Earlier this week, I promised that I’d be taking a look at Path of Fire, the upcoming expansion for Guild Wars 2, during the open demo weekend. I wanted to discover for myself if the sense of wonder had been rekindled, teasing me to explore mysterious new lands. I wanted to feel like I could survive instead of being a corpse to be tossed around. And I wanted to see if the joy returned from the original game, given form in small details that lend weight to the world.
I’m pleased to say that, on all three counts, Path of Fire exceeded my expectations. Yes, the demo was restricted to half of the first map, with limited exposure to the new storyline. And yes, the demo provides you with a fresh character fully kitted in exotics, which is more powerful than my current Guardian. However, even with those caveats in mind, I had a fantastic time playing the preview. On all three counts – exploration, survivability, and easy-going entertainment – the new experience delivered.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for me to warm to the Crystal Desert, with a story instance introducing me to the new Crystal Oasis zone. Yes, there was the characteristic unveiling of the expansion’s bad guys, but Path of Fire gets the housework out of the way quickly and moves on to the fun stuff. Within half an hour, I was given a mount and taught how to use it, before heading out into the world proper. It meant that I spent a good hour running around the zone, discovering where my raptor’s leaps could take me, and charging into crowds of enemies with a tail swipe.
Its clear that we’re expected to spend significant time with our mounts, as my reptilian companion was packed with character through subtle animations. There’s the momentum that’s demonstrated when suddenly breaking or turning, with the creature struggling to hold up. There’s the deep claw prints left in the sand. And there’s the idle animations, from rearing up to look around, to sitting down and getting scratches. It’s a touch of charm that brought a smile to my face, reminding me of times in the original game.
Frolics aside, the story quickly guided me towards Amnoon, a minor city with all the conveniences you’d expect. There’s a bank, trading post, and several events to start building up progress against the expansion’s new Masteries. For me, it was a welcome change from how Heart of Thorns started, as I now had a welcome haven to explore from.
Talking about exploration, it’s an activity that Path of Fire actively encourages. One of the earliest events I discovered was a raptor race around part of the oasis, where I’d discover landmarks and beauty spots as I jumped and charged my way to a podium place. I’d also discover other events, such as patching up a water plant or collecting a ship’s lost cargo, but there was always a touch of humour in the way they played out.
If there was ever a symbol that would bring relief to my content concerns, then the Renown Heart would be it. These not-quests-but-kinda have made a return in Path of Fire, and I’m incredibly pleased to see that they’re back. Yes, they’ve been used a little more sparingly to balance them with Events and Mastery or Hero Points, but I think it gives a more enjoyable mix of content.
There are other elements that I’ve enjoyed from the Crystal Oasis, like the brightly coloured Sand Sharks that remind me of every bugged fish that I’ve fought on the beaches of various MMOs. Mastery feels different this time, as if it’s there to unlock parts of the map – a little like Zelda opens up as you discover new items – but the map design is such that it teases them instead of creating an exploration roadblock. Which comes on to my next point, which is that wandering around didn’t feel like death was lurking on every corner (or down every canyon).
So, based on my experience hammering the playable demo, I’ve decided to purchase the next expansion for Guild Wars 2, mainly because Path of Fire seems to focus more on those aspects that I enjoyed in the original game. I’ll probably use the Level 80 boost to develop a new character with the right level of Exotic gear, and I might look at plundering my cobwebbed bank vault to tool up a couple of forgotten alts. Either way, I’ll have a few weeks to prepare before launch.