The last Living World episode was a fantastic diversion from the crushing doom that Kralkatorric presents. While the Crystal Dragon continues to loom ominously on the horizon and the branded still scramble around the outskirts of the known world, Living World has turned our attention on a much more imminent threat. Now, episode 3 of the latest Living World season brings the rise of Palawa Joko and an epic climax.
Like all Living World updates ArenaNet unveil a new territory with the release of Long Live the Lich. In this instance, the sandy plains of Kourna await the Commander as we follow this episode's narrative and track down Joko. Picking up where episode 3 left off, the fallout of the Inquest’s activities is quickly overcome as Joko rears his head in a very personal manner. From there the entire narrative drags us down to Kourna. The Kourna province sits just south of Vabbi and might be familiar to anybody that played the original Guild Wars. Its rolling sand dunes have played host to Gandara, the Moon Fortress for almost as long as most can remember. Throughout Guild Wars, the fortress has loomed over the land like a plague, yet no hero or legend has ever dared fight their way through the defenses that line this massive structure. ArenaNet ’s return to this land brings more than a few changes, for the initiated. While Kourna was always impressive, Guild Wars 2 has given it a bit of a facelift. The province is an initially odd mix of winding roads, sand dunes, vast chasms and open space, all bounded by a wall Sylvari thorns.
Beyond this defensive perimeter, sits the heart of Joko’s dominion. Gandara and its surrounding surface are not easily traversed, and for good reason. The Lich’s fortress is a disturbing display of power that would take pumpkin wielding mad king seem like a reasonable ruler. Joko’s Awakened troops patrol the plains outside Gandara and a necrotic miasma seems to seep out over the land, encompassing anything that steps into the shadow of the Moon Fortress.
While the newest addition to Guild Wars 2 looks fantastic, Kourna might initially seem a little confusing. It lacks the awe of Draconis Mons and seems to crush together a number of different topologies. What becomes evident quite quickly, however, is that outside of its visual merits, this map is very well balanced. The northern area of Kourna provides great added value to the mount system. The range of verticality and stretching savannah mixes elements of the Silverwastes with Amnoon’s golden plateaus giving players a range of movement options and multiple avenues to the front lines.
Once you reach the apex of this conflict, you will find the area surrounding Joko’s fortress is a necrotic nightmare. It also sets the scene for the final push into the Moon Fortress. Rush to the front lines and you will find a huge meta event in full swing. As the forces that face Joko and the Scarab Plague fight to dismantle his grip on the living and dead, a push-pull world event allows players to capture a foothold outside the Moon Fortress and drive back the awakened. Ultimately this is a well-rehearsed system and an event that meets the same standards we’ve come to expect from ArenaNet’s living world releases. At times, the events in Kourna can feel a little superfluous due to the segregation of the map by some extensive defenses. However, this might just also be down to the absolutely epic encounter that waits for players in the halls of the Moon Fortress.
This story marks the first instance that players will be able to enter the Joko’s evil fort and it has a fitting ambiance. The interior area of the fort is a mix of decadence and decay that appropriately embodies this particular lord of the undead. Unlike Zhaitan the face off against this undead overlord has a particularly personal touch to it that really makes things interesting. While the crawl through the Moon Fortress is full of engaging puzzles and new mechanics, it is the presence of Palawa Joko that really sets the tone of this conversation. The trudge through the cells, which we glimpsed in the recent trailer for Long Live the Lich, becomes particularly gruesome as things get personal, and the game is all the better for this dark tone.
Insults, add to injury as you wind through laser wires, avoid flaming death, and dodge the volley of insults that Joko throws your way. It’s all very one-sided but really quite entertaining. The writing team at ArenaNet have exceeded my expectations with this instance, creating a villain that seems to take inspiration from various versions of the Joker. Joko is a full-tilt diva and a decidedly smart one at that, only lapsing into a dramatic monologue before the end. While I cannot tell you how it all plays out, I can say that it’s an instance that I found deeply satisfying, personal, twisted, and flippant all in the course of a single playthrough. It is a wonder that the narrative teams at ArenaNet managed to make this work. To their credit, however, they turn this confrontation into one of the highlights of Living World.
Once you’ve had a tour of Joko’s palace of horrors, and visited your own personal nightmare, it’s hard to imagine that there might be much more to do outside of Kourna’s relatively middling meta event. However, this map will likely keep you occupied for some time with an update none of us expected to see, the Roller Beetle. For those of you that did not see the Long Live the Lich trailer, do take a look at our sponsored feature and hop on board the hype beetle. The Roller Beetle is the latest addition to the mount system, a system introduced as part of the Path of Fire expansion, and does indeed bear some relation to the beetles that swarmed the Crystal Desert during Guild Wars. This also makes them the perfect creature to consume the Scarlet Plague as it begins to break out into the wild.
Roller Beetles sit behind a series of quests that are designed to help mop up this Scarlet Plague outbreak. The items necessary to grow an immature Roller Beetle into an adequate mount do not make it quite as arduous as getting your Griffon but it’s certainly harder than simply picking up a springer license. Unlocking every component of your fully grown Roller Beetle will also set you back as many as 24 mastery points. The result, however, is utterly incredible. A skittering start quickly picks up the pace when you take to Kourna’s long stretches of road. A quick blast of the beetle’s endurance bar will also find you shooting off in a haze of mystical nitrous oxide. Easily outpacing anything on the open road, the Beetle is not just the most unique mount design ArenaNet has produced, It is easily the most fun. I have already spent an unseemly amount of time speeding through the Veldrunner Drifts, a huge expanse of desert where you can catch air, smash through obstacles, and perform some sick acrobatics on your Roller Beetle.
The introduction of a new mount doesn’t just add some fun into this episode, it also presents a definitive step away from the more compartmentalized mastery lines of Living World Season 3. I loved using Oakheart’s Reach in Draconis Mons and the grappling hooks or Ember Bay, but these presented poor value when investing mastery points. This is without even mentioning the time and energy involved in producing these at ArenaNet. The Roller Beetle brings much more value to the average player when investing mastery points and can significantly change the way existing maps play. The Roller Beetle is more than your new favorite racing mount. It is a game changer.
Since players left the legendary Lich King to his fate during Path of Fire, this episode has been inevitable. Joko is more another Mad King Thorne. He is a nemesis, something that an eternal force of nature cannot present. While parts of this episode were a little uninspired, and vaguely resemble early Charr tutorials, the writers elevate this experience. Long Live the Lich is available now, just log in and play.