Living World is back with the release of A Bug in the System, the latest chapter in Guild Wars 2’s ever evolving narrative. Unfortunately, so is Palawa Joko. This king of the undead recently returned from the underworld and he has already turned his gaze on central Tyria. Since the closing moments of Daybreak, his Awakened have terrorized the Plains of Ashford and the cobbled streets of Divinity’s reach with increasing regularity. Now, it is time to do something about it.
Just as Modremoth’s incursions propelled players into the Heart of Thorns, the unfathomable appearance of the Awakened in Central Tyria requires a definitive response. With Inquest technology seemingly involved and an imminent threat that will not abate, A Bug in the System sends players into uncharted territory in a hunt for answers. The opening moments of ArenaNet’s latest Living World release are an altogether less brazen procession of force than the jungle dragon received. Instead, players set out on an illicit mission to save two friends and eliminate the Inquest involvement.
After some necessary exposition players quickly find themselves on an ascent. Smuggled into an Inquest laboratory and sneaking through a myriad of corridors. Unethical experiments, maverick scientists, and a series of guard cubes litter the halls of yet another Inquest facility. While it is entirely possible to make your way through this complex using brute force, stealth and subterfuge are preferable. Trip an alarm and you will get a very personal look at some of the fantastic new artwork, renovating the Inquest’s golems with a sharp new set of skins. The opening moments of this episode are not necessarily its strongest section. It, however, does deliver an absolutely epic introduction to the rest of A Bug in the System, as players leap out into the games newest map, the Sandswept Isles.
The Sandswept Isles is another new frontier for Guild Wars 2. It is an isolated mass that lies just off the Isle of Istan, west of Vabbi, and is a welcome change of pace for Guild Wars 2. The Crystal Desert, Amnoon, and its surrounding geography can be described as a little dry at times. The Sandswept Isles are a vacation for anybody who has trudged along the Path of Fire for the last five months. The rolling sand dunes and unrelenting desert facades are gone in favor of tropical vistas. This amalgamation of lush vegetation, clear blue water, and serene beaches bear some resemblance to Southsun Cove, but on a much grander scale. Taking up masses of space, this map crams in an impressive amount of content, lots of verticality, and some really quite engaging events.
While Sandswept Isles host a variety of traditional open world content, ArenaNet continues to innovate on a well-established format. A range of conventional heart quests are littered around the map, allowing adventurers to earn volatile magic, which appears as a season-wide currency, and specific crystals. Endearing yourself to the locals will, of course, open up the usual mix of skins and consumables we’ve come to expect from Living World, and while the obligatory map wide meta event makes an appearance, this gathering storm unleashes some interesting twists. Following the environmental activity of the Brandstorm, and the introduction of wind tech in the Shattered Observatory fractal, the Stormcaller Echoes that haunt the isles introduce an innovate set of environmental effects. These enraged spirits and their elemental cohorts create vortexes that blow players from pillar to post while they attempt to restore order to the island. This turns a potentially mindless tank and spank into a chaotic maelstrom and a really entertaining encounter.
Whether it is an innovate new use of environmental mechanics, the map topology, or a reinvigorated Inquest, the most interesting parts of A Bug in the System are the reinventions of existing content. This could not be truer than for the Olmakhan. Introduced as players enter the mid-section of this episode, the Olmakhan are a lost tribe of Charr. A splinter from the Flame Legion, these Charr are a twist on the traditional war mongers of Central Tyria. While the legions of the Black Citadel adhere to a strict military doctrine, placing warbands before blood, this lost tribe are extremely familiar, living in family units that resemble human society. The basic huts that decorate the shoreline are the first indication that these Charr do not resemble their kin, and rarely have reason to bare fangs. This doesn’t just introduce a new take on the Charr but raises some insightful commentary on isolationism, as the story progresses. It has an especially pertinent impact on Rox, and is a refreshing diversion, from the unyielding march of war. It also serves as a fantastic interlude before pushing on towards the episode’s final assault.
Rata Primus is the target of this assault and the source of the ongoing attacks in Central Tyria. This immense fortress is, again, another iteration on the Inquest. It dominates the shoreline, a huge acrid cube that seems almost impenetrable. It is the most obvious show of the inquests power and elevates them beyond miscreants and mavericks to a quite obvious threat. This shielded target is unlikely to fall to a frontal assault, and the Commander continues to push down a path of infiltration and subterfuge. The remaining activities in this story split off the Commander and begin a covert quest to destroy the Inquests defenses. As things move inside the massive cube, the episode is at its most enjoyable when ArenaNet gets inventive. Although much of the content involves smashing face and decimating a variety of Awakened forces, a few moments are particularly inspired. The Gravitational Hammers littered around the Inquest laboratories are outstanding fun, twisting gravity and pulling players across space, and the obvious homage to portal is a delight to stumble onto. None of the various events or puzzles are overly difficult, but they are consistently fresh and inventive in a way that makes a change from blasting awakened, eviscerating sand sharks, or fetching eggs from the edge of a cliff.
Episode two of this season is most notable for its new take on so many existing parts of Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet has stepped away from the threat of Elder Dragons and produced another compelling villain that, like Scarlet, might be willing to see everyone we know fall. Old environmental mechanics have been resurrected and repurposed to great effect. Some enemies have a new lick of paint, and even the Charr are different in the Sandwept Isles. A Bug in the System is a surprise in so many ways, and it could easily have far wider repercussions than Tyria might imagine.