"Mounts in Guild Wars 2 are more then just bicycles that you take out of your back pocket. They feel alive with fantastic animations, useful abilities, and their own sense of growth."
MMORPGs are developed with the idea that they are meant to be played for many years after release. The problem, however, is that these games often stagnate in those following years when developers are content with the initial approach and are loath to try something new for fear of upsetting or losing their player base. And in a genre that is dominated by essentially one game, who can blame them. However, ArenaNet wasn't content in letting Guild Wars 2 become just another stagnant MMO on the market. They worked at making it something everyone could enjoy on both ends of the gamer spectrum. Over the past five years, ArenaNet has added tons of free new content during their living story updates and their first expansion, Heart of Thorns. They've even made the base game free to play! Guild Wars 2 has come a long way, becoming something far better than when it was released. Now the newest expansion to the game, Path of Fire, has been released, and once again Guild Wars 2 improves and changes up its established gameplay with an interesting twist to what many would see as a staple of every MMO.
That staple, of course, would be the mount system that is in just about every MMO. When Guild Wars 2 was first released, ArenaNet decided against a mount system, instead focusing on ways to make your character move throughout the map quickly with various speed buffs and abilities. They took it a step further in their first expansion, Heart of Thorns, by adding a gliding system that allowed players to jump from great heights and glide across the terrain from the safety of the sky. And wouldn't you know it, a modern MMO without mounts felt fun and exciting to explore! Of course, this was until Path of Fire added its mount mastery system to the game. This mount system, however, isn't your typical MMO mount system.
ArenaNet's approach to mounts is very different: they believe in the joy of movement. In every other MMO, no matter what the mount looks like or how it animates, its only real job is to increase your movement speed or, in some games, allow you to fly. They are, in a sense, very boring and end up feeling like a necessity to explore instead of a helpful addition. So to avoid the same feeling in Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet instead decided to take a handful of mounts and make each one feel unique and exciting to ride. This meant giving each mount its own unique skills that allow it to increase your ability to explore and enter combat. It is a fantastic system that makes mounts feel alive and useful. Mounts in Guild Wars 2 are more then just bicycles that you take out of your back pocket. They feel alive with fantastic animations, useful abilities, and their own sense of growth.
There are five mounts in the game: the Raptor, Springer, Skimmer, Jackal, and Griffon. Each mount has its own movement ability and an enemy engage ability. The movement ability helps you traverse the five huge, new maps of the Crystal Desert, and the engage ability allows you to quickly enter combat with the various enemies you run across. No longer do you need to dismount once you reach an enemy; just hit the mount attack skill and jump right into battle.
The first mount you unlock is the Raptor. Its unique ability is to do long horizontal jumps across gaps in the terrain. The Raptor is the perfect first mount, since it allows the player to do something they haven't been able to do yet in the game while still limiting where they can explore. It isn't until you pick up the Springer mount that you finally feel like you can explore just about every nook and cranny of the huge, new maps in the game. The Springer is a giant bunny rabbit which allows players to jump vertically to great heights. If there was one frustrating thing about exploring in Guild Wars 2, it was that once you fell from a great height, traversing your way back up was always a frustrating mission. The Springer eliminates this frustration for the most part by allowing you to jump up just about any terrain in the game.
These two mounts alone probably would have sufficed for many players, but there exists another annoying terrain that people hate to traverse over: water. The Skimmer mount helps players move quickly along the surface of the water, and it can also bypass hazardous terrain such as quicksand. The fourth mount is the Jackal, which can teleport up to three times in succession as well as take special sand portals around the map to access hidden areas. The Jackal helps players avoid areas packed with enemies and get to places that would normally be inaccessible via any other means.
The final mount is the "hidden" Griffon mount. It was cleverly not advertised before release, but it's not a secret anymore since so many people have it now. Collecting the items needed to unlock the Griffon still takes a bit of time, and it will cost you 250 gold. But it is an investment worth your time and money, since the Griffon can fly. Yes, for the first time in Guild Wars 2 you can soar through the sky on your mighty steed. The mount system is truly a fantastic addition to the game, one I hope is expanded on in future living story content updates. My only real issue with the mounts is that getting used to controlling them can be a bit annoying, especially when trying to turn around. However, the learning curve is quick, and you will be zooming around on your mount in no time.
