Welcome to the Weekly Map Recap, a series where we look back at one map in the game each week. We’ll look with a critical eye at how each map represents its theme, proves faithful to its lore, and implements its design. We’ll see how effective its gameplay is, whether the art holds up, and the forecast for the map’s long term retention. With 52 maps to date, it’ll be quite the journey!
Links to the previous entries in a reply at the bottom!
33 of 52 – Bloodstone Fen – Level 80
Bloodstone Fen is one hell of an odd map. The poster child of Season 3 experimentation in map and gameplay design, Fen is tall and thin where other maps are broad and wide. It has gliding mechanics seen only on one other map (by the same design subteam), as well as a level of tie-in to the raid stories and characters not seen anywhere else.
The first map after Heart of Thorns, this was the beginning of an unprecedented level of consistency in content delivery from the Arenanet team. It’s hard to remember now, but before this the company had never really managed to hold true on promises of release cadence, save for a few short months at a time. Beginning with Season 3, they would consistently hold to release schedules (for Living World releases, mind you) until the end of Season 4.
What that kind of pace brings with it is, as we mentioned in our primer analysis, a lot of borrowing and cross-pollination across teams within the company. This was the first of a number of maps where we see ideas brought over from the Raid team – who for a brief time served as the vanguard for experimental PvE gameplay elements and structures that were then brought over to the open world.
Theme/Concept – 8/10
Bloodstone Fen, perhaps more than anything else, is about flying. Taking a look back at the fun of gliding in Heart of Thorns, one gets the sense that the design team sat in a meeting and asked “where could we take this next?” The additional magic glider skills on this map are a blast, and the most fun to be had in the air until the release of the griffon mount. There is an incredible sense of freedom and joy in movement that is perhaps at odds with the catastrophic scene around us on this map.
On top of that, we have a throughline of mystery and investigation. Tied into the raid storyline, this was a time where we weren’t quite sure where the story was going to go next. Would we see a full return of the Mursaat, hiding away somewhere in a pocket dimension? Would we go to the Isles of Janthir? If you look at the first two maps released this season, it didn’t seem that unreasonable. So lorehounds pored over every clue on the map, and the team provided a lot of them. The journal entries presented on this map are some of the best in-map lore documents that the team has ever done, to my mind. Piecing together what on earth happened on this map to cause such destruction is incredibly satisfying.
Finally, and it feels silly to say it out loud, but this map is about explosions. Not just the big one that caused the whole shape of the map in the first place, but practically every enemy here has some kind of bloodstone detonation mechanic. If you are not on your toes you will be blown to kingdom come. This brings with it its own frustrations, but is a neat angle that certainly marks the White Mantle and Bloodstone enemies as different from other npc factions.
Lore – 9/10
One of the great reliefs for lore aficionados in Season 3 was the return of real lore to the game. Following Heart of Thorns, one wondered if we would ever see lore documents, info dumps, or mysteries given the same focus that they had been given in the past. But thankfully, the lore jumps back to the forefront in an enormous way in this map.
This map, in combination with the associated raid wings, gives a surprisingly whole picture of what on earth the White Mantle have been up to the last couple hundred years, with a special focus on the last decade. Throw in some dark experiments that rely on one of the biggest and juiciest mysteries left over from Guild Wars 1, and you’ve got a satisfying package.
On top of all of that, we have one of the strangest inclusions here in terms of lore delivery in an open world map: npcs from a raid wing. They’re here to stand around, sell you things, and tell you what’s been happening in the associated raid. Why didn’t we get more of this? This only ever shows up one more time, and never quite to this extent: some NPCs in Domain of Vabbi and Jahai Bluffs will reference the Mystic Forge and Ahdashim wings.
Design – 7/10
The design of Bloodstone Fen reminds me most of an ant farm. It is narrow and tall, with a ridiculous amount of vertical space, all boxed in by a very visible wall. It’s astonishing, frankly, how well the ‘giant red magic wall’ works in this context, such that I’ve never thought twice about it despite how artificial it is.
Boiled down to the essentials, we have four main ‘meta areas’ which are separated vertically rather than horizontally – with two of those areas containing meta bosses. Up in the higher floating islands we have a meta focused around portals dropping in creatures from around the world, culminating in a minor bloodstone golem fight. Further down, we have Justiciar Hablion and the White Mantle arena – which consists mainly of a pre-event and boss fight on a short timer. On the ground level below, we have a short event meta which happens routinely at night, but which no group ever bothers to do because it’s tuned oddly with no real associated reward. Finally, in the enormous crater itself, we have the meat of the map – the jade golem meta followed by the Unbound Guardian boss fight (with elements borrowed from the raid wings).
