The prologue and first episode of Guild Wars 2’s The Icebrood Saga did a lot of setting up, but weren’t very satisfying. Episode 2: Shadow in the Ice, which is launching today, needed to come out strong to restore my confidence. It needed to provide some strong content and motivation to do that content.
I am happy to say that, while the press preview didn’t blow me away, I walked away from this episode much happier than I felt with the first two.ArenaNet also took this opportunity to spruce up some things in the original, eastern half of Bjora Marches, creating some new events and new achievements for the existing trio of strike missions as well as adding some Icebrood Saga mastery points to the prologue’s Grothmar Valley map.
Shadow in the Ice brings with it an epic new world boss, which ArenaNet took special time to showcase for press ahead of time. In order to give context for this boss, however, I will need to give you a few small spoilers from the beginning story instance. Don’t worry, though; I won’t spoil anything you won’t see in the first 10 minutes or so of gameplay, but if you’re really a purist, you may want to come back to this article after you’ve had a chance to play the story for yourself.
Episode 2’s story starts with a call from our new Norn friend Jhavi Jorasdottir. Rytlock and Crecia have gone missing while scouting the western half of Bjora Marches, and now Braham has disappeared looking for them. The Spirit of Wolf leads us to Braham, who has found the source of the eerie whispers we’ve been hearing during our time in Bjora Marches: Jormag’s champion Drakkar.
Those who played Guild Wars 1’s Eye of the North expansion may know Drakkar as the Jormag minion that turned Svanir into the Nornbear and cursed Jora, breaking her connection to the Spirit of Bear. At that time, Drakkar was trapped beneath Drakkar Lake, but no longer. It has since corrupted and stolen the power of the three lost Spirits of the Wild, Wolverine, Ox, and Eagle, and now it has the ability to swim through solid ice. The local Kodan tell us they fear that Bangar is under Drakkar’s influence, and it is luring the renegade Charr army to Bjora Marches to corrupt them. Our only hope is to defeat Drakkar before that can happen.
Interestingly, at this point in the story, the player may choose to either go it alone and weaken Drakkar by smashing the Idols of Jormag scattered around the zone or to participate in the group event/world boss helping Jhavi to weaken Drakkar by hitting it where it lives. I don’t want to spoil any more of the story, but I do want to talk a little about the Drakkar world boss fight.
The event starts with Jhavi rallying the local Kodan and Vigil for a mission to hit Drakkar’s minions head-on and push their way into its den. There will be plenty of enemies from all three types of Essence Manipulation, so you should definitely have all three of those buffs going by the time you get to the boss, assuming you have the masteries unlocked. As you make your way through the ice tunnels, you will frequently see the shadow of Drakkar ominously moving behind the frozen walls, and occasionally the dragon champion will pop out and players will have to work together to push it back. Finally we reach Drakkar’s lair, The Den of Whispers.
The fight has several phases, with Drakkar’s terrifying visage popping through walls all around the arena. At certain times, Drakkar will pop up through the floor to attack Jhavi, who will shield herself and open the Raven portals around the perimeter. Part of the team will need to enter a portal to the spirit realm and kill a Boneskinner there, while the rest will need to stay and defend Jhavi as she channels her Raven magic. Either failing to defeat the Boneskinner or allowing Jhavi to fall can cause the event to fail, so you will need to be sure your team has enough players in both locations. There is a nice variety of mechanics to keep things exciting, some of which will be familiar if you’ve done any of the recent strike missions.
All players will be rewarded with a standard boss chest as well as chests from each of the three essence manipulations. Players can open the chest with any tier of essence manipulation, but using the newly added third mastery tier will net you better rewards.
The whole event has a creepy horror vibe to it that fits in well with everything we’ve seen in this episode so far. If you’ve spent much time doing events in the Episode 1 part of the map, think of Drakkar as a gigantic, aquatic Boneskinner.
Worth noting is that Drakkar’s boss room feels smaller and more enclosed than your average world boss encounter. ArenaNet explained that this is because the population cap in Bjora Marches is intentionally lower than most maps, to give players the feeling of being alone and isolated. So if you ever feel like you’re fighting with fewer people than usual in this zone, it is working as intended!
I mentioned masteries briefly, so let’s unpack those a little. All three essence manipulation masteries have received a new third tier, which increases the damage output and adds conditions to the special action skill that becomes available when attacking vulnerable mobs while holding 30 stacks of essence.
Similarly, the Raven Attunement mastery has received two new tiers. Raven’s Light allows players to open Raven gates. Players may recall seeing these gates scattered around the Eastern part of Bjora Marches, though we could not activate them yet. These gates each lead to unique puzzle rooms that grant rewards for completion. Note that if any player opens a Raven gate, other players may follow, regardless of their mastery unlocks. Second is Raven Bright, which increases the bonuses received from Raven gates and shrines. So, thus far we have Raven Light, Raven Flight, and Raven Bright. Who wants to take bets on future rhyming masteries? Raven Might? Raven Sight? Raven… Kite?
New world boss aside, this episode has another interesting group event addition, known as Trials of Koda. These trials are occasionally added on to the events that normally spawn throughout the zone, and add an additional, optional goal to the event, called a trial primer. If this primer goal is met, a secondary event will spawn when the first one is done, with higher difficulty and additional rewards. I think it’s a really cool way of making dynamic events, which were one of the driving features of this game at launch, feel even more dynamic.
As far as cosmetics go, this episode also brought with it another tier of cosmetic upgrade to last episode’s Boreal weapons set, the glowing Illuminated Boreal weapon set. ArenaNet’s developers actually used the phrase “Tron-like” to describe these skins to us, and I think that’s spot-on. It’s a really unique set, and one that I’m personally looking forward to unlocking, so I suppose it’s time to go farm up some more Etrite Ingots. Also coming with this episode are a new Boneskinner-themed staff, scepter, and focus — perfect for all of your Necromancer needs — and a fun new fishing rod staff, complete with line and lure.
Also with this episode comes the Raven Ceremonial armor skins, which may look familiar to Norn fans. ArenaNet told us that this outfit has been much requested for years, but the models were built only for Norn NPCs until now. Interestingly, this is the first full set of armor skins that look the same regardless of armor class. ArenaNet explained that many players have been asking for medium armor that isn’t just coats with pants and heavy armor that looks more robe- or dress-like, so this was the studio’s way of delivering that. Was this choice truly motivated by player feedback, or was it simply easier (and cheaper) to design one single gear set rather than three? I’ll leave that for you to decide while you’re checking out the new weapon skins and the Raven Ceremonial armor in the screenshot gallery at the end of this post!
Overall, I was more satisfied with this episode than with the previous two in this Saga. I played through the entire story of this episode, and it didn’t feel much longer than the two previous, but I felt OK with that. I also think that the story did a better job of drawing me in and making me feel as if the players accomplished something, and the open world content added with this episode felt more substantial. Maybe it’s because my expectations weren’t as high this time, so I would love to know whether other players felt the same. Either way, it gives me hope that, even if content drops in Icebrood Saga are smaller, when taken as a whole they will feel more like previous Living World seasons. Perhaps they’re not a replacement for expansions, but at least they’ll be something worth looking forward to every other month.
ArenaNet did leave those of us at the press event with a tease that they will have some news regarding fractals to share in the coming days, so stay tuned to MassivelyOP for more information on that as it emerges!