This past weekend’s announcement of Guild Wars 2’s continuation of the Living World story, entitled The Icebrood Saga, was met with all of the fanfare ArenaNet could muster, renting out the Moore Theater in Seattle near PAX East and inviting fans in Seattle and on Twitch to watch the unveiling. You can check out our written play-by-play and watch a replay of the full presentation here. We got a beautiful new trailer, and some juicy new details about where the game is heading, starting with the prologue to The Icebrood Saga, called Bound by Blood, on September 17th. We also got a heap of disappointment from the community.
But in this week’s Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to focus on what we got from the presentation – and what we didn’t get.
What we did see
The biggest question mark that I was left with after the presentation was the term “saga.” The presenters made it clear that they are ditching the term “season,” which they have been using since Living World was introduced in 2013, in favor of the word “saga,” but the difference isn’t intuitively clear. When asked about what that meant, narrative designer Novera King put it this way: “You can still expect the awesome episodic content that you’re used to. The difference is that we’ve now got four content teams, and so that kind of gives us a little bit of leeway on what a ‘release’ is.” Narrative lead Juliana Nardin chimed in, suggesting that, “Sometimes that’s going to be a story-focused episode, but it could also mean expanding existing content or focusing on another element of the game, or trying a new type of content that we’ve never tried before.” King summed the difference up by saying, “It’s bigger than a season. It’s a saga!”
That’s great PR, but it’s still not entirely clear what that entails, and only time will tell. However, I imagine it being sort of like the early Living World seasons, where each chapter may not necessarily give us a whole new map but rather expand one piece by piece.
It has also been suggested that changing the terminology is designed to break up some of the preconceived notions about what a living world chapter means. I think a lot of players still think of living world as being a few hours of story content and that’s it. And to be fair, in Season 2, that’s all many of the chapters were. But in the more recent seasons, each chapter and map brings so much more content than that, not to mention the smaller “current events” releases between seasons that get ignored altogether by many players. Bringing all of these things under the saga umbrella and (perhaps more importantly) releasing them piecemeal rather than all in one big release will allow the devs to shed light on content that many players may have otherwise overlooked.
I also think it’s significant that ArenaNet has four content teams working on the game. Cynics might question the size of these teams, but I still think it signals that ArenaNet is doubling down on Guild Wars 2 and that we will see not just more frequent content but also a wider variety of types of content coming to the game.
Now let’s break down that trailer a bit. It’s a teaser/announcement trailer, so of course there isn’t going to be a ton that’s spelled out. But there are actually a lot of teases that I didn’t pick up on the first time through. For instance, Jormag – who is apparently a non-binary dragon with a female voice actor – narrates the trailer, offering the audience the chance to join and be granted Jormag’s strength against our enemies (the “pitch” as Nardin put it). The first time through, I assumed that Jormag was speaking to the commander, but then I saw some player speculation that perhaps the dragon was actually speaking to the newly ascended Aurene. It also seems implied that there is another threat looming that Jormag offers to protect us from. What could that unstated threat be?
For a trailer about an ice dragon, there was an awful lot of fire (and one very charred Charr… too soon?). Players have noted that the logo for this saga is not just an icy blue, but it fades into a fiery red. Could this signal a conflict between Jormag and Primordus? Or perhaps an alliance between Jormag the Flame Legion? There is also what appears to be a Norn ship that’s been destroyed, with Norn corpses sinking into the depths. Could this be a hint at the rise of the unknown ocean dragon? This would certainly fit with the Lovecraftian themes the developers mentioned later in the presentation.
Centaurs enslaving humans seem a bit out of place with the rest of the trailer. What does this have to do with Norn or Charr or the Icebrood? Perhaps these particular centaurs are allied with the Flame Legion against their mutual human enemy, and these slaves are prisoners of war? Only time will tell.
In the final scene, we see a small army of icebrood Norn and Charr marching on Hoelbrak. This is the first time we’ve seen icebrood Charr, and some players are speculating that this may mean that some Charr, maybe the Flame Legion, might be joining the Sons of Svanir and becoming icebrood willingly. This would be a natural explanation for how this saga could be about both the Norn and the Charr.
