So today, I will break down my preview experience into the main points, including my highlights and unfortunately ending on a pretty crummy negative. I’m hoping that further development based on the feedback from this weekend will help to lessen or negate my issue though, so I won’t be frowning for very long! Note that this article will contain some spoilers regarding the introductory story, so it’s best avoided if you are waiting until September to find out more on that front.
I was a little shocked to run into both Rytlock and Kasmeer in the PoF introductory story. The commander is just as stunned as I am, and when Kas is probed the conversation soon turns to how conflicted she still feels over Balthazar and his intentions. She hints at underlying tension between her and Jory, which is fairly understandable considering one of Kas’ gods decided to try and melt Jory after the former froze on the spot. I am surprised that Kasmeer is straight on Balthazar’s trail considering her refusal to help her friends face off against Balthazar just a short while ago in story terms, though she does tend to bounce back from shock and knocks. It’s interesting to see her perspective: She believes that something is amiss, that there is something inherently off about a revered god turning against the Tyrian people. The rest of the expansion’s story will hopefully help us unpack whether her words are wishful thinking or if her opinion is more valid than we might expect.
Rytlock stands before us, eyes uncovered for the first time in a while, and he is characteristically glib with the commander. He explains that he tossed his blindfold now that he can focus without it and deftly avoids explaining the Foefire mission yet again. The commander is clearly peeved, of course, but Rytlock isn’t at all moved by our threats and foot stamping and puts our attention back onto Balthazar. I’m sure the commander must wear him down eventually, and I’m glad that such a big chunk of lore wasn’t included in a preview weekend, so even though I’m bursting to know more the exchange sated me. I was more than a little rocked by how quickly he managed to clear things up at the Citadel and catch up with the rogue god, but Rytlock is nothing if not persuasive I guess.
I have to begin this segment by saying that approaching the zone by airship was a fantastic way for ArenaNet to show off the simply stunning amount of work that has clearly gone into doing such an iconic area justice. As you probably already know, the zone has undergone some sizable changes since we last had access to it in the Guild Wars canon, so being able to get that elevated initial perspective on the characters’ new surroundings was most definitely appreciated. From the first glimpse of a pyramid to my swims in the small stretch of coastline just off the Free City of Amnoon that was accessible in the demo, I couldn’t quite believe just how staggeringly beautiful the scenery was. I know I remarked on the visuals of every new map, but the attention to detail seems to have markedly improved in this expansion. Movement, colour, texture, and contrast are all heightened; I can tell just how much of a labour of love creating Amnoon and its surrounding farmland was for the team.
The new map seems substantial from what we have seen so far: Amnoon is not a great city in the Central Tyria sense of things, but it contains enough interest to act as a suitable hub for our operations here. A thriving market and casino complex adds fun to the desert in a way that many of us were not expecting, and the monsters that lie beyond the walls are alien enough to feel imposing to a seasoned commander. The zone is teeming with life and anyone who thought we would see nothing but sand for the next few months is greatly mistaken: Hardy desert plants surround well-irrigated paddy fields, and the crystal clear waters that lie behind the city is a delight to swim in with all the below-the-sea sights you’ll pass.
The real triumph for the open-world exploration enthusiast is the breathtakingly gorgeous, changeable skyline in the zone: Inky night time stargazing and scorchingly bright desert sun combine in the area to give a sense of depth that I have never before felt in Guild Wars 2. Travelling across the map was obviously made somewhat faster by the addition of the raptor mount, but the drastic difference in flora, fauna, and skyline made even the small demo area feel larger in scope and breadth than some of its predecessor maps, which was only heightened by the reliance on open space to create an authentic desert feel. I don’t miss the verticality of the jungle at all and I didn’t manage to get lost at all during the weekend, which is a result for me.
I mentioned already how alien the land’s monsters felt: I can’t possibly finish this article without going into more detail. Teeth galore, dangerous breath attacks, and a spiny rolling cactus boss made for a diverse set of enemies that gives the area its own feel that finally breaks the dragonspawn flunk I’ve been feeling. The land sharks are pretty hilarious, especially if you recall the bug that allowed some pesky sharks to appear on terra firma. I love how well these enemies interact with our new mount mastery too: Many will deal enough damage to unmount players if they do not travel carefully, which in turn will reduce their travelling speed because you cannot remount while in combat. Many enemies have ways to charge into action or otherwise move quickly enough to tangle a player on foot, which plays very nicely with the unmounting mechanic.
The raptor has the most beautiful face, and when that cute snout is paired with dog-like static motions I know that we’re onto a winner. The raptor very much reminds me of Aurene in demeanour, which is no bad thing. I wasn’t expecting the mounts to have so much character though, so that was a pleasant surprise. I really appreciated that my character takes time when we’re still to pat her mount when he rests or readjust the reins when he shuffles. The ability to apply unlocked dyes to the raptor had me clicking away for quite some time, trying to find the perfect shade of purple to blend into the raptor’s naturally rust-toned metallic scales. The variance I saw from player to player was immense, which did help to break up the flock when players were piled together.
What will take me some time to get used to is the difference in appearance high-density areas will have once everyone has access to mounts. At times, sitting idly in Amnoon reminding me strongly of similar downtime spent sat in Orgrimmar in World of Warcraft, though admittedly with only one mount type unlocked it didn’t have the same feeling of trying to contain a diverse menagerie of increasingly more obnoxiously exotic creatures amongst civilisation. I do wonder what our more traditional Central Tyrian zones will look like with mounts all over: The general scale in GW2 was never created with mounts in mind, after all, so I’m unsure of how well they’ll sit in their new environment. Still, I do very much appreciate having such an intuitive and portable navigational toolset at my disposal now.
Everything about the motion of the raptor feels right: The sense of speed took me by surprise and was entirely unexpected, especially when using the raptor’s long jumping to flit across the more awkward terrain. We do move more quickly when mounted, of course, but the visuals enhance the feeling by exaggerating the true speed increase and tricking our minds into feeling that we are covering more ground than we actually are. Going on foot feels mildly frustrating after being mounted for a while as a result! The raptor skids to a halt once you stop motion after running at full speed, and taking corners feels wild and only vaguely in the player’s control. There is something about this motion that makes the beast feel untamed and gives him a sense of weight that I usually don’t have with mounts in other MMOs, and it makes riding along on raptorback a refreshing, enjoyable experience that goes beyond convenience or enhanced travelling mechanics.
Unfortunately, the visual trickery that adds to the experience also deeply detracts from it for me: I am rather prone to motion sickness and avoid first-person games and VR technology as a result, and even with adjustments made to my settings, I feel nauseous after only 20 minutes of casual exploration both off and on raptorback. To say I’m gutted really is an understatement, especially when it placed limits on how much I could play this weekend. After initially having to sleep off the worst of the motion sickness, I was forced to play in 15-minute bursts to stave off nausea, and even then I had almost perpetual dizziness and a persistent headache during my time playing. While I enjoyed the weekend teaser in and of itself, I’m not sure how often I’ll be reaching for the mounts if my experience of using them remains unchanged throughout the last weeks of the expansion’s development. I’m worried that the issue isn’t totally fixable without ruining what makes the mounts feel so special in the first place, but I know ArenaNet is working on it.
Over to you!
What did you make of the weekend? Did you have any particular highlights? Are any of you prone to motion sickness too, and if so did the mount animations catch you out? Will you be playing along this weekend during the PvP elite specialization preview? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.