Oh the Tangled Paths we weave …
This week, the Tangled Paths Living Story patch went live, and if you have not yet played through the content and do not wish to be spoiled (seriously, why are you reading about it instead of playing it? Go, play!), now is the time to turn back. After the robust fifth chapter, I was looking forward to equally engaging content in this next segment. Instead, the story content left me confused, disappointed, and slightly frustrated – sometimes all at once. However, noteworthy bright spots did shine through regarding the living world content that exists beyond the story instances.
The story proper inches the tale of our young hero and his/her band of allies forward toward an inevitable betrayal that was first disclosed by ArenaNet in the teaser they released before the patch went live. Knowing that your character will be betrayed is coupled with the suspicious actions of a certain NPC from the first story step, leaving no real mystery as to who will betray you, only when and why. The text-based set-up that begins each story step may leave a player confused if they do not remember or did not complete the previous chapter. But whereas some of these narratives have involved painfully wandering a single room interacting with multiple green starbursts, this one quickly sets up the story and moves on. Those who are interested can hang around and speak to the NPCs for additional tidbits of lore. Afterward, your hero sets out to find the Aspect Masters.
Sadly, the search for the Masters is short-lived and any challenge or difficulty in finding the clues – all three of them – is mitigated by helpful map icons. I really wanted to love this step and I feel that the concept has a great deal of potential that went unrealized. Trying to track three strangers across a war-torn land shouldn’t have been as simple as it was. I feel that if the clues had been a bit harder to find, or even further afield, it would have added to my enjoyment of this step. Instead, discovering the Aspect Masters was over too quickly.Look a clue!
Once the hero finds the Aspect Masters, a boss fight ensues. The fight itself is not difficult per se as the enemy holds to a telegraphed pattern. However, depending on your play style and build, a first run may prove trying, although the Aspect Masters will resurrect your character if you fall. Yet, with practice and the right skill set, the boss battle should grow easier. After the battle, the Masters are left broken, one severely injured and another dead. This causes the third Aspect Master to give up her search for the Master of Peace and leave him in the hero’s hands. This turn of events, although arguably necessary in order for the hero to remain the center of the story, feels terribly out of character for the Aspect Master. If the Zephyrites are meant to be the heirs of the Brotherhood of the Dragon, shouldn’t Glint’s egg be more important than an injured friend or the death of a fellow?
Reluctantly, my hero agreed to find the Master of Peace, who was also somewhere out in the desert. I hoped for a more interesting trial as I searched for him and Glint’s egg but was left disappointed once again in the brevity of the desert search and the simple “challenge” of following map icons. The Master of Peace has found his way into an underground labyrinth and you must follow him into the gloomy network.
For the final step the hero must negotiate this labyrinthine tunnel network, searching for your friends while fighting the Mordrem. Again, the battles within the maze may be more difficult or less difficult depending on a player’s build and style. It is interesting to note that there is a story achievement related to the order in which you find your friends within the maze. Also noteworthy is that your friends are denoted on the map with commander tags, another leaking of WvW design into PvE.
This aspect of the story caught me by surprise and I actually quite enjoyed it, finding it to be a nice change of pace from previous steps. However, the first time I played through, I was confused by the sudden upheaval in the story, having missed Caithe’s explanation. Why were my friends suddenly in an underground maze? How did they get there? Did the Adept who returned to town tell them about the Master? If they followed the Master of Peace into the maze, why were they scattered willy-nilly instead of being together?
After finding your friends, you are able to enter the center of the labyrinth where you will find the Master of Peace and Glint’s egg, fight another boss, and then be seemingly betrayed by an ally. Admittedly, the betrayal is a cliffhanger ending, but I was far more concerned by the truncated story. In the end, Tangled Paths left me mystified not by the betrayal but by the size of the patch. Was this really all there was? Had I missed a story step? Was there a side quest that never downloaded?
Sadly, despite my excitement to play through this content, I found it to be more of an interlude rather than a complete chapter, especially when compared to the revelations and intriguing lore discovered at the end of chapter five. The story step is, in my opinion, an interesting way to pass an hour but little more.
Yet, Tangled Paths is more than just the story steps and in the extras that create the living world experience the patch may find redemption. The Carapace Armor collection continues with this patch, giving players a glove skin as an achievement at the end of the story. Note that you can only get one skin for free and will have to purchase the other two weights with Bandit Crests. Players can also exchange Black Lion Claim Tickets for new Pact Fleet weapon skins or they can purchase the Jungle Explorer outfit… which is, sadly, missing its pith helmet.
Finally, with the story over, the labyrinth tunnels become a new explorable area, adding more content to the world. Kudos to ArenaNet and the developers for placing the labyrinth on the same timer as the war meta events of the Silverwastes, thereby allowing players to defend forts, fight the underground champions, and explore the “Tangled Paths” maze without forsaking other events in the meta chain. Be careful if you go: lurking in the explorable maze are a number of bioluminescent predators who will one-shot even the most valiant player. The gloom of the underground area is the perfect setting for bioluminescent objects, which should spur players onward in their collection of the new armor set.
With the Tangled Paths interlude over, players take another step closer to the end of the second season of the living story. Through this patch, the world has grown richer and more interesting but the story of Glint’s egg remains untold. Hopefully we will only have to wait for the next patch to discover its fate and the motives behind the betrayal. In the meantime, there is still much to do in the Silverwastes as the war continues and the Pact needs our help. There are seed pods to gather in the maze, forts that need protecting, supply bulls to escort, and that odd asura is still looking for Mordrem body parts. With our new weapons and our pith helmets, we soldier on.