Another interesting thing to note from this scene is the three heroes taking vanguard position against the advancing Icebrood: Rytlock, Braham, and a blonde female Norn. I’ve seen in a few different places online that this character is Jhavi Jorasdottir, a Norn NPC, currently found in the Vigil headquarters, who is descended from Jora. Long time fans will remember Jora as a main character from the original Guild Wars’ Eye of the North expansion and the sister of Jormag’s champion, Svanir. I haven’t found official ArenaNet confirmation of this anywhere yet, but she certainly looks the part, and it would make a lot of sense.
Another major announcement that came after the trailer was the addition of the new strike missions. Team lead Clayton Kisko describes strike missions as “introductory raid content, but without a lot of the stress.” His description of strike missions sounds a lot like world bosses, but instanced and restricted to 10 players, which means players won’t be able to simply zerg their way to victory, and will actually have to deal with raid-like mechanics. I think this is a great idea. This kind of low-pressure, low-commitment group content is what this game was built upon, and I hope the team gets back to that rather than focusing exclusively on raids.
I was also happy to see that ArenaNet is giving away Heart of Thorns to anyone who owns Path of Fire. This is great, not only because giving players additional content builds goodwill and gets them logging into the game more, but also because it allows the designers to utilize more of the masteries from the Heart of Thorns era outside of the Maguma Jungle, as everyone who has access to the new saga will also have access to Heart of Thorns. I was glad to see several of these masteries return in the Dragonfall map from the Season 4 finale, and I was even more excited that Anet confirmed that many of them would be returning for The Icebrood Saga.
What we didn’t see
In announcement events like these, sometimes what wasn’t mentioned is more interesting than what was. Telling us what’s coming in this saga is great, but I think that ArenaNet really needed to go farther in talking about the future of the game. Yes, it gave us a hard date for the upcoming prologue, but it didn’t even give a ballpark estimate for any of the actual chapters, or what kind of release cadence we can expect. Are build templates and other announced features coming with the prologue? With chapter one? Will story chapters and quality of life updates be coupled like they have been in the past, or will they alternate? Communication has never been ArenaNet’s strong suit, but lately it has been losing player confidence, and now is the time to communicate as clearly and as often as possible that this game has a long, bright future ahead of it.
ArenaNet really needed to address the elephant in the room: expansions. It hasn’t talked about another expansion since the release of Path of Fire, and that has many players worried. Expansions are a great thing for players to rally around, and for the studio to build hype and excitement around. They bring in a major cash infusion as well as an influx of returning players. It also makes your game look healthy; the average MMO player may not understand what a new Living World chapter means for a game, but an expansion is instantly recognizable to anyone remotely familiar with the genre as a major event.
Does the fact that there was no mention of an expansion at this event mean we’re never getting another? Certainly not. This was billed as a Living World announcement, so there could easily be an expansion in the works that ArenaNet isn’t ready to talk about just yet. But if so, it really should have at least hinted at that possibility. A lot of players are taking this silence on the subject to mean that there is no expansion in the works, that after the layoffs it suffered at the beginning of the year, ArenaNet simply doesn’t have the resources to produce something on that scale. If that is the case, it really should have bitten the bullet and come out and explained that sagas are going to take the place of expansions, and hype up their scope. Simply leaving everything to players’ imaginations only creates more anxiety.
I saw a lot of disappointment surrounding the event. Not so much that players hated what was announced, more along the lines of, “Oh, that was it?” I both understand this mentality and I don’t. On the one hand, I think some of the information given was a little thin, and a decent chunk of the time was taken up with a commercial for upcoming merchandise. On the other hand, a lot of fans had geared themselves up for an expansion announcement or its equivalent, since that’s what usually comes from these events. But ArenaNet delivered exactly what it said it would — a Living World announcement — and nothing more, and it shouldn’t be faulted for that.
If you’d like more speculation about the The Icebrood Saga presentation, WoodenPotatoes did a couple of great, insightful videos with his thoughts about the whole thing. I don’t agree with every word he says, but he really got me thinking about some possibilities for the future. I’m really excited to see everything this new saga brings, from new stories, to new group content. September 17th can’t come fast enough!