Tyria. The dragons have always been here. Sleeping deep beneath the earth, beneath the sea. Waiting for the time to rise.
In this lore-saturated post, I will be looking at the Elder Dragons of Guild Wars 2. Note well, that even with ArenaNet so particular about capitalizing, the Elder Dragons retain their big letters. It’s an interesting tell, in a way, because it’s not really a classification of a fantasy species. It’s a title, similar to how we name hurricanes and earthquakes. Only in this case multiple [un]natural disasters are happening simultaneously in the Guild Wars 2 fantasy world.
It is a double-edged sword for ArenaNet to have chosen the iconic fantasy creature for their Big Bads. Fantasy fans can relate as dragons appear nearly everywhere, but the mighty ur-lizards have fallen from their original status to one of loot and sword fodder in so many games. Even the original Guild Wars had players defeating a dragon as a meager bonus. Still, the dragon has at least always retained some semblance of power over other common foes. Dragons are usually a little more special than the average kobold or skritt. ArenaNet wants to return the dragon to its place of power as megalithic foes in Guild Wars 2.
The ArenaNet devs are constantly referring to the Elder Dragons as forces of nature given flesh and scale. When asked questions about inter-Elder Dragon fighting, alliances, breeding, etc. the usual response is comparing interactions between a hurricane and a volcano. When Zhaitan rose from the depths and brought the drowned sub-continent of Orr with it, the resulting tsunami wiped out cities, such as Lion’s Arch. Kralkatorrik’s flight over Ascalon to the Crystal Desert resulted in the magic-warped Dragonbrand. Yet these world-changing events were merely collateral to the actions of the Elder Dragons. It would be scary to think what would have happened if Zhaitan actually intended primarily to destroy Lion’s Arch.
Which leads to the question: if these catastrophes were ancillary, what do the Elder Dragons intend to do? Kralkatorrik’s first action was to head to the barren Crystal Desert to deal with the traitor Glint instead of the charr civilization that had been crawling all over it for centuries. The charr were more like ant hills in a human’s driveway. In its flight, Kralkatorrik paved a road of magical destruction that may have forever corrupted a swath of the charrlands, but like I said above this effect was collateral. Why, of course, was the Elder Dragon not so logical as to simply fly over the charr’s Black Citadel or the human’s Divinity’s Reach to simply end a whole Tyrian race? Even in the time following this dragonflight there seems to be no word of another Dragonbrand.
The answer is hinted at in the Edge of Destiny paperback. In the book Queen Jennah and the protagonist asura Snaff individually looked in to the Elder Crystal Dragon’s mind. Queen Jennah described it as “a sandstorm. A chaos. Bottomless hunger. Endless outrage.” Snaff saw something analogous to a sandstorm hurricane, where the storm constantly tries to fill the endless hunger of the hollow vortex. Snaff felt that Kralkatorrik’s hunger was insatiable. Earlier in the book a few heroes get a glimpse of the Elder Ice Dragon Jormag’s mentality where it’s analogized to a cruel blizzard with the will and desire to see living things freeze and crack open. Here, the Elder Undead Dragon Zhaitan was talked about as being corruption of death itself. Their purpose and motivations are so primal and underived, which is completely opposite to the centuries-plotting dragons of popular fantasy culture.
These inhuman motivations are grounded in a way because each Elder Dragon has its own unique type of minions. Kralkatorrik and Jormag warp living creatures into crystal or ice, respectively. Although, Jormag seems to do it a much slower pace as seen by the dragontouched Sons of Svanir who visit norn settlements until they become enemy Icebrood. Primordus, the Elder Dragon glimpsed in the Eye of the North expansion, creates mockeries of life with the molten Destroyers. Zhaitan merely takes the dead and returns them to unlife, yet at least in the case of it’s vanquished champion Morgus Lethe it could (and was willing) to communicate with the mortal races… as much as an undead pirate wants to communicate with an adversary during a swashbuckle swordfight to the death. These creatures are a little easier to understand, like how we understand zombies and killer cyborgs.
It’s a tough battle with other MMOs pegging their own dragon-level power. In World of Warcraft, Dragon Aspects, like an Elder Dragon, are more than mere dragons. They are dragons given more power by the titans. The recent Rift launch features gods-become-dragons as the Big Bads, but even one of the five was killable with the launch raid. In both of these other MMOs the uber-dragons have very human-like motivations. Like a James Bond villain or Zod, they are mostly understood.
ArenaNet has truly put a unique twist on dragons, but their world’s alpha predators can be very tough to understand. It’s probably a better start to with the Lovecraftian gods, like Cthulhu, (or perhaps Cloverfield) than dragons in conventional fantasy to understand what Tyria is up against. Yet, this unique twist comes at a steeper price for a video game. It’s going to be challenging to portray the Elder Dragons as forces of nature in Guild Wars 2. I would guess that we will view them through the narrative lens of the Order each character chooses. The only Elder Dragon that players will physically encounter at launch is Zhaitan, as part of a dungeon, which will also give ArenaNet more time to refine the portrayal of a single Elder Dragon.
and brother, I hurt people