Well, that didn’t take long.
But before I talk about Path of Fire, in news that no blog reader cares about, I’ve uploaded the videos I recorded for Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns to my YouTube channel. (Cross-promotion!)
I’m enjoying Path of Fire a lot. It’s very much like playing the original game again, which was the best part of Guild Wars 2. It almost feels like an “apology” for everything that’s been released since the original game. I spent time completing the first three maps to 100% before moving on with the story, something that has literally never happened since entering Orr roughly five years ago.
Spoilers below if you haven’t completed the story.
The story is pretty straightforward: Kill Balthazar before he kills the dragon Kralkatorrik. That’s basically it. There are a few twists and turns as we try to figure out how to kill him, but it’s mainly a linear path, and there were no shocking revelations (at least none that made any impact on me, a GW lore newbie).
I was going to break my thoughts about Path of Fire into two posts. The first would have covered the first ten chapters, ending with The Enemy of My Enemy. That’s the one where we travel across not one but two brand new maps to take control of Palawa Joko’s army (if that name wasn’t created with a random name generator I’ll eat my hat). In retrospect, it seemed like they had more map territory than story to fill it. Maybe they ran out of time.
After chapter ten, it sounded like the end was imminent, but I couldn’t believe there would only be eleven chapters in the expansion, and I assumed something would happen to prolong the story out to at least sixteen chapters like Heart of Thorns (which I thought was short, too), like perhaps a new enemy would arise after Balthazar was gone (I assumed it would be the dragon).
But alas, nope, it turned out that the only thing left in the expansion after gathering Joko’s army was confronting Balthazar, so only one post is needed. (I was right about the dragon, it’s just that they are presumably pushing it to Living World Season 4.) There were a total of thirteen chapters (although eleven and twelve were essentially two parts of the same confrontation), and the thirteenth and final chapter was just a celebration to congratulate us on our victory.
Even during the celebration, which was even entitled “Epilogue,” I kept thinking there would be more. But nope. The expansion was indeed much shorter than I expected. If I hadn’t worked on map completion I feel like I could have finished the entire thing in a weekend. As it was, it only took 10 days, and 4 of those days I was repairing my PC. And I don’t think I ever played more than a two or three hours a day. (Compare with three weeks for the FFXIV Stormblood expansion story.)
But still, it was fun, and will continue to be fun as I finish up the last two maps and grab the last two mounts. (Although I keep hearing about having to do “collections” and pay hundreds of gold to get the last mount so that’s probably not going to happen, seeing as how I’ve never had more than 20 gold in five years of GW2.)
I’m not quite on board with the prevailing theory that the story is good, but it’s definitely better. They did a bit more to make sure that you, the player, understood the story, instead of just assuming every player had poured over every inch of GW2 lore on the Internet. The cast was consistently present (except when they conveniently left the stage because the player has to do everything solo). NPCs re-iterated key points over and over again. The Commander asked a lot of questions. The entire mechanic of calling Taimi from “contact points” now and then seemed to be there just to give you a refresher on where you are in the story. (If you call her before every chapter, the conversation essentially summarizes what you did last chapter, and what you’re going to do next chapter, all while reminding you that Aurene is still out there.)
But it wasn’t great. There were still some head-scratching moments for this lore newbie. Like when this dragon Vlast appeared out of nowhere and inexplicably took a bullet for me. I have no memory of hearing the name Vlast before in the past five years (or “Gleam” or whatever). They did almost nothing to establish this dragon as a thing before his pivotal plot moment. Additionally, the “memories” we heard from Vlast did not paint him as a self-sacrificing sort of a dragon, either. I thought maybe they would explain that sacrifice more later, but they never did.
Actually, most of the plot points related to Glint went right over my head, as they often do. Glint is a name I see referenced all the time in GW2 but I have almost zero context for this apparently very important dragon character in Guild Wars lore. Kasmeer mentioned that we had once been to Glint’s Lair and I was like, “We have? When was that??” It must have been in Season 2, which I only remember as a mass of frustrating maps and boss fights.