There are surprisingly few events on this map, at 24 – with three of those being close the portal events on the upper islands, and two being different versions of the White Mantle Cleric boss. Combined with the very narrow nature of the map, this combines to create a sense of a small and intimate map – despite the actual amount of play space vertically. These elements together with the size of the zone on the world map actually led to a small outcry when the map was released worrying about the ability of the Arenanet team to deliver maps through Living World. At least in terms of pure map size, we would later find out we needn’t worry with maps like Draconis Mons and a number of Living World Season 4 zones.
We can see in the design of this map a push-and-pull between Heart of Thorns design principles and what would come to be a Living World Season 3 structure. While future maps in the season would bring back renown heart areas to produce a ‘pseudo-vanilla’ map structure, this map has none. It is closer to Heart of Thorns maps in that sense. However, it does introduce the ‘two alternating boss metas’ as anchoring the overall design, something that will become the dominant meta design structure for Living World Season 3 and 4 until we get to Dragonfall (with the exception of Siren’s Landing).
Gameplay – 6/10
What immediately sticks out for Bloodstone Fen in terms of gameplay is its difficulty. It retains the challenging nature of open world design in Heart of Thorns by introducing tough-as-nails White Mantle mobs. You will find different opinions on this depending on who you ask. On the one hand, it does introduce the White Mantle immediately as a real and present threat, and makes both this map and Lake Doric seem like real warzones. You have to fight for every inch of ground. On the other hand, feedback about Heart of Thorns difficulty and this map will lead to future maps in both this season and Path of Fire backing off on the tough mobs – becoming more ‘soloable’ in the process.
We’ve already talked about how the main attraction of gameplay on this map is movement. Riding the leylines, using the wild magic glider abilities, it still feels good even after you’ve ridden a griffon. There is nothing quite so satisfying as riding around all the way to the top of the map to mine rare materials, or jumping all the way down from there to the jade constructs. It’s exhilarating.
Beyond that though, it’s hard to deny that the aforementioned White Mantle enemies and bloodstone creatures have some, shall we say… anti-zerg mechanics. Being tossed around like a ragdoll by tiny bloodstone elementals might not be for everyone.
The main meta on the map, the jade constructs and Unbound Guardian boss, are fun with an appropriately sized group. The White Mantle Cleric and Justiciar Hablion, on the other hand, border on simply frustrating.
Art – 8/10
Bloodstone Fen sticks out a bit simply because no map looks quite like it. The permanent red magical haze and lighting, the dominance of enormous chunks of bloodstone floating in the air, the sense that everything has gone horribly wrong… few maps have come close in terms of depicting total disaster, save perhaps for Kessex Hills or Verdant Brink. The map has to get points alone for having a color palette that we just don’t find anywhere else.
But then on top of that you have some really neat and haunting images, like the burn marks at the epicenter of the blast from the white mantle who were at the ritual. Special shoutout to the airship on this map, where we really have one of the few examples of an airship with a crew running around really feeling like they’re flying the ship.
Regardless of whatever else we think about the map, I think we can agree that it has a haunting quality: something that makes it unsettling to play on in some ways. In fact, I believe that might be part of the reason it doesn’t enjoy as much popularity as other LWS3 maps – it really feels like a horrible disaster zone.
Long Term/Retention – 6/10
I would pin Bloodstone Fen in the middle of the pack in terms of LWS3 retention. It’s not at the top, simple because of how difficult the mobs are and how low the returns are on the map’s unique material. If you’re not running jades or Hab, you’re not getting a lot of blood rubies. In fact, many feel to this day that the drop rate for rubies is oddly low for the difficulty of the events on the map. However, the rewards for blood rubies are fairly enticing – some of the only ascended accessories or backpacks with stat prefixes which can be reset using an item purchasable on this map. With the advent of legendary accessories, this is less of a draw.
Overall – 7/10
Like Southsun Cove, Bloodstone Fen sticks out in its strangeness. It is the last of the pure HoT map designs, before renown hearts make a comeback and the game switches to a ‘hybrid’ map design structure. It has movement and other mechanics which exist on no other map. It is weirdly narrow and alarmingly deep. It has a strangely steep difficulty spike, and meta events that seem disjointed – strange for a map that again is more of a pure HoT map in structure. Finally, it has an oddly stingy reward distribution level – producing a map that all things considered is a mix of fun and frustrating.
That's all, folks! What do you think of today’s map? Any fond memories, or strong complaints? How well do you think this map stands up in comparison to all the others? Next week, you'd better prep for the heat, because we'll be headed to Ember Bay.
- The Weekly Map Recap, Special – Living World Season 3 Primer
- The Weekly Map Recap, Week 34 – Ember Bay
- The Weekly Map Recap, Week 35 – Bitterfrost Frontier
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