The first wing of the first ever raid in Guild Wars 2 has been opened. This is 10-person content designed to be the hardest in the game, and offers, as an ultimate reward, pieces for assembling legendary armour. This is not more powerful armour: it is exactly as powerful as existing top-end ascended armour, but allows you to swap stats - presumably stat templates - while out of combat.
"Endless tiers of gear grind to stay raid relevant have no place in Guild Wars 2," reads an apt line from a raid explainer on the Guild Wars 2 website.
The raid is named Spirit Vale and is located in the Maguuma Jungle, which is a part of the Heart of Thorns expansion, so you need to buy that if you want to go there. And if you're a level 80 (or thereabouts) player and you don't already own Heart of Thorns then you really ought to, because it's aimed directly at you - and it's got an impressive amount of impressive content stuffed in.
I had a go at the Spirit Vale raid on a test server last week, accompanied by a bunch of ArenaNet developers. We didn't play for long and only took on one boss, Gorseval the Multifarious, a weird demon tree gorilla thing.
The fight itself involved gliding - a new ability in Heart of Thorns - on and off Gorseval's little island platform. The first phase went a bit like this: whack Gorseval, wait for him to start pounding the ground and then pull out my breaker ability to stop him. Then drag him over to the edge of the platform near the wall he puts up, while killing a few 'adds' (extra insignificant enemies) on the way, before smashing a hole in said magical wall just in time to escape a raid-wiping bomb of an ability. Simple really.
There are updraft currents around the platform that boost you back up into the sky, at which point you turn around, fly back and do it over again. Phase two, which we did get to, involved him spawning some phantoms that, unless killed, contributed to another of his raid-wiping abilities. Generally, we died. We died a lot.
There was plenty going on, plenty for everyone to do, and lots of moving around and not falling asleep - rogues in old school World of Warcraft raids I'm looking at you. Gorseval was one of three boss "encounters" in this first Spirit Vale raid wing - the word "encounter" suggesting one battle may have lots of objectives rather than a hulking brute to collectively batter.
In other words: a promising start for raids in the game. You won't need to have maxed all the new Mastery skill lines to go there, but you'll need at least gliding and updraft use for obvious reasons.
The other side of raids coming to Guild Wars 2 was people getting frustrated with, and giving up on, Fractals, which are the endgame five-person group dungeons. In a nutshell, people believed they weren't worth the effort any more. But a blog post on Friday by ArenaNet revealed that Fractals will be getting love. They will be better balanced (a bit easier at the top end it sounds like), ascended armour drop rates will increase, and you'll now earn Mastery experience while there, making them much more worth your time. There's a tweak concerning Fractals and the gold they award but I don't understand it - sorry! The overall reaction to the Fractal changes seem to be very positive.
Guild Wars 2 is free to download and play but you'll have to pay for the expansion. But again, no rush - it's aimed at level 80s.