Of course, it would be irresponsible of me to cover the beta test without a quick *SPOILER ALERT*. I will cover a few story-related things below so you have been warned.
It’s been just short of three months since I played the Heart of Thorns demo at PAX East and wrote my initial opinions about the new revenant profession and the story instance. This past Tuesday’s beta test showed testers a little more of the Verdant Brink map and some of the events and challenges that reside in those locations.
The test starts the player in an instanced section of the Silverwastes during what I can only describe as a placeholder story transition that leads into the first story instance in Verdant Brink. I say “placeholder” because all our characters do is participate in a defense event similar to what we’ve experienced during the Silverwastes’ event chains. The story instance is about the same as it was in the demo. There are more voice-overs to replace some of the monotonous computer generated voices and there’s a new and improved ending to the first story mission (you can watch the actual scene here) . In a moment of action and mixed emotions, Rytlock charges onto the scene in full revenant glory.
It was a bittersweet reunion for me as I was glad he was alive, but a little mad that he killed the boss I was fighting. This was a similar issue I had with the personal story as the player character took a backseat to Trahearne’s leadership. I didn’t hate Trahearne as a character, but my hope was that my character(s) would outgrow the shadow of the Pact Marshal and Destiny’s Edge. Granted, Rytlock was a mentor figure to some extent (like the rest of Destiny’s Edges’ members), so I’ll cut him a little slack for now. On an even weirder note, I had to double-take at one of Rox’s lines when the Tribune pops in. She asked Rytlock about his new revenant magic, which I find odd since characters of the revenant profession will supposedly start their personal story the same as every other profession. That would mean that revenants have existed for at least three years or so before Rox made that comment. Plothole? Maybe. There have been some posts over on the official forums from Lead Writer, Bobby Stein, about some quality-of-life updates coming to the personal story, and while those may not write the revenant into the personal story, I wonder if they’re in the works for the expansion.
Finally, Rytlock directs the player character towards searching for Destiny’s Edge, which ends the story instance. All-in-all, I like the sense of imminent danger and urgency presented in the the story so far. It strikes the question, how does the Pact recover from a loss this major?
A short term answer to that question is by rallying the jungle’s allies. One of the new explorable locations during the beta were the lands surrounding the Itzel and Nuhoch lands to the north and northwest of the first waypoint. There is a lot going on in the hylek’s canopy village. A long event chain runs the span of their nearby territory. From surviving wyvern aerial attacks, putting out wyvern fires, hunting, to chasing out the invasive Zintl hylek tribe, the event chain leads to an all-out assault on a Zintl encampment, which eventually draws the attention of the wyvern, attacking enemy hylek and player characters alike. Without a doubt, acquiring the loyalties of these new hylek tribes will be an important part of combating Mordremoth throughout the game. It’s a lot of event content for such a compact area, but I feel like this is ArenaNet making sure little space is wasted with these smaller and tighter jungle zones. That said, what Verdant Brink lacks in horizontal space it makes up with vertical space, which is supposedly a defining feature of all the maps included in the expansion.There’s a “Lion King” reference in here somewhere.
A small (but cool) thing also worth mentioning was the inclusion of mounted enemies with what appeared to be their own defiance bars. Some of the Zintl hylek could be spotted riding giant beetles, while the final mordrem boss in the story step also rode a hellish-looking creature (it’s just not a dragon minion’s mount if it doesn’t look as sinister as the rider riding it). Of course, when you have waypoints and gliders, who needs to ride things? Right? Guys? *crickets* Though that does make me wonder about glider lore. Where did the idea for these gliders come from? How did Tyrians invent airships and helicopters, but never once bothered to ride a kite off a cliff? C’mon, loremasters! Throw us a bone (please).
Finally, this beta test is the first appearance of the day/night event cycle in the game, which, understandably, is still a work-in-progress. The day cycle appears to run around 75-80 minutes long, while the night cycle only lasts 45 minutes. During the day, the player can expect to explore Verdant Brink with a little more ease and partake in a greater variety of events. Once night falls, many denizens of the jungle go into hiding. The mordrem come out in force and try to wrestle control of the zone away from the players, which, in my zone didn’t happen as players continuously wiped out the dragon’s minions, wave after wave. ArenaNet has assured us that maintaining control of the map during the night will be a challenge, and I am inclined to agree and chalk the lack of challenge up to the sheer number of testers actively participating, and the fact that this is in a relatively early stage of development.The Most Verdant of Brinks
As of now I’m excited to see more of their upcoming improvements to Verdant Brink (or maybe a different zone). It’d also be fun to get to try out some of the elite specializations when they’re ready. Other possible changes I’m keeping an eye out for in the future are based on concerns from tester feedback. Revenant weapon switching is a big item worth mentioning as well as the rate at which players complete early mastery tiers and what content contributes to their completion. Until then, I’m content to wait and see what ArenaNet adds next.