Flashpoint Release and Impressions
Arenanet has released the fifth episode in the third season of the Living World, "Flashpoint." I had the opportunity to play the update a week before it launched, including the entire story. With the exception of story spoilers, my impressions can be found below.
If there ever was a game story segment that left me very silent, i'd say Flashpoint takes the crown of them all. The patch contains a single map and two story instances at its core which drastically change the narrative and focus of the game in a way that no segment of the story has before. This preview write-up contains my personal impressions and some spoilers, but the story will be left entirely intact, as this is due to both an embargo request from Arenanet to not spoil the story, and my personal belief that this is a segment you really need to play. This leads to a section of this preview being vague and alluding, but after you play the content, it should be clear as to why.
With that in mind, the first aspect of the Flashpoint release is the story. The story leaves off with players knowing that Lazarus the Dire is an imposter, two elder dragons preparing to actively fight against Tyria, and many other uncertainties. The story arc beings with a meet-up in Taimi's lab. She is working on a machine that aims to find a solution to the incoming elder dragon problem, and attracts the curiosity of numerous external parties. Upon completing of the instance (and you'll need some time for this, both the instance and its impact), the players head off to a new map, Draconis Mons.
After playing the story, a very different narrative exists which refocuses the game in a direction many players are not expecting, myself included. I had some hunches after theorizing and watching some videos (Hey WoodenPotatoes!), consisting of a mix between Lazarus' true identity and how the story would play out to the next story arc and the incoming expansion, but I wasn't even close in my expectations. An insane shift occurs directly at the start, and players who manage to finish the second instance will be yearning for more. That's all I'm saying. Play it for yourself, and note the change in quality and tone. As a fan who was already hyped before the patch, I was hyped immensely by this story and the possibilities it shapes for the future. The fact we need to wait for another update the altered story really hurts this time around, and I hope you'll agree with me that you want more after playing it.
The sub you rode in on...
As players exit a submarine, they find themselves in the new map of this release. Draconis Mons takes place in the fire island chain, within the heart of the cauldron of the larger volcano. The map is, like many Heart of Thorns maps, layered. The bottom layer consists of acidic boiling waters, and goes all the way to the top. Between the top of the cauldron and the bottom exists a layered map which ranges from Vigil camps to Inquest camps, to mercenary research areas. The White Mantle also walk these lands, albeit as prisoners instead of conquerors. The differences between the multiple factions is what highlights the renown hearts throughout the area.
Draconis Mons Overview, Second Floor
The map also contains many throwbacks to the past. Although under embargo, player will encounter some fan favorite companions from the previous game. Druids also exist within the map, which was originally an area of preserved nature. Many beasts roam these lands, including some never before seen beasts such as destroyer-beast hybrids. One particular destroyer-wyvern hybrid acts as the center of a large event, which took my press team by surprise and almost got us wiped. With regards to other events, a map-wide meta focuses on destroyer development within the heart of the map. Allowing too many destroyer pads to hatch spells a major boss event that required many people to be completed.
Draconis Mons is filled with lush forests and plenty of water, and the contrast between the sedentary rock of the volcano and the top of the volcano contrast heavily with the greens and solid-lava found within the center of the map and within the cauldron. It is made very clear that our existence in the map is upsetting the natural balance that has been preserved by the spirits, and upon completing tasks within the map, the player character is told to "go in peace" in a kind but stern way. This repetition seems to suggest the acceptance of the player in the area, but also stress the desire for the player to leave.
The center of the cauldron/map
Navigation takes some getting used to (I believe this is the most vertical map we've seen with regards to the difference between the highest and lowest point of the map), but utilizing the lava fonts, updrafts, and ley-lines makes it easier to follow. Oh, and a new addition to this map and release also assist in the navigation of the map.
The new mastery (within the ancient magics line) for this update costs five Heart of Thorns mastery points, and provides access to the map movement ability "Oakheart's Essence." These essences provide three-charge vines, which can be targeted to a position nearby and grappled too. This can be both on the ground or on a solid object in the air or ceiling. These hooks provide a simple way to traverse the map, and make it easier to reach certain areas that are crucial to understanding the story behind the map.
Grappling to the wall
After a long wait, Flashpoint finally adds Legendary armor to Guild Wars 2. Although the preview for legendary armor already showed off its appearance out of combat, no footage was shown of the armor when in combat. Upon entering combat, a crystallized effect is shown and the crystals on the armor begin to pulse, slowly moving in place like (dragon) claws. The effects differ slightly per armor class, but the concept behind them is identical. All armor types feature a unique pulsing effect that makes them stand out from the rest of the armor sets. Players who dislike this armor set can use the wardrobe to keep the legendary stats but look different, and vice-versa. All legendary armor skins can be applied through the wardrobe to another armor set.
Combat active light legendary armor
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Conclusion and Remarks
Beyond the story and the map, this update includes a new jumping puzzle in Draconis Mons (made by the one and only Josh Foreman), a new collectible hunt within the new map, and multiple smaller changes. Flashpoint is the fifth episode and second-to-last episode of the third season of the Living Story, and will release on 2 May 2017.