Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire screenshot of a player riding a gliding Manta Ray

Guild Wars 2's Path of Fire expansion is set to arrive this September, bringing with it a whole bunch of new content. You'll be able to explore the vast regions of the Crystal Desert and the nearby kingdom of Elona, mess around with nine new Elite Specializations such as the Spellbreaker or Mirage, fight against the Human god of war Balthazar and his hordes of metallic minions, and perhaps most importantly, ride a variety of mounts that all come with their own unique spells and effects!

While the most recent Open Beta featured only a tiny portion of what Path of Fire has to offer, the things I saw filled me with a great deal of hope for Guild Wars 2's future. So if you're interested in learning what the new content is all about, and how exactly the mount system differs from all of the other MMOs, allow me to give you my thoughts after quite a few hours with the Open Beta.

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire artwork of the Crystal Desert

 Welcome to the Crystal Desert!

Given their impact on gameplay I would first like to talk to you about the mounts... or rather mount, singular. The Open Beta only allowed us to play around with Raptors, which I must admit was a great choice given to how much work went into making them satisfying to ride. What I mean by this is that they are not only highly useful in terms of gameplay, but that their animations and handling are also top notch. When you press the "Mount Up" key the Raptor will appear from below you and essentially swoop you up in a very fluid series of motions; when you try to turn a sharp corner you will visibly see the Raptor struggle against his momentum before he finally manages to rotate; and perhaps most adorably of all, if you stand still for long enough your character will eventually start petting the Raptor as it was an overly large dog... and yes, this does includes the erratic leg-shake! As you can plainly see this is just a couple of small examples that on their own don't really mean anything, but when combined they make for some extremely polished and smooth riding.

During the initial announcement ArenaNet promised that Path of Fire's mounts would be more than simple speed buffs, and I am very glad to say that they were not exaggerating. The Raptor not only gives you the ability to quickly cross vast distances, but it also allows you to jump ridiculously far - something that can be upgraded even further through the Mastery system. This is not only a great boon for anyone that likes exploring and searching for secrets, but it also allows ArenaNet to create entirely new types of challenges for players to overcome.

What delighted me the most, however, was the ability to use mounts as a platform to jump higher, quite similar to how Mario uses poor ol' Yoshi. Unfortunately, you can't do this while jumping so you won't be able to chuck your dinosaur into a pit in order to get slightly higher, but you can do it while walking which gives you the ability to climb just about anything... if you're patient enough! Combine this with the fact that charging into your enemies and dismounting actually causes the Raptor to attack them and you've got yourself a rather intriguing and unique mount system - one that I am very eager to explore further.

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire screenshot of the new Raptor mounts

You wouldn't expect it, but the raptors are absolutely adorable!

While I would love to say that everything else is stellar and just call it day, I'm afraid there are some issues I need to go over. The story mode in Guild Wars 2 has always been a bit on the mediocre side, which is a real shame since the lore itself is quite interesting and well worth a few hours of wiki exploration. In both vanilla Guild Wars 2 and Heart of Thorns pretty much all of the story missions are filled with waves upon waves of generic enemies and awkwardly paced dialogue that never really managed to immerse me into the world. While the pacing has been significantly improved, this trend sadly continues into Path of Fire as well, or at least the very first mission as that's the only thing we've been given access to so far.

Instead of it being a grand confrontation with the Herald of Balthazar, an enemy I assume is going to play an important role in the story, most of the introductory mission is spent fighting generic mooks while the characters exchange meaningless threats. The dialogue is not so poorly written that I can mock it, nor is it so sublime that I can praise it to high heavens... its just kind of there, and that's perhaps the most disappointing thing of all. This is not going to ruin Path of Fire for me as I'll probably play through the story once and then forget it even exists, but its unfortunate to see that ArenaNet has still not managed to elevate the personal story above 'merely serviceable'.

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire screenshot of a beautiful oasis city

The story may be forgettable, but the locations you visit are quite something!

Even though my first impressions of the new storyline aren't exactly spectacular, I am still excited to see where Path of Fire takes us because the visual design has only gotten better and better over the years. So much so that the artists have somehow managed to make a desert appealing to look at and interesting to explore! Naturally, its not just a boring ol' desert filled with rough and irritating sand, there is actually a good amount of diversity when it comes to the terrain and cities. The ancient Egyptian/Arabian theme that permeates all of this might not be the most unique concept ever conceived, but I feel like it gives Path of Fire a certain air of mystery, which is always a good thing for games focused around exploration. How exactly this will hold up when we venture further into the Crystal Desert, I'm afraid I don't know, but everything shown so far was quite the sight to behold so I'm not really worried.

