For fans of Guild Wars 2, last weekend was kind of a big deal. You see, it has been nearly two and a half years since the MMO sequel released, and despite some hiccups along the way it’s quite clear that their lateral approach to pretty much every genre convention has helped keep it enjoyable, eventful and, most importantly, relevant. It’s all in our colossal review from 2012. Since then, it has been one of the more regularly updated MMOs out there thanks to consistent content updates alongside the Living Story – the second season having demonstrated to its peers how to deliver an involving and interesting narrative.
That’s not too bad for an MMO that doesn’t have a subscription to keep the coffers full, but it was certainly time for something new to be thrown into the virtual world of Tyria. The rumour and speculation mill has been running rampant for weeks, with fellow writers theorising on what Heart of Thorns would be. The popular theory was an Expansion Pack, but because ArenaNet are not known for doing things traditionally it was clear that it wouldn’t be that simple. A new level cap? A new class? A new level of loot grind to chase after, thus leaving the old content in the dust?
As the reveal at PAX East showed, ArenaNet laugh in the face of linear thinking and once again provided a lateral approach to expansions with Heart of Thorns.
Before we get started, I have to state one thing – whoever decided to give the crowd those giant green boom sticks and turned the audience into a echo-y, tentacle-based, hentai-inspired nightmare needs beating with every single one that was made. Right, with that out of the way, let’s recap what we learned about the expansion over the weekend for those who have yet to catch up. Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns will be the first expansion pack for the game, opening up a new zone in the Heart of Maguuma. Providing a new level of verticality with three different layers upon which the content will be spread, players will be given a new way to traverse the dizzying heights – glider mounts. Be it jumping off at great height and floating down or riding gusts of wind for increased air time, these new mounts will provide not only a new way to travel, but will play into the jumping puzzles and boss events that will exist in the new area.
So, a new area isn’t too big a surprise for an expansion, nor is the inclusion of mounts to a degree, but what about character progression? In a tradition-breaking move, it was announced that the level cap would not increase from 80 with HoT. Not only that, but those worried about having to begin an all new grind for more powerful loot can rest easy. It was confirmed that Ascended and Legendary gear would remain the best tiers available, ensuring that existing content remains relevant even once HoT is released.
With traditional ways of progression being cast aside, a lateral approach will be introduced with HoT in a number of different ways. The first is with Masteries, a new account-wide system that will unlock new abilities for any character the player has. We were given a few examples of this, such as how Masteries could improve use of the glider mount, but the most interesting bit was how it could be used to learn new languages of the indigenous people of the jungle. Not only would this unlock new pieces of lore to discover, but it would open up new locations as well alongside new battles to charge into.
The other form of progression that was announced was specializations, allowing existing classes / professions to evolve into new ones with new abilities. Info is thin on the ground regarding this aspect, but we were given one example of Rangers will be able to become Druids – a staff-wielding class that will have all-new abilities at their disposal. Right now there’s no word on if that includes being able to shapeshift (as is usually the case for Druids) and no details were given on other classes, but while we’ll learn more over the coming months it’s been stated that eagle-eyed viewers will see some other examples of new specializations in the trailer.
The next big reveal was the new class, the Revenant. Donning heavy armour and a blindfold (as lore-wise they are blind), this new profession will “channel legendary powers to slaughter foes and unleash chaos on the battlefield” according to the official website. Fans of the extensive backstory will no doubt get a kick out of this class, as it will no doubt allow ArenaNet to revisit fan-favourite characters from the original Guild Wars and its tie-in novels.
With plenty of content to keep PvE players happy, what is there on the PvP side of things? Well, for starters there’s the new PvP game mode called Stronghold. An evolution of the Guild Battles from the original Guild Wars, two sides will face each other securing supply on the map, with which to buy troops and attack the enemy stronghold. There will be elite champions and heroes to fight and join your side as well, with the aim being to kill the Lord in the opposing team’s base. There was even confirmation that a leaderboard would be included to prove who the best PvP guilds were once and for all.
Elsewhere, it was announced that there would be a new Borderlands map for World Vs World PvP. Making use of the new vertical level designs being brought in for HoT, this new open world battlefield will feature objectives that “unlock new strategies, tactics, and play mechanics” according to the official website. With the recent improvements to the WvW system, I expect the mode will remain as bloody as ever. The final announcement of the event was the long-awaited reveal of Guild Halls. Not much is known about their function at this time, other than that they will be instanced locations for guilds to call home, organise events, and proudly show off their progress within GW2.
And that was our lot, for now anyway. Fans were told that more info would be revealed between now and when the expansion launches, although no official date has been announced so far. Likewise, pricing of the expansion has yet to be revealed as well, but judging from what GW2’s price was at launch I suspect it will be slightly above the going rate for paid expansions, which is around £25-30.
Did the reveal deliver?
Considering the hype train was at full speed heading into the weekend, and that there wasn’t any confirmation as to what Heart of Thorns actually was, I’d say that in terms of what was announced ArenaNet were successful is matching the hype for its fans. The lateral approach to progression is not only a huge relief to those like myself who have yet to sort out their Asceneded / Legendary gear, but allows any latecomers the chance to be on equal footing with the existing crowd even once HoT arrives. It also means that because old content and loot will stay relevant (and I assume so will the daily quests) it means the original zones will stay just as busy as they always have. That, in my eyes, is the most important aspect of the expansion.
Well, that and the fact the Revenant class looks a tiny bit badass. Blindfolded and wielding some sort of Katana variation? Yes please.
So what now?
That said, I do have one slight concern, and that is “what happens between now and HoT release?” With Season 2 of the Living World ending on a cliffhanger right before HoT’s story begins – with the Pact fleet destroyed and its soldiers stranded across the Heart of Maguuma – will there be any content to keep fans happy while they wait? The hype train dripping off tidbits of information is all well and good, And before you say it, yes – there’s always that delicious PvP, but the last thing we want is 6-8 months of nothing new in GW2. Sure, you can point back to my earlier comment of it providing time for people to secure their Ascended gear, but I do hope that ArenaNet having something planned for PvE players in the interim.
But for now, ArenaNet should be happy that they are making all the right noises in regards to Heart of Thorns (apart from the boom sticks, that is.) Having recently rediscovered why I scored the game so highly back in 2012 playing through the entire game again with a new alt (have opted for a dual-wielding Warrior this time around) I’m looking forward to Heart of Thorns bringing something new to the MMO that laughs at genre conventions.
If you picked up the game during this weekend’s 75% off sale (and at the time of writing, it’s still in effect!) do let us know what you make of Guild Wars 2, and if you’re on the Desolation server be sure to say hi to Jon (Byskk) and myself (Harry McGarnagle) as you travel through Tyria!