The new level 80 explorable path for GW2's Twilight Arbor dungeon -- dubbed the "Aetherpath" -- is the brainchild of the ArenaNet content team responsible for Aetherblade Retreat, along with content designer Leif Chappelle, who worked on the Molten Weapons Facility. Chappelle and his party of professional dungeon runners were kind enough to give us a partial tour of the content, which combines feedback and lessons learned from previous content to provide a challenging new experience. Jump past the break to check it out!
Twilight Arbor's explorable mode now begins in a new lobby area, which will allow your party to choose between the level 80 Aetherpath or the two existing level 55 paths. Wait, two level 55 paths? Yep! The Aetherpath is replacing the current forward/up route, which you might recognize as the one with hordes of killer bees and waves of spiders at the final boss; we can have a moment of silence for the endless references to Nicolas Cage's The Wicker Man remake that the bees spawned, but the spiders will not be mourned. The new path also replaces the old one achievement-wise, so those of you who haven't done all of TA yet needn't worry about being locked out of the overall dungeon achievement. Neither of the remaining two paths have been changed.
In the lobby, players will meet up with Lionguard Turma and Caithe. The Lionguard has a personal beef with the Aetherblades for their attack on Lion's Arch during the Dragon Bash festival, and Caithe is willing to help since Turma's purposes align with hers. She's there to find Scarlet, who has apparently challenged her directly and hinted that she has sensitive information that Caithe wouldn't want others to know. Caithe seems more annoyed by Scarlet than concerned with having her secrets exposed; her aim is to find out where -- or who -- Scarlet might be getting those secrets from.
Breaking into Scarlet's base necessitates first battling past a few of Twilight Arbor's natural defenses, such as husks, jungle wurms and Nightmare hounds. The first indication of the Aetherpath's difficulty increase may be how easy it is to pick up adds mid-fight, so good positioning and careful pulling will probably pay off. Initially, the path looks very much like the standard TA runs -- you'll know you've found the right place when a hologram of Scarlet appears to exult over the arrival of her "guest of honor." Caithe still doesn't seem too impressed. As though summoned by Caithe's cold dissing of Scarlet's defenses, though, two of the mad engineer's lieutenants show up to lay literal waste to the next room: a barrel-chested Norn with a fondness for toxic oil and an Asuran mech driver who likes setting things on fire. This combination is predictably volatile, and the walls of flame they create set the stage for the dungeon's first collaborative puzzle.
A gate at the end of the room will let you escape the conflagration, but you'll need to lead two oozes safely to the gears that operate it to get it open. If this doesn't sound easy (because when have oozes ever done what you wanted them to?), it's further complicated by the fire spawning a number of flaming tar elementals which will attack both players and oozes. The oozes have to be guarded as they make their way through the fiery gauntlet; both of them need to reach the end at roughly the same time, and they'll respawn at the beginning if downed. Further complicating things is the need to lead oozes to the desired destination using ooze pheromone, which can be obtained from plants in the puzzle room. A player with the pheromone will be given a little ooze-shaped heart icon over their head, and their slimy new best friend will bounce along after them until it wears off. This looks adorable at first glance, but unfortunately our preliminary research has revealed that oozes display affection by totally trying to kill you if they get within melee range. Love hurts.
Once you've slimed the gate open, Scarlet's security system will focus on your group as the primary threat, allowing Caithe to slip off into the shadows and work parallel to you. We're going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she's not really sneaking into story mode to have tragic, tension-laden shouting matches with Faolain.
In the next area you'll find the Aetherblades razing sections of Twilight Arbor for their own purposes. From this point the Aetherblades will be your primary foes, and they're a lot less lax in their security than they were under Mai Trin in the Aetherblade Retreat dungeon: Scarlet may seem quirky, but as she hints in the dialogue for her invasion events, she commands her forces through fear. "Our job's easy," as one of the Aetherblades puts it. "Kill when Scarlet says 'kill,' steal when she says, 'steal,' and hide when she says, 'I'm bored.'"
Although some of the Aetherblade enemies have undergone balance changes to make them a little less stun-happy than they were in previous appearances, they're still deadly -- especially in large numbers. One of the most dangerous enemies you'll run across as you enter Scarlet's compound is a mechanical wind rider called a Steam Watcher, which needs to be wiped out as quickly as possible. As soon as it spots your team it'll sound an alarm, bringing waves of veteran Aetherblade enemies running to make your life that much harder.
As you proceed into the next area, you'll pass a fleeing pack of Nightmare hounds that have been set on fire and are too terrified to even bother attacking you. Waiting in the direction they fled from are the Asura and Norn from before -- along with a hologram of Scarlet, who introduces them as Sparki and Slick. These two are the first true bosses you'll face, although to Sparki's credit she does torch the volatile blossoms in the room before the fight starts. Real talk: nobody likes those things.
The previous puzzle room with the fire and oozes was designed to train you for the mechanics of this battle. Slick will throw down toxic oil pools for Sparki to set ablaze, and players who are randomly granted the ooze pheromone buff (or who grab it from plants) will need to lead an oil-hungry ooze around to clean them up and prevent damage from toxic fumes from overwhelming the group. You'll also need to contend with attacks from the bosses: Sparki periodically sends out a great number of fiery missiles, so it might be best to take her out first.
After Sparki and Slick go down, the main Aetherblade facility becomes accessible. Our guided tour ended just inside the front door, but we were given a brief look at the creepy-cool base environment and one of the new mechanics found within. Scarlet is extremely resourceful, and hasn't been taking over and corrupting technology just for laughs: the projectors she hacked into during Dragon Bash have been configured to spit out exploding Aetherblade holograms. Fortunately, the projectors can be taken out by leading the Aether-holograms back to them to let the ensuing explosions take them out.
Although we weren't shown the end of the dungeon, we were given some information about what happens once it's over. A number of optional events will pop up following the last boss, all of which are soloable. There's an achievement for completing all of them in a single run, and completing one will give the entire group credit, so your team should be able to knock them out easily if everyone's willing to stay for them. There are also a few optional Aether chests, which can be opened by collecting Aether key pieces from boss chests or through hunting them down in the open world.
GW2's Twilight Assault content update goes live today, so get ready to do some serious cleanup!
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