Tuesday 26th May saw ArenaNet host three blocks of roughly 2 hours each of closed beta sessions accepting possibly the greatest number of players in so far to test the first map, Verdant Brink. The premise for these sessions was “help us test the stability of our new PvE outpost-event content structure” and it was great to finally get a preview of the new “starter area” coming with the expansion.
First impressions first
Verdant Brink is beautiful – oh my God, ArenaNet designers are outdoing themselves in creating an incredible atmosphere. Here we are in the thick of the Maguuma Jungle – massive vines and trees all around and as you run around, you come across ruins of ancient civilizations that are now overgrown and desolate. It piques your curiosity from a lore perspective, and completely satisfies on an aesthetic level. This is the jungle – this is where we will find Mordremoth – but not until we’ve braved its minions and all the other challenges the jungle presents. The Itzel village area struck home on the strings of my heart in how reminiscent of the imagination and art of the Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki (you know, Studio Ghibli); proper Hylek races and then for good measure some cute little mushroom soldiers that I can’t wait to get to know more about too.
The challenges are great, and in reviews I’ve seen other players reporting that the monsters in this area really pack a punch. They were playing the new Revenant that was available in this beta and new skills possibly made challenges tougher. However, wanting to save the Revenant so I can truly enjoy it once the expansion launches, I only saw 99.5% revenants around me while I played in the comfortable confines of my main class, the Guardian. And playing the Guardian, I am familiar with skill mechanics and hardly ever experienced a difficult fight. In fact, short digression first – the jungle brings with it a Day and Night cycle and during the latter the Mordrem minions launch their offensive and threaten the outposts of the Pact survivors while during the Day the Pact goes out to establish new forward camps to drive back the Mordrem. At one point, I had to go AFK to take care of something and during this time, my character was stood idle near one of the Pact supply camps that needed defending. I came back 5 minutes later with the ‘nighttime assault’ event still ongoing to find that I was still standing there alive – albeit full of conditions on me and two Mordrem Husks beating away on me. Thank Dwayna for Purity trait and Aegis when my health dropped. Needless to say, I wasn’t alone, but we were 2-3 players there and I still wasn’t defeated all that time I went AFK.
This area is endgame for mostly fully decked out level 80 characters, so I think the mobs could do with being even stronger to further increase the difficulty level. I welcomed the new mob types, particularly seeing mounted mobs and the Mordrem Cavalier had some interesting mechanics and I must admit I wow’ed aloud when the ranged Mordrem Sniper dodged my attacks when I closed down on it. I’ve never had mobs dodge me before in GW2, and if this is one result of hiring the new AI consultant, kudos!
Speaking of new mobs, it was a great feeling of nostalgia I saw the Pocket Raptors… my only concern was how quickly they died to my sword and I hardly had time to screenshot them before they were corpses on the ground…
Overall I was very positive about the closed beta, but my main concern is how far along have ArenaNet come in development of the expansion pack?
I understand that this was a closed beta test of only the first outpost area in Verdant Brink, but the area itself actually felt very empty despite having players all around you. It needs more events, more activity going on and there was a whole lot that needs fleshing out when you tried interacting with things, items that dropped that only had ???s for description, or just various screens and dialogues with unfinished texts.
And in general – how many maps like this Verdant Brink area will we be getting with the expansion; 2? 3-4? More? If the jungle is meant to feel vast, I hope the explorable area of Verdant Brink will account for a maximum 5-15% of the total, new land mass – otherwise we will be needing a LOT of story content and things to do in this space if we’re not going to run out of things to do in a matter of weeks. If that turns out to be the case; I fear for the future of Guild Wars 2, but for now I’ll put those fears away and remain cautiously optimistic that we will have much, much more!
I sincerely hope ArenaNet have a much more developed version in-house than the one we could play now, because my previous guess at an expansion release to coincide with Guild Wars 2’s 3rd anniversary for late August now seems far too optimistic if this is how far ArenaNet have come in all that time. And on that note, ArenaNet need to give an update soon on when things are due to happen for the live game. Since Lunar (sorry, it’ll always be Canthan in my books!) New Year, the live game hasn’t seen any content updates apart from Lion’s Arch recently starting to be rebuilt. A map being changed doesn’t really count as content though if the players don’t get to be more invested in it than a simple Surveymonkey naming poll out of game!
My hype levels remain cautiously reigned in as before the closed beta, but the preview I got was promising with potential – and now it’s up to ArenaNet to grab the opportunity to dazzle us all.