Flameseeker Chronicles: First impressions of Guild Wars 2’s Whisper in the Dark

    
12

ArenaNet has just dropped the first full installment of Guild Wars 2s the Icebrood Saga after a strong start with its prologue, and I’m ready to guide you through my first impressions of the update. Haunting theming and a perilous saga ensues, but will the Icebood Saga sink or swim in my estimations? While it’s still a little early to tell, I have some fairly strong thoughts on the direction so far.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’ll take you through my first impressions of the Icebrood Saga’s Whisper in the Dark. My first impressions are based on a press preview tour and open weekend, during which I played for a couple of hours. For fuller impressions and a story breakdown, check out Colin’s follow-up next week. It’s been a while, MOP crew – I hope you really enjoy my first article in quite some time!

The Map

As you might have expected after the prologue and trailer, the aesthetics are on point in the episode’s new map, the Bjora Marches. The mood is most definitely set from the moment you set foot in the zone: Ravaging blizzards blow continuously, and only the protection of the Raven Spirit abates the freezing effects of the Jormag-touched tundra we’re traversing. An inkiness permeates the snowy scene and makes it far more threatening than similar frozen maps, to the point where I sort of wish ArenaNet would decide to revamp places like Bitterfront Frontier to match!

Mysterious and very sinister whispers haunt the commander and friends, which has various effects on different people throughout the Marches. The voice is so well done: The hair raised on the back of my neck at the first clear word that was uttered under the wind’s howl. This voice nestles beautifully with the tension built in the story’s dialogue and definitely keeps the NPCs — and player if I’m anything to go by — on edge.

This map is as bleak as it should be and the story that’s woven through it paints a macabre picture. We rarely see GW2 get this dark in tone, so it’s jarring in a good way when they pull out frozen corpses, relentless winds, and barren plains crawling with Sons of Svanir. There are definite nods to the dark nordic trend that has gripped so many of us since Vikings first aired; more than we see in most Norn areas in fact. The battle between the Raven and the Dragon is fierce and it plays out beautifully through this map, its masteries, and the story.

Now to the downsides: With all that driving snow and inkiness to the aesthetic, it can be very difficult to find your way around this map. This would be forgivable if it was a huge map with plenty of clever verticality, but this isn’t the case here. The freezing mechanic is more annoying than realistic, serving to slow your journey down if you’re careless without much thematic payoff. You simply break your way out of the ice and all stacks of permafrost are removed, which isn’t the most inspired mechanic we’ve seen. Compare this to the rather cool Raven totems, which grant a gorgeous protective bubble from that bitter cold, and feels as though the former as an afterthought to necessitate the latter.

Masteries

As you might already know, the masteries for this drop are self-contained in their own tab and you’ll need to rack up new points to spend on them. The delivery is more in-line with an expansion than an episode drop, which is somewhat worrisome since I do really enjoy the appreciable thematic shift and level of polish seen in expansions and wouldn’t want to see that delivery vehicle end.

Essence Manipulation is made up of three distinct progression tracks that work on strength and weakness levels in the same way as rock, paper, scissors or Pokémon weaknesses and resistances might. These masteries are vital to your successful grinding on this map and are important in every battle and strike mission, so I recommend getting to grips with the counterpoints in the system so you always select the correct manipulation for the task at hand.

In case you haven’t had the time to check into it: Resilience is strong against Valor and Fallen enemies embody it; Vigilance is strong against Resilience and the Svanir embody it; Valor is strong against Vigilance and is embodies by Aberrant enemies. Essence orbs are dropped by corresponding enemies once you unlock a mastery, and each gives a distinct enhancement that stacks. Upon gaining 30 stacks, you’ll gain a 15-minute passive buff as well as a powerful special action skill.

The last point to note here is that it’s been confirmed that the next episode will expand each essence to three tiers for extra power as the saga continues.

Strike Missions

I wanted to take a minute to share my first impressions of the strike missions from my playthrough time. It’s always slightly complicated for our preview sessions to showcase group content in the best light due to the limited server population for the press preview, but I came away fairly well clued-in to how the strike missions would work and how it would rotate to keep things interesting.

These are nice, pacey encounters that are an excellent middle ground for endgame players who are learning to read telegraphs and get ready for more difficult content without as much planning and strategy as running training raids. They reset weekly and I can see these being a nice addition to guild missions or other group runs you already like to do. Are they enough to be the sole focus of your end-game play? Absolutely not, but they are entertaining when taken for what they are.

Fully training your essences will mean you can take on these challenges without needing the recommended group size, and you’ll generally find you’ll have an easier time of things. Additionally, I recommend farming the right type of enemy before attempting the strike missions to ensure you’ve built up your 30-stack buff and are as ready as you can be, especially before tackling the Boneskinner.

I haven’t been able to accurately measure the strength of these strike missions at the time of writing: The devs we play with cheat profusely to whittle down the health of group encounter bosses so we can see the fight mechanics in our small tour groups. While the bosses were on a 1-hour rotation for the duration of the playthrough so we could see all bosses easily, there was never a chance to group up with enough people to give it a fair test for myself.

