Friday, 10 February 2012

Guild Wars: Winds of Change part 3

The final part of Guild Wars Winds of Change released today, wrapping up the transition of a devastated-but-recovering Cantha into a racist, nationalist closed country. Here are the details, some screenshots, and my thoughts on the update.

(click the logo if you haven't read my GW review yet)
Spoilers from here until the next bold mark; don't read if you want to see all this yourself!

First up, two optional quests offered by Lei Jeng in Kaineng Center.
The Luxons and Kurzicks are falling back into their old disagreements. They don't really care that you're the great hero that took out the returned Shiro; in fact, they're pissed that you broke their artifacts (the Spear of Archemorus and Urn of Saint Viktor). They're still having trouble with the Jade Brotherhood and Am Fah, but can't be bothered to deal with it themselves -- so it's up to you.
There's also a desperate request from your old friend Zenmai to try to convince some members of the Am Fah to leave the gang before an imminent attack on the hideout by the Imperial guard. Not the Ministry of Purity, but the Imperial guard. Guess all the Ministry's talk has motivated them into action.

After these two side quests we get back into the thick of things by visiting Miku in Shenzun Tunnels. Miku has located Jinnai, an Imperial guardsman who knows what really happened with Ashu and Reiko. Ashu isn't some miraculous survivor; he was beaten and bloody and only barely made it back, and Reiko has since spun the story so much that even she seems to believe it. Miku's appearance threatens her brainwashing of Ashu and the public, since Ashu's survival doesn't seem so miraculous if his sister survived as well. You have to fight off a huge stream of Ministry forces from two directions, which results in nonstop combat. If you don't have some good resource management and team synergy, this could be a problem even on normal mode.

Next up, Guardsman Qao Lin discovers that there's some sort of criminal recruitment drive going on, so you go undercover to the meeting to investigate. It turns out that the Jade Brotherhood and Am Fah are working together, and they've sent invites out to some old familiar foes: Stone Summit, White Mantle, and corsairs. The plan is to unite, attack Kaining Center, and kidnap the Emperor himself. When the Ministry bigwigs are forced to negotiate for their Emperor back, the gangs will betray and murder all of them, leaving Cantha free for the taking. Of course, they discover you at the meeting, and well... you have to run. You're there alone, after all, and there's an awful lot of thugs.
You arrive in time to warn Qao Lin, but the gangs are pressing their attack. They come in from two gates at once, pushing toward the palace gate, which has a health bar you must defend. The palace gate is unhealable, and if it goes down to 0, you lose. You get a dozen guard NPCs to help you. It seems like an easy mission at first, but once the two gates are broken down, you get little warning of enemy movement — I'd recommend pulling back to defend the palace gate after the docks gate falls under attack, and take all the guards with you. It should be relatively easy if you do it that way; you'll face attacks from two sides, but groups aren't huge, and there are no healers.

After the attackers are defeated, it's time to rally the troops for the counter-offensive: Qao Lin worries that since these are criminals and thugs, not soldiers, those retreating will loot and pillage on their way out, so it's your job to help stop them. Curiously, the Ministry of Purity is nowhere to be found — it's as if they want the palace breached and the Imperial guard weakened.

After you wipe out all the thugs, a Jade Brotherhood Elementalist appears, by the name of Eri, Heart of Fire. She tells you that she's fighting for someone she lost, and that not everyone aligned with the gangs is there because they're criminals. You can choose to strike her down for her crimes, or allow her to leave.

Either way, when you return to Qao Lin, he informs you that the Ministry of Purity plans on intercepting a peaceful protest and ending it by any means necessary. The Imperial guard are tied up in bureaucracy and can't do much, so again, it's up to you. Surprisingly, this isn't a combat quest — you just have to run the protesters around the groups of Ministry soldiers. Along the way, your character has a conversation with the protest leader. She seems determined to martyr herself for the cause, but you tell her that martyrdom only works if people know you're martyred. Surprisingly, your hero sees him/herself in the Ministry. You've killed thousands because someone told you it was for a just cause... but the Ministry believes their cause is just too. As you help the protesters out, our old quest-giver, Initiate Zei Ri, stops you. He's still struggling with his loyalty to the Ministry and Reiko, and doesn't want to believe that they'd kill peaceful protesters in cold blood, but decides to help buy you some time nonetheless.

Qao Lin gives you word that the Sensali Tengu, after appearing to have had the fight taken out of them, are on the counteroffensive, attacking Shing Jea Monastery. Again, the Ministry is nowhere to be found, despite having had large forces posted on the island. You're sent to defend the monastery from the Sensali attack. Mhenlo has been appointed interim headmaster since Togo's death.

