ArenaNet continues to send players off to the frozen northlands of Tyria in the next chapter of Guild Wars 2‘s Living Story, Shadow in the Ice. It goes live today, but we got a sneak peek at the next zone and some of the innovations that will be implemented in GW2 for the first time with this update.

The “new” map is actually an updated half of the existing map, Bjora Marches, whose west side has been opened up to the players. In the previous chapter, players fought a corrupted shaman and thought they’d cleared Jormag’s corruption from the area, but it seems to have simply migrated west and is still plaguing the norn and kodan who dwell in the area.

The zone contains the usual mix of dynamic events, but these ones have something new, labeled the “Trials of Koda.” Occasionally, there will be a bonus objective running during the event, and if players complete that, it will change the event to a “super-cool, super-secret” event, as ArenaNet’s Nick Hernandez explained it to me. For one of the events, we were supposed to defend some fishing kodan in a typical “kill monsters until they stop coming” event, but if we delivered the fish they caught, then a new giant boss monster would appear. In another, we could kill sparks to get their essences at a boss, and if we tossed enough, a giant tornado would spin up after we killed the boss and we’d have to toss more essences into it. Allowing players to “level up” an event is something I’ve seen in games like Destiny 2, and it’s nice to see ArenaNet still mixing up the event formula in Guild Wars 2.

Another “mixing up” that players will experience as they travel the zone is the occurrence of random, low-probability “spooky” events that will be unique to each player. In my case, there was a book on the ground – probably spawned there by cheat-y dev commands but much less likely to show up when playing on live – that showed me a cryptic passage when I clicked on it. Naturally, this also gave me the first step in an achievement, so players will rocket off to the wiki to find stuff, but given the rarity and unreliability of these happenings, it should still take a while to nail down everything.

Also meant to test players’ brains are the “Raven gates” spread around the map. Raven is the norn spirit that grants people “wisdom, cleverness, clarity, and perspective,” so it’s no surprise that these gates take players to various reward chambers, puzzle rooms, and other secret areas. I was led to one that had multiple platforms with pillars that I had to adjust to complete the puzzle. I didn’t manage it in time for our demo, but it’s another interesting aspect of gameplay that should keep players’ brains occupied.

The rewards being offered to players in this update are plentiful. In the last episode, players got an ancient norn weapon set, but with this update, they’ll be upgraded with “Tron-like glowies,” as Designer Connor Rich put it. There’s also the Raven Ceremonial Armor set, something that’s been worn by NPCs but will now be available to players. Unique among other sets in the game, this armor has a similar look for all three weight classes – light, medium, and heavy. This was described to me as a positive, because it means you can mix and match more easily for a more consistent look; the cynic in my would say that it means the art team had slightly less work to do.

I say “slightly,” because there’s more, so maybe the art team didn’t get that much of a break. There’s a helm that looks like it came straight from an ice golem, as well as weapons patterned after the fearsome Boneskinner. You can even get a staff skin that looks like the fishing rod the kodan were using in the aforementioned event. Finally, the easiest achievement involves you simply logging into the game starting Jan. 30, when ArenaNet will make available a T-shirt to celebrate the 2020 iteration of Friend/Ships, its annual celebration of the … well, friendships, that players have made during their journeys through Tyria.

That’s only a small sampling of what players will encounter in this chapter. There’s also a new strike mission, which we didn’t have time for but which Team Lead Connor Fallon said would include “a main boss fight with major spoilers about its identity” that he thinks “players will find engaging and interesting.” I played through it myself on the test server, and yeah, I was totally surprised to find out it was [REDACTED]. Good job, devs!

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

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