Today, ArenaNet announced Path of Fire, the new expansion for cheery non-subscription MMO Guild Wars 2. Two weeks ago, I was at ArenaNet, playing a demo of the expansion, which releases next month. Here's a rundown of what Path of Fire offers, along with comments from some of its developers about key features and approaches. Look out for more Path of Fire coverage in the next issue of the magazine.
We're off to the Crystal Desert
Before I launch into many paragraphs about the big new feature—mounts!—let me first set the scene. Path of Fire takes place in the Crystal Desert, a big, well, desert area to the south of Ascalon. It's a location that will be familiar to players of the first Guild Wars, but Path of Fire is set 250 years after that game. A lot has changed. I was able to visit The Amnoon Oasis, now a major city, and explore the first map, Crystal Oasis. It's big, varied and beautiful. The city is vibrant, and full of open world events and short minigames—I briefly had a go at being a sous chef in pursuit of a mastery point. Outside the centre, there are farmlands and rolling sand dunes.
'Desert' doesn't mean beige and sandy
"The quality hasn't dropped for how huge these maps are," says Horia Dociu, franchise art director for Guild Wars 2. "There's still a ton of variety, a ton of really interesting pockets of sub-biomes. Every type of desert you can dream of is in this game: crystal stuff, toxic stuff, whatever. The level of detail and fidelity—just the mature art team combined with the mature toolkit—to do something this big at our most detailed level is something that I'm shocked by. I think the fans are really going to dig it visually."
This is a 'content' expansion
Heart of Thorns was, according to ArenaNet, a feature expansion. While it added new zones, its main purpose was to restructure the game's systems to support future expansions. But its price was a big ask for what was, compared to many MMO expansions, a relatively slim amount of new things to do. And while Heart of Thorns is now a much larger offering thanks to the new maps added in the latest season of the Living World story, Path of Fire is being billed as a content expansion. It follows the basic template set by HoT, and simply adds more stuff. While five new zones may not sound like a huge increase, ArenaNet says that, in total, they'll be larger than the combined area of both Heart of Thorns and the six Season Three maps.
The big bad is a god
The last season of the Living World hinted that maybe killing off the Elder Dragons wasn't in Tyria's best interests. Over the course of the season, the focus shifted to a new threat: Balthazaar, the human god of fire. Dragons are still a major part of the story, though. "Guild Wars 2, from the beginning, is a story about humans learning to deal with the Elder Dragons. Humans coming to the realisation that this isn't our world—we're kind of imposters in the world," says Mike O'Brien, president and co-founder of ArenaNet, who wants Path of Fire to ask some deep, existential questions about Tyria. "What is the deal with the gods? Where the hell have the gods been? And really, the most existential question of them all—humans have been born in this world for generations, so are we now natives? Are we natives of Tyria? Is this our world? Should we fight for Tyria? Or is this the dragons' world? Or can we somehow coexist with the dragons? Who lays claim to this world?"
There are mounts now
Now for the big new feature: mounts. Path of Fire has them. In the traditional sense, mounts don't make a whole lot of sense in Guild Wars 2—you can teleport anywhere in the world for only a couple of silver coins. Moving insignificantly faster is hardly a big deal. But Path of Fire's mounts are more than just a speed boost. Four will be available, and—like Heart of Thorns' gliders—each has a specific quirk that changes how you traverse the world. In the demo I played, I gained access to the Raptor, who has a big ol' horizontal leap, letting me clear large chasms. Other mounts include the Springer, which jumps a high vertical distance; the Skimmer, which hovers above ground so you can glide on water or over fences; and the Jackal, which blinks forward—and lets you chain blinks to manoeuvre around tricky obstacles. Each mount also has a disengage skill, which lets you dismount with a big attack against a pack of enemies you're about to fight.
Mounts can go (almost) everywhere
Mounts won't be restricted to the new zones. As with Heart of Thorns' gliders, you'll be able to ride you mounts around Tyria at large—with only a couple of exceptions. You can't take mounts into PvP or World vs World, for instance, and they won't work in existing instances either. "Like with gliding, there are places where mounts don't make a lot of sense or can cause a really messy experience," says designer Josh Diaz. "Like we added no gliding zones, we're doing similar passes to make sure that we don't completely invalidate or ruin the experience in the old world. But, they will make things super different. It's worth taking a look at some of those old places and seeing how they feel on a Springer."
The new masteries are all about mounts
The mastery skill system was added in Heart of Thorns, and it's being expanded for Path of Fire. But where HoT's masteries were a scattershot bunch of abilities designed around the various factions of the jungle, PoF's masteries are all about mounts. "The core paradigm of masteries is still the same," says Diaz. "These are really useful skills that give the player access to new abilities that can be used at large in the game." For the Raptor mastery line, the first tier is a passive ability that upgrades the power of the disengage attack. The second tier upgrades that skill so it pulls enemies towards you, setting up the fight. The third tier doubles the distance of your leap. And the fourth shares the first passive upgrade across all other mounts. Levelling up one mount can benefit the others.
There's new elite specialisations too
While Path of Fire won't be introducing a new profession, each existing class is getting a new elite specialisation that can fundamentally change the way they play. The elementalist, for instance, can become a Weaver—wielding a second element in their offhand, thus 'weaving' elements across your attacks. The Thief, meanwhile, will be able to wield a rifle to become a Deadeye—a long-range sniper class who gains more powerful abilities by crouching on the spot. The ranger, meanwhile, gets a beast mode—fusing with their pet to gain their abilities. There's some cool new ideas here, and it'll be interesting to see how the meta shifts in response.
There won't be a break in the Living World
This one's a big deal. With the release of Heart of Thorns, the Living World was put on hiatus—lengthening the time between the expansion's release and the first new chunk of story. That won't happen with Path of Fire. The plan is to keep the same time schedule, meaning soon after the expansion's release, ArenaNet will roll right on into Season Four. I ask Mike O'Brien if that'll give players enough time to conclude the expansion's story. "That is exactly the dilemma," he answers. "We're going to have to figure out how long—for players playing through the Path of Fire story—before it's safe and we can start going into the season premiere and doing things that might spoil Path of Fire."
You'll be playing it soon
A demo will be available from August 11-13, available to both 'veteran' and new free-to-play players. It will include the first story instance, the first map, and the Raptor mount. A second demo will focus on PvP and World vs World, and will allow players to try the new elite specialisations. As for the full expansion, Path of Fire is out on September 22.