Guild Wars 2 expansions are some of the most unique expansions in the MMO space. Guild Wars 2 lacks significant vertical progression, so most players have had their optimal gear since the last piece of ascended equipment was released in 2015. With no gear grind to speak of, Guild Wars 2 leans entirely on quality content, horizontal progression, and new mechanics to bring players back to the game when new expansions drop.
Heart of Thorns completely revamped vertical traversal by introducing gliders. Path of Fire changed the way players look at every map by adding mounts with unique mobility options. End of Dragons stands out in that it offers no new groundbreaking features. Instead, the expansion sports a beloved setting, ambitious new maps, and some of the best gameplay to date.
The story of End of Dragons kicks off with a bang. Players quickly find themselves leading an assault on airships by leaping from ship to ship while swashbuckling with their sky pirate crew. It’s only a matter of time, though, before the largest ship careens into the expansion’s new region, Cantha.
Cantha is one of the most technologically advanced regions of the world and has been closed off to outside contact for centuries. The player and their companions are quickly thrust into the conflict between the Aetherblade that crash-landed alongside them, local gangs, and various dangerous Jade Tech contraptions.
Cantha is the most visually diverse region of those added in Guild Wars 2‘s expansions. Maps range from lush green forests and high-tech cities to my favorite map, a hybrid where nature, technology, and ruins bleed into each other. All the maps look great and like nothing else the game had to offer before End of Dragons.
Most of the maps play as nicely as they look. They are loaded with fun events, the best of which will bring dozens of players on the map together. My favorite is an assault on a gang-run lab, which makes great use of the expansion’s new mount, a massive turtle. The turtle is the game’s first two-player mount, with one player “driving” the turtle while the other sits on its back and fires the artillery mounted to the creature’s back. It’s just as ridiculous and fun as it sounds.
The only new map that is a bit disappointing is New Kaineng City. This is End of Dragons’s most ambitious map — a massive, sprawling city. While Guild Wars 2 has had city maps and explorable maps with small towns in them, this is the first fully explorable, event-driven map at this scale. The map is stunning; the city’s streets are covered in neon, and holographic images spot its skies and buildings.
Unlike the other maps in this expansion, New Kaineng City’s gameplay doesn’t live up to its aesthetic. Despite being a city, New Kaineng City only feels a little more populous than a typical explorable map. As a result, the city feels sparse, not like a dense technological metropolis. I can’t help but feel the map would have benefitted from a reduction in size. That way, it’d better emulate the hustle and bustle of a crowded city.
New Kaineng City is also the first map to make heavy use of one of End of Dragons’s new mechanics, Jade Bots. Early in the story, players receive access to a Jade Bot, a little mechanical companion that can be programmed to perform helpful tasks, such as reviving you if you go down. The bots are very useful in the moment-to-moment gameplay, but they are also integrated into the maps. New Kaineng City, for example, is full of contraptions that you can activate with your Jade Bot.
To interact with Jade Tech devices, you have to charge your Jade Bot by stopping at one of the many batteries strewn about Cantha. The devices are fun to use; some of my favorites are the ziplines that enable vertical travel and the consoles that let you pilot your Jade Bot like a drone (which is great for screenshotting). However, having to charge the Jade Bot up feels pointless. It’s rarely difficult to find a battery, but it can take 15-20 seconds, which adds up when you need to do it hundreds of times. If the key traversal devices didn’t cost a charge, moving around maps would feel a lot smoother and I would be more inclined to use the devices.
Skiffs are the last new traversal mechanic in End of Dragons. Early on, players get access to skiffs that they can drop in almost any body of water, even in maps from previous expansions and the base game. Of course, longtime players know there’s already a mount for fast water travel, which begs the question: why would anyone need a boat? The answer is fishing!
End of Dragons added a fishing system, so you can take your skiff out on the water with your guildmates and fish to your heart’s content. The fishing minigame itself is nothing special, but I had a great time traveling from region to region and seeing what rare fish I could catch. Fish are also valuable for crafting, so there are good reasons to check out fishing even if it doesn’t immediately appeal to you. I loved it and found myself taking part in the fishing competitions in End of Dragons‘s maps from time to time.
While End of Dragons doesn’t add any big marquee mechanics like previous Guild Wars 2 expansions did, it adds several smaller features and systems for players to sink their teeth into. However, the expansion’s real claim to fame is its campaign. After starting on a high note with the airship fight in the introduction, the story introduces charming new characters and brings renewed focus to some of my favorites in the series. Newcomer Detective Rama, a quippy, sarcastic Canthan officer, is a personal favorite, and I loved every time he was involved in the story.
While the characters are charming, the writing isn’t quite as grand. It’s a step up from recent Living World stories in Guild Wars 2, but the bar has been raised for MMO stories since Guild Wars 2’s release, and Guild Wars 2 remains just above par in the storytelling department.
There are few genuinely standout moments in the story missions, but End of Dragons supplements its campaign with worldbuilding baked into its maps. As I explored those maps, I learned all about the region’s problems and the impact I was having on the world. Spending time exploring the world rather than rushing from mission to mission heavily improves the story experience.
What End of Dragons lacks in excellent storytelling, it makes up for in fun, varied gameplay. Story missions in End of Dragons are more than just fighting pirates and beating up gang members. In my effort to keep the world safe, I spent time fixing power outages, piloting drones, and getting an ID from the Canthan equivalent of a DMV. The variety in missions ensures the gameplay is always fresh, and I was always looking forward to the next quest.
End of Dragons takes its biggest step up from previous expansions through its boss encounters. Bosses contain more unique and complex mechanics than ever before, which better prepared me for more difficult endgame content. Much of the endgame content consists of harder versions of story bosses, so I had an idea of what some of the mechanics would be in advance.
As is typical of a Guild Wars 2 expansion, each profession gets a new specialization and a new weapon in End of Dragons. I spent most of my time with the expansion on my Engineer and Warrior. The Engineer’s new Mechanist specialization is all about Jade Tech minions. It was a blast fighting enemies alongside my huge Jade Tech robot companion, but I ended up going back to my Holosmith build from previous expansions.
On the other hand, I loved the Warrior’s Bladesworn specialization. It adds pistols to the Warrior’s kit, but what I really enjoyed was the gunsaber skills the specialization adds, which allowed me to charge up attacks for massive damage. Bladesworn Warriors totally fulfill the fantasy of being tech-powered samurai that can deal massive damage with a bit of patience and attention to enemy attack patterns. I only had a chance to spend a lot of time with two of the new elite specializations, but I’m excited to try the rest in the coming months. They all look like they add a new dimension to the game’s professions.
Unlike other Guild Wars 2 expansions, End of Dragons doesn’t have one big feature to hang its hat on. Instead, it offers several smaller features and the game’s most enjoyable campaign yet. Factor in beautiful new maps and challenging but engaging late-game bosses, and there’s plenty of content for Guild Wars 2 fans to come back to.