End Of Dragons is a bit of a homecoming for Guild Wars 2, as anyone who’s played the first game will eagerly tell you. We’re set to return to Cantha, a mysterious region that was last explored in 2005’s Guild Wars, but there’s plenty of changes afoot.
As it’s been 250 years since the events of that first game, those changes are to be expected. Since 2012 the plot of Guild Wars 2 has been steadily chugging along through in-game seasons and expansions – we’ve seen the MMO’s biggest city devastated and rebuilt, had a fistfight with the god of war (not that one), and now we’re preparing to re-introduce our band of world-saving misfits to the land of Cantha.
Why? Well, apart from the gorgeous scenery, Cantha is home to Dragonjade – a material that’s absorbed so much magic over the centuries that it can be used to create all manner of bold new inventions.
Like basically anything in the Guild Wars universe though, this Dragonjade has caused conflict, and now Cantha is an area in which stability is disputed by rampant gang warfare and the growing strength of some dangerous radical groups.
In my hands-on with End Of Dragons, I got to find out exactly how the Pact plans to deal with these organisations – Siege Turtles. They’re exactly what they say on the shell: like something you’d see in Warhammer, these are giant turtles that can haul around several players, artillery cannons, and enough shielding to just about survive the worst that Cantha can throw at it.
My time with Siege Turtles came as part of a group mission, where we were tasked with breaching the gates of a radical group nestled deep within the gloomy Echovald Wilds. To get there, our convoy of turtles had to wade through numerous gang members that were often more concerned with fighting each other than turning on us.
Once we got to the base, we came up against tougher opposition. High-tech jade mechs and shielding batteries stood in our way, and I was one of the gunners responsible for using our Siege Turtle’s weaponry to clear the path. This involved a chaotic juggling act – I would fire a few rounds into the shield generator, pivot to help my allies blow apart any particularly challenging enemies, and enable shielding whenever we took too much fire. The Siege Turtle might not be as fast or bouncy as other mounts, but their functional penchant for violence means they’re up there with the rest in terms of feeling fun to use.
I’ll avoid spoiling too much, but we eventually managed to breach the base and continued our search for a supposed super-weapon. Eventually we had to dismount from our beloved Siege Turtles and fought on foot through enemies that got progressively weirder. It’s clear that Dragonjade is a potent weapon in the wrong hands, and several creatures – animals that look to have been experimented on with the potent goods – tried mauling us to death. Cantha is a new land full of the unknown, and that’s quite literally hammered in by animals that look like twisted re-imaginings of anything they once were. Again, I don’t want to spoil what we found in the darkest depths of this base, but it was dramatic enough to adequately sets the stakes for the Pact’s latest adventure in world-saving.
In areas like this, it felt like Cantha itself was trying to prove that its denizens could be strange and deadly, that we were venturing into new and dangerous ground. In others, Cantha acts almost as a getaway spa for our beleaguered Commander. During the hands-on, we visited a guild hall that’s set in the former base of the Ministry Of Purity, who was left in charge during the very last mission in the first Guild Wars. That was a long time ago, and now the ruins are home to nothing but verdant life and a peaceful atmosphere. If the gorgeous scenery didn’t win me over, the sailing did.
Led by some audibly excited Arena Net developers, we were taken downhill until the guild hall opened up to the shore of an expansive, tranquil lake. There, we were given a demonstration on using skiffs – one of the more relaxing bits of content coming with End Of Dragons. Skiffs are small leisure boats that can be used to gently paddle around the waters of Guild Wars 2, and with several seats, they’re capable of taking along your friends for a cruise. Like the Siege Turtles, I had fun winding around (this time I was in charge of navigation) and taking in the beauty of Cantha from a nautical angle. Like the real world, sometimes all you want to do in an MMO is sit around and do nothing – and skiffs feel like the perfect vessel (no pun intended) for doing just that.
When you’re out there on the water, absent-minded people watching isn’t all there is to do. As well as being taught to sail, we’d been taken out to the waters in order to learn how to fish, something else coming with End Of Dragons. If you’ve played basically any fishing minigame – those in Stardew Valley and Fire Emblem: Three Houses pop to mind – you’ll know what to expect from fishing in Guild Wars 2. Like skiffs, fishing is a great way to turn Guild Wars 2 down a gear and breathe in all of the fantastic music and environments that’s easy to pass by when you’re bowling through content in a 50-person train.
My favourite thing about fishing is that, like Siege Turtles, you’re better off enjoying it with friends. You’ll find that fishing, which rewards crafting materials for cooking and legendary weapons, is easier if you bring along pals – you get tangible bonuses for fishing in the same spot with others. It’s a nice touch, and it’s not the first time that I notice that much of End Of Dragons seems to revolve around experiencing Guild Wars 2 with the community.
That being said, many players looking forward to End Of Dragons will be more interested in bigger foes than sturgeon in their PVE outings. For players looking for this, End Of Dragons will launch with four strike missions that Arena Net says are “heavily integrated” into the expansion’s story.
These strike missions are a “new take” on typical MMO ten man content, and are planned as a “stepping stone” for players looking to get into high-end fractals and even raids. Explaining its design philosophy on strike missions, Arena Net says it wants to “encourage accessibility” and help ease players into that tougher PVE content.
While I can just about manage some of the tougher fractals of Guild Wars 2, I’ve always been a bit shy to jump into raids. Having so many players relying on you can be very daunting, but I didn’t feel as pressured in the strike mission I had the chance to play. This particular strike mission was composed of a challenging multi-stage boss fight, where our motley group of ten faced off against a character that some players will immediately recognise. The fight was filled to the brim with attacks that were fully capable of one-shotting us, but these powerful moves were well telegraphed and there was a simple rhythm to fall into. It was a fun mission, and the strike content felt like a great way to get players introduced to concepts like break bars without dumbing it down into a boring tutorial.
Although there’s not too much longer to wait for End Of Dragons, I wrapped up my preview wishing I could stay logged on for a bit longer. It feels like the theme of this whole expansion – whether by multi-seater mounts, fishing with pals, or bridging the skill gap between communities – is togetherness, which is why I logged off thoroughly excited to come back to Cantha with the rest of the excited community.
End Of Dragons is set to release in February 2022 for PC.