The Living World Comes to Life Again

Living World Season 3 has launched in Guild Wars 2, which continues the main story of your character immediately following on from the developments in Heart of Thorns. I share my thoughts on the first new episode, “Out of the Shadows”.

Episode 1 of Living World Season 3 in Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2 is one of my favourite massively multiplayer games to hop into whenever there’s something new to play. Developed by ArenaNet, it’s the sequel to the original Guild Wars, and is set in the world of Tyria, populated by a myriad of different playable races including humans, charr, asura, nords and sylvari.

Over the last four years, ArenaNet has proved to be quite capable of releasing enough content at a regular enough pace to satisfy my insatiable need for stuff to do. One of the main ways the story of the world of Tyria progresses is through “Living World” content, which makes the game world feel alive and changes it over time. Previous content has come with effects such as the blighting of Kessex Hills, destruction of Fort Salma and Concordia and the complete annihilation and rebuilding of the city of Lion’s Arch.

During the last week of July 2016, the latest season of new story content launched in Guild Wars 2. “Living World Season 3” continues the main story of your character immediately following on from the developments in Heart of Thorns (the game’s first major expansion).

Banking it

Like previous Living World seasons, the content is released in an episodic format, with the first episode titled “Out of the Shadows”. Logging into the game during its initial release period will permanently unlock this episode for your account for free. After this period, if you don’t already have it, it will become paid content which you’d need to purchase to unlock.

Compared to the way new paid content is released in other games, it has its advantages in that fact that if you log in while the new stuff is the new hotness, you don’t have to pay anything. I was late for the start of Living World Season 2 and had to pay for the first two episodes, so I quickly learnt my lesson to pay attention to the release dates and spend the measly couple of seconds it takes to log in and bank each new episode.

Out of the Shadows

Now on to the actual content of the new episode.

[SPOILER ALERT!] If you haven’t played it yet and don’t want (mild) spoilers, then you probably don’t want to read any further, although I’ll try not to reveal anything major that hasn’t already been out in the public domain for a while.

Here’s the description of the episode from the Guild Wars 2 website:

In the aftermath of Mordremoth’s death, the Pact Commander and their allies celebrate their victories—and mourn their losses. But as an old threat emerges into the light, what comes next will cast doubt on everything Tyria’s heroes think they know.

One particular “old threat” that the episode focuses on is the re-emergence of the White Mantle, a religious cult that was defeated in the original Guild Wars game and has survived in the shadows until now. I haven’t played the raid content which came out recently in Guild Wars 2, but I think those also feature elements of the White Mantle reveal.

Personally, my main character in Guild Wars 2 is a common folk human, and the background I picked was that he is an orphan that never knew his real parents. This isn’t just headcanon – it’s one of the many different story backgrounds you can pick during character creation that actually affects what you experience during the second act of your main story. In my case, my character was attacked by White Mantle agents while searching for information about his parents. My character learns that his parents were spies for the old King, working to stop the White Mantle’s devious activities and were ultimately discovered, with tragic consequences.

So far, I’ve found that there’s no reference to this while encountering White Mantle agents in the new episode, although it would surprise me if there was any, given that my character’s personal story is only one possible variant in the multitude of backstories available. The game developers probably aren’t that invested in linking back to that pretty niche lore about how my character is (probably) seeking to avenge his parents.

The episode also features a continuation of fully voiced player character dialogue, which returned with Heart of Thorns. Your character gets voiced dialogue during the main storyline in vanilla Guild Wars 2, and then becomes a silent protagonist during the content in Living World Seasons 1 and 2, with dialogue only through text conversations. Starting with Heart of Thorns, they brought back the original voice actors, and I agree with what the devs have said on their livestreams – it makes such a fantastic difference to hear your character speaking again and interacting during conversations. I loved running around the new places in Heart of Thorns and hearing my characters comment on things around them. So far, I’ve only fully played through Heart of Thorns with my human male and sylvari female characters, but the delivery of lines by veteran game voice actors Nolan North and Jennifer Hale was superb and memorable, in my opinion. I was sad to hear that the male charr voice actor has changed, but I’ll have to play up to that content to hear for myself if there’s a noticeably jarring difference.

The story of the episode unfolds over a chain of six new quests, which are meaty enough that it felt like a good solid amount of content. It also takes place in a brand new area of the world map – Bloodstone Fen, which is small compared to some other areas in-game, although consistent in size with previous new areas released in Living World such as The Silverwastes and Dry Top from Season 2. Bloodstone Fen also follows the design of other Heart of Thorns locations, in that it contains verticality with three distinct stacked layers – up in the air on magically floating islands of rock, on the ground surface and in the cavernous underground, making for quite a good amount of surface area to explore.

The episode also reveals the name of your new guild. During the original main story, your character joins “Destiny’s Edge”, the guild of the main non-playable characters. This group is no longer operating by the end of Heart of Thorns, but meanwhile, you’ve acquired your own new merry band of NPC friends over the course of Living World Seasons 1 and 2 which now deserves its own name. Prior to Season 3, a poll was offered to players. The choices available were “The Unbroken”, “Dragon’s Watch” and “Eternity’s Guard”. I think I remember voting for “The Unbroken” because it sounded cool, but wouldn’t really be disappointed with the other options either. The results of the poll were not revealed, as the devs wanted it to be a nice surprise for you to discover while playing the episode.

In order to progress, you even have to learn a new mastery skill, “Counter Magic”, that has been added with this episode. The mastery system was added in Heart of Thorns, and offers advanced progression beyond level 80, with any experience points earned going towards learning new mastery skills which can range from learning new abilities, unlocking new vendors and enhancements like being able to run faster while in major cities. I’ve found that it’s been quite a clever system for horizontal progression, as it seems to be very expandable and flexible for the developers to add new masteries. You also have a new aerial combat ability while in Bloodstone Fen, and a set of new Bloodstone Fen daily achievements.

Waiting for the next episode

Along with the new Living World story content, there’s also a new fractal (scaling mini-dungeon) called Chaos Isles and a new (or rather a returning) PvP map called Revenge of the Capricorn. I don’t expect to play these any time soon, as I’m not really into PvP and don’t currently have a group available to play fractals with. But the fractal sounds intriguing, because the devs have revealed that there’s a separate story going on with those involving a mysterious asura, and that will continue with new fractal content in parallel with the release of new Living World episodes.

Ultimately, I found the new episode to be very enjoyable and a promising start to a new season of content. I’m looking forward to episode 2, and hope that I don’t have to wait too long. The devs have a penchant for ending their episodes with cliffhangers that leave you eager to find out what happens next…

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