The Head of the Snake
Arenanet has released the fourth update of the third season of the Living Story, "The Head of the Snake." Full update notes can be found here. Below are my impressions after having played the content a week ahead of launch.
Although it may come as a bit of a surprise to many after the remarks of Linsey Murdock that the scrapped map Lake Doric would not make it into the game in the datamined state, the Head of the Snake release adds it to the game. Located to the East of Divinity's Reach, Lake Doric has changed somewhat from the datamined versions, featuring less underwater content and having added larger hills and forests in the northern area of the map.
Lake Doric focuses on a fight between the seraph, led by Logan Thackeray, and local centaur bastion, who are now being openly supported by Caudecus' followers within the White Mantle and experimented on with Bloodstone. A large meta event covers the middle and southern area of the map, in which players must push back advances made by centaurs and the White Mantle, and hold strategic locations such as bridges and towns.
As players venture towards the north of the map, the centaur dominance becomes more clear. Bloodstone crazed centaurs stampede around the map, and getting caught in this stampede a single time is an almost certain death. We approach a centaur camp, where all centaurs drop a form of leather material. The developer leading us mentions that this is "the new leather farming location."
The developer team and I venture further north, to one of the famed watchtowers of Guild Wars 1 fame. Working up the hill, we are attacked by hordes of centaur snipers and stampeders. The developers quickly mention that getting to the watchtower "is a minidungeon of sorts." Inside of the watchtower a world boss appears, mimicking the human starting area boss and the copy of the boss that exists in Harathi Hinterlands, with the exception that after the initial phase the boss stampedes around the watchtower.
The developers also gave hints of a secret jumping puzzle underground, which takes place in a house found in the North-Western part of the map. The inhabitant, a descendant of Aidan, is an excellent trapper and wanted by the White Mantle, leading to a major siege of his house. Although I was unable to gain access to the jumping puzzle (it requires access with a 'trapper's pass,' the developers were very giddy about it), the theme seems very intriguing.
References to the Past
The story was playable, but I opted not to, to prevent major spoilers for myself. However, the story opens with a call from Queen Jennah, requesting the assistance of the heroes in Divinity's Reach. The trailer provided last week by Arenanet starts at around this point.
I did run into a few names that seem familiar to many players of the previous seasons of the Living World. The mysterious "E" makes an appearance in a collectible treasure hunt, akin to that of the journals in Bloodstone Fen. Paging together the pages I found seems to suggest that more hints will be given as to E's past, but not a direct reveal of who or what E actually is.
Blast from the Past
A new raid was released with this update, Bastion of the Penitent. Although no walkthrough was provided of the raid, I did enter the raid to get a taste of the first boss. It seems that this raid consists of a chain of four smaller bosses, all with some relation to Mursaat and White Mantle lore. The raid is located at the heart of Bloodstone Fen, and looks the part. The first encounter consists of a blast from the past, Cairn, a jade armor of Guild Wars 1 fame. Sadly, no other members of my press session were prepared to take a gander at the raid, and thus, it remains to be seen what the rest entails. However, there are strong suggestions that Mursaat and Saul d'Alessio, the original worshiper of the Mursaat on behalf of the White Mantle, acts as one of the bosses.
As the developer guided session came to a close, one of the developers made it clear that they expect this release to last a while, due to the many treasure hunts and hidden details hidden within this release. At the end of the session, we managed to defeat the boss within the watchtower as a developer-press hybrid team. Upon completion, we glided down to find a hidden spurt of growth guarded by a spirit, which provided the player with peaches that provide buffs. The map is loitered with these secrets, and it will be interesting to see which other secrets are discovered as the playerbase gains access to the map.