PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS OF EPISODES 8
Before I begin to gush wildly about Guild Wars 2’s Season 2 finale, I just wanted to take a moment to discuss ArenaNet’s art department. From first playing Looking Glass’ Thief series, I have always adored animated artwork. There’s something beautiful about seeing a painting or artwork in motion, especially when it transitions so effortlessly. Although I adore the original cutscenes in Thief: Deadly Shadows, I’d have to say that ArenaNet have taken the method of artwork-based storytelling to whole new level. Previously released cutscenes have always been a treat and as is expected, gorgeous to look at: the final two of Episode 8 are the best yet. I suspect part of the reason for this is unquestionably their length but also the fact that both have a grandeur never seen before. They’re filled with surprises, speculation, tragedy and themes I truly wasn’t expecting.
What I love most about them is the painterly flow from one scene to the next. It’s so seamless and captivating that I’ve had to watch each of the two half a dozen times before I could take it all in. Whether it’s transitioning from Mordremoth’s eye into the sun or a glowing building to the tip of Rytlock’s sword, it’s all wonderfully thought out and most importantly, engaging. My favourite part is where Rytlock strikes down several Modrem, only for the impact of his blade to scorch a trail of fire down the screen, leading perfectly to a beam of light shining besides Canach as he holds back troops trying to kill him. It’s a level of quality that’s so rare to see in videogames that it still agonises me that they’re so seldom used. No doubt this cutscene took a considerable amount of time to develop but for pure visual impact and the ‘wow factor’, it’s an absolute triumph.
Now that I’ve spoken a little bit about the cutscenes, we can get on with the playable sections of the Episode. It starts with you returning to Ogden as you search for a way in which to unlock the Forgotten seal in The Silverwastes. You quickly learn that you need to aid Turai Ossa in order to create Divine Fire. Turai was the first ruler of a united Elona and waged war against The Forgotten after venturing into the Crystal Desert. Although he fell in battle, you make attempts to help his soul by recovering his Relic’s hidden in the library. Treasure hunts might be becoming the norm as part of the Living World, but this one in particular is something I’ve been seeking for a while.
I’ve written before about how I’d like to be given the freedom to discover clues myself rather than have everything spoon fed and this time, ArenaNet have allowed it. Marjory might accompany you in an effort to discover the book but it's entirely down to you to locate the correct one amongst all the shelves. You could quite easily adopt a brute force method and open every book, but I ended up simply reading the title of each before satisfyingly picking the correct one first time. The remaining Relic pieces have their general location hinted at but once again it’s down to you to wade through the collection of rare antiques to find the correct ones.
I expected the entire section to be quick but surprisingly it takes quite a while to battle through the ghostly weapons and creatures while looking for what you need. Like most of the creatures in recent updates, these hit hard and can withstand a significant amount of damage. I died a few times on my Ranger and that’s more than welcome. Easy content is something Guild Wars 2 is famed for and it’s an image I’m sure, at some point, ArenaNet would like to change. The boss encounter later in the Episode might also be a telltale sign of the difficulty curve slowly changing.
Once you’ve secured the Divine Fire you’re summoned to Camp Resolve to meet with The Pact. I actually found this entire exchange between you, Logan and the other Pact members incredibly awkward. The dialogue just didn’t work, especially when Logan realises Brahm is Eir’s son. I can't pinpoint why, but there was nothing natural about the exchange. I appreciate ArenaNet are wanting to emphasize how strained Brahm and Eir’s relationship is, but this felt crowbarred in to add further emotional baggage to Eir's possible demise. It also made Logan look and sound stupid(er?). Fortunately I didn’t dwell on it for too long because Mordremoth began to attack the camp at the South and North gates. Even though it’s only you and other NPC’s fighting back creatures, it’s a pretty tense encounter that begins to scale quickly. You genuinely feel pressured as you retreat further and further back. Having the air became thick with smog as fires begin to burn on buildings around you is also a nice touch as it adds a sense that the camp really is under heavy attack. By the time you call an airstrike to aid in wiping out the oncoming creatures, things are genuinely tense.
Having successfully defended Camp Resolve there’s a very brief exchange between you, Logan and Zojja. Although this is better, it’s the casual chat between the two Pact members when you’re out of earshot that I enjoyed. It’s these small discussions that humanize them outside of the sometimes static player to NPC interactions. Hearing them talk in this way doesn’t feel forced, it feels much more believable and I hope it happens much more often.
