Review: Guild Wars 2 Path of Fire

(Disclosure: MMO Fallout received a copy of Path of Fire for the purposes of review. As always, this does not change my opinion)

I’ve always regarded Guild Wars 2 as the Cadillac of MMORPGs, it’s a title that while not being the apocalyptic horseman for subscription games that some fans prophesied, has cut itself a fine section of the market thanks to its polish and the way that Arenanet went about building the world. Here you have a game with strong non-player characters, an engaging story, and a world that feels more living and breathing than your Eorzeas or Gielinors. It presents maps chock full of stuff to do, and your character at the forefront of ever increasingly dangerous foes.

Path of Fire is the second expansion to Guild Wars 2, continuing the story as it left of in season 3 of the living story. Balthazar, human god of war, has returned to Tyria and plans to kill the elder dragons in order to absorb their power and get revenge on his fellow gods for their betrayal of him. At the end of the season, Balthazar turns his sights toward the Crystal Desert and sets off to kill the elder dragon Kralkatorrik. This is where the story picks up.

The lands of the Crystal Desert aren’t just long stretches of brown and tan, either. The world presented forth is massive, much more open than previous zones (especially Heart of Thorns) and well varied between open deserts littered with the skeletons of massive dead beasts, and a lush oasis of trees and waterfalls.

#1: Mounting With Purpose

I’d like to use this opportunity to gush about the mount system in Guild Wars 2, in part because it was the main focal point of my previous commentary and mostly because it is a huge part of the expansion and a lot of mechanics revolve around the use and leveling of said mounts. You’ll gain several story related mounts, all of which are required to progress through the main story missions and to thoroughly complete each map. These mounts allow you to leap further, jump higher, ride the waves, and the griffon is halfway towards flying.

Now depending on who you ask, the mounts fall into one of two categories: Great handling or cumbersome and horrible. While not entirely like driving a tank, there is no doubt that the mounts in Guild Wars 2 have been built with some idea of realism in mind. Your mounts won’t turn on a dime, you can’t position the camera in front of your mount and perform a crazy backwards leap, it just won’t work. In the wide open maps of Guild Wars 2, these mounts feel great. They sway and roll into each maneuver, you can tell that Arenanet put a lot of love into making something more than just your avatar but with boosted speed/jump. Try to use them to maneuver through small spaces, and they respond exactly like you’d expect walking a giant dinosaur through a China shop would.

The mount system itself introduces a whole new form of progression into Guild Wars 2, with each mount becoming even better at their specialty as you use them and gain experience. Completing tasks, finding nodes, and going through the story missions unlocks mastery points which are needed to upgrade your mounts to be all they can be. The mounts also have a use in old Tyria as while the old zones have a lot more waypoints, you won’t have to spend the money to warp between areas.

#2: The Trivializing of Isaac

The good news is that if you have vast swaths of the game world unexplored, as my newly minted level 80 boosted ranger does, you’re going to have a much easier time doing so. The raptor and hopper mounts perform their jobs excellently, jumping long distances and leaping to extreme heights with ease. On the other hand, those of you who meticulously took the time to complete all those difficult jumping puzzles might not be happy to find out that they’ve all been made trivial and mostly useless thanks to a mount that can leap 50 feet in the air or a raptor that can just bypass a jumping puzzle.

Granted, these abilities already exists in one fashion or another, but Path of Fire basically takes all of that and wraps it up into four mounts and hands them to everyone, regardless of your ownership of Heart of Thorns.

#3: Telling A Story With A Punch

Five years later, I still can’t tell whether I like or hate story boss fights in Guild Wars 2. They remind me of the opening sequence of Game of Thrones, in that if I’m in the right mood, they are epic and just the right length. Other times they can seem cumbersome and overly dragged out.

One of the bosses you’ll fight against during the Path of Fire story is the Herald of Balthazar in Act 1. Personally I hated this character, not because of the character itself but for its game mechanics. There is no thought to most of the Herald’s fights, you just pummel her uselessly with attacks while she goes around murdering the people you’re trying to save. I get it, and although clumsy the presence of no-win situations is a nice addition. Who wants the protagonist to come out on top at all chapters of the story?

Otherwise the story boss fights are pretty grand, more than a simple “do more damage than the other guy until one of you is dead.” Fights against Balthazar become desperate, as he continues to make the field more dangerous. One boss I fought against had a mechanic where he would summon allies, and if you didn’t beat them fast enough he would siphon their energy and replenish some of his health. One thing Guild Wars 2 does great with its story boss fights is making that 10 minute fight seem like a real struggle, making you hate the giant bastard after you finally think you’re making progress only for Balthazar to show up and start wrecking your stuff while taunting you the whole time. After a while you realize that it’s not so much frustration at game mechanics that you’re feeling but actual immersion in the world and its inhabitants.

I eagerly await Season 4 and how the story will continue going forward.

#4: Closing Thoughts

In summary, Path of Fire is exactly what you would want out of an expansion. It adds a bunch of new content, reasons to log back in and keep playing, while keeping your existing toys more or less intact. The Crystal Desert is a beautiful place to roam around in with tons to do. There is more content coming with Path of Fire that simply hasn’t been unlocked yet, but we’ll be doing an updated look when it does.

Verdict: 4.5/5 – I loved the story of Path of Fire, and the mounts are a positive addition to the game. Arenanet avoided a major pitfall by not diluting the world with flying mounts. It’s impressive to see how far the story has come, via a series of flashbacks in Path of Fire’s main story.

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