Treat to a sneak preview of Twilight Assault on Friday, this is ArenaNet's attempt at weaving Living World with permanent content. We're going to try to keep this preview spoiler free.
As a level 80 dungeon, Twilight Assault (and our preview) took us right up to the first boss with this new path replacing what was commonly known as Up or the spiders. I'm actually surprised they have decided to replace the Up path as it was not only one of the quickest in the dungeon but was also a lot of fun. That aside, the new path takes you through Twilight Arbor with Caithe at your side as you and your team attempt to subdue Scarlet and her Aetherblades.
Although the preview didn't show us the outcome of successfully clearing the instance, we saw plenty of Scarlet throughout. Appearing as a hologram in defiance of those entering Twilight Assault, she's as annoying and as brilliant as ever. When you first enter the instance, for anyone familiar with Twilight Arbor, you'll be surrounded by Wurms and Blossoms. As always, the Wurms fire projectiles and are generally a nuisance (alongside the pack of hounds that patrol) while the Blossoms still spew high damage poisonous gas. Thankfully ArenaNet have still kept them large in size and primarily towards the edges of the play area so they shouldn't cause too many problems.
Though the initial path towards the first boss encounter is relatively linear, it remains full of challenging encounters to ensure it isn't a straight forward steam-roll. With achievements linked to this new path (a considerable amount) there's a great deal of incentives here to at least play the dungeon several times. While Caithe might accompany you into the dungeon itself, she has her own unknown agenda and so stands of the periphery as you work your way through.
After fighting through the initial enemy encounters (I must say, it looks absolutely glorious) you encounter two of the first significant enemies: Slick and Sparki. As two Aetherblades equipped with complimentary weapons (one spews oil, the other flames) they quickly engulf the room you are in by setting it ablaze. This provides a ripe opportunity for one of the dungeons first cooperative puzzles. Without wishing to spoil too much, it involves the use of Oozes, pheromones and switches (the pheromone icon is the blue bubble below). Needless to say it plays out well and with some cooperation offers up a good change of pace to your typical set-piece.
It is the encounters after this that I really found interesting however. The Aetherblades and Scarlet have begun to make a base inside and while we don't yet know why, it's clear the Aetherblades are culling the area of its wildlife and everything within. Even the hound pups are fleeing for their lives.
As you work your way towards the base inside the dungeon, the first Aetherblades you reach are difficult groups of enemies, supported even more by an annoying alarm drone. Leave the drone too long and it will sound an alert, encouraging even more Aetherblades to appear. I'm sure you can appreciate how quickly you can be overwhelmed if the alarm drone is left unattended so it's best to kill it first.
Shortly after you've defeated the waves of Aetherblades you'll encounter the first boss of the dungeon. Lending heavily from the Molten Facility, the tone of your surrounding area shifts heavily with what was once a beautiful area, now flattened and burned by the industrialization Scarlet has created. Similarly to Molten Facility the first boss is also a pairing that works in unison. Killing one will not end the encounter and your party wiping will also cause both bosses to reset. To overcome the encounter you'll need to put into practice what you learned earlier from the Oozes to have any chance of succeeding.
In terms of rewards, you can expect the usual mix of champion based loot as well as a new item called Aether Key Pieces. Collect 5 of these to form a single key, which you can then use on varying chests after the end boss. Ascended weapons and items, similarly to other dungeons, wont drop here but you can obtain the new fancy weapons seen in the picture above. Should you also manage to complete the meta achievements you'll be rewarded with a Slick Pack (as worn by Slick) as well as a Mini Clockheart.
Generally speaking, up to the point of the first boss, it's a very well made instance. It looks fantastic and the boss encounter is challenging. Personally I wouldn't say it looks hard enough and I suspect there will still be the typical "4 Zerk Warrior + Mesmer!!!11" requirements. All in all though, this is a good direction for ArenaNet.
Merging existing content with Living World is exactly what I was hoping for with the Living World premise, but I wonder on the conclusion of Scarlet's story whether this path will remain or whether they'll drop the Spider path back in. Either way, I'm really hoping they continue down this route and add greater permanence to the world as a result of the Living World.