Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Made It! Top Of The World!

To no-one's surprise more than my own, I spent the whole of today in Cantha. As lukewarm on the whole expansion as I was before it arrived, I expected to have to talk myself into spending time there but I'm delighted to say that so far the only thing I've needed to persuade myself to do is take a break.

This morning, I carried on from where I left off last night: exploring New Kaineng. This is the city ArenaNet seem convinced has a cyberpunk vibe. There are a lot of very tall buildings with mirrored windows, robots on every corner and the back streets and alleys have all the charm of deserted parking garages (I even got jumped by a vicious gang of thugs in one of them.) so I guess they have a point.

I started out with the intention of clearing all the fog of war from the map like a good Explorer should  but pretty soon I was chasing Points of Interest and Heroic Challenges and Mastery Insights with all the fervor of a true Achiever. The game can turn into a puzzle as you try to figure out a) where the point marked on the map actually is and b) how the heck you're supposed to get there.

I spent a couple of hours trying to get as high as possible. On my griffin, that is. It started when I saw a Mastery Insight near the top of one of the highest buildings and only ended when I was sitting on top of the tallest structure in New Kaineng, a titanic pillar of jade.

Over the four and a half years since Path of Fire launched in September 2017 (I really has been that long.) I've said many negative things about mounts in Guild Wars 2 and I would still far rather they'd never been added to the game. I have, however, also said a few nice things about two of them, the Roller Beetle and the Griffin

The beetle is a fun toy, more of a vehicle than a mount. It's far too limited in what it can do to break the game in any way that matters and beetle racing is fun. The griffin was enjoyable to get, one of the best "quests" in the game, but despite having been deemed essential at one stage, compared to the vastly more useful Skyscale, it now feels quaint and old-fashioned, almost nostalgic.

Getting to the top of anything on a griffin requires both planning and luck. The thing's too heavy to fly. All it can do is lurch a few yards into the air in the hope of finding somewhere to land that's further off the ground than where it started. You spend most of the time clinging to ledges, landing on roofs, perching on towers, always looking for the next place to land. It feels a lot more like climbing than flying.

I would far rather have used my glider, which is infinitely more maneuverable and looks elegant and suave rather than clumsy and clumping. Once I was high enough, gliding to other parts of the map was a practical and pleasant alternative. There are, however, no updrafts in New Kaineng, so gliders only go one way, down.

As I was exploring the rooftops I saw zip wires everywhere. On the ground levels there were plenty of elevators. The entire city is littered with power batteries. No-one is using any of these things yet because all of them require some form of Mastery and no-one has the points. 

No-one has a Jade Bot, either, or no-one I've seen. The bots have a Mastery line that eventually allows you to create your own updrafts. Once I have that, always assuming it doesn't come with too many restrictions, I should be able to swoop around New Kaineng like it was Verdant Brink.

I was thinking about all this as I heaved my cumbersome catbird into the clouds. I think what Anet have done here is smart: good map design and good gameplay. 

The clear intention is that you do the story, which opens the maps and introduces you to the new features and systems, then you work on the Masteries until you have the full functionality. With that, you have freedom of movement and access everywhere you go. In the meantime, if you want to run on ahead and explore, you're very welcome. You can use your mounts and your gliders and see how far you get. Good luck, have fun.

I don't own a Skyscale, not being willing to put in the hours required to get one, but given what I was able to achieve on the griffin, I imagine there aren't many places you can't reach with the game's closest thing to a true flying mount. There may be some, though, because you certainly can't use your Skimmer as a skiff. ANet haven't been that generous in grandfathering mount functionality into End of Dragons.

There are events that require a skiff and fishing spots, too. I tried both on a skimmer without success. I've been doing a fair bit of fishing. It's not my favorite implementation of the genre staple but it's not bad and I can see it will improve considerably as the Masteries fill out. That's another tick in the "Pros" column for EoD: the Mastery tracks all look worth doing.

I had a browse through them today and I could immediately see the appeal. That's not something I could say of either of the previous expansions, where there were quite a lot of Masteries that didn't seem worth the bother. It does, of course, rely on a player finding fishing, sailing, exploring and bot-owning appealing in the first place, but assuming an interest exists, the upgrade paths look solid.

As I was finding and communing with Insights across several maps, I remembered something I'd forgotten about new Masteries. It isn't getting the points that slows you down, it's getting the experience. 

I don't believe I'd had to think seriously about XP in GW2 for about four years. I'd all but forgotten it even existed. The bar at the bottom of my screen has been solid yellow from end to end for as long as I can remember. 

Now it means something again. I have a bunch of Mastery points but I need a full "level" of Mastery XP every time I spend them. So far I've filled my bar once! Of course, I haven't been focused on XP. 

There's a lot more I can do to speed things up if I want to do that. It did make me think, rather fondly, of the sessions I spent during the first few weeks of Heart of Thorns, buffed to the eyebrows, chain-killing until the "not been killed in a while" bonus faded. Good times. Well, those good times are back.

