Before I discuss the meat of Episode 7 I just wanted to take a moment to praise the jumping puzzle that was added to The Silverwastes as part of the update. It’s not only enormous, confusing, beautiful and frustrating but mind-boggling as to how ArenaNet even began to weave it into the landscape of The Silverwastes. Set deep below ground in an enormous cavern that stretches for miles, the Retrospective Runaround jumping puzzle takes at least 15 minutes to complete, that’s without factoring in the misleading routes you’ll likely take. While I won’t spoil what you have to do on this occasion, I’d recommend you speak to the Skritt atop the upside down boat within the cavern. I spent far too long simply looking at the vastness that was above and below me while soaking in the Skritt infrastructure. It’s the first time in all the years I’ve played Guild Wars 2 that I felt part of their world - even the Skritt capital never made me feel in such awe of their mining and habitat. If I could provide any advice during your attempts to conquer this puzzle it would be that you shouldn’t be afraid of death (you’ll find out why) and try to resist using a video guide. You’ll feel a much greater sense of accomplishment when you conquer this by yourself but I will forewarn, it’s not for the easily frustrated.
Where Episode 7’s Living World content is concerned I think ArenaNet have once again delivered something brilliant. There are a fair few things I had issues with but the gameplay on offer here is boldly different and the storyline is surprisingly dark by Guild Wars 2 standards. If you’ve ever read or watch the Harry Potter series you’ll be aware of the Pensieve. It was a vessel where an individual could place a memory and the viewer would be transported into it in order to relive it. A very similar principle has been applied here where you relive Caithes memories by planting magical seeds where her memories are strongest. It might sound a little ridiculous but it works surprisingly well. It’s great to track the exact location of her memories by gradually using a hot and cold meter to determine where you need to stand.
I’ll freely admit that I know very little of the lore surrounding Caithe and I suppose in many ways that’s the entire purpose of this episode. To flesh out her backstory was brilliant to see and what you undertake throughout three visions is a real mix. From discussing the appearance of the second born Sylvari to stealthing through an Asura facility and incapacitating its occupants: it was all varied. While the original memory of Caithe and Faolain was relatively simple and left little scope for branching conversation it did kickstart the Episode. It left you instantly weary of Faolain but it also surprised me as to how close her and Caithe’s relationship was when they were younger. We know, certainly if you’ve played Twilight Arbor, that Faolain is the leader of the Nightmare Court. While we haven’t yet established how Faolain made that step it’s clear by the third memory that she has a cruel and manipulative side. Stranger still is to see Caithe so willingly follow her lead. Considering you slaughter Asura and Centaur for little more than getting to the bottom of a secret (which we don’t yet know), it’s difficult to not feel the villain during this entire Episode.
To go back to the second memory for just a moment, I actually think this is one of ArenaNet’s most daring accomplishments. As Caithe you’re handed a brilliant and unique set of skills but are forced to resist using them for a period of time as you infiltrate the Asura torture house. As a lover of the Asura it’s far from comforting to see them so cruelly torturing young Sylvari sprouts all for the sake of science. It isn’t long however that you’re sneaking through, Metal Gear Solid style, black-jacking the floppy eared menaces. The fact the sight of the Asura is physically displayed so you can avoid their gaze is a brilliant touch. If avoiding the Asura’s wasn’t tricky enough there’s also Golem sentries that have audio detection that will quickly detect when you deactivate a barrier into the torture chamber. Outsmarting them by using Caithe’s sprint skills so they cannot turn the barriers back on is incredibly satisfying, especially after you’ve successfully incapacitated rows of Asura. It’s such a refreshing change of pace to play Guild Wars 2 in this way that it shows the true potential of the Living World model.
If there was anything I’d like to have seen improved during this and the first dream would be the inclusion of two very specific cutscenes. I feel the first dream should have shown the birth of the second Sylvari as the emerged from their sleep. This would have provided powerful imagery and better yet, if the cutscene had shown some of them wandering away without knowing the true dangers of the world before them much of the awaiting dialogue would have had much more impact. The second cutscene I’d have like to have seen added would be the physical pain and anguish the trapped sprouts were going through. The limited animations and lack of emotion of the caged Sylvari didn’t allow me to truly relate to their pain. I knew they were hurt and I knew they were being experimented on but it’s not quite enough.
For the last vision you have to visit The Silverwastes. After speaking to some Skritt to explore the possibility of using their tunnels you are tasked with clearing out some bandit camps from Picaroon Scratch. What was confusing however was the fact that my Living World compass was telling me to go slightly east of Sand Dune Caverns. I ended up having to ask in map chat where to go - something I’ve never once had to do. When I eventually found where to go that I fell in love with ArenaNet’s pacing. Although this vision turned up very little in hard facts about the mystery you are chasing, it was incredibly subtle in its storytelling. There’s an immediate tension when you arrive in the Centaur camp and an even greater trepidation when it becomes clear Faolain has brought shady characters to support her. It’s clear that at some point Faolain will force a fight but to see Caithe join in and slaughter an entire camp of Centaur when one does, is very dark indeed.
I have to admit that I like gritty storylines and I’ve an odd affection for villains. I like to see them succeed and I love to know that story writers are willing to push the boundaries of what we do and don’t find acceptable at the hands of antagonists. I’m not particularly sure what that says about my personality but I loved the fact that Guild Wars 2 seemed to finally lose its rosey storytelling. For a long time I’ve always felt that the lore surrounding the game could be far grittier than it is. Do I suspect ArenaNet will turn even darker? Sadly not and while I think that’d be a shame, I’ll admit my taste in storytelling isn’t for everyone.
Episode 7 is yet another strong addition to the Living World content and as always its left players on a cliffhangar. There’s still so many questions unanswered but like any good TV series, it’s key to making you want to play on. Great job, ArenaNet.