Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons is not just the latest entry in this game changing MMORPG, it is the culmination of almost 10 years of updates and story progression, but with the fate of all life hanging in the balance, is this new expansion more than just a box of new toys?
After rattling off some of the highlights and new tools that Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons adds and then covering the Commander’s first steps into End of Dragons, it’s time to get out into Cantha. It is worth noting that the grand scale of Cantha expands far beyond the impressive environmental design that permeates every inch of this new world. While bustling hideaways like Arborstone dwarf the mighty Thunderhead Keep, these stacked maps end up feeling alive thanks to the content and characters populating them.
The Life Of The Party
Cantha is more than a set of core races. Instead, this realm comes at players as a melting pot of factions, races, and distinct variations of creatures large and small. While Heart of Thorns might have fixated on constructing and entirely uncomfortable array of locals to cut down, End of Dragons is just as focused on the residents that filter through the streets of New Kaineng or the darkest depths of the wilderness. End of Dragons might be a return to a well-established part of this series but the team behind this utterly massive expansion do not seem afraid to make changes. The finite piece of real estate is filled with a range of misfits, power hungry maniacs, zealots, Tengu, and human interlopers. The result is massive diversity and a mix of influences that swing wildly across the expansion. While there’s a distinctly Eastern aesthetic to Cantha, the clash and fusion of ideas extends beyond the decorations on display. Whether it’s the forward leaning Xunlai Jade Corporation, the Speakers and their roots in Ritualism, the Jade Brotherhood, or the various other factions, the shades of grey and the complexity of this area is apparent. The impact of inequality, mixed race main characters, acts of colonization, and more are all etched into the subtext of Cantha and expressed in the sublime character works that build on the initial setup.
All of this would not be possible if it wasn’t for the voice acting and audio work in End Of Dragons. We’ve already talked to ArenaNet about building a world through sound but the range of work, from the traditional acoustics of Old Kaineng and the foreboding Echovald Wilds, to the industrious Jade monstrosities that linger around Project Horizon is certainly impressive. It’s not just the ambient sound design either. Background characters that you might never stumbler across get plenty of fully voiced dialogue, calling players to action as they traverse the open world. Whether you’re sitting in the latest Guild Hall that this expansion drops or preparing for the drums of war begin again, just take a moment to experience how many moods, machinations, and layers of audio all interact across Cantha. If you’d rather do it while relaxing away from world shattering events then the soundtrack is available now on across streaming services. I’m yet to be convinced on all fronts and some of the character arcs and some rather unexpected changes of heart don’t always land, but the delivery makes Cantha more than a stage for a big Dragon Bash. Instead, it’s a vibrant island full of very different people who have no choice but to live on top of each other. However, you’ll have to get out and about to discover the real Cantha.
Shoot First Explore Later
While I am likely to spend much of my time continuing to explore Cantha once this review is over, sitting down and listening to two Tengu argue over colonial taxes isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, the scale of the maps throughout end of Dragons is matched by the sheer amount of content that is available. From my own experience, the main narrative acts as a solid tutorial of sorts. Much like other expansions, it pulls players through each of the new zones, never asking anybody to overexert themselves, at least until the endgame reveals itself. ArenaNet hit their stride during the Path of Fire expansion and there’s no reason for this to change too much. If you played through the previous expansion, then the difficulty level and pacing of the core story missions will be of little surprise. It’s largely achievable without help, thanks to a team of new and returning heroes that rush out into danger with you.
This returning roster and familiar pace isn’t to say that End of Dragons is not innovative. While the pacing of the core narrative is steady and isn’t overly taxing, it still manages to remain engaging. A range of refreshed monster designs provide many of this expansion’s ground level opponents. Much as I noted in the first part of this review, there’s a continued reliance on earlier Living World content which might leave new players blank but won’t stop you burning them to cinders. These old enemies are, however, refreshed with different mechanics and they accompany a range of unique new critters that are probably a little less of a shock to the system than Modremoth’s minions. This blend of old and new balances difficulty more distinctly in favour of casual groups of players out in the open world, with the exception maybe of Dragon’s End, Strike Missions, and a few other larger map encounters.
Group Up And Smash Something
For those new to Tyria, map metas can be considered map wide event chains that scale up in difficulty and impact the overall state of a particular map location. Events are distinct from more traditional fetch and carry quests. While End of Dragons does have these rudimentary Hearts, don’t expect many of them. In a seeming effort to encourage exploration, or to just make the world feel more natural, ArenaNet has leaned heavily into dynamic events. You’ll have to get out and search for some action if you want it, or just look for a Commander Tag on the map overview. Where a tag appears, you’ll likely find some of the more difficult map metas and group events ramping up. These generally require more than plus one to accomplish and, for now at least, maps do feel alive with players. Populations benefit from Guild Wars 2’s dynamic server systems to make these open world events feel natural, varied, and engaging. From runaway robots to fishing competitions, there are tons of ways to do good out in the world. Yes, some of them are still a blistering cornucopia of particle effects, but they’ve come a long way from the centaur laden golem bashing standoffs that they were.
Strike missions are, once again, possibly the expansion’s most challenging content. Four new Strike missions were queued up for the launch of the latest expansion and while we are not going to risk spooling the narrative side of them too much, they are an excellent follow up to the current raft of large-scale group content that currently exists in Guild Wars 2. Overall, I found that these manage to add plenty of flavor to the expansion experience and simultaneously also slot in a series of large scale challenges that reward thoughtful play. Sure, anybody focused on raids, Fractals, or other content might feel left off the board here, but this grouped content is well polished and seems to be something of a focus for End of Dragons.
These events provide plenty of loot for the Skritt in you too. The Siege Turtle mount is joined by a raft of new Legendary weapons for anybody looking to show off their achievements and do something solo. These long-term collection quests are not new, but this evolution of achievements still manages to help make exploration and discovery feel worthwhile while off trying to tame whatever danger is up next.
Overall, Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons is a natural progression for one of my favorite MMORPGs. While it is largely constrained to PvE content and doesn’t add to every area of the game, this focus adds value where it is applied. The world of Cantha is a vibrant island filled with real and engaging characters and ArenaNet is pushing ever on to the future of this tale. Content is ratcheted up to favor epic encounters, with some epic boss battles that extend far beyond Dragon’s End and feel satisfying, if a little busy. We won’t spoil the story but I can say is equally engaging and impactful, with plenty of new ways to navigate the core story. Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons by far the best expansion fans could hope for. Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons is out now and available over on the official Guild Wars 2 website.