Although an aerial assault on Mordremoth appears folly to me (did The Pact even know where he was, or were they simply scorching the land?) the third part of the Episode sees you visit the blocked wall where Wynne, many years ago, previously escaped through. Destiny’s Edge are forced to defend you as you use the Divine Fire to open up a portal and before you know it, you’re quickly warped inside. The dark tunnel you land in, lit only by Rox -- who’s now holding the torch -- has a real sense of foreboding. The first pack of spiders that attack genuinely made me jump (I think by this point I was totally immersed) and after battling through more ghostly weapons, the sight of the gleaming room ahead is breathtaking. Don’t ask me why, but it reminded me of a piece of concept art by Jamie Jones for Guild Wars’ Utopia expansion pack. As to why the room is beautifully gold, I’m still not sure but the later cutscene does show at 0.28 a Mursaat-like figure turning a temple a similar colour.
Inside the room you use a final memory seed to discover Caithe’s last memory. The biggest plot twist and a moment when I literally said “Oh, shit!”, was the discovery that the Sylvari were minions born from Mordremoth all along. There have been rumours for some time that the Sylvari were potentially Mordremoth’s spawn, especially after its lieutenant -- Shadow of the Dragon -- shares the same appearance as that in the Dream, but for this to come to fruition was quite incredible. As a player who almost exclusively plays Sylvari, there’s going to be an interesting dynamic going forwards as to how they’re treated. From the end cutscene it’s clear that Rytlock has already made up his mind and that Mordremoth’s influence has allowed him control many Sylvari. As to how Mordremoth controls some and not others is not yet known: I’m sure we’ll eventually find out.
After the vision finishes Caithe is waiting in the center of the room with Glint’s egg (it’s nice to see she found a suitably “green” backpack on her travels). Although I didn’t expect her to hand over the egg, it didn’t come as much of a surprise that the Shadow of the Dragon would appear at this inopportune moment. As far as encounters go, I think it’s the first time that ArenaNet have shown Guild Wars 2 could potentially have Raid bosses. We’ve seen over the last few Living World Episodes’s that boss fight mechanics have evolved from tank and spank encounters and although not a particularly complicated boss, there’s enough going on here to prevent him from being easily defeated.
Surrounded by a wall of thorns, you have to create a fire barrier around the inside edge by picking up the Diving Fire that Marjory throws over the wall. Once you’ve picked it up, you need to then use it on a series of set locations to complete the fire ring. To make life difficult, Shadow of the Dragon erupts tendrils, fires his fists through the ground while also extinguishing the flames through using a shadow creature. There’s also some nasty area of effect spores that appear which deal massive damage and knock you back. I died a few times (primarily because I’m full Berzerker) and it took me a while to notice that when I’d lit a flame, I had to kill the approaching creature before they were extinguished. When you manage to build a complete wall of fire the Shadow of the Dragon's head appears through the floor, finally allowing you to damage him. Kasameer is also kind enough to throw in a Time Warp, meaning you can kill him after only two cycles. It’s a pretty awesome boss and one that’s both challenging and incredibly fun. It definitely stretched my Dodge capacity to the limit and I'd hope that if Raids were ever implemented, we'd see more mechanics such as this but on a much larger scale.
Once you’ve defeated Shadow of the Dragon the final cutscene plays out in all its glory. Despite completing the Episode, many questions still remain.
- What has become of the Pact?
- How is Mordremoth controlling some Sylvari and not others?
- What is Caithe going to do with the egg?
- What has really become of Rytlock?
- Will Polearms be a new expansion pack weapon?
- Are the Mursaat going to surface?
- When will Rox and Brahm be killed? (please!)
All this is still unanswered and just as predicted, players are already eagerly awaiting the PAX South panel for answers on future episodes and the long awaited expansion pack. Despite a few tiny niggles, then, Episode 8 was a perfect ending. I didn't think ArenaNet could pull it off, but I think they just about managed it.
As a final giveaway to celebrate the Living World season coming to an end, I'm offering 1600 Gems to the person who answers the following question:
What was your favourite part of Living World Season 2 and why?
- All entries must be made via Disqus comments below.
- All readers are free to make as many comments/entries as they wish.
- All readers should ensure they can be contacted via Disqus should so that we can contact you for your prize.
- The closing date for all entries is January 31, 2015. Winners will be notified via a reply to their original comment.