Flame and Frost Impressions

This week marks the release of Guild Wars 2′s first major update of the year, Flame and Frost: Prelude, which promises to lay the groundwork for bigger updates throughout the first half of the year. Between both GW1 and GW2 ArenaNet has quite the reputation to live up to when it comes to major patches–arguably, one they have betrayed once already. As a patch that’s supposed to set the stage for what’s to come, the long-term implications of Flame and Frost are pretty important. Does it follow through on its promises? Read on for my take on the new content and features.

I would be remiss not to begin by mentioning the feature whose absence has caused me considerable frustration: guesting has finally arrived–hooray! PvE players may now select 2 worlds per 24 hour period besides their home world to play on, allowing them to play with their friends in the open world. Finally having guesting goes a long way to reconciling people’s expectations with what was promised, but it does not go as far as it could have. It’s not possible for players on North American home servers to guest to European servers and vice-versa. While this was likely done due to technical and performance restrictions, it still serves to divide GW2′s global community in half on the arbitrary basis of geography. As a guild leader, a restriction I have even less sympathy for is related to influence: while guesting, all influence you earn still goes back to your  home server, even if you choose to represent a guild whose server you are guesting on. This means that social play and repping your “non-main” guilds are still disincentivized despite the fact you can play together. I don’t think this will stop people from guesting, but it doesn’t make sense to me and I would like to see it changed.

This patch does much, much more than introduce guesting though–what ArenaNet features most prominently on the announcement page is the new concept of Living Story. They want to follow through on their promise of creating a “living, breathing world” by introducing gradual changes to the world, giving you reasons to revisit areas you may have already completed or outleveled and have new experiences there. This new story arc begins with displaced Norn and Charr, whose homes have been destroyed by underground activity causing destruction on the surface, going south to seek refuge in their capitol cities.

I went to Wayfarer Foothills to see what’s new. I walked along the familiar path from Hoelbrak to the border with Diessa Plateau, “helped” refugees by pressing F to kneel next to them, collected the personal belongings of refugees who did not survive the journey, repaired road signs, and participated in a new dynamic event. The event consists of steam vents popping up in a large area and spewing out Ice Elementals which the players must defeat to pick up special ice chunks which can plug the vents back up.

All of this activity gives credit towards a new achievement and title track called Volunteer, which can be maxed out in a couple of hours–I think of it like a zone-wide Renown Heart. It’s an easy reward to earn so I imagine most achievement hunters have already snatched it up. PvE still doesn’t have many titles compared to SPvP and WvW so it’s nice to have another one in the mix. I hope future Living Story steps will also have unique titles.

From a lore perspective, it’s not yet clear what is causing the underground seismic activity. Our existing general knowledge points to the underground-dwelling elder dragon Primordus and his Destroyer minions, or the Charr’s own renegade Flame Legion using new-found magic to wage war on its foes. The “and Frost” part of the update’s title points to the ice dragon Jormag. Unfortunately, in her own words Regina from the Community team swooped in to “crush our dreams,” saying there will be “no dragons coming with the Flame and Frost story arc.” I’m disappointed ANet felt the need to take away some mystery from this new arc–knowing something won’t happen is a form of spoilers and dampens the community’s excitement.

The next major item in the update is the new Laurel reward currency and the new Daily and Monthly achievement system that accompanies it. Laurels are an account-bound currency that can be traded in at vendors in Lion’s Arch and the racial cities for a very wide variety of rewards. There is really something for everyone and something to satisfy every short- and long-term goal–Ascended amulets and rings, infusions, crafting materials and starter kits, gathering tools, boosters, Mystic Forge components, dye, new minis, and profession-themed high-end gear chests.

My favorite thing in that whole list is the new Gold Find infusion–Gold Find is the only reason I use Omnomberry Bars so being able to have a permanent 20% GF boost is very enticing. That said, at least for my main, I see myself having two Ascended amulets long-term, one with Gold Find and another with Agony Resistance.

The introduction of ascended amulets could have been a major sore spot for players who crafted the expensive Triforge Pendant, but fortunately there is a very inexpensive recipe that allows you to upgrade one to Ascended. I imagine that as other ascended item types are rolled out, “super-exotic” items like Infinite LightMjolnir, and many others will receive similar treatment. In my opinion, if you put the work into making (or buying) such an expensive item you deserve to upgrade it with relative ease, and it seems ArenaNet agrees.

The most interesting part of the Laurel system to me is the progression. Daily achievement completion grants one Laurel, while monthly completion grants ten. Not only can you do the math and figure out exactly when you’ll have enough Laurels for your desired reward, but it’s a reasonably attainable effort to max out the rate at which you earn Laurels. For now you can earn about 40 laurels per month and that’s it. Hardcore players will not be able to leave more casual players in the dust as they can through other forms of play.

