It was just two short weeks ago that ArenaNet invited its fans to Seattle for the announcement of the continuation of Guild Wars 2’s living world story, entitled Icebrood Saga. The studio also announced that its prelude chapter, Bound by Blood, would be arriving today, and indeed it is live this afternoon, not long after this article goes live. Ahead of the launch, ArenaNet treated press to an advanced look into the new map, Grothmar Valley, a name classic Guild Wars 1 players will recall well from its Eye of the North campaign.
The map is centered around the Charr’s All Legions Rally, one part celebration of the death of Kralkatorrik and one part political summit, called by the Blood Legion Imperetor, Bangar Ruinbringer. Ever wondered what a giant Charr party looks like? This is your chance to find out! It feels sort of like a festival, with lots of little events scattered around the zone at various times. Each of the four main events is hosted by one of the four Charr legions, and each legion’s event rewards players with a token that, when combined with the other three legions’ tokens, can be used to open the Vault of the Khan-Ur for random rewards once a day. It’s sort of like a map meta-event that doesn’t require you to actually do the whole meta at once.
There are a number of unique new items that can be found in the vault, or conveniently bought from a vendor using the new map currency, Hatched Chilis. These include a Blood Legion-themed sword, an Ash Legion-themed shortbow, a Flame Legion-themed staff, and, my favorite, an Iron Legion-themed repeating crossbow rifle (there are too many cool rifle skins in this game at this point and not enough classes to use them!). Check them out in the gallery at the end of this post!
ArenaNet gave us a sample of a few different events during our time testing it out. One of the ones that stood out to us was a PvP minigame that allows players to pick a legion (Charr players won’t be forced to represent their own legion, but their legion will be the first option and marked with “My legion!”), then jump into Charr cars armed with rockets, speed boosters, and more, all to smash each other to bits for the honor of their legion — and the crowd’s amusement. The devs pointed out that this is the first time they’ve ever done a PvP event in an open-world setting, and they’re hoping that many of the events break out of established expectations.
Another even more memorable event was the Metal Legion concert. Yes, this is an all-Charr metal band, performing for the entertainment of the four legions, debuting songs about Charr pride and unity. They have some experimental new Asuran stage gimmicks, which (as you might expect) go horribly wrong. Players are tasked with making sure the concert goes smoothly and the crowd is hyped. Events will pop up all around the concert arena, including making sure the guitar amps have enough power cores, moshing with the crowd, defeating magical spark elementals spawning from the speakers, crowd surfing, and stopping a flaming rogue animatronic dragon. All while stopping crazed fans from rushing the stage and downing the band. You know, your usual rock concert stuff.
I don’t even particularly care for metal, but it is exactly the kind of music I would expect the Charr to like. ArenaNet did confirm for me that all three of the tracks from this event will be available on their SoundCloud, so Soulkeeper, Dragon Reaper may very well become my new alarm clock at some point in the near future.
In addition to the token mentioned above, this event also has a chance to award players a warhorn that looks like the microphone used by Metal Legion’s lead singer. The best part is that when used, it actually sounds like your player character screaming into it — matching the voice of your race and gender — which is a great touch! Hardcore Metal Legion fans will also want to check out the map vendor for a Metal Legion t-shirt chest piece skin.
There are a bunch of other events, such as a shooting range, ooze pit, a new race, and a boss fight with a nice throwback to the original Guild Wars, but I’ll leave those for you to explore.
I think the part of Bound by Blood that I was personally most excited to try was the new strike mission. At its announcement event, ArenaNet described these missions as “introductory raid content,” which definitely piqued my interest. The developers told us that strike missions can be played in squad mode or public mode. Squad mode will take your group in as-is. The content does not scale, but it is designed to be completable by groups of five to ten players, so if you want a greater challenge, simply take fewer people. You can even start it solo if you want, though the devs said it would be very difficult to complete (which will sound like a challenge to many).
If you don’t have a full squad, you can enter the public version of the mission, which will populate the instance with up to 10 people who have also chosen the public version, trying to bring any group members you’re already connected to, if at all possible.
The mission starts with a short jumping puzzle. Mounts are disabled in the instance, so, sorry, no bunny hopping over the whole thing. It’s pretty standard fare as far as Guild Wars 2 jumping puzzles go. Conveniently, when the first member of the group completes the jumping puzzle, a free teleport point appears at the end, so you need not fear getting stopped by that inevitable group member who is just really terrible at making precision jumps. (I missed a jump about halfway through and got lost trying to find my way back to the beginning, so that group member could very well be me.) There are, however, a number of chests along the way, ensuring that players are rewarded for getting as far as they can on their own. ArenaNet did note that future strike missions will not necessarily open with a jumping puzzle and will instead include a variety of different challenges.
After a few other minor obstacles, we arrived at the boss. The mechanics were pretty straightforward — mostly dodging AoEs and watching for tells — but fun. It’s the kind of thing that might kill you the first couple of times you try it, but it’s definitely doable with a pickup group without voice comms or a perfect group makeup. This is the exact type of content that I think this game needed. Raids are great, and fractals are great, but I think strike missions will hit the perfect sweet spot in between; if fractals are like mini dungeons, strike missions are like mini raids.
All told, I’m guessing the average strike mission will take around 10-15 minutes. Of course that can vary greatly based on your group’s skill; just look at normal players working through a dungeon versus a speedrun. Of course, what’s the point of a boss fight without rewards? Rewards are granted based on how fast your group completes the boss. If you complete the boss in less than four minutes, you get three chests; within seven minutes, you get two chests; and for anything less than that, you’ll nab a single chest. Each chest has a chance to include a shoulder armor piece themed after the Ebon Vanguard, along with a new chair, The Chilly Chaise. Again, take a look at the gallery down below to view these.
As you might expect, during the press event, the question of why ArenaNet had chosen to shift its terminology from “season” to “saga” came up. The devs responded that they wanted to give themselves the freedom to expand the horizons of the types of content they are creating, especially given the multiple content teams they have to work with now. I also inquired as to the kind of release cadence we can expect for this saga. They said that their goal is to have something new to do every single month, with new content coming every other month and events such as festivals in the alternate months. Players will recall that recent seasons were released more like every three to four months, with many of them taking even longer, so every two months is a welcome improvement. Long time players will also recall that seasons 1 and 2 were aiming for a similar release cadence and ran into some issues, so it remains to be seen if this pace will be sustainable while still maintaining quality standards.
The prelude chapter for The Icebrood Saga sets a great precedent for content going forward. That said, assuming Bound by Blood is an indication of the kind of content we can expect from each chapter of the Icebrood Saga, there really isn’t a whole lot to point to that distinguishes a saga from a season. However, if it can deliver on a faster release cadence, I think ArenaNet can justify the change. Strike missions are great, and I think focusing on repeatable, accessible group content is a great way forward for the game.
There are a lot of unknowns going forward for Guild Wars 2, but after getting a taste of Bound by Blood, I’m hopeful once again for the game’s future.