Flameseeker Chronicles: First impressions of Guild Wars 2’s The Head of the Snake

If you’re reading this, then the poor ArenaNet team has finally managed to battle the crazy weather and pressed the big red button: The Living World season 3’s fourth installment will be playable right now should you log in. Minor delay aside, I am absolutely thrilled to see another episode of gripping story is already with us, especially since the episode in question focuses on the stunning surroundings of Divinity’s Reach and wider Kryta. The Head of the Snake can be unlocked on each player’s Guild Wars 2 account simply by logging in any time from now until the next episode releases, so don’t forget to dust off your account if you’re not actively playing right now but wish to bank the story for later.

I was invited along to have a quick playthrough with the devs on the stage client before the launch today so that my first impressions would be with you as soon as the episode dropped in this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles. While I can’t say that the small glimpse at the episode’s content ranked as highly in my estimations as episode 2 did, I very much enjoyed the freeform skirmishes and political subterfuge that I experienced in the one chapter I played in its entirety during my guided run-through and short excursion on my own over the weekend. As ever, I’ll attempt to keep this piece as spoiler-free as I can, so anything questionable will be placed behind spoiler tags to make your reading experience better.

The story so far

I like to begin these first impression pieces with a summary of the preceding story arcs so that fans who missed out on the episode that came before aren’t left to fill in the gaps. A Crack in the Ice opens with our commander taking some time to bond with precociously precious Aurene while attempting to teach her right from wrong. The commander then sets off to test Taimi’s theory that Jormag and Primordus’ magics might be opposing forces by finding a corrupted Icebrood in the Shiverpeaks and also to locate Braham to offer him a place in Dragon’s Watch. With the flame of Koda in hand, the commander ventures into the Far Shiverpeaks and finds both a suitable abomination and the young, headstrong Norn in question after stealing an anti-cold elixir recipe from the Svanir who plague the area.

Our little bit of trickery gets an already riled Braham in trouble with the Svanir as they guess that he was behind the recipe theft, so the player character sets off to locate him before the brutes catch up with him. The headstrong lad isn’t happy to see us and is entirely preoccupied with finding a magical scroll that would help him crack Jormag’s tooth and prove that he is ready to be vanquished. Braham places Rox in danger by charging headlong into a dangerous encounter with an ice elemental after a heated exchange with the player character over Dragon’s Watch and what abandoning Destiny’s Edge means for the memory of its fallen members: Rox is frozen in place and the commander and Braham are left to deal with the beast.

Eventually able to locate the scroll within an ice pillar, Braham applies it to his mother’s bow and kills the elemental, freeing an oblivious Rox from her icy tomb. He ignores the commander’s protests and Taimi’s tentative theory regarding Primordus and Jormag’s magic being opposing forces that could be pitted against one another, instead insisting on shooting the tooth with the now magically imbued bow. The tooth cracks, meaning that Braham will not be deterred from his deathly mission of slaying Jormag with his people in tow.

The Head of the Snake

My playthrough began immediately after what I believe will be an impactful first chapter of the new episode: I didn’t get to experience much of the Jennah speech heard in the trailer or her weeding out of those who have been plotting against her in Divinity’s Reach. I was initially gutted about this, but now I’m excited to experience this alongside everyone else and really enjoy all the “save Divinity’s Reach!” hype.

Reveal spoiler
Jennah is prepared for the assault and brings the player character as a witness to her ratting out the traitors, and she holds off the worst of the attack through impressive magical fortifications of the city. Who knows if this will hold for the entirety of the episode though! It doesn’t seem as though players have any choice in siding with Queen Jennah or the White Mantle, which might disappoint some of you I suppose?

Immediately after the Jennah scenes, we end up outside the great city fighting in her defence. We must defend Lake Doric from some interesting abominations that are uncannily similar to the bloodstone creatures we’ve fought before. I was shown around the area and our party found pretty much every mob challenging to overcome, and the devs explained that starting the event chain further away from the city would have an impact on how many enemy troops we would face closer to the city since the troops in question would move from point to point as the action moved closer to the city walls.

In terms of story, I really didn’t experience anything particularly deep or enriching: The emphasis is most definitely on active damage control and the player character is caught up in firefighting and regaining territory. Krytans are turning on fellow Krytans, believing their neighbours to be White Mantle recruits while soldiers are severely underequipped and starved during their intense standoffs, so the commander must do much to calm, soothe, and arm loyal Krytans while gathering intelligence from key locations across the area.

The playthrough ended with a fun and challenging infiltration mission that reminded me a little bit of Metal Gear Solid. I won’t spoil the details but I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did as a short change of pace in all the fighting. I also got to experience the zone’s new mastery and I really enjoyed the direction in which the design had gone.

Reveal spoiler
The new ability kicks in not when we are up on our feet, but is an additional downed button!

Short aside on the Auric Basin fix

AB Multiloot is no more, my friends! I know some of you will be deeply upset by this since it’s been such a direct and methodical route to solid gold generation, but I’m honestly happy to see it go. The madness can stop now, folks, and non-exploitative map use can resume again. I got to try out the new leather farm location during my playthrough and was pleasantly impressed with both its efficiency in pumping out leather and also in how easy it was to farm.

Reveal spoiler
There was a little lore nugget here that I appreciated: The relationship between the White Mantle and the centaurs was expanded upon.

Small note on the new raid wing

I didn’t get to see the new raid wing and wanted to make that clear now. I am bitterly and truly disappointed about it, especially since Wooden Potatoes was specifically told on Reddit by a dev to check it out on day one! ArenaNet is understandably very protective of the biggest wow moments of each lore release, including new raid wings, and I understand that the team didn’t want the press to spoil anything amazing before players were able to experience it for themselves.

Final thoughts, then over to you!

The political intrigue and mystery are growing episode by episode! I really hope that at least some of my favourite lore threads are further developed in the remaining chapters of this episode. Tell me more about Marjory and ‘E’, if Countess Anise is as dodgy as I think she is, then have her play her hand now, or bring in more races and their unique reactions to the Krytan troubles. How will this balance off with the dragon threat and our hasty friend Braham? Will Taimi’s plan ever have a chance to come to fruition? I am itching to play the rest of the chapter!

Please do let me know via the sparkly new comment system how you’re finding the episode as you play through it. I’ll do my best to check in as soon as I get logged in: Due to the delay I can’t guarantee that I’ll get to play immediately since I’m fairly busy right now, but I’ll share some further thoughts as soon as I can!

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.
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