Guild Wars 2’s Season 2 launched earlier this week, and aims to set a new precedent for the game’s Living Story content. ArenaNet invited us to take a tour of Season 2’s first episode, Gates of Maguuma, and I’ve come away from it having a more clear understanding of their shift in direction for storytelling.
Before we get into the preview, be sure to check out this article for some context about the story so far. Be also forewarned that while I’ll try to paint a vague outline of the story focusing mainly on plot points, there are MAJOR SPOILERS below for Gates of Maguuma. So if you’d rather discover the content for yourself first, go ahead and do so and then come back for my impressions. Furthermore, while you can unlock the episode at any level to play later, you won’t be given access to any story instances until level 80. You’ll still be able to explore the new area of Dry Top, but will have to wait until max level to get into the meat of the Living Story content.
Gates of Maguuma starts out in much the same way that other Living Story episodes have done in the past: with you receiving a cryptic message from an unknown factor. You’ll be directed to make your way to Brisban Wildlands, where you’ll find a hastily constructed outpost in Tangle Root that has been built to defend against a wave of weird encroaching vine things. A crew of familiar faces will be ready to greet you, alongside a new cast of characters, and you’ll be spending most of your Living Story time with the likes of Marjory, Kasmeer, Braham, Rox, and Taimi.
All is not rosy in the already-not-so-rosy region of Tangle Root. The Asura Inquest have already begun to stake their claim in whatever unnatural craziness has taken root with the creepy vine things, and you’ll be able to help out in defending the outpost from the little geniuses before moving into the new Living Story zone, called Dry Top. Sidebar: there are no less than five horticultural references in this paragraph. Plants!
As mentioned in the preview linked above, the story in Dry Top surrounds the discovery of a sabotaged Zephyr ship. You’ll initially spend a fair amount of time investigating the sabotage and searching the area for clues, while the Inquest keeps inquesting and doing their best to get in your way. Dry Top itself is a vertically-designed map with arid and sandy redstone landscapes and stunning vistas. There are quite a few contextual Zephyrite movement skills about, which you’ll be required to use to get around the map.
The Gates of Maguuma story will take you through a combination of open world exploration and instanced content, and while you can solo the whole thing, the instances will seamlessly scale to your party size. If you’ve played any of GW2’s Season 1 content, you’ll likely have a lot more context for what’s going on and appreciation for references to tent pole characters like Scarlet, but the devs have been keen on making all of the episodes accessible to players new to the story.
Over time, you’ll figure out that the saboteur was most likely an assassin tailing Master Peace, the Zephyrite leader, who is doing who knows what. The story will lead you to a town below all of the rocky outcroppings in Dry Top, which is where the region opens up a bit more. True to ArenaNet form, Dry Top is richly detailed and comes with a host of new waypoints, vistas, and points of interest for you to discover, with dynamic events and an overarching sandstorm threat that we’ll talk about a bit later. It also has an extremely important addition to GW2 fauna: llamas.
As you make your way through the town and follow the clues on the trail to find Master Peace, the saboteur, and hopefully a Radio Shack, you’ll eventually cross paths (and blades) with the erstwhile Zephyrite and would-be Sylvari assassin, Aerin. After a few skirmishes with the borderline-maniacal saboteur, you’ll encounter a fairly elaborate boss fight where he’ll be teleporting around a bunch of rock platforms and you’ll have to use the Zephyrite movement skills to keep up with him. All the while, your NPC friends will be fending off vine tendrils below the main fight, and Master Peace, with whom you’ve finally caught up, will help you out from a distance.
The enigma will continue after the fight, however, as Master Peace will only explain to you that Aerin was crazy and sought some sort of power that was in the Zephyrite leader’s possession. As he leaves the scene to continue his shadowy mission, you’ll be left to consider more clues that you’ve found from the fight with Aerin, and return to the town with more questions than answers.
It was at this point in our tour that the sandstorm hit Dry Top. Visibility was reduced to a minimum, and importantly, a dynamic event was unlocked that allowed us to look for newly uncovered chests. Essentially, before a sandstorm, you’ll be given the opportunity to take on different objectives that will increase your favor with the Zephyrites and earn lockpicks. Then, when the sandstorm makes everything a hazy beige, you can use those lockpicks to open chests and get loot.
Back at the town and inquiring about the bonkers Aerin, you’ll find that there’s been another Sylvari afoot, who had been searching for an underground river. With all signs pointing to Scarlet, you’ll inspect her room in the sandstone village and learn more about what she was working on when she was younger, including dragons, their relation to magic, and the existence of magical Ley Lines. The story instance in which these revelations take place is particularly indicative of the character exposition and dialogue that your NPC companions take part in throughout Gates of Maguuma, and is a pretty neat scene. There’s quite a bit of new GW2 lore here, and an interesting holorecorder of Scarlet (or Ceara, at that time) talking about what it’s like to not be trying to destroy everything in the universe.
Eventually, you’ll track down a Norn miner named Toska for more information on the Ley Line hub that Scarlet was looking for, but she’ll tell you that access to it has been blocked by a cave-in. OR HAS IT?!?!?!?!!1111eleven
And, scene. By the time you’ve completed the Gates of Maguuma story content, you’ll be left with questions about Scarlet, Ley Lines, Aerin, Master Peace, and if you’ve been doing things correctly, llamas. Your queries will have to wait for the next episode, but in the meantime, you can explore the Dry Top region, do the story instances again, or tackle the newly unlocked achievements, which will encourage you to play through the area in different and more challenging ways.
Throughout our tour, I was struck by the changes made by ArenaNet to their overall style of storytelling, particularly in response to the critiques of Season 1. Gates of Maguuma as a whole feels much more cohesive than any one episode from the previous season, and is driven by the story instances and NPC interactions in a very natural way. The decision to lock achievements until after completing the story is a good one, as it transfers the responsibility of storytelling onto the content itself, rather than making you piece it together by grinding through the different activities.
I also like the implementation of the story journal, which allows you to revisit Living Story content at your leisure, and the new Dry Top zone in general. It features a nice new color palette with environmental hazards in the open world and instances like quicksand and falling rocks. I tend to play my MMOs solo or with one or two friends, but Dry Top, like the rest of GW2’s zones, is perfectly suitable for larger roving parties of adventurers.
Season 2: Gates of Maguuma is now live, so get in there and check it out!
Som Pourfarzaneh / Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.