Guild Wars 2 interview: the fall of Lion's Arch

Announced last year , Guild Wars 2's "Living Story" has provided a regular series of temporary events, zones and combat encounters. Today's update, titled Escape from Lion's Arch, is the penultimate release of that story's first season, and one that's set to have a dramatic effect on Tyria's capital city. Log in after the update goes live and, instead of the colourful market square, the repurposed pirate-ship houses, and the grand central statue, you'll find chaos, fire and destruction. This isn't an instanced event, but a full scale invasion. Lion's Arch is going to fall.

It's not just that one of the game's safe zones is about to be overrun. This is a symbolic strike at the heart of the game. Lion's Arch is, for many, the centre of Guild Wars 2: providing both a trade hub, meeting point, and a spot to ambiently idle while an NPC Asura attempts a Sylvari salad joke. For ArenaNet, though, this is precisely why it makes such an exciting target. "Players are Tyrians themselves," associate game director Steven Waller tells me. "This is a hub for all races to come together, and so I think that one of the things is the question: how does Tyria respond?"

"We've had the inter-racial differences," Waller says, referring to the first Guild Wars, "and this is the location where they've all been able to come together and work together, and so, will Tyria stand up and fight back, or is this the weak spot where Scarlet will show that it's easy to disperse this commonality that we have as Tyrians? From that standpoint, I think there's an extra layer of story element about Lion's Arch itself, and how it plays an important role in how races interact together."

The city will be invaded by the full scope of Scarlet's forces - the Sylvari antagonist who's been at the heart of the Living Story's events. While early releases seemed almost scattershot in the threat they provided, ArenaNet say their story - and its end goal - have been a long time coming. "The story of this 'season', so to speak, was written quite some time ago," Waller says, "and we're excited to finally get to the end and have all the questions that people have been asking about throughout the season wrapped up and played out at such an exciting level."

Destroying a zone is all well and good, but there were plenty of logistical problems that needed to be solved. "We have personal story," says Escape from Lion's Arch coordinator Stephen Hwang. "We have map completion, so with all the vistas and waypoints and jumping puzzles and points of interest. We have to make that all work, and that's why we moved all the services over to Vigil Keep. Even the Asura gates from the home cities, they all connect there so players can still connect to one another."

The Keep will become the new central point for players, also containing the portals to World vs World, PvP, Fractals and the Southsun island. "There's a lot that connects into Lion's Arch," Hwang continues. "It's not just the centre of Tyria, it's physically the connection of all the cities and where all the players meet. It's the de facto meeting place of the world."

The overall goal of the release is to save the citizens of the city, but, as part of that, players will encounter a diverse set of events. Players can defend the rally points that provide a safe place for NPCs, take down the toxic miasma cannons being deployed by Scarlet's armies, and clear paths for VIPs as they make their escape.

"A lot of what we've been doing is building up to this moment," says design lead Mike Zadorojny. "A lot of the things - in terms of the event design - are taking lessons from the Triple Threat and other encounters. Some of the bosses you'll see have been ones we've built up from previous releases, for example the Molten Berserkers coming back from Flame & Frost.

"It hits all tiers of this," Zadorojny says, "from the high-level design, to the implementation, to the tools we've been building up, that allow us to iterate as fast as we can, and build these massive encounters that really bring the playerbase together for these particular moments. On top of that is making sure the story aspect is the glue that brings it all together and makes it this epic grand experience that players can really enjoy with their server, with their friends, with their guild, or just with random PUG members."

While the future of Lion's Arch is still unknown, it's unlikely it will ever quite be the same. "Part of the whole thing with the Living World initially was that we wanted to evolve this, and allow us to change things, and allow people to really walk away with this idea that they took part in something," Zadorojny says. "They remember what it used to be like. When you walk away from any kind of game, the stories that you tell are really what endear you to everything associated with it."

"That speaks to something we're really proud of," Waller says, "which is the community around Guild Wars. The way players are attached to the world, to each other, to the characters. That's something that we're constantly surprised and excited about when we see it come through in the various releases, and in how players come together, how they help each other, and the true emotions players have for the game, the characters, and each other."

Escape from Lion's Arch will go live later today.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.