Don’t worry about story spoilers being contained below: I’m not ready to share story details with you yet and wouldn’t even if I could! Expansions are a long time in the making and fans deserve to enjoy all that entails first-hand without it being spoiled. Anything at all problematic will be marked with spoiler tags just in case. Enjoy my list of the good, the bad, and the janky, and check out my screenshot gallery at the end of the article too (though skip this if you don’t want location spoilers).
Despite a very rocky start, I happily have a whole pile of good stuff to report back to you, which is an absolute testament to the hard work that clearly went into Path of Fire. I hope that, when taken in balance with the bad and janky, this list will help you gauge whether or not the expansion is for you.
A story like no other
One of the most immediately striking things is the appreciable quality hike in the story, and considering it’s one of those features I’ve always raved about, you can tell how exciting that is for me. Imagine the Heart of Thorns and Living World season 3 immersion paired with the sense of awe and wicked dialogue of season 1 and you’re getting about halfway to how great the new story content is. Character interactions are intensified, NPCs seem truly affected by the events happening around them, and the player character thinks through problems in the most natural way yet.
One of the main concerns fans had when it was announced that the expansion would take us back to Elona was that the maps, although vast, would feel samey, barren, and bland. People were imagining neverending beige with little settlements to break up the tedium, but that is so far from what was actually delivered and I’m delighted with the new map designs. This expansion is home to, quite frankly, some of the most stunning in-game art I’ve ever seen in an MMO: Every slight turn of the camera sets up a new screenshot-worth still that has a million and one things to see and a level of artistry that makes the player feel like a curator at every print-screen click.
We know that PoF sees the player character track the war god Balthazar through the Crystal Desert, but what you might not have expected is how thriving the Elonian community is and how affected it will be by our showdown with a god. If a ball of fire smacks down and burns out a building, you can be sure to find running villagers frantically trying to escape the battle scene and weeping widows cowering behind what’s left of their home while they wait for a hero to step in and make things right. It’s all too easy to make a fight feel epic with flashy dramatics and a good handful of destructibles thrown in, but I deeply appreciate that in PoF, everyday people convey just as much to the player as the main characters do.
One point that I need to make before I move on from realism is that the city of Amnoon is one of the most impressive densely populated spaces created for the game. The city complements its surroundings perfectly and is obviously stunning, but it is so much more than just a pretty facade on a set of convenient vendors. Every building is logically thought out and the entire cityscape blends seamlessly into the desert and feels as though it truly belongs there. The city forms a fabulous interface between the water and sand, swirling together themes from both environments to make the transition seamless. People get on with their lives all around us while we quest and trade and not one of their stories feels half-hearted or insignificant. The activities of the city push you beyond its walls and tell a story of a people who know the desert even better than the city’s confines. It really is design perfection.
You’ll laugh at me, perhaps, but if you haven’t done so already, point your screen up a little higher than usual and just walk around the new zones. The skyline is an absolute masterpiece, and the subtleties of its changes and how the lighting effects blend in with a stunning backdrop create something to be marvelled at. MOP’s screenshot-obsessed Justin has been innundated with skyline screenshots since Friday, and I can totally understand why: I must have taken hundreds of shots myself!
A great surpriseClick to reveal spoiler about mounts!
This is a welcomingly short section: Aside from the jank I may or may not have already mentioned several times (bitter, me? no!), I really don’t have that many complaints. Even a little bit of progress railroading didn’t make my list: Although it’s usually a no-no for me, the way any progression capping was done in PoF made sense in terms of story and the main bottleneck had a nice visual representation to it that I appreciated.
Motion sickness managed, then it wasn’t
I was so delighted on Friday when I logged in and managed to snag my raptor mount and soon discovered that the motion sickness I felt during the playtest weekend was significantly improved this time around. I developed a mild headache, but nothing of note, which was far and away from the full-blown motion sickness I felt on my first raptor experience. Imagine my disappointment, then, when I picked up my second mount, the Springer, and within minutes I started to feel dizzy and nauseous once again. There is something about the bounding steps and vertical leaps that turns by poor belly to jelly, and it most definitely is problematic for me at least.
I’ve tried changing my settings and everything that was suggested, but it still makes me feel awful, especially in areas where the map design expects you to chop and change from mount to mount and your character is bobbing up and down endlessly. Taking turns on the Springer is hellish, as is coming to a stop, and I limit my use of the mount as a result. I don’t know if this is fixable, but much more research into this is needed in my opinion.
I had a perfectly clean launch experience with Heart of Thorns and was expecting the same for Path of Fire: I was almost entirely positive that we wouldn’t see the sort of widescale launch issues we did end up with. My personal experience was absolutely dreadful: I experienced random crashing, persistent login issues, and sustained problems when trying to create instances. I was effectively locked out of story progression for the weekend and chose instead to see as much of the map as I could with access to only a raptor and I spent time gathering up mastery points when I could play. When I could create instances, I dropped out so often that my progress was cancelled out anyway, so it simply wasn’t worth it until conditions stabilised.
To say this impacted on my enjoyment of the expansion is an understatement, but ArenaNet’s response has been fairly swift and I’ve seen plenty of patching activity occur since launch. I played for hours yesterday solidly with no drops, so I’m confident that the round-the-clock effort to repair the bugs has paid off.
This is a totally silly point that just needs a casual mention because it made me giggle during the weekend’s playtesting and I thought I should point it out since it made it into the launch. It seems as though the raptor’s anchor point to the terrain is directly below the model’s true centre point, but the model has such a long tail that its feet aren’t actually in the middle of the model and are in fact further forward. This means that if you skid gently off a cliff in just the right manner, you’ll see a floating raptor hovering magically in mid-air! Totally not game-breaking and isn’t a major issue at all, but funny to see nonetheless. It does happen to a lesser degree with character models as well, but with the scale of mounts, it’s just so much more noticeable.
When I could actually get playing, I’ve been blown away with the quality of this expansion and its no-nonsense delivery of exactly what was promised and even a little surprise here and there too. I’ve seen a minority of players comment that they don’t feel the addition of mounts and a new set of elite specializations is enough for an expansion, and to them I would say play the expansion and witness the work that has gone into the zones and story before you write it off on its box-text features. Mounts are not the traditional MMO convenience, might I add, and are an expansion-worthy piece of development work if anything is. Take a leap of faith and you won’t be sorry.