Guild Wars 2

The Weekly Map Recap, Week 35 – Bitterfrost Frontier

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!

35 of 52 – Bitterfrost Frontier – Level 80

It’s hard to talk about Bitterfrost Frontier without addressing the elephant in the room. This map is on the top three-five for retention, and has developed something of a cult following. I was surprised, in our (link), how highly the map was rated. I had thought that familiarity from farming would, as they say, breed contempt. But instead the opposite was true – folks cited the amount of time they spent gathering berries on this map as a reason it was one of their favorites.

This puts us in an interesting position when trying to analyze the map’s qualities. How much is our sense of a map’s qualities based purely on the time we’ve spent there? Is Bitterfrost actually a good map? Or do people talk about it’s qualities in a positive way purely based off of its popularity?

Added in November 2016, it’s hard to believe that the launch of Path of Fire was less than a year away from this map’s release.

Theme/Concept – 8/10

A lot like the later Bjora’s March, Bitterfrost is all about heat and light in the dark and cold – in both a literal and metaphorical sense. It’s about the idea that through tradition and bonds of kinship, communities can withstand the elements that threaten to destroy them. This is one of the few instances where I think the implementation of the theme itself may be better than the gameplay used to represent it. Everything about this map really zeroes in on this theme, from the torch mastery and the storytellers you interact with for it, all the way to the implementation of hot springs and thermal tubes across the map. Everything is really cohesively about the preservation of heat and community in this isolated settlement that is constantly under threat from the storm and the dragon. It’s really quite atmospheric to be wandering with your torch during the storm boss meta, even if it’s not necessarily the most engaging gameplay in the world.

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Lore – 8/10

Again, for a map that so many only focus on for the farming potential, there’s a lot of great lore on this map. In contrast to, say, Silverwastes, we really get a lot in addition to the berry farm. The kodan on this map talk about their origins and philosophy – as well as their opinions on norn and quaggan. The quaggans get some lore too, talking about their movement and history. Add to that some ancient jotun lore (!) and you’ve got some of my own personal favorite lore conversations in Season 3. A special highlight is the quaggan epic poetry you can find throughout the map – the quaggans in general here are a bit more warrior types than those we found in the south, which is very fun.

Design – 5/10

Generally speaking, Bitterfrost Frontier is a map that isn’t interested in ‘organic’ environmental design. It’s focused more on a ‘function first’ philosophy, with clear ‘play areas’ that are not connected by smooth transitions. We have a central ‘meta’ ice plain, and clockwise from left we have a svanir area, a forest, a grawl cave, a special cold zone, the quaggan hot springs, and finally a small foothills area.

The svanir, forest, grawl cave, and hot springs are our central renown heart regions, and have one or two events each that run on a really frequent timer – excessively frequent, I think. Then in the center around our kodan sanctuary we’ve got a dozen braziers which have regular defense and take events. All this nominally plugs into the central meta event, with preparedness rising as different braziers are lit. Once the timer is up, a storm hits and all braziers are supposed to be defended from different boss monsters and attacks. Very little of these mechanics end up mattering, as I’ve been unable to distinguish any kind of consequence of low preparedness other than having less braziers – which counterintuitively makes the following meta easier, as there’s less to defend. On top of that, the storm meta in general is excessively easy, with very little challenge in just zerging around and killing bosses. It almost strikes one as by design – essentially combining the normal ‘meta’ and ‘champ train’ phases from other maps into a single ‘loot train’ meta.

The general design of this map is… fine. It has the open layout of a vanilla map, without a strong sense of flow, but packed into a smaller space. In that small area the different components feel artificial, and remove a sense of exploration. Combine that with a meta which feels like it features very little consequence, and I’m not enthused about the overall structure here.

Gameplay – 5/10

That isn’t particularly helped by how the events and renown hearts are tuned. Standout for me is the forest heart and corresponding events, which seem incredibly overtuned – especially in comparison to the very easy brazier defense events. There isn’t a lot of variety here, either – you will be fighting the same groups of svanir and frostbrood across the map. I will say, in the map’s defense, that the new svanir and icebrood mechanics and enemy types introduced here are a standout – especially the summoned storms and the pouncing icebrood enemies.

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Where this map really shines in gameplay is actually in traversal and tucked away secrets. The bouncing mushrooms are incorporated well in the forest, the jumping puzzle(s?) in the quaggan area are a blast, and the treasure chests hidden all over the place are a treat. These last are not too tough to find like the coin scavenger hunts, but just the right difficulty.

A lot of this almost doesn’t matter though, because one of the strange things about this map is that you can always find people to tackle events with who are hanging around for the berry farm. If you’re one of those people who likes just logging on for an hour, wandering around and tackling some simple events, you can always find a community here. Bitterfrost Frontier always has a lively map chat going on, and there’s no way to deny that that sense of community definitely supports the map’s gameplay elements.

Art – 8/10

This is where the map gets some kudos. The image of the kodan sanctuary, anchored to the frozen lake, is a powerful one. The entire fortress, actually, is a fantastic example of well designed environmental art in the game – the approach up through the ice tunnel, the plaza and central buildings, it’s all done really well. It’s actually surprisingly one of the ‘coziest’ environments in the game to me – if we ever do get any kind of player housing option, I want to build a house in a kodan sanctuary.

Beyond that, you’ve got lots of great images here. The forest – despite sticking out like a sore thumb – is itself beautiful, and the giant ice sculpture of the svanir base and the enormous jotun remnants in the hot springs area are additional standouts.

Of special note is, again, how the map plays with light and dark. We get some of the darkest lighting we had received up to this point during the storm event, and it does a wonderful effect of really driving home the mood. If only the meta itself lived up to that mood.

Long Term/Retention – 10/10

There’s no denying that Bitterfrost Frontier is one of the ‘hubs’ of this game’s player activity. When the game finally begins to die out, in hopefully like two decades, the last maps left standing will include Bitterfrost Frontier. One of the reasons it really stands out, in addition to the obvious cheap ascended rewards you can get, is that there’s very little player coordination or population requirements to complete things on this map. It’s just a low level event, heart, and resource farm 24/7. So unlike a map like Auric Basin, which has a very regular population that is timed with the meta, this map just has a low level consistent flow of people. That again creates a strangely comforting community feel – no matter the time you can pretty much always find some folks running around.

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Overall – 7/10

Bitterfrost Frontier benefits strongly from having the most exploitable currency in the season. In terms of actual design, it struggles with a really choppy ‘biome’ structure. The sanctuary at its heart is really neat – one of the few examples of urban environments where the team feels comfortable placing bank access. There are some tantalizing lore hints for the jotun and the early history of the kodan. Lots of parts of the map struggle from too many mindless mobs and few engaging events. But if you’re looking for somewhere to just hang out, relax, and farm some berries, this is your map.


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, we'll be infiltrating Lake Doric.


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