If you’ve already taken a glimpse of the latest trailer for today’s Living World drop then you’ll probably have a fairly good idea of what to expect during this episode. The march towards Jormag continues as this season takes another step into the wilderness and builds on the inaugural moments in this tale. Like Whisper In The Dark, the call to action that kicked off the Icebrood Saga, the latest installment for Tyrians leans heavily on both Norn and Charr identity, what this fight means to both races, and continues to build on the concepts that were introduced in the first episode of season 5.
Call Of The Wolf
Brahm continues to play a central part in the Icebrood Saga and, while we can’t spoil the outcome of this tale, his interactions with the Norn spirits of the wild bring the Commander back to the same set of snowy peaks where we took down the Boneskinner back in 2019. While winter still ravages the peaks and malevolent whispers howl on the wind, it is up to players to venture out into this wilderness and face the encroaching darkness. With the power of the Norn spirits and prophecy behind them, players must cleanse the Bjora Marches of the dark whispers that infect residents of the Shiverpeaks and finally extricating Drakkar from beneath the ice.
It is with some trepidation that I returned to Bjora Marches. Until now, ArenaNet has shown an ability to craft massive new maps, squeeze in entirely new mastery lines, and even drop mounts into the pot. Instead of adding in an entirely new zone, the Bjora Marches gets an expansion. The expanded areas around the Whispering Depths and outside of the established map are a dangerous region of the world and have a lot more depth than you might imagine at first. While the horizon might initially look like more of the same, the single safe encampment situated just atop Boreal Pass quickly opens up onto a frozen world with some serious verticality. Players who have invested time and effort into the Skyscale will find that these flying mounts provide plenty of payoff as they hover far above the map and make moving around the environment much easier. Bouncing mushrooms and a limited number of updrafts allow more casual heroes to keep up with events, giving the map a little balance when going up in the world.
For the really interesting events in Bjora Marches, you needn’t look up, however. The ongoing blizzards hide a huge crack in the ice, one that descends far beneath the storm front and on towards one of the major encounters that the map has for players, a new world boss. There’s almost an entire zone buried beneath the ice. The massive snaking caverns that wind off into the depths are mesmerizing and far from the only hidden area in this region. The episode’s new Raven attunement skill opens up a range of hidden areas for parties to explore, including a jumping puzzle that reminded me quite how much I miss challenges like the Silverwastes.
Facing off against Drakkar is an encounter that is somewhat divisive. While hordes of fallen and confused warriors stand ready to stop you from reaching this World Boss, the precursor event is simply somewhat functional. Hordes of spawn flooding through fallen portals seemingly slowing down the NPC’s march towards this encounter, but the outcome never feels anything other than inevitable. The preparation and lead up to this event isn’t exactly problematic for players and the final face to face isn’t exactly going to stretch the teams that took down Tequatil, post update. However, Drakkar still manages to feel impactful and engaging. That first time that Drakkar bursts out and you are stood face to face with the terror that has been ravaging the north is certainly something and makes the new World Boss worth attacking.
This same issue is something I could level at much of the new events scattered around the Bjora Marches. The environmental detail around some Norn spirit shrines is really quite amazing, and the use of weather tech inventive but many of the events do not feel entirely threatening. You’ll have to take on some other open-world events for that.
Players popping into the expanded regions of the Marches for the first time might notice a golden event icon. This primer lets players know that completing an open world encounter opens up a chance to trigger a second tier of challenge. Whether it’s repairing rift tears or slapping down errant fish, yes really, the upgraded tier of these events spawns greater challenge, a much more difficult encounter, and an increased reward chest that makes traditional open world event chests feel underwhelming.
Alongside the introduction of a new world boss, the expanded Bjora Marches incorporates a whole array of other adventures. The new Strike mission is a significantly more challenging experience and continues the quasi raid level of difficulty that makes the new attunement added in A Crack In The Ice a valuable investment. It is clear that these strike missions are going to be a recurring theme through the fifth season and the new masteries feel far more useful than the sort of map skills that previous episodes. I’d much rather have the choice of picking up Vigilance and feeling effective in a Strike mission than absolutely having to invest in the Flame of Koda to survive the cold.
With all the new events, Strike missions, and added regions below the ice players should find some great new rewards. The brand new Boneskinner helm is a particularly peculiar addition to the mix and my personal favorite. A Raven outfit and a collection of Illuminated Boreal Weapons adds a range of flexible add ons that I feel strike a nice balance between overly flashy and suitable for all.
While the expansion of the map and the introduction of new elements might feel a little limited here, the narrative element of the latest update if by far the game’s strongest point. The Charr are somewhat sidelined but not forgotten and the rehabilitation of Brahm from annoying teenager to adult continues. The traditional twist at the end of this does not disappoint but we’re not telling you what it is and you’ll just have to play it yourself to find out.
Shadow In The Ice is a solid expansion of the first Season 5 episode. There are a ton of rewards to be had and the narrative arc is mostly what you might expect. Content is consistent with what we saw post patch in episode 1 and it seems set on giving players a balance of challenge and choice. The expansion of the Bjora Marches, I hope, signals a move towards the sort of local content expansion that we saw in The Silverwastes, a region that I still have fond memories of to this day. Shadow In The Ice is going to suffer from some accusation of filler but it is absolutely free and for free, I found plenty to do. You can log in now and grab Shadow in the Ice or grab Path of fire if you don’t already own the game over at the official Guild Wars 2 website.