Speaking of Kasmeer, I don’t remember her being particularly religious before all this Balthazar business started. But setting that aside, on a positive note, I found her scene with Kormir very touching. It was one of the better character moments I can remember in the game. I genuinely felt bad for her that she was “losing” her goddess.
In contrast, the scene where Rytlock found Snaff’s golem was obviously meant to be an emotional character moment, but it meant exactly nothing to me because I lacked context. Snaff is another one of those GW2 names that comes up all the time and is clearly supposed to have great significance, but continues to go right over my head.
Like Bhagpuss, I too found it extremely odd that the Amnoon City Council trusted a newly-arrived stranger to make a lasting political decision. As far as I could tell, other than perhaps changing the flavor of some NPC dialog heard around the city, it had no effect on the story and I don’t know why we did it.
The final boss fight was a doozy of flashing lights and noise, but I got through it with far less trouble than many of the Living World bosses. (I had more trouble with his War Pig thingy beforehand, because it was not a melee-friendly fight.) I figured out in the second encounter on top of the plateau in Elon Riverlands that if you stay close to Balthazar, it’s fairly easy to step out of most of his attacks. I thought it was interesting that they threw in some of the “cooperative” mechanics that we taught Aurene in that one chapter of the Living World Season 3. The dragon training wasn’t a complete waste of time after all! Little things like that make me glad I decided to push through all the content in the right order.
Story-wise, I thought it was a cop-out that we ended up using Rytlock’s sword to defeat Balthazar. I mean, we could have used it the first time we saw him. Or more appropriately Rytlock could have used it. That was one hell of a sword, too. Why doesn’t he mow through enemies like a hot knife through butter?
Normally I don’t like it when games force you to use a weapon that you aren’t comfortable with, but in this case they made it easy enough to use that it didn’t bother me too much. Still would have preferred to use my axe though. (Ed: I now realize I could have, but it would have made a long fight into an interminably long fight.)
One other story problem: Rytlock was responsible for releasing Balthazar on the world, and he made a bit of a show of announcing that he would make things right, more than once. But … he never did. He didn’t do much of anything except lend me his sword. I was expecting him to make some sort of sacrifice, perhaps even get himself killed in service to the story. (Not that death means much in this game.) But nope.
Also: What was the point of assembling Joko’s army when we had to go through that whole last fight alone?
Also: It wasn’t at all clear what happened with Aurene and Kralkatorrik at the end of that fight. It wasn’t until the celebration party afterward when the Commander spelled it out for me that I understood it. It looked like Aurene had been vaporized by lightning, but apparently she just left.
Anyway, on to other features of the expansion.
The mounts are very cool. Of the three I have so far, the jumpy rabbit seems the most useful and the one I use most often. I mentioned in my Path of Fire Demo post that I didn’t think they would fundamentally change the game, but boy was I wrong. They completely trivialize getting around the world. It amazes me that they allowed us to use them in the old maps. Getting to any points of interest or vistas feels like cheating now.
Since it’s actually possible to complete the Hero Point challenges in Path of Fire solo (again, like it used to be in the original game), I finally collected enough points to finish training Reaper. Then I started training the Scourge profession. I tried it out for a little while, but I didn’t like it. I’m sure there is some trick to playing it properly, but the lack of the shroud form feels like a crippling disability. Plus the torch only gives you two new abilities. Incidentally, ahem, when are they adding that Build Load and Save feature? If I hadn’t taken a screenshot of my build before changing it I would have had literally no idea how to get back to where I started.
There is still the nagging problem of never receiving any meaningful loot. That’s the price of horizontal progression I guess. At least now you can leave most of the useless loot stacking endlessly in just a few inventory slots. Unfortunately it seems like they invented new junk to fill inventory slots for the expansion. I continue to wish for an option to disable picking up loot, or a filter to control what kinds of loot to pick up. I never want to see blue or green gear get into my inventory. Even yellow gear, actually. (Unless I don’t have the skin unlocked.)
But again overall, it’s a very good expansion. It’s the best the game has been since launch, for us filthy casuals, at least.