Just shy of 4 months after ArenaNet’s release of A Bug in the System, they finally dropped the anticipated third episode in the highly-praised Season 4 of Guild Wars 2’s Living World saga: Long Live the Lich.
Following the conclusion of Episode 2, which saw our PC, the Commander, fail to prevent the dastardly King Joko from acquiring the most deadly weapon Tyria has ever known, the player base had a pretty solid idea of where the follow-up would be going. The main question was ultimately whether we would see the final downfall of the immortal lich king or if he would continue his reign of terror, claiming the exalted position of this Season’s big baddy.
Now, before we dive into the episode itself, let’s hit on the key points that may have slipped some minds in the long stretch since March’s content release.
WARNING: Major spoilers for Guild Wars 2‘s story, including Path of Fire and Living World Season 4 abound beyond this point!
How We’ve Gotten to Where We Are…
Living World Season 4 comes in the wake of the earth-shaking revelations of Path of Fire, ArenaNet’s second expansion for the Guild Wars 2 title. The tally stands at 2 dead Elder Dragons, 1 defeated human god, and a pile of accolades for our Commander. However, we didn’t walk away from our adventures in the Crystal Desert scot-free.
Our bouncing baby dragon friend, Aurene, absorbed a portion of Balthazar’s bloodstone magic and disappeared; the ascendant Elder Dragon, Kralkatorrik, slurped up the monster portion of the dying god’s magic and took off on a branding-spree down the length of Elona; Amnoon has endured a devastating assault by the Branded and our small, but plucky guild, Dragon’s Watch, is slowly coming back together after the frictions that tore us apart in Season 3.
Oh yeah, and…
His army of Awakened swarms the desert and the Inquest scientists among them have concocted a revitalized rendition of the scourge which once threatened to wipe out humanity centuries ago: the pestilence known as the Scarab Plague.
“Just another routine mission,” as another Commander voiced by Jennifer Hale would say…
Down with the Lich!
As with Episode 1, Daybreak, we kick the festivities off in Amnoon, still recovering from the Branded attack the Commander defended them from previously. Though the circumstances we find ourselves in are nowhere near as dire, one of our most recent additions to the crew has landed us in some hot water.
Taimi’s earnest childhood (progeny-hood?) friend has been fiddling around and gotten caught red-handed. Seeking to study the Scarab Plage — Pestilentix termintroxus — Gorrik not only brought a sample along with him from Lab Alpha-One-Nine, he deliberately infected himself with it!!!
“He has a WHAT growing WHERE?!”
Luckily for this die-hard daredevil of a scientist, the Commander is a silver tongue with lots of experience talking their guildmates out of a jam. The Councilor reluctantly dismisses the charges and releases Gorrik into our custody.
No sooner have we reunited Taimi’s little krewe, however, than word of a Pact ship loaded with supplies for the people of Amnoon arrives. As their former superior, it’s only fitting that our Commander joins the welcoming committee, no?
Our troubles have only just begun…
The “supplies” the ship is carrying turn out to be a cruel gift from Joko, who has overcome the Tyrian representatives and infected all souls onboard with the Plague. Their arrival heralds the advent of Gen 2 of the pestilence.
Not only has his little gift been delivered, but Joko projects himself to “greet” the Commander. Taunts, insults, and a fierce battle won with the timely arrival of Aurene ensue. Before departing, however, Joko leaves his rival with an invitation to join him for the “next act” in Gandara.
It’s the Domain of Kourna, friends! A number of content creators called it in the wake of A Bug in the System, and they’ve been proven correct.
Before heading off to the remote region of the desert, though, Taimi’s krewe persuades the Commander to pay a visit to the Tomb of the Primeval Kings. After all, there are two notable monarchs resting there who are intimately familiar with the Scarab Plague and its history.
Sister-queens Nalah and Dalah were the last members of the Primeval Dynasty, facing their sovereignty’s end with the rise of the Scarab Plague during the 650’s DR. Countless Elonians were annihilated and their ghosts are eager to make an end to Joko’s malignancy. The queens pledge their support to the Commander, offering an army of the dead to face the Awakened forces. In parting, they reveal a scrap of information that will make the Commander the most important piece on the game board: immunity to the Plague.
“Oh yes, Commander, we can smell the stench of the Lost on you.”
Who would have thought that the Commander’s death by Balthazar’s hand would actually turn out to have been a favor? Ironically enough, the Commander’s stint in the Domain of the Lost resulted in full immunity to infection (even if they’re human), as the beetles are averse to the spiritual “odor” that lingers.
Armed with this handy development and promises of support from the Primevals, Amnoonians, the Olmakhan, and other forces determined by player choices made during Path of Fire, the Commander turns to face their journey to Gandara, facilitated by Blish’s still-in-a-testing-phase portal technology.