Story TL;DR

I’m not going to say much on the story content itself: I’ll leave a full story spoiler article to Colin, so you can expect that next week. As ever, ArenaNet specifically asks us to keep certain plot hooks and details to ourselves on launch day to give everyone a chance to play before we wade in, and that list pretty much covered the guts of the playthrough experience this time.

That said, I did want to leave some general impressions about the theming, content, and duration here. A strong plus-point is that this is a thematically strong drop, and the opening scenes are some of the strongest yet. However, I found this episode to be all-too-short and feel as though it would almost have made for a more suitable prologue in terms of duration than our actual prologue did. I got a sense of breezing through touchpoints when I played and this drop is missing some much-needed narrative ‘meat’ on its bones. Key characters don’t say much (or, worse, just drop off the face of Tyria) when they really, really should, and critical events go by with more of a squeaky pop than a big bang. I can’t really put my finger on what happened here, but this drop needed more from the narrative than what was delivered.

Over to you!

While the horror theming and striking visuals were a hit for me, I hope the narrative content picks up for the next instalment of the Icebrood Saga: Theme-wise, this stuff is right up my alley, so I am a little disappointed in how piecemeal Whisper in the Dark felt. That’s not to say that there weren’t some shining moments, which I know Colin will touch on in the next edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, but rather that those glimmers aren’t well supported with the expected narrative weave I’ve come to expect. This episode feels a little like filler when it should be making a much stronger splash to start the saga off with a bang.

What did you make of this episode? Be sure to let me know in the comments – I’ve missed reading them!

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!

12
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Hikari Kenzaki

Heh, I posted a similar shot last night. That event is fun.

I agree that this felt a little too short. I’m basically done with everything in it, but it has some fun environments and interesting mechanics.

I had two main peeves:

1) It was that it kept warning me over and over that I didn’t have the right essence mastery training to pick up the orbs and I should do that. RIGHT NOW! Except, you can’t train up those masteries until you train all the Raven skills.
2) Events were happening on top of me as I’m attempting to go through the story. It was chaotic and not exactly fun. Functionally, it got me the xp I needed, but events tend to be spoilery and really take you out of the scene.

Overall, though, I had fun with it. It’s like the second episode of The Mandalorian (no, no spoilers), not a lot of substance but I can tell it’s getting us closer to it.

gw098.jpg
Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Greaterdivinity

Finally played through it –

It was alright. Kinda down with the story, but it’s SUPER short. Honestly I kinda hope we never ACTUALLY fight Jormag or whoever this dragon is in-person and we just end up fighting by-proxy via the Norn. I still think the racial storylines and narratives are way more interesting than the dragon arcs.

Need to play the zone a bit more but so far it seems pretty busy and kinda fun, even if many of the events seem super repetitive from just dipping my toes in. Strike was alright as well, not particularly sure what was going on in terms of mechanics other than “Don’t stand in shit and maybe kill them both around the same time?” but it was easy enough and kinda fun.

Now that my thoughts are down, to comment on a few bits from the article –

Agreed that the “cold” mechanic seems more punishing than fun or interesting. Was caught off guard by it a few times and while it never killed me or anything, it was defiantly a nuisance that I see no real reason for existing (yet).

On masteries – I’m still unlocking them, but I’m getting BIG flashbacks to the worst aspects of the Aegis system in TSW…kinda nice you can open chests with the buff but overall I’m more worried about needing to monitor that nonsense in addition to everything else mid-combat. It’s not overwhelming or anything just…annoying. But I’ve still got a ways to go unlocking the first tier of all 3 (at least have the points for it, need to find out where to get the last few for tier 2 of the masteries).

Weaker than the last update IMO (though the heavy metal concert may have played a large role in this), but still pretty good. I just wanna know what/where the heck Taimi is now. There’s a distinct lack of her in these episodes so far and it’s killing me.

Alyn
Reader
Alyn

Informative article Tina! Yeah we have really missed your articles!
comment image

Veldara
Reader
Veldara

The abruptness of how the chapter would end hit me hard. Sure there was some warning with the usual big cinematic that ends the patch but it still felt very sudden to me. I was left a little confused and looking for quest markers the moment I left the instance thinking I needed more mastery points or something before going to the next step.

Reader
Natalyia

I ran a character through the Prologue yesterday before the patch dropped. It’s interesting. This episode certainly feels shorter. In terms of actual story-and-instance content, I’m not sure it’s smaller than the Prologue was.

What’s changed – a lot – is the zone it’s happening in. The Prologue map is a huge, open, welcoming place not full of monsters, with various fun activities to do – it was a party after all. In addition, the story does pause to “make” you do several of the activities before progressing the story.

Along with the “squirrel!” factor of “ooh, what’s happening over there”, it substantially increases the typical “runtime” of the Prologue, but if you’re going through it quickly to complete it, it wasn’t really that long either.

This episode is a haunting investigation in a cold, grim place. It’s a real tonal shift – and one they told us was going to happen. I think it worked pretty well overall (with agreement on that one thing that seemed not to be given it’s due), but it did feel short, even if actual-content-wise it may not be.

If they’re going to keep to their intent of “something” every month, then we ought to get the next chapter in January (on the theory that Wintersday will be the December thing) – if they can keep that up, then a chapter every couple of months that size should be fine. Question is, of course, if they can.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
Phubarrh

Nice, each screenshot looks like a Frazetta painting!