Another long-lost pleasure that returns with each expansion is the requirement to gain "Hero Points" to buy your new Ascended class skills. As a World vs World regular, I do have an alternative source for those. I could just play WvW as normal and spend the tokens I get there at the Heroic Notary, who'll kindly open random Heroic Challenges on the relevant maps for me just as if I'd actually been there.

ANet, as I said, can be smart, sometimes. They don't want everyone saving up their chips to spend them all on Day One of a new expansion, then stand around complaining in Team chat they're bored because there's nothing left to do. 

Each new expansion requires its own, separate tokens so the huge stacks I have from the last two won't do me any good at all in this one. I don't know exactly how long it would take me to get enough EoD tokens in WvW but I'm pretty sure it would be longer than exploring the maps. Which, of course, I was going to do anyway.

That just leaves the question of whether I can do the Heroic Challenges. One of the big complaints about Heart of Thorns was that some of the Heroic Challenges there actualy were. They required a group. It turned out not to be all that much of a problem because GW2 really does have a better-than-average community. Even today, years later, it's not hard to find HP "trains", where someone tags up and leads as many people as care to follow around a whole map (Sometimes a whole expansion.) doing every Heroic Challenge and Mastery they can find.

If memory serves, all Path of Fire's Heroics were, at least theoretically, soloable. Don't quote me on that. I've blanked a lot of the detail. So far in EoD, all the ones I've found have been, technically, solo affairs but I use the term advisedly.

My glorious flight across the skies of New Kaineng came to an abrupt end when I swooped down onto a ruined tower to grab the Heroic Challenge there and found it guarded by an Elite mob. In GW2, "Elites" are classed as solo mobs. They're one step below "Champions", which are meant for several players, although plenty of people can solo those too.

The Elite wasn't part of the Heroic Challenge. He just happened to be standing next to it. The "Challenge" itself required no more than clicking an object and watching a progress bar fill for a few seconds, just to prove you'd been there. 

Technically, as I said, it was wholly solo, unlike the group HCs in HoT, which spawned very tough mobs when clicked and required you kill them to get the credit. If you can somehow fill that progress bar without getting beaten to death by an angry mob who "just happens to be there", that's perfectly acceptable!

I hadn't even seen the Elite was there. I landed on top of him, jumped off my grifin, clicked on the HC and got punched in the back of the head. By the time I'd turned round I was half dead and before I could get my Earth Elemental out to tank for me I was all the way dead. 

I was lying there thinking abut it when a hulking great Charr on a Skyscale dropped out of nowhere and tried to rez me. The Elite was having none of it and in moments he and the Charr were going at it while I lay there and watched them.

The Charr seemed to be standing up well but the Elite didn't seem to be taking much damage. It occured to me I was playing a very high DPS glass cannon kind of character, who also has some of the best healing in the game and now I had my very own tank. I popped a Revive Orb, something I always carry and hardly ever use, stood back up and joined in.

Together we made pretty short work of the Elite, then we both communed with the challenge point, said a few words to each other and went our separate ways. This, lest we forget, is why soloing in mmorpgs is a totally valid playstyle and also why mmorpgs make better memories than single player games, even when you play alone.

I was lucky, though. Considering its the second day of the expansion, it's been exceptionally quiet. I played for almost two hours this morning before the first person spoke in map chat. All day, wherever I went, I only saw people traveling in ones and twos. Mostly ones. 

There were events happening everywhere, some of them very large scale. Most of them were unattended. I did quite a few, about half solo and half with one other person - a different person each time. I don't believe I did a single event with more than one other player or with the same player twice.

For me, it was almost perfect. I was wholly immersed much of the time with no-one buzzing about doing or saying anything weird to pull me out of the moment but just enough activity going on to make the place feel alive. It did seem odd, all the same. Maybe everyone is studiously working through the story. (It is good - I did a couple more chapters this afternoon and I'd love to post about it but... spoilers.)

I'm enjoying having Cantha largely to myself for now. I don't suppose it will last. The place will be awash with people by the weekend, I'm sure. Whether they'll be enjoying themselves as much as I am, I wouldn't like to say. 

I hope they are. I'm having a high old time.


  1. Aw... I was expecting Jimmy Cagney.

    But still, I'm glad that you're enjoying yourself.

    1. One disadvantage with putting quotes and references in the titles is that you can't hyperlink in the header. I did watch the clip on YouTube to check the exact phrase used in White Heat, which everyone always remembers as "Look at me, Ma! Top of the world!" What he actualy says is "Made it, Ma! Top of the world!". I tried it with the "Ma!" in but it just looked weird.

    2. I remember that movie fondly, having broken it down in Film Study class in high school. (It was either that or Art or Musical Instruments for a Fine Arts requirement, and you don't want to hear me play or try to draw anything.) The scene when Cagney's character finds out about his mother's death while he's in prison is, well, something else. Sure, he overacted, but it also showed just how crazy Cagney's character really was.

  2. I don't play GW2, but it's always nice to see someone simply enjoying an expansion to their main game! Let's hope it lives up to its early promises. :)

    1. There was a lot of talk before EoD dropped, some of it from me, about how bland it looked but maybe ANet were following the PR mantra, underpromise and overdeliver. I think we're all so used to seeing the opposite from mmorpg developers it's a strategy that can still be very effective.


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