So here we are, we’re finally entering the home stretch of the Icebrood Saga. Today sees the release of the first chapter of Champions, the four part finale of this saga. Typing Guild Wars 2 release titles is starting to become exhausting, so rather than the verbose and overly punctuated title “Guild Wars 2: Icebrood Saga: Champions, Part 1 – Truce,” let’s just agree to call this release simply “Truce” from here on out, shall we?Confer with Bangar dialog that has been happening each week at the Eye of the North, you know that Jormag is still busy raising an army, but there is a new threat on the horizon. As we’ve suspected since the Icebrood Saga teaser, Jormag’s opposite Elder Dragon, Primordus, is rearing his fiery head, and has been causing earthquakes in various locations for the past week. Jormag has proposed we call a truce (hence the chapter title) to deal with this new mutual enemy. At the start of this chapter, the commander reluctantly agrees, but not everyone is happy with that decision.
It’s important to note that this release does not include a new open world map or meta event. Rather, the centerpiece of this update is the introduction of a new type of repeatable group instance, dubbed dragon response missions. These three new missions, which launch from the Asura gate in the Eye of the North, take place in instanced versions of some familiar open world areas. Like fractals, they are capped at 5 players, unlike strike missions, which are capped at 10. Unlike fractals, however, dragon response missions scale to your group size, meaning that you can take these on solo, or with any size party, and still have an appropriate challenge.
You may recall that ArenaNet has experimented with a similar model in the Visions of the Past: Steel and Fire instance. We asked ArenaNet’s representatives why this new type of instance is capped at 5 players rather than 10 like Steel and Fire. Their reason was that Steel and Fire, while designed to scale from 5-10 players, becomes much more challenging in smaller groups, a frustrating experience that I think a lot of players have shared. They found that the mechanics scale much better in the 1-5 player range. While ArenaNet did not mention this, I think it is also important to note that allowing the player to complete this content solo also makes it possible for the dragon response missions to become part of the story without feeling like a content type bait-and-switch. This is a lesson learned from the original finale to the vanilla game’s personal story, which originally climaxed with a dungeon, which was later reworked into a solo instance version following player complaints.
If you’re a fractal fan, you might be understandably worried about the future of your favorite mode. ArenaNet was quick to assure us that the purpose of dragon response missions was not to replace fractals or strikes, but as something new and different, and that they have no plans to discontinue work on those any time soon.
The dragon response mission that ArenaNet showcased for us takes place in Soren Draa, the little town in Metrica Province outside the gate to Rata Sum where Asura characters take their first steps. Similar to Steel and Fire, the instance can be entered either in public mode, which will populate your group with other players interested in public mode, or in a closed group. When playing with a closed group, a challenge mote can be activated to tailor the difficulty of the instance to the group’s tastes. Also like Steel and Fire, the mission begins with a timed event, which gives players something to do while waiting for more players to join their group. The Metrica Province instance we were shown challenges players to slay the attacking destroyers, rescue Asura researchers from their burning labs, and repair golems to help defend the town. For each of these three tasks that is completed, all players in the instance will receive a buff.
Once the timer on the event is finished, the instance will be locked to new players. After some dialog, an NPC faction will show up to reinforce you. This is randomized each time. In the press preview, we had two groups going simultaneously. One group received help from the Sylvari Wardens, while the other got the Asura Peacekeepers. If reinforced by the Sylvari, players can summon a fernhound that damages and stuns enemies for a short time. If the Asura arrive, players can access a golem suit to jump into and wreak havoc on their enemies. If you just really like one particular faction, there is a vendor who can be bribed/paid to guarantee that your favorite faction will appear.
The instance itself is pretty short. It’s comparable, I’d say, to your average fractal. There are some pretty standard trash pulls, followed by a multi-phase boss fight with a giant destroyer troll. As one would expect from a minion of the Elder Dragon of Conflagration, there are plenty of fiery AoEs to dodge, and a good amount of burning being thrown around, so consider bringing a class with a condition cleanse.