As for the achievements themselves, there is a new rotation of daily achievements including Daily Dodger, Underwater Slayer, Crafter, Veteran Slayer, and Healer (revives) in addition to the ones we are already used to. A random 5 of these are required per day, up from 4 under the old system. This is not exactly what ArenaNet described when this system was announced–we were told players would be able to choose 4 out of 6 achievements in order to earn daily rewards. I hope this change will be released sooner rather than later so that doing daily is less work.

PvE-only players will be relieved that February’s monthly achievements do not include World vs World player kills. WvW and I get along much better than we used to, but it’s nice to get a break from grinding out those kills this month. I can go into WvW and play properly without worrying about an achievement derailing good strategy.

The changes to the game that are most relevant to my in-game expertise are the updates to Dungeons and Fractals. The core change is that it’s no longer possible to use a waypoint while anyone in your party is in combat–if you are defeated, your party must revive you or leave combat (letting the current encounter reset/fail) before you can return to the action. This is intended to force players to fight without “res-rushing,” or having players run back in the middle of a fight before the party wipes. Personally, I really like this change–res-rushing something I never liked but was forced to accept because it was so much easier than having the party try to revive you. Victories won by res-rush felt cheap and unearned to me because there was virtually no penalty for dying.

That said, dungeons sported some very difficult encounters that have been changed to account for this new restriction. Here are the changed encounters I’ve played so far:

  • Twilight Arbor’s Nightmare Vines have had their damage drastically reduced, making it unnecessary to exploit their blind spots to defeat them. Trying to revive someone who has defeated is no longer a death sentence.
  • The fight with Leurent in the Forward/Forward path of TA has been changed so that he has a mix of adds rather than three infamous Nightmare Wardens that must be pulled and fought one at a time.
  • The “Defend Magg while he plants the bomb” phase of Citadel of Flame Path 2 is now a lot of fun! The infinite spawn of enemies are now trash mobs instead of silver veterans and the encounter can be beaten by dodging around and looking out for the Flame Legion Assassins that will beeline for Magg and take him down. No res-rushing or kiting out of the room required.

Similarly, the Fractals of the Mists (which received much attention on here) have gone through some highly-anticipated updates as well. The party may now enter FotM at the party’s highest available difficulty level instead of the lowest, making progression much easier for everyone involved. Additionally, the Fractals now behave like other dungeons in that you can now reconnect after disconnecting, change characters, and swap out party members as needed. I don’t know how the Fractals were allowed to ship without these capabilities, but I’m nonetheless grateful to be rid of those frustrations.

This patch takes steps towards solving some of the problems introduced by FotM discussed in AJ’s post. The big thing that’s been solved is that ascended gear and infusions are now obtainable with Laurels, making it possible to earn max-stat rings and amulets through any kind of PvE gameplay, albeit over a longer period of time. Ascended back pieces are still exclusive to FotM, but two out of three ascended item types being earnable outside of fractals is excellent progress. WvW players are able to earn the PvE daily and monthly, so they now have an avenue to earn Ascended items too. Second, many of the new infusions have uses other than surviving high-level Fractals, ending their single-purpose nature. The patch has made ascended items and infusions much more accessible and more useful, which is good news for everyone.

I am very happy with these changes, but there is still some work to be done. Mist Essences are still an account-bound random drop, forcing you to run fractals until the RNG gods decide to bestow a sufficient number of them on you. This is the exact kind of reward system that dungeon tokens were supposed to replace, so I see no reason why Mist Essence can’t be purchased with Fractal Relics. Furthermore, I have two random-drop Ascended rings collecting dust in my bank because they don’t work for any of my characters’ builds. It would be great if I could do something with them–throw 4 in the mystic forge to exchange them for something else, sell them to a vendor for (Pristine) Fractal Relics, anything.

There is more to say–I didn’t talk about Orr but I like the changes made there as well–but overall my verdict is that this is a very good patch. I think that all of the stuff it does is good, and most of my complaints are only to do with things it doesn’t do. A few major things have been checked off my wishlist–the release of guesting and a solution to the overemphasis of Fractal grind–so I would have a hard time walking away displeased. There are still things I would add and change in the game, but if this is only the first patch of the year I think we have a lot of good stuff to look forward to.

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4 Responses to Flame and Frost Impressions

  1. Hunter says:

    I figure I’ll just hold on to my exotic rings and keep my ascended rings just for the agony resistance. Not going to use ascended rings for my optimal set.

  2. Pingback: This week in Guild Wars 2 | Guild Wars 2 Editorials, Magazine, Media & Podcast | GuildMag

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