The White Mantle has been busy. Out of the spotlight for over two centuries, they've kept membership high and done it completely in secret. They're apparently strong enough to send wave after wave of zealots, along with a few non-human surprises, against pesky “heroes” who seek to undo all their hard work.
That's my totally canonical explanation for the preview encounter I ran last week, part of the Stronghold of the Faithful raid wing that goes live today for Guild Wars 2. Unlike the previous boss battles I'd had the opportunity to check out, this was more of a “gauntlet”-style encounter that required the players to continuously push forward and face down an endless wave of enemies while trying to complete their objectives.
Getting a handle on the Mantle
In this encounter, your team will have to split into two groups. One group is tasked with escorting an asura scientist named Glenna through a jungle path while the other must navigate a series of fortifications above the path. Each group to reach various checkpoints to allow the other group to proceed.
I was in the lower group, protecting Glenna, so I can't say much about the upper path, other than that it appeared to require players to glide along from spot to spot with Ley-Line Gliding and, I assume, fight groups of White Mantle baddies along the way. At times, we were stopped by heavy bombardment along the path that wiped out anyone foolish enough to wander into it, which the upper party had to disable. Likewise, we had to escort Glenna to white circles on the ground to facilitate the continued advancement of the upper group.
Our enemies consisted of persistent waves of White Mantle foes – remember, kill the clerics first! – and slower-moving wargs, who needed to be taken down quickly before they made a morsel out of Glenna, which ends the encounter. Several failed attempts – and a few dev hacks, and one increasingly weary Glenna, whose speech patterns seemed to get more and more discontented every time she died – we reached the final confrontation with a mesmer-flavored White Mantle boss. After the tribulations of getting to him, he seemed almost simple by comparison, and we didn't need to cheat to take him down. I think. Yeah, I'm going with that.
Even though you won't be fighting truly elite/champion/legendary mobs the whole way, the White Mantle minions pack a punch and aren't easy to take down. And there are enough of them that each wave feels like a significant encounter. The wargs, by comparison, seem rather easy, since all they do is make a beeline for Glenna. Overall, it's a significant challenge, though it's tough to tell exactly how it compares to more traditional boss fights.
It's funny that just a few weeks ago, I was thinking of how much I enjoyed some of the “non-boss” encounters in GW2's dungeons, like several of the fights in the various paths of Ascalon Catacombs, and thought it would be neat for something else to be in the raids. I've done “gauntlet”-style encounters in raids and generally liked them.
My primary issue with this one, though, is the bane of a lot of video game quests: escorts. Glenna isn't absurdly fragile, and the more experienced members of my party took charge of her, but it did feel unsatisfying to be doing such a good job only to have everyone instantly die when Glenna, forgotten for a few precious seconds, took a dirt nap. It makes it feel like success or failure is taken a little out of your hands and rests on the shoulders of an NPC who's incapable of doing anything without your help. Srsly, Glenna, git gud.
Q's and A's
As our play session ran late, I submitted a few questions to ArenaNet afterwards. I asked about raid population got the mostly expected response that they did view it as a niche activity, without giving any exact percentage, but one with “steady population” throughout the wing releases.
More importantly, I wanted to ask about how story elements in the raids could be experienced by players who weren't interested in the arduous challenge of raiding, perhaps via a casual mode. Though I wrote my question before the forum brouhaha that emerged the day after my session, it clearly influenced the response:
“We are definitely committed to making sure that non-raiders don't miss out on essential story elements. As our raid narrative designer, Bobby Stein, recently clarified, we'll be making sure that lore from the raids that's relevant to storylines in other content, like Living World, will be presented in that content so that players have a complete gameplay experience.”
I'm not sure how you have a “complete gameplay experience” when parts of that experience are locked behind content you can't do, but we'll see how it goes with Living World Season 3. Given the heated discussion on the topic, I think they'd be crazy not to err on the side of caution when it comes to how they present this material.
And when will that content come? We've been told it'll be during the summer update, which ArenaNet wasn't willing to give me a time frame for but said they would be “discussing the future of Living World with press at E3,” so we should hear about it soon. After such a long wait, it really needs to knock our socks off.