I'm an MMORPG junkie. From Dark Age of Camelot to LOTRO to my most recent jam, Black Desert Online, if the game has decent production values and even a chance at having legs, I'm probably there at the launch, fighting bugs and connection issues. While it wasn't an MMO, I loved Guild Wars (2005) and I looked forward to Guild Wars 2 with real excitement.
Whether it was my aging 2012 PC or just a period of Korean MMO ennui, Guild Wars 2 just didn't do it for me... at the time. But coming back to it several months later with an upgraded system and a little space, I began to understand the game's values, appreciate its visuals and art direction, and enjoy its engaging combat and story. Like all my favorite MMOs, I've dipped in every once in a while to see how the world and community are faring, and to check out the new and shiny.
Path of Fire is a much more content-robust expansion than the previous Heart of Thorns. In addition to opening up a large new area, the expansion introduces long-overdue mounts, which are incredibly useful and fun. Like all good additions to well established games, Path of Fire gives faithful players a decent amount of new, quality content and entices lapsed players such as yours truly to re-join the faithful. New, shiny toys are always welcome to longtime players.
For those unfamiliar with Guild Wars lore, the new Crystal Desert is actually a callback to a well-known area in the Nightfall expansion for the original game. Split into five zones, the Crystal Desert is a lavish buffet of not just sandy dunes, but flora-filled oasis, hellish poisoned lava pools and fabulously baroque cities full of crumbling ruins. Guild Wars 2 might not be at the bleeding edge of graphical possibilities but it has always had stellar art design and a lovely high fantasy aesthetic that draws from a number of world cultures.
Integrated into the varied geography of the Crystal Desert are the new mounts, which besides compensating for the infrequent warp points, all have specialties that make them valuable in traversing the landscape. There are flying mounts like the Griffon, high jumping mounts (Raptor) and even mounts that can skim the water at high speed. Collecting all five mounts and their special abilities means more than just filling your stable with colorful creatures, it's also critical to unlocking content and completing missions. Getting all the mounts takes effort but eventually they are an entertaining new element.
It's rare that an MMORPG pays much of any attention to the writing but at least in Path of Fire, the potentially trite story of a commander (you) facing off against an overpoweringly evil Big Bad is told with a moderate degree of nuance and emotional range and generally competent voice work. There's still too much bland exposition and perfunctory dialogue but overall, the somewhat brief expansion (at least in terms of missions and structure) has a well-defined story to tell. The extending may strike you as abrupt and not every NPC is well defined.
All MMORPGs are works in progress and I was amazed at the many small and large changes to character classes, interface, graphics and pacing had taken place since I last booted up the game. Of course, on the whole, Guild Wars 2 sticks closely to post World of Warcraft conventions, and anyone with some familiarity with the genre can pick up the mechanics pretty quickly. Combat is fast-paced and varied, and there is enough mission variety that the grind never becomes too odious.
Although they can be difficult to control effectively, the mounts and the new region in Path of Fire - combined with a decent story, voice acting, and lovely music - are more than reason enough to dip back into Guild Wars 2, which has aged pretty well since its launch over five years ago. With a robust community and strong, ongoing support from the developer, Guild Wars 2 continues to thrive and evolve.