Just like the criminal assault on Kaining, you face Tengu incursions from two directions. This time, rather than a static entity, you must ensure that Mhenlo survives. The waves of foes are bigger, and they pack Aura of the Lich Necromancers, so you're likely to face waves of minions on top of the Sensali. Fortunately, though, you do get access to improvised bombs made from lamp oil and rice wine bottles — the bottles being rather humourously “emptied” mid-combat by a young apprentice. The bombs are extremely powerful, and if you have a strong party of heroes, it's probably best to station them near Mhenlo and just keep chucking bombs as often as you can rather than use your own skill bar — especially since each time you use a bomb, all of your skills count as having been used, so you have to wait for each of their recharge times before you can use them again. Because of that mechanic, it's probably best to have a dedicated bomb chucker who does nothing else all combat. Of course, the Ministry arrives after everything wraps up. Mhenlo offers to speak to Reiko on your behalf, but you decide it's about time you spoke to her yourself. DUN DUN DUNNNNNN.

Of course, the Ministry manages to pass legislation outlawing all Tengu in Cantha, so it seems they were “late” because they wanted the monastery to fall.

When you meet back up with Miku, she's decided that she can't forgive Reiko for what she's done, and all that schemer will get is daggers. She does think that Ashu can be turned back (to the light side?). Miku has learned that Reiko and Ashu visit a certain garden together every week, where the guard is a bit lighter than when they're in the city itself. That's the time to strike, and off you go. If you can kill Reiko, the rest of the Ministry might fall.

When you confront Reiko, she seems almost to have expected your arrival. Of course, things are beyond the point of words — you and Miku are fed up with the lies and manipulation, and it's down to fightin'.
The boss battle is very cool. Reiko is a powerful Mesmer. She's got something called a Grand Illusion bar, which, as long as any bit of the bar remains, allows her to summon phantom copies of herself and your party members to fight for her. It's like a preview of the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer, in a way. You drain the bar gradually by dealing damage to her clones and phantasms, and once the bar is finally depleted, you can attack her directly. You also get a few surprise drop-ins to help you out: Soar Honorclaw, a couple of peasants brought by the protest leader, some of the Am Fah you convinced to leave, and if you decided to spare her earlier, Eri Heart of Fire.

When you defeat her, she ominously shouts that the seeds have been sown. She's been martyred, but someone else will pick up her torch and purify Cantha. Ashu seems to have come to his senses, but the moment of victory darkens again when he decides that he will now lead the Ministry of Purity for a better Cantha, avoiding the mistakes he's seen Reiko make. It sounds good, but he's only a kid. But his decision is final, and Miku decides not to push him on it.

The quest chain ends on a bittersweet note. You've freed Cantha from the tyranny of the Ministry and allowed its people to once again choose their own destiny. Miku is sad that she'll no longer play a part in her brother's life, and hopes that he'll grow into a better man and lead Cantha down the right path. But, as Reiko said, the seeds have been sown, and given what we already know about Guild Wars 2, the Ministry's message will ultimately prevail.

Spoilers end here.

For your trouble, you're rewarded with Miku as an assassin hero, and a gem called an Imperial Dragon's Tear, which you can trade for one green Imperial weapon with Azume in Kaineng Center. You can also turn in Imperial Guard Requisition Orders to Shen Xi at a rate of 15 Orders for 1 gold Imperial weapon. You can also trade 3 of them to Zan Lei for three different consumables — one that summons 3 Imperial guards to help you out; a 10% morale booster; or a lockbox that may contain a variety of rare, unique items, or some top-notch consumables.

Despite a rough start with the slog of the “clear out the Afflicted” quests, I think Winds of Change turned out quite well. We ended up with a strong plot that's a bit darker than most of what we've seen in Guild Wars, and the ending is neither needlessly optimistic nor too depressing — although I imagine it would seem a lot more positive to those who don't yet know what happens to Cantha by Guild Wars 2. The boss fight with Reiko really impressed me for its foreshadowing of GW2 mechanics, and it's especially impressive when you consider how small the live team is for GW these days.

One minor plot hole, or at least unresolved thread: we don't know for sure what happened to Zei Ri. It's strongly implied that he died buying the heroes some time, but it all happens off screen and no one tells us his fate. But if you go through the chain in HM, you get a bonus cutscene and a surprise.
My new Imperial staff.
The rewards are pretty classy, too. Miku as a hero is neat, just like Keiran Thackeray at the end of the War in Kryta. More heroes is never a bad thing. Considering the rewards of the War in Kryta, it was a nice surprise to get a green freebie of your choice using one of the new skins — especially since it means that if you don't care that much for the skins, you can instead trade your Requisition Orders for other items, unlike the Medals of Honor from WiK. The Imperial weapons look nice without being extravagant or fancy — the style is very much like the architecture of the Imperial city, which is neat. Some of the rare drops from the lockboxes are pretty cool too — a couple of new miniatures, some unique weapons, and a panda license! Yep, you can now unlock a panda as a Ranger pet. And, as a special secret bonus, if you complete the quest chain in Hard Mode, you unlock Zei Ri as a ritualist hero!

So, final verdict: Winds of Change is very cool and definitely one of the very best content updates in Guild Wars' history. In normal mode it's not too challenging, allowing you to experience the story. The hard mode version is much tougher and should provide a bigger challenge than most other HM content. Hooray! Something for everybody!

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