal of damage to whatever I was fighting. Since these buffs drop while fighting any creature, ones with more substantial health pools dropped more orbs.
While this system is exciting and adds a bit of flavor to being out on the map itself, it also could have some interesting uses for the strike missions. Making sure you have whatever buff would be most useful for the strike mission that’s up would be a huge help. It is also an excellent call for these buffs to not be a detriment to the player at all, just a buff. I’m not sure how I feel about the Masteries not being tied to things that change or enhance how I can move around a map. On the one hand it will be nice not to be held back in completing the story because I need to unlock masteries. On the other though, it’s always nice to get to explore a new part of a map because I unlocked a cool new ability.
Either way, this story installment sets the new season off with a bang. I, for once, am not at all sure where things will go from here. Icebrood Saga so far feels like an expansion lite, which we’re getting for free, and that’s fantastic. I can’t wait for everyone else to hop in so we can start discussing the story in earnest. See you in Tyria!