The prologue of Guild Wars 2's The Icebrood Saga "Bound by Blood" releases later today. In the prologue players travel to the Northern Shiverpeaks to start a new adventure in the Guild Wars 2 story.
In The Icebrood Saga, players will travel to the Northern Shiverpeaks and delve into charr and norn civilizations and culture. The saga will provide different aspects and perspectives of these two races, and the prologue in Grothmar Valley in particular focuses on The Legions of the Charr and their inner workings.
The saga will introduce several new features, including Strike Missions, which are 10-man boss encounters that combine the group coordination skills of Raids with the large-scale conflict of a meta event, new boss creatures, including the newly-awakened Drakkar first seen in the original Guild Wars, and Masteries that will explore the history and influence of the Spirits of the Wild, the mystic animal deities of the norn.
Guild Wars 2 The Icebrood Saga was revealed at a live event in Seattle, Washington, during PAX West 2019, last month. The event was interesting because it would give fans and media insight into what the studio was working on and how it would operate going forward given the relatively recent restructuring.
While the event showed content that fit very well within the Guild Wars 2 narrative, the announcement, the live event and the content itself were topics of fierce discussions in some parts of the community. Some players expected the saga to contain significantly more content while others were expecting a full-fledged expansion pack announcement, despite ArenaNet clearly stating that the event would be Living World related.
Watching the event live, I got the feeling that the development team, more than anything, wanted to show that it is still actively supporting the game despite the recent restructuring that could, perhaps, indicate otherwise. I felt the event itself communicated a clear vision for storytelling going forward. However, I also understood why a fair number of players were expecting more given that the studio historically didn't organize live events unless it was ready to announce an expansion pack. ArenaNet's marketing isn't always top-notch and I believe here they could have done more to temper the hype, either by communicating with viewers in livestream chats or by responding to forum or Reddit threads beforehand when expectations got woefully out of hand.
According to the development team, however, it is aiming to deliver content that is "more expansive than something that would be a season." The content teams currently working on the game have been restructured, giving them more leeway and freedom to come up with content that isn't strictly related to Living World episodes, yet still ties into the overall saga and works well within the story. Rebranding the new Living World season to The Icebrood Saga is part of that design philosophy.
If it is able to deliver on those ideas, I believe those vocal fans still get what they were expecting, but instead of playing through one major expansion pack within a couple of days or weeks, they would experience similar content through Living World going forward. Regardless, the studio noted that it is "keeping track of what people are saying and noting the constructive feedback."
For The Icebrood Saga, players are said to be able to see new content more frequently. The goal is to give players something new to do every month: individual saga episodes are on a two-month release schedule and additional content will be released in between, including festivals and other types of content. Whether this means that existing festivals will make a return, Shadow of the Mad King and Wintersday come to mind, or that all-new saga festivals will be introduced is still unknown.
Without spoiling the story, the prologue very much felt like crashing the party and I'm not sure if this was entirely intentional. From a storytelling perspective, this may be exactly what the development team was going for, but, from a player perspective, I felt out of sync because most of the charr terminology had faded away and I had to search for terms such as tribune, farah and imperator to figure out what was going on. Other than that, the prologue does a good job setting the stage for the next adventure in the Guild Wars 2 story and it moves at a decent enough pace to keep you interested, even though it wasn't incredibly long and is at one point gated by completing map events.
The new map Grothmar Valley features four meta events that happen throughout the day: Doomlore Shrine, Flame Effigy, Ooze Pit Arena, and the Metal Legion band concert. These events are hosted by the four different legions of the charr: Ash Legion, Flame Legion, Blood Legion, and Iron Legion. Players will find handy Event Schedule Boards all over the map that indicate which event is currently running and where it takes place. These events will award players with tokens and once all four tokens are collected they will be able to unlock a vault with specific episode rewards once per day. The rewards include the Glance of Khan-Ur; a helmet that can only be worn by charr characters, four weapon skins relating to the different legions, and a new Flame Legion-inspired infusion.
Out of these four meta events, the Metal Legion band concert event is the highlight of this release because it is so different from the usual Living World recipe. During the concert, the band will play three original heavy metal songs and players can interact with the performance by completing tasks as a group. I can definitely picture a more significant part of the community gather around this specific piece of content just to be able to see all it has to give. The event gave me a lasting impression and I found it refreshing to see that the team is thinking outside the box with this release, which I hope continues throughout the saga.
The new Strike Mission content is very similar to raids yet is different in the sense that it is trying to lower the barrier of entry for casual players. Previous raid content has traditionally been targeting groups craving difficult content and this in turn resulted in an elitist atmosphere that not all players may necessarily enjoy.
This issue can potentially be mitigated with the addition of the new public mode, allowing casual players to more easily attend without having the pressure and team baggage that comes with raids. The public mode tries to maintain as much of your current party while combining it with those from other players who have also joined the public instance. I also liked that the Strike Mission boss is introduced through the story chapter, which, I think, helps casual players feel more confident that they too could be part of this type of group content, although I'm not sure if that will be a recurring thing.
Despite all this, I still feel like the Living World recipe can be improved upon. Not necessarily in terms of the amount of new content that is added to the game, but rather in terms of expanding and improving existing content.
For the saga, I hope to see it utilize more of the existing Guild Wars 2 locations, as the initial Living World season did, while at the same time expanding the explorable terrain. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the story would be starting in the Black Citadel, only to find that the city was used for nothing more than an introductory talk and a teleport Charr Copter.
With some much focus on the charr and norn in the saga, it would be a shame to see capital cities and other existing relevant locations be neglected or forgotten about entirely just because the Living World recipe is one that traditionally introduces a new map, new Masteries and new rewards. Breaking away from that tradition may surprise fans more than anything else and could take the story to new heights, while at the same time, could breathe new life into existing maps and content.
Regardless, I think those who play through the prologue will agree that there is something to look forward to in the coming months. Today's release kicks things off with all of the above, except for the new Masteries, which will be introduced in episode one and two. In addition, players will find various other types of content, including the new unlockable Rockout emote, a new chair novelty item, new collections and two new jumping puzzles.
The "Bound by Blood" prologue for Guild Wars 2's The Icebrood Saga goes live later today and will be available free of charge for all players who own the Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire expansion pack.