The exploration achievement content has been the highlight of GW2 for me so far. For those who might not be aware, every zone (I believe) has one achievement that is accomplished by finding a ‘hidden’ location. This location is not marked on your map, and generally ends with a large loot chest and gaining said achievement. Do not confuse this with other unmarked loot chests; you will know this content when you get the specific achievement for it.
The challenge associated with these locations varies, but generally it’s been a mix of actually finding the place, completing some jumping, and fighting veteran-level mobs. The Asura starter zone is a brutal series of jumps that reminded me of old-school Mario or something like Meatboy, while the Human starting area is fairly easy in terms of jumping, but has some tightly packed mobs that might present a challenge.
Spoiler about the third Human zone achievement incoming, feel free to skip to the END SPOILER note if you have not experienced it yet and don’t want it detailed.
The third zone’s achievement is in a cave system inhabited by pirate ghosts. As I was looking around, another player was in the area and after some informal teamwork (taking down mobs) we grouped up and decided to tackle this together.
The first step is to swim underwater through some caves. The swim was tough thanks to the mobs, and only with some teamwork did we make it through. When you finally come up you are in an area with torches that must be lite. There are four of them in total, but nothing alerts you that you have found them all or that when you light one it did anything. In the center of this area you have a deep pool of water with veteran mobs, but initially it does not lead to anything.
However, once all four torches are lit, a section of the wall underwater slides down and you can progress. It would be very easy to miss this, especially since once the fourth torch is lite, a small chest appears, trying to trick you into thinking you are done. Very clever bit of design there.
Swimming into the newly opened section takes you into somewhat of a water maze. Due to the vertical movement of water, this is actually a bit tricky. The mobs swimming around don’t make things easier, and to top it all off you occasionally have wall traps that jet out steam, dealing a solid amount of damage. Lots of downed-state happened here, but again thanks to teamwork, we always recovered and finally made our way out.
Once out of the water, you take a path out of the caves and onto a hill cliff overlooking the zone. At the top are two NPCs who inform you of a great treasure being guarded by a bunch of birds. They have bird feed with them, but they say they don’t have the energy left to carry it. You can pick the feed up, and must make one final jump to reach the last area. Fail this jump and its back to square one, since you would fall out of the puzzle area and back to the normal zone. Luckily we did not fail the jump, but I could see some ragetears being shed when you do.
The last area is a small bluff with about ten mobs, three of them veterans. If you attempt to open the chest, they agro and quickly kill you. If you drop the feed first, they become distracted long enough for you to grab the chest, get the achievement, and flee. Just for kicks, my friend and I fought the mobs after we both got the chest, and with some solid skill and plenty of dodging, we managed to take the whole pack down and gain some decent loot (the mobs are 4 levels above you, even downscaled, which results in greatly increased loot drops).
Once complete, we jumped down and talked a bit about the content and others like it. As it turned out, I had missed one of these achievements in the previous zone, despite being in the right area before. My friend went to do some WvW, while I went back to get that other achievement. All in all it was great content, and highlighted a lot of what makes MMOs so special.
For starters, I love that it was not marked on your map, because that’s what real exploration is about. Having so many things pre-marked in GW2 is somewhat of a downer, but I could see impatient (read: bad) players complaining if Anet removed things like the hearts or vista markers. My only hope here is that they don’t Blizzard this content and eventually add a map market for the exploration achievements, or dumb down the challenge, as that would ruin a large part of the ‘reward’.
I also love that it was not explicit group content (must form a group before entering or other artificial control mechanisms), but strongly encourages you to team up. Since this is not instanced, who you team up with can be random or prearranged, which is also great. This works even better thanks to the mechanics of GW2, in that you don’t have the holy trinity and everyone can rez (everyone being able to rez is awesome all around btw, and something that all MMOs should have).
Finally, the difficulty level was great. At the end, I felt like I actually worked towards something rather than simply putting in X amount of time and being given a reward. That feeling is worth far more than any item drop or in-game achievement, and it’s been very rare that a themepark has done this in the last… ever?
Nice work by Anet, and I highly recommend looking around and finding these bits of content.