After scouting out the battlefield, bringing the allied forces through the portal, and establishing a foothold, Dragon’s Watch — still missing some members, but more unified than ever — launches the assault on the Moon Palace.
Cut off from entering through the main gate by the ghost army’s clash with the Plague-bearers swarming from within, it’s down to our old friend Braham to find another way. In true “norning-it” fashion, Eir’s son leads the Commander through the sewer system and into the bowels of Joko’s haven. There, they discover the disturbing scale of the lich king’s depravity.
Traps litter the dilapidated corridors of the Moon Palace, unbound by the illusion-breaking power of an artifact found among the detritus of the dungeons. Joko’s taunts haunt every step and his minions and generals throw themselves, one after another, into the fray in an effort to slow our progress. Finally, however, we make our way to the rotten heart of Joko’s lair, facing the menace himself at last.
The great Palawa Joko lives up to his reputation in more ways than one. He is a vicious opponent, calling forth scarabs, Awakened, and wading into the fray with is own dark powers. In time he falls and the Commander stands over their foe in victory … until he stands back up. Immortal by name and by nature, the lich king is invincible against mortal efforts.
“Oh, Commander, you look so disappointed. So impotent. I feel for you, I really do.”
Unfortunately for him, the Commander is not merely a hero, but the soul-bonded champion of Glint’s Scion.
Flying to our defense, Aurene breaks through the battle of undead at the palace gates. Just at the moment when he believes his triumph is complete, Joko at last falls beneath the talons of a dragon and is consumed, as Balthazar’s power was before him.
A final answer to the immortal reign of Tyria’s most diabolical despot.
Long Live the Lich is a phenomenal addition to the ongoing story of the Commander. I loved every minute of it! In a season of Living World that has stood out for the quality of its design, story, character development, and art, Episode 3 shines.
Palawa Joko’s Final Monologue
Ladies and gentlemen, ArenaNet’s dialogue writing has never offered anything to touch this!
Joko is a special character, both hated and admired not just by characters in the game, but by us, the players. He has a long and elaborate history of witty word-play that has won him a firm place in the pantheon of Tyria’s villains. He’s sadistic and destructive, but also takes pleasure in a very twisted sense of humor. Not even Canach can out-snark the lich king.
It’s only fitting that Joko should receive a grand finale for his adieu to the Guild Wars saga. Tying into his own theme for this episode of a dramatic performance, himself cast as the leading man, he delivers a masterful final monologue worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy.
This cut scene, six months in the making, according to the developers’ AMA, holds a great deal of significance. Not only is it a glorious tribute to Joko’s character, but the crux of the issue he raises resonates on an uncomfortable level.
“I confess, I was happy to take credit for your ‘victories.’ But did you ever stop to wonder what that says about you? That so many bought what I was selling? They call me a monster and you a hero … Perhaps they will finally thank me for luring you to me.
So that I. May save the world. From you.”
Woah. Why is it that this comparison between the story’s greatest villain and it’s greatest hero seems to hit the nail on the head so accurately? It shouldn’t, right? I mean, we’ve saved the world time and again, no? We’re the good guys! But sometimes the greatest damage can be caused with the purest intentions and that is the underlying message the story has been trying to get across since the earliest moments of Season 3.
I love this. LOVE it! This is such a dark and revealing instance which forces us to evaluate who we really are as the Commander. What does it mean to wield great power? To hold the trust of nations and have entire civilizations depend on our sense of what is right? What happens when doing the right thing has more devastating consequences than doing nothing would have had?
Between the concern over what consuming Joko’s power will do to Aurene and this, with another Elder Dragon to face, we’ll have some fascinating context for the next chapter of the Commander’s story.
If you look back to my review for A Bug in the System, I talked a bit about the progress Braham’s mentality and his relationship with the Commander had made. I was thrilled that we weren’t suddenly friends again and that all was magically forgiven. Feelings don’t work that way. I was hoping there would be a conversation between our character and Braham in Episode 3 that would challenge them both and would lead to an amicable resolution. Essentially, I wanted an intervention.
That didn’t happen. At least, it didn’t come about in that way. In an episode that was non-stop action there literally wasn’t time for a heart-to-heart.
I’m not upset about it, though!
The two of us reached a level of understanding that now allows for peace and a release of old grudges. We came to it fighting side-by-side, relying on one another and demonstrating trust through the synergy we have on the battlefield. Braham’s sacrifice of himself in order to release the Commander from Joko’s trap wasn’t just the norn’s stereotypical reactionary nature in action. By removing himself from the fight so the Commander could face Joko, Braham showed how resolutely he believes in us.
Very well done!
