For the record, I’ve finished Living World Season 3 and started into Path of Fire. As of Monday morning, I’ve just gotten to the second map, Desert Highlands. It’s a far better expansion than Heart of Thorns already, although I just ran into a story gate that isn’t obvious how to open. Now back to the past…
Living World Season 3, Episode 5, Flashpoint, starts off with a trip to Taimi’s lab, where we find Kasmeer chastising us for not inviting her to join Dragon’s Watch yet. As usual with Asura, there is a slight diversion as we fight back the experiments (hasn’t anyone learned yet to keep Asura far, far away from technical gadgets?).
Taimi built a device that is supposed to weaken? kill? enslave? both of the dragons Jormag and Primordus using (insert unimportant techno-babble here). Taimi’s character, incidentally, continues to ride exactly on that line between adorable and insufferable.
Marjory suddenly arrives to tell us that Lazarus is coming, and by the way he is up to no good in the Fire Islands. When Lazarus arrives, the first boss fight commences and we dispel his illusion to find that it was Old Man Withers all along! Actually, it was Balthazar, the unsurprising reveal I’ve been expecting ever since the Path of Fire demo weekend. Balthazar steals Taimi’s dragon-killing device, Marjory goes down with an injury, and Kasmeer freaks right the hell out and runs away hiccuping. (At this point, I just shrug at these strange character developments and move on.)
A submarine next takes us to a massive steamy volcanic cave (“a cavern created by gases during a volcanic eruption”) called Draconis Mons in the Ring of Fire. Most of the rest of the gameplay in this episode involves running around the map to get to the green stars. It’s designed essentially like a massive spiral ramp going upward from the submarine landing to the summit of the volcano (on the inside). Personally I enjoyed picking my way up to the top (well, except for the pocket raptors and rolling devils). It was sort of like one massively long, extended jumping puzzle.
Once you get to the top, you have to find a bunch of druid plant thingys who give you the buff you need so that you can enter the heart of the volcano and survive to fight Balthazar. More running around, yada, yada, yada, then you earn a protective green bubble and finally get to jump into the volcano to go after Balthazar. (I’m not exactly sure what nefarious thing Balthazar is up to, but it has something to do with awakening? killing? consuming? the dragon Primodus, who lives? sleeps? works? in this volcano.)
Taimi arrives in an unfinished Scruffy 2.0 golem to supervise the recovery of her device and and help us get through some barriers. We find Balthazar on a floating platform over a sea of lava, using Taimi’s device to shoot a beam of (something) into Primodus’s head, so naturally we have to intervene. We don’t get to fight Balthazar, but his two dogs. At this point we are treated to another one of those kinds of GW2 boss fights. This one has similar rage-inducing properties, much like the one at the end of Episode 4. The basic idea for this one is that you have to glide a lot to collect “dragon energy” and bomb Balthazar’s dog minions from above.
I’ll admit it’s a creative design for a boss fight, but the problem is that GW2’s gliding and camera control is not sophisticated enough to implement the flight simulator mechanics they wanted us to do. I had tremendous difficulty trying to get my camera turned to face the direction I needed to look to target the dogs, and since the updrafts constantly pushed you upward really fast, half the time you drifted out of range and missed the bombing targets.
Eventually I had to go into my settings and enable “Use Free Camera” to keep the camera from re-aligning itself all the time. (Something I normally like on the ground.) I use “Fast with Range Indicator” for Ground Targeting, which unfortunately made it difficult to use Taimi’s scanner on the device in the center of the platform while the dogs were attacking me. With this setting, ground targets normally center themselves on whatever enemy you have targeted, but I needed Taimi’s scanner to work on the device in the middle. So half the time I wasted my scans on the dogs.
I got pretty mad during this fight. Especially when it kept repeating over and over again. (That is another typical boss fight formula: Complete a challenge once, then complete it again with more difficult parameters, in case it was just a fluke that you got through it the first time.) It wasn’t that hard per se, but most of the fighting was with the Guild Wars 2 controls and camera. I was very glad to see the end of it. I hope they never do that again. GW2 is not a good flight simulator. I would have preferred an underwater boss fight, to be honest.
When it was all over, I wasn’t clear what happened, story-wise. This is not unusual, but it wasn’t the same kind of confusion as in previous episodes, where I grasped the events that happened, but didn’t think it made any sense. In this case I wasn’t clear what even happened. I think we had to make a choice between killing the dragons or killing Balthazar, and we chose to kill Balthazar. The dragons … went somewhere? Went back to sleep? Do dragons sleep? Or they were released from Balthazar’s grip? Or something? I don’t know. But it sounded like the dragons are no longer a threat, and what Taimi and I did also somehow affected? defeated? helped? Jormag way up in the Shiverpeaks, too. (Which is going to make Braham mad that he won’t get to complete his suicide mission against Jormag.)
All I really know is that Balthazar didn’t die, because of the Path of Fire demo. So I’m not really sure what we accomplished in this episode. In any case, it was one of the shortest ones.
UPDATE - The Video