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Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns seeks to redefine MMO endgame progression

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No new level cap, just 'Masteries'

Guild Wars 2 is an ambitious project. While ArenaNet's initial offering of Guild Wars was more of a social dungeon crawler than an MMO (the company called it a CORPG, or competitive online role-playing game), the sequel was a bonafide massive experience.

The kicker? ArenaNet was still able to cut out the subscription fee, effectively making Guild Wars 2 buy-to-play and allowing players to return at any time.

Here we are over two years later with the Heart of Thorns expansion on the horizon, and the developer continues to find ways to innovate.

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns (PC)
Developer: ArenaNet
Publisher: NCsoft
Released: TBA 2015
MSRP: TBA

At ArenaNet's offices last week, I had the chance to get some hands-on time with the expansion, and I'm pleased with what I've seen so far. There's an all-new zone, a new "Masteries" leveling system, the Revenant class, and another PVP mode titled "Stronghold."

The heart and soul of the expansion is the Maguuma Jungle, an area that picks up mere "days" after the story in the original game. For those who aren't caught up, all of the combined armies in the land took off via airships to chase down the Elder Dragon Mordremoth, and the expedition ended in flames -- literally. The jungle came to life and tore the fleet apart, leaving most for dead. You'll start the Heart of Thorns content right after that, provided you have a level 80 character. Yep, you'll need to be max level to stand a chance in the new zone.

Masteries are the new way ArenaNet is tackling progression, because there will not be a level cap increase. Instead, players will earn Mastery Points, which they can put into skills like additional creature languages, or more mobile skills like gliding or mushroom riding. For instance, I earned my first point at the start of the demo, and gained the power to use mushrooms as bounce pads to leap to new areas. Later on the tree may evolve to allow me to eat said mushrooms to gain a boost in speed, and so on.

ArenaNet co-founder and president Mike O'Brien states that this is the ideal way to tackle an expansion, because typically in MMOs you'll leave way too much behind. He elaborates on the concept, stating, "With a new level cap, you'll instantly find new gear and items to replace. Saying goodbye to the old and in with the new can be great, but players are often attached to their old conquests. We didn't want to invalidate that, so I'm really excited about Masteries. It pertains to jungle-specific progression, but you can still go back to the old world and have fun."

Masteries can be equipped to level them up individually, so if you're keen on becoming a better glider while roaming about the world, you can do that. Right now I'm excited for the concept, but I didn't see enough Masteries to convince me they will stay interesting for the long haul. When confronted about this, O'Brien noted that more Masteries will be added over time, which is great news.

You'll need those new powers to get around in the jungle, because based on the demo, the difficulty has been ramped up. According to O'Brien, the jungle is "really vertical, and not like any other area in the game. With the vertical setup we really have a way to build it unlike any zone before, allowing players to get into the depths of the game world into more frightening areas."

Lead designer Colin Johanson commented on the enhanced difficulty, stating, "playing with others is supposed to be fun. We're doubling down on that challenge in Heart of Thorns." I was able to see that in action with a wyvern mini-boss fight at the end of the demo, which required a decent amount of strategy and dodging typically not seen in other world events.

I was able to tackle that challenge head-on with the new Revenant class, which is basically an undead warrior of sorts. Classic Guild Wars fans will be excited to know that according to O'Brien, the developer is excited to "bring back old lore and mechanics that we weren't previously able to add to Guild Wars 2." He goes on to say that "it's different than the other eight professions in more ways than one" -- a statement that I can definitely agree with.

The Revenant has two different "states" -- one based on DPS (Demon), and the other, more tanky (Dwarf). You can instantly switch between them with a mouse click (or F1), which you'll need to do to maintain its energy levels to power its skills. The kicker? Both states do not share cooldowns, and it has two heals between them. It was a rush to switch to the tank and lay down a buff shaped like a spiritual pathway, then switch back to lay down some damage.

Aesthetically, the profession looks unlike anything else in the game, with a very cool demonic feel complete with mist effects and a badass headband that extends over your eyes. It's easily my favorite class so far, and I will be leveling one as soon as Heart of Thorns hits. To alleviate any concerns, I do feel like the class is balanced -- and this is before users even give their feedback. Right now Revenants are scheduled to use the hammer, mace, and axe weapon types -- but Rytlock (an NPC) is wielding a sword, so we'll see.

PVP is also getting a lot more enticing in my mind with Stronghold. To be blunt, over time I lost interest in the massive World vs. World scheme in the original Guild Wars 2. It just became too much to keep track of, and often times I'd be running around without a skirmish in sight for up to 10 minutes. It wasn't action-packed enough, and Stronghold will fix that issue.

In short, it's a MOBA-like experience that aims to be 10-15 minutes in length. There are two teams that each have a lane with troops to go down, and a base at the end with a "Lord" to protect, who is behind two doors. If one team's Lord dies, it's game over. To facilitate your attack, you can embed yourself in random map events like the acquisition of a hero character (which buffs you while you're in proximity to them), or grabbing "supply" materials to create archer or doorbreaker units.

Archers will help clear out the path to each door, and doorbreakers actually bust them down. Of course, players can attack either of them, and you'll definitely want to do so for the latter to prevent your Lord from becoming vulnerable. Because of the way it's set up, there's action at every turn. Whether it's battling over supply or doing some actual laning work, the map is small enough where you'll always find someone to fight. I'm sold.

ArenaNet isn't done revealing what Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns will entail, but that's the gist of what you can expect. If you're interested in getting some hands-on time, the expansion will be available to play at PAX East. ArenaNet is also planning a number of different beta events just like the core game, so you'll have plenty of chances to try before you buy.

[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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