Welcome to the Crystal Oasis!

Diving right in, there's a lot to be said of the release of ArenaNet's second expansion for their flagship title. Guild Wars 2 has attracted millions of players from across the world in to a fantasy-based MMO rivaling Blizzard's World of Warcraft with it's own take on the genre. With it's purchase you'll receive a level 80 boost to jump right into the action, although I recommend strongly seeking guidance from a veteran before you make the final decision on it. Myself being a casual returning player, I can't stress how much fun it was getting back into the swing of things!

Well, is it pretty or what?

The new zone, Crystal Oasis is beyond stunning. Rolling desert sands of white hot fury, coupled with sparking turquoise waters, there's never a dull moment for the senses. Even progressing out into the wild, the arid desert is dotted with amazing landmarks and plenty of bits and bobs to explore and discover. Crystal Oasis' pyramids and landmarks will make you feel tiny in comparison--a grand entrance to an even grander experience. It puts exploring on a different level and truly keeps it playing as nothing other than enjoyable.

The Mounts

New to the expansion is the introduction of the mounts, and with it a system of upgrading them. I can't stress how much of a fan I am of the animations--idling or in action, and the general way they all move. Momentum, cornering, jumping...a lot of thought was really put into the way they handle. There's only a small handful of mounts to earn right now, but each are given their own unique abilities to earn and unlock, which is a brilliant way to pump more fun into having them. You do have to work for everything after the initial raptor mount though--they certainly don't give you the keys to the car for free. They are also account bound, which is an absolute treat taking any other character (notably low level) around for another go of exploration in Tyria. The map is completely optimized for the mounts as well--hopping high for hero points, clearing canyons in a single bound. It truly is a pleasure and privilege to drive them around.

The Content

A staple of deed to any corner of Guild Wars--you have the hearts. They're well thought out, taking a bit more finesse to complete. In addition to them being longer in most cases, you have many where you have tasks to complete in order which relies on the player paying attention and following proper instruction. The very sound of that could come off as annoying, especially to a cut-scene skipper, but they're so well done that you'll find yourself immersed into the task quite easily. They also can be more challenging to complete which encourages a fair amount of teamwork. Even to veteran players, a helping hand tends to be welcomed. It can be quite challenging to run through the content if you're not well equipped though. The further you trek out into the desert, the more you'll find yourself in hot water if you're kit isn't up to par. Coming from the casual player's side--it's certainly not a deal breaker in any sense of the word, but you had better get clever if you fancy any progression with it. Your random events are still there, popping up around the place for some pocket fun and rewards.

You also have the introduction of new elite specs and a mastery point system. Specializations that give your class access to a new weapon, you're driven to hunt down hero points to unlock traits, making yourself even more of a force to be reckoned with. Something to take in note though with the elite specs: you often run into the problem of balancing it properly--especially for the good folks that run PvP and WvW content. With the amount of patches in the first few days of playing live, I don't think it will take too long for ArenaNet to begin to sift through and sort it out. As to be expected, it affects the different classes in their own unique way, some amazingly so, and others a bit dubious for now.

Things have been honoured for the players that are deep within the lore. Old enemies and wildlife from the first Guild Wars have made an appearance back, which warms the loyal heart. The storyline is gripping and well thought out with the mastery system intertwined with it. Spoilers are a very serious possibility in this expansion--and one of the things I really appreciate from this community of players and developers is how everyone is so committed to everyone experiencing the story on their own. Watching panels with the developers from the creative team speaking, they were very forward about not spoiling anything for anyone else, which I wholeheartedly respect.

Overall, I think ArenaNet really listened to the players on this one. They took great care to craft something to be proud of, and I believe that shows ten-fold. They're listening and watching and really striving to create an expansion unrivaled. It's more than worth the play--hours of content, amazing rewards and fantastic surroundings. This is the expansion that Guild Wars 2 deserves.

Special thanks to Dan and Cerioth for helping me navigate through the sand storm!