Just three short months ago, ArenaNet teased us in its 2020 content preview for Guild Wars 2 with a new type of story content called Visions of the Past. At the time, it wasn’t clear what this was going to mean for the game, and after the last episode, we mused about how The Eye of the North might be connected to it. But today, all of those mysteries will be revealed, as Visions of the Past: Steel and Fire, releases, and players finally get to jump into the scrying pool and learn a little more about Ryland Steelcatcher.expansion tease last week, and don’t worry – we’re excited to talk speculation soon! But even ArenaNet is calling the release window for the next expansion “the distant future,” so I would rather talk first about what’s new today. There will be plenty of time for musing on the expansion in the coming months!
First, let’s talk about the new 10-person instance. I was curious to see how this differed from a traditional strike mission. If strikes are an instanced version of a world boss, this is an instanced version of a meta event. I was excited to hear that it does not require 10 people to play like strike missions; it scales (to a point) to your party size the way an open world group event does. As with strikes, players can enter either with their prebuilt party, or in public mode that will automatically populate with other players entering the public version.
When players enter Steel and Fire, they will step into the role of a nameless, faceless Charr recently recruited to the renegade Steel Warband, and their character’s appearance will change to suit. The instance takes place during The Ice Brood Saga’s first chapter, Whisper in the Dark. The new recruits are tasked with helping the Steel Warband scout a route through the mountains. You will have a new experimental tank with you, operated by Ranoah Grindsteel, to help you out along the way. At any time, players can hop onboard the tank and use its gatling gun (protip: you can hold down 1 to fire continuously), grenade launchers, and harpoon gun. You will have to bring your own ammo, though, which can be found along the road or dropped from certain enemies.
Along the way, there is no shortage of enemy encounters, and, to keep things interesting, from time to time, other members of the Steel Warband will initiate a mini-event which, if passed, will cause them to help you out. You may be challenged by Cinder Steeltemper to slay more enemies than her, which will cause her to switch to her powerful flamethrower. Nicabar Steelweaver may ask you to gather enough ingredients within a time limit, which will grant players buffing potions. Or the sniper Vishen Steelshot may challenge players to a short jumping puzzle to reach an ideal vantage point, allowing them to use her sniper riffle for a time.
A surprise appearance is also made by the Stone Summit Dwarves, who players of the original Guild Wars may remember as a splinter group from the friendlier Deldrimor, who are long thought extinct. The Steel Warband takes a shortcut through their territory, and they are not happy to see us. Be sure that at least one of your party helps out Vishen, as her sniper shot is the only thing that can break the cannon Dwarves’ shields, and let the players who remain on the ground pick up their cannons. After the mission is over, players can investigate the fate of the Stone Summit Dwarves. Spoilers: Things have not been going well for them.
I don’t want to spoil any of the story that goes on in this instance, but, as you can imagine, it gives us some insight into Ryland and his Steel Warband, Bangar Ruinbringer, and, as teased in the trailer, the untimely death of Almora Soulkeeper.
The squad version of this instance also has a challenge mote, similar to ones previously seen in raids and fractals, that can be activated to up the difficulty and the reward. Challenges include making the mission fail when the tank is badly damaged, increasing the power and/or number of enemies along the way, and powering up the final boss. I like that players can tune each of these settings individually, rather than just having one switch that activates hard mode.
Speaking of rewards, upon completing the mission, players will be rewarded with a Steel Warband weapon. Players can upgrade it several times, changing its color and ultimately unlocking the flame jet version that the Steel Warband members use. The exception is the Flamesaw (which people crazy enough to go to PAX East 2020, like me, had the opportunity to have their photo taken with), which always has the flame jets, but the flames appear in different colors as it is upgraded.
Another big part of this update is to the Eye of the North. We got to briefly visit Aurene’s new digs at the very end of Shadow in the Ice, but with Steel and Fire, the Eye has become a new upgradable hub area, similar to Sun’s Refuge from Season 4. Players will be able to add crafting stations, vendors, bank access, and black lion traders to the Eye of the North. And yes, the old Xunlai Chests become bank access, in case you were wondering. The Asura Gate now serves as a launching point for strike missions, and can be upgraded to also take players to Lion’s Arch, each of the racial cities, the player’s home instance, and the Lion’s Arch raid hub. Now that players can jump into strikes from the Eye of the North, all strikes will be available to any player who owns Path of Fire, even if they don’t own the story chapter associated with the mission.
Speaking of strikes, with this release comes a new currency, called prophet shards and prophet crystals, each available in red, green, and blue, which can be turned in for pieces of ascended armor, as well as new cosmetic skins, such as the new Runic armor sets. Acquiring all of the pieces of the Runic set will unlock a matching cape. It’s a really cool set, which matches the recently introduced Illuminated Boreal weapon set perfectly, so be sure to check them all out in the gallery below!
To help you acquire these new currencies faster, there will be a new daily promoted strike mission, which will change daily and will yield bonus rewards when completed. It has never been more rewarding to jump into a strike mission!
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about those returning season 1 missions. I’ve been asking for a way to play season 1 over again since… well, since season 1; I actually missed a chunk of season 1, so I have always wanted to experience for myself the parts that I missed. I’m sad to say, though, that there is a bit less to these instances than I was hoping. I was hoping we would actually get to be introduced to characters like Rox, Braham, and Canach. Instead, it simply drops players into a instanced, soloified version of some of the dynamic events from season 1 with no setup, no backstory, nothing. It feels like the barest of effort was put into it, which is disappointing to say the least. I guess I should be grateful that we got anything at all, but I’m a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more effort put into making it something that will catch new players up to speed on everything that happened in season 1 and why they should care about these characters that are now a main part of the story.
ArenaNet’s representatives were tight-lipped as to whether or not there would be more Visions of the Past, either in the form of Steel and Fire or reliving the events of season 1. “We’re excited to see what players think of this release,” they said, “and will use that response to inform future content development plans.” Personally, I really liked this new format — it has the larger scale feel of a raid without the pressure to “get gud,” and with more variability in difficulty and group size — and I hope to see more in the future. If they bring back more season 1 content, I would really like more context to be given, even if it’s just a short video or even a Star Wars-style text crawl. Overall, though, I’m quite happy with this update. It’s light on story, but the new instance is fun, and I’m pleased with the convenience offered by the updated to the Eye of the North.