While this release is somewhat light on story, even for an Icebrood Saga chapter, the storytelling in this instance is very well done, largely taking the form of a conversation between Braham and Taimi while they’re bashing destroyers. Braham, who, like many Norn, has spent his life dreaming of defeating Jormag, is grumpy at the prospect of allying with them, but Taimi passionately counters that there are currently destroyers on the Asura’s doorstep, and that, perhaps, we should be dealing with the immediate threat rather than seeking an additional war with Jormag, who is currently offering to help. If Jormag’s goal in allying with us was to drive Dragon’s Watch apart and cause them to fight amongst themselves, it’s working.
I appreciate that the instance manages to tell an interesting and emotional story, while not bringing the action to a screeching halt to inject some talking or making those who are interested in the story feel pressured to fast forward through the dialog. Sure, it can be a bit distracting if you’re trying to listen in on the NPCs’ conversations, but most of the talking happens during more trivial combat encounters, so a little DPS reduction won’t hurt you.
After the defeat of the boss, a chest appears, showering players with goodies, as you would expect. Players will be rewarded with Tyrian defense seals, which can be spent at the Eye of the North on spiffy new rewards, including the new Dragonslayer weapon recipes. The chest also has a chance to drop pieces from the smokin’ hot (literally) Volcanic Stormcaller weapon set, which ArenaNet explained are weapons from the Charr-made Charged Stormcaller set introduced in Jormag Rising, but corrupted by Primordus’ dragon energy. Personally, while I like what these weapons were going for, I feel that they stray into the territory of overabundant of particle effects obscuring the actual weapon, but to each their own. Check out all of these weapon skins in the gallery at the end of this post.
The other two missions also involve fighting off destroyers. One takes players to a Sylvari village in Brisban Wildlands, with Caithe and the icebrood Ryland in tow. The other sees them defending the gates of Lion’s Arch and the Ascalonian settlement in Gendarran Fields with Jhavi Jorasdottir and Marjory Delaqua. I played the other two missions solo, and I am happy to report that they work quite well solo. The boss fights took a little longer than with a group, but I never felt overwhelmed, nor did I feel I was just plowing through everything.
If the existing random factions, like the aforementioned Asura Peacekeepers and Sylvari Wardens, don’t excite you, you may be interested in the recruitment events that will be happening over the coming months. These community-wide events (think the recent boss rush or fractal rush events, but for dragon response missions) will challenge players to complete daily tasks involving dragon response missions in order to recruit a new faction to join with you in the fight against the dragon minions. When the bar is filled, that faction will be placed into the rotation of factions that may join players in the instance. The first faction up for recruitment is the Crystal Bloom, who will be followed by the Ebon Vanguard in two weeks.
For each Crystal Bloom recruitment achievement, players will be rewarded a Crystal Bloom support mark, which can be turned in for various rewards, including the unique and beautiful Crystal Bloom Axe skin. Once the Crystal Bloom has been recruited, the skin will go up for sale on the regular dragon response vendor for defense seals, so don’t fret too much about missing out on it, but ArenaNet did note that it would be much quicker to farm the requisite support marks than the defense seals.
This release also brings with it a new mastery track called Dragon Slayer, which will provide a variety of buffs while playing dragon response missions.
I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that, with this update, the two previous Icebrood Saga episodes No Quarter and Jormag Rising are finally getting voice acting added. If you’ve been holding out on playing those episodes, be sure to check out our previous coverage on those episodes, here and here, respectively. I’m looking forward to replaying those stories, with the oh-so-critical element of voiceover added.
I’m excited to dive into dragon response missions with everyone today. I personally prefer smaller instances to larger ones — it’s one of the things that attracted me to Guild Wars 2 before they had raids — so I’m excited to see ArenaNet return to that medium. The fact that this scales to my group size is also exciting to me, that way, no matter how many friends I have online, we can jump into one of these without worrying about filling out empty spots with PUGs or risking being too underpowered to finish the boss. They may not be the most challenging or epic content you’ve ever seen in Guild Wars 2, but between old world dungeons, fractals, raids, strike missions, and dragon response missions, I love that there is no shortage of PvE content types for players to have fun with.