Much like the architecture, the enemies I managed to face throughout my time in the Crystal Desert were a rather intriguing bunch. I saw roaming hordes of sentient cacti, metallic servants of Balthazar rollerblading across the desert dunes (I'm completely serious), ancient genies that greatly remind me of the Exalted from Heart of Thorns, sand-sharks that love to chomp on unsuspecting travelers, and perhaps most interestingly of all, a huge fire-breathing hydra! The Hydra's heads sadly did not grow back as I chopped them off one by one, but they did continue spitting fire in my direction while flopping around on the ground. The Veteran version of the monster didn't pose much of a threat, but I have a feeling that Champion or Elite Hydras are going to be tough bastards to take down, and that is exactly how it should be given their rather impressive visage.

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire screenshot of a wind swept canyon

Even a barren wasteland can look mysterious and inviting

There weren't many quests and events present in the demo, but everything I did get to experience was pretty much exactly the same as in the original Guild Wars 2. The only real complaint I have with this system are the Heart Quests, those standard MMO grind-fests, since they are just as tedious and boring as they were when Guild Wars 2 first launched. For example, in order to even unlock the Raptor mount you will need to spend about 10 minutes running around a village and putting out fires while NPCs simply stare at you, completely unfazed by the fact that their entire livelihood is being reduced to cinders all around them. These types of quests didn't fit Guild Wars 2 when it first launched, and with all of the improvements made in Heart of Thorns and Living World Season 3 they are even more archaic than before. I can only hope they are going to be few and far between, because doing an NPC's chores is not my definition of fun.

On the positive side, the one new feature I did get to play around with - the Bounty system - is a much better way of handling filler quests. Instead of forcing you to stand around one area cleaning up someone else's problems, the Bounty Board simply tasks you with hunting down a dangerous enemy, gives you their rough location, and then sends you off on your merry way. Its simple to understand, difficult to complete, and from what I could tell its also very rewarding! Chances are their appeal will fade after a while, but as far as side-content is concerned I feel that Bounties are a pretty enjoyable compromise between time spent and rewards gained.

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire screenshot of a dune shark bounty quest

They sure don't start you off easy with the Bounty Missions...

The final thing I got to try out where the new Elite Specializations, of which the most interesting one to me was the Mirage given that I've poured hundreds of hours into my Mesmer. Annnnnddddd... I didn't like it. Given how Mesmers are currently stuck being Chronomancers in any serious content I was hoping the Mirage would offer an interesting and team-orientated way to play as DPS, but that's sadly not the case. Its array of debuffs and spells are all tailored around PvP, and with basically no utility to speak off there is simply no reason for me to stash my shield and venture into a more DPS-orientated role. As I've mentioned earlier its probably going to find its place amongst the PvP crowd, but after waiting for years to get a reliable Mesmer DPS spec I am disappointed to see it sectioned off like this.

However, while the Mirage was not exactly my cup of tea, I did have a lot of fun with some of the other Elite Specialzations. For example, the Thief's Deadeye is an absolute blast to play given that high range + high damage + high mobility is a recipe made in rifle-heaven. Similarly, I greatly enjoyed my time with the Elementalists's Weaver specialization, though I must admit I wasn't exactly impressed with the amount of damage it was dishing out. Then again, I didn't exactly put in a ton of time into the Weaver, so its entirely possible that I just played it completely wrong. Whatever the case may be, the most important thing is that all of the new 'classes' are fun to play, and from my limited experience so far I can say that it is indeed the case!

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire artwork for Mirage

I was so excited when I first saw the artwork for Mirage, but alas it is not to be

Closing Thoughts

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire does not represent a massive evolution, but rather a solid step forward. If you've enjoyed Guild Wars 2 throughout all these years then Path of Fire is going to add a whole bunch more toys for you to play around with, but if you could never really get into it then I'm afraid Path of Fire is not going to change your mind. Personally, I am looking forward to - I mean, someone has to go and feed my poor little Raptor!