Of course, a mount system like this can only really shine with maps that designed to take advantage of it. There are five new map zones to explore in Path of Fire, and each one is huge. This time around, ArenaNet has opted for more of a flat horizontal approach to the maps instead of the verticality of the maps from Heart of Thorns. They have also moved away from the meta-only event approach of Heart of Thorns' maps, going for more of a hybrid design using both meta events and the heart system of the core Tyria maps. This worked out pretty well during the last few living story maps, and it's a great choice for these new maps as well. It allows you to do your own thing if you want or join others on the map to complete the events. The maps also make great use of the mount system, which makes exploring them fun and exciting.
The other big part of Path of Fire is, of course, the nine new elite specializations that have been added to the game. The specializations are as follows (with their base class in parentheses): Mirage (Mesmer), Scourge (Necromancer), Weaver (Elementalist), Holosmith (Engineer), Deadeye (Thief), Soulbeast (Ranger), Firebrand (Guardian), Spellbreaker (Warrior), and Renegade (Revenant). Just like with Heart of Thorns, each class can now alter the way they play at a core level with their new elite specialization. You can swap to the base class or the older elite specialization anytime you're not in combat, meaning you are never locked into a certain role. Of course, with a new trait line for each class, it can not be stated enough that the speed at which you can swap out your traits is something that definitely needs to be fixed. Build templates are already desperately needed, and that need will only get worse as more elite specializations get added to the game in future content. Each new elite specialization makes the class feel refreshing and fun to play again, without feeling daunting trying to learn something new.
There are, of course, a few specializations (such as Mirage) that don't feel that different from the base classes; as a longtime Mesmer player, I found this a bit disappointing. Mirage is still fun to play, but compared to other new specializations, it feels a bit lackluster. The other big problem with some of the specializations is the balance. Scourge and Spellbreaker, in particular, are very powerful classes in the right hands, both in PvP and in World vs. World. Thankfully, balance is something that can be fixed via patches and isn't a huge issue, but it does make me a bit concerned as the metagame develops. All in all, the elite specializations are fun and refreshing, and they now offer players more choices than before.
The story is the last big piece of content that comes with Path of Fire. It is easily the most improved area of the game compared to the original release and Heart of Thorns. Path of Fire sees you travel to the remote Crystal Desert location to find and defeat the rouge God of War Balthazar before he has a chance to kill the Elder Crystal Dragon Kralkatorrik. The interesting issue here is that the Elder Dragons are gluttonous forces of nature that are out to destroy the other races of Tyria, but if they are killed it can lead to the destruction of Tyria itself. So the story puts you between a rock and hard place on how to approach the issue. What makes it even crazier is that this takes place in the Kingdom of Elona, which is ruled by one of the best characters in Guild Wars lore, Palawa Joko. He is an undead lich, who controls a huge undead army and has ruled Elona for the last 200 years through the use of propaganda and the promise of eternal life. Joko is a great character that doesn't get enough screen time during the expansion, but I hope we'll see more of him during future living story updates. The story also has great interactions between your companions, as well as some fun instances. The voice acting is well done, and the choices you get to make will once again have you feeling like it's your story. It left me interested in how events will play out in the future, which I couldn't say about the previous story additions.
There are a few issues with the expansion lacking in content for those that love PvP and World vs. World; the new elite specializations are just about all you get if those are your preferred game types. World vs. World tends to get the worst of this since balance issues hurt that game mode the most. This honestly doesn't come as a surprise because World vs World always feels left out when it comes to content, despite being one of the most fun and interesting game modes. Heart of Thorns most certainly had more content for these two game modes, and I hope that content updates for them come soon. My other nitpick is the music this time around isn't anything really special. I don't think any track stood out to me, and that's disappointing since Guild Wars 2 has always had amazing music. However, the great voice acting and ambient sounds of the Crystal Desert make up for this.
Path of Fire is a much better expansion than Heart of Thorns, and the best part about it is it will only set you back $30. The Guild Wars 2 base game is already free to play, and if you want both expansions, you can get them combined for $50. You are essentially getting years worth of content for the price of one game. If you have already played Guild Wars 2 before but have left for one reason or another and are on the fence about returning, I could not recommend a better time to come back. The Guild Wars 2 of 2017 is a very different game then you probably remember, and that's a good thing. Change in MMOs keeps them fresh and fun for years to come, and Guild Wars 2 embraces this better than any other MMO on the market. Praise Joko!
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.