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ArenaNet: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns 'is like Metroid and Zelda slammed together'

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An interview with lead designer Colin Johanson

Guild Wars 2 is one of the most accessible MMOs ever made. Eschewing the Holy Trinity of class builds, you can basically pick any character you want and still fulfill a role in any group. Everyone can heal, and everyone can contribute in some way.

As a result of that design however, a lot of opportunities for advanced tactics fell by the wayside, and the endgame was too simplistic to keep everyone interested. Can the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion rectify that problem?

I had some time to talk to lead designer Colin Johanson and figure out just that.

So how exactly do you tackle an MMO expansion? For the most part, developers will put a new level cap in place, and immediately make your old gear irrelevant within the first few quests. It's a traditional system that isn't inherently flawed for the right type of gamer, but ArenaNet is trying something different with the Masteries system in Heart of Thorns.

I asked Johanson how they plan to keep people interested for longer periods of time. With a level cap that's a firm goal to reach for, but how is Guild Wars 2 going to entice players to get every Mastery? He responded with, "Well there's a lot of variety here. Combat masteries are needed for certain big bosses, like one foe that has thick bark -- you'll need one special ability to strip the bark, otherwise you'll have to run for your life. There's a lot of combat abilities peppered about, which will drive players alone. For the most part the story is not gated, but other parts will be."

Going on, he noted that "We'll also be adding more Masteries and points. The system is not a one-off in the expansion. This is the message to players that this is the new system going forward as we build and progress the game. We'll continue to add more challenging content and new Masteries for players to play with. Each of these systems we picked is how we plan to build and grow the game in the future."

Johanson was excited to talk about what influenced this system, stating, "We noted that this took a lot of progression from other franchises. In fact, the traversal systems like gliding are like Metroid and Zelda slammed together. Some day you'll be able to come back and do other things, like bounce up on a certain mushroom and go up into certain treetop areas.

So how are they tackling exploration? Will players want to go to places other than the expansion? "We don't want to have empty, barren areas like other MMOs," he responded. "We want people to go back to everywhere in the game. We want strong core areas with lots of fun things to do. Inherently, there will be more people to play with in those areas, which is what MMOs are all about. So we want to make less areas and create more focused experiences."

Johanson was mum about discussing dungeon or raid content, as nothing has been announced yet. But when coaxed, he stated, "Yeah, we're looking at all of that. Especially with raid content. We very clearly heard that people think we have a very fun combat system. Minute-to-minute it's exciting, but there are not enough creatures in the game that force you to use that whole skill bar or take advantage of that combat system. PVP has that, but if you love PVE you don't really get to experience that in the core game. So we're addressing that in Heart of Thorns. But that is all I can say today."

I also asked how they plan on getting players to level 80, since you need to max out to play the new Heart of Thorns content: "We haven't discussed anything specific as to how we're going to help new players. Tying in to a previous point there's a compelling reason to go back to old content. With our sidekicking system you can also go back and play with lower-level players. In other words, there will always be people to play with. I think the jungle as a goal will be a great thing for people to work towards. We do have a lot of account-based systems, so we think it's okay to ask people to go back and level-up new characters."

I also touched on the concept of the Revenant, noting that there's a propensity to claim that new classes are overpowered to entice players to level-up new characters and keep playing -- so I asked how they plan to balance it head-on. "I love that question! Even before we showed it people on our fan forums said it was overpowered which is amazingly funny. I think it's balanced because it has a balanced armor rating and balanced range. It has a lot of movement in combat, but outside of combat it has a tough time getting between battles. One of the things you can do to counter the Revenant is outrange it. It doesn't have a lot of blocks or counters. It can also be interrupted. It also has to control its energy bar constantly, which limits its skills despite the fact that it has more skills than most professions."

I tried to get in a secret announcement for a new race, but had no such luck: "We looked at races but they don't really have a huge point in Guild Wars 2 from a gameplay standpoint. The content needs are much tougher, like more starting zones and voice-work. That doesn't give us a lot of content for the time we put in. There's some ones our fans would love to see, but I don't think that adds much gameplay-wise."

Switching gears to PVP, I asked about the MOBA influences that the new Stronghold mode wore on its sleeve. Johanson was enthusiastically stated "Yeah! MOBAs and Dota-lites definitely were influences. Fort Aspenwood in Guild Wars provided some inspiration. We tried to take all of those things and put our own unique twist on it."

When asked if there will be any disparity between World vs. World and Stronghold modes in terms of rewards, Johanson replied, "No, we're aiming to really strike the balance between the two. It will really depend on your personal skill level. For instance if you find a great guild for World vs. World, you'll likely reap more benefits than Stronghold. World vs. World has its own progression system, so there's that to keep into account."

I continued to press PVP, asking if ArenaNet was interested in more "micro" type PVP modes similar to League of Legends' Dominion, and Johanson was pretty excited at the strong reception to PVP so far. "Definitely. We're looking at more modes like Stronghold, where people have roles to play, where everyone can help their team win, but you can constantly change roles. It has to be approachable. People in the office who didn't even play PVP were into Stronghold, so that's something we're looking at."

All things said, I'm happy with the direction Guild Wars 2 is taking. Expect more coverage as Heart of Thorns as the year goes on.

[Both lunch and dinner were provided at the event in ArenaNet's offices in Bellevue, Washington.]


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Chris Carter
Chris CarterReviews Director, Co-EIC   gamer profile

Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff! ------------------- T... more + disclosures


 



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