The Return of Dragon’s Watch … Almost
Though Marjory and Kasmeer are currently off keeping an eye on Kralkatorrik, the other members of Dragon’s Watch were all present and correct. Each played a pivotal role in the unfolding story of the episode, though you may argue that Rytlock was somewhat less significant, despite the fact that he now lives on in eternal fame as a heart vendor. (*snort*)
Canach brings his expertise in demolition (to hilarious effect), Rox leads the Olmakhan, Taimi and her krewe work to curtail the spread of the plague, and Braham claims center stage as he leads the charge into the dungeons. Well played, guildies!
Oh, and Taimi is finally showing off some impressive holomancer skills. Huzzah for the die-hard engi-lovers out there!
The Domain of Kourna
Location! Location! Location!
The Domain of Kourna is a setting many in the Guild Wars community desperately wanted to see added to the storyline, and that wish has finally been granted. It was important that the dev’s didn’t just bring us back to the location, but that they take into account the fact that the region has been under Joko’s influence for countless years.
They nailed it!
The environment is pervaded by this heavy, muzzy haze. The use of dull and sickly browns and greens to color the landscape makes you feel how not only the people, but the land itself have suffered under the lich’s reign. Scarabs are everywhere, infesting crops, clouding the skies, and breaking out in support of the Awakened in their skirmishes with the Tyrian allied forces.
It’s rank. It’s dismal. It’s sick. It’s twisted. Perfection!
Our Newest Noble Steed: Petey!
Remember that bug that Gorrik thought it would be a brilliant plan to incubate under his skin….?
Yeah, that’s the new mount. Yish, right?
Okay, okay, so Gorrik’s a mad scientist and popping a beetle out from under his skin to plop a saddle on is kind of creepy.
Wow, is this mount fun!
I honestly wasn’t expecting to see a new mount added to the game at all, except possibly in an expansion. Seeing the Roller Beetle take to the stage in the middle of Season 4 was a bit of a shocker, and while it’s a blast to ride around on I can’t help but feel concerned it’s a bit of a waste.
Does the concept fit? For sure, especially given that we’re in the Crystal Desert and dealing with the Scarab Plague. BUT. How much utility will we really see out of it beyond this? If you’re wondering where my skepticism is coming from, consider how we haven’t seen any bouncing mushrooms, speed or adrenal mushrooms, thermal tubes, or oakheart vines outside the environments in which they were introduced (the Maguuma Jungle and Season 3’s maps).
We work so hard to gain the mastery points and grind experience in order to level these masteries and then their utility utterly disappears … sometimes with the very next patch! With the Roller Beetle, in particular, there are no less than 3 labor-intensive fetch quests required in order to acquire the mount on top of the mastery points and experience needed. While I’m happy to see there isn’t a gold-gate, as with the griffon, you still have to invest heavily in pursuing this prize.
This speaks to a larger issue within the game’s design, and I’m hoping this instance will draw greater attention to the overriding problem. Is the game broken because of it? No. It lacks lasting pertinence, however, seemingly forcing players to pursue a utility system that invalidates itself over time.
Stepping back from the negative, though, the Roller Beetle is great fun to zoom around on, and I especially love the fact that this is the first mount that has a specific identity. This isn’t just any old beetle. This is Petey!
Very cool, ArenaNet!
In addition to the strong storytelling, ArenaNet made some very intelligent references to previous content that tied the current moment in with the history of our PC and, perhaps, Tyria itself.
How long has it been since you played Path of Fire? For me, it’s been several months, but I recognized the Beastmarshal when she swaggered across my path. One of the Awakened generals our Commander duped in order to use Joko’s army against Balthazar, Eranko doesn’t seem to hold much of a grudge. She pays for her lack of loyalty toward the lich king, however, when she falls in battle against us … “SOMEONE’S not getting re-awakened!”
“Ancient Skill Signet”
This may be something of a stretch, I’ll admit. When Braham pointed out the illusion-breaking ring we found in the dungeon of the Moon Palace I immediately started wondering whether it may be a specific ring dating back to the original Guild Wars campaigns. In the end, I don’t think it is, but it could be a reference to the signets different professions could use in order to take advantage of special skills (you know, “skill signet”). Based on how this one foils Joko’s illusions, I would say it most resembles the old Signet of Disenchantment. Let me know if you have another theory!
Remember leveling that first character and getting these random messages from some mysterious individual calling themselves “You Herald” as a way to get you to go dungeon-diving? We actually get to meet her! Finally, we have a name and a face to put to our diligent pen pal. Lady Camillia joins our forces in Kourna, setting up as a special quest-giver leading to achievements and the zone’s backpiece.
Long Live the Lich is exceptional, standing out amidst a Living World season that has already set itself apart from the content which preceded it. It’s deeply satisfying and claims the gold for its fantastic final instance.
…and for revealing Joko’s middle name……..
A note on screenshots included in this post:
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