As some of you already know, last week, myself and several other members of the Guild Wars 2 community were fortunate enough to be invited to the ArenaNet studios in Bellevue, Washington to try out a portion of the new Heart of Thorns expansion. While we didn’t get the secret scoop on every detail of the new content, we were able to test drive the PAX East demo as well as the new structured PvP mode, Stronghold. And of course, nearly everybody who attended rolled Revenant, so expect some cool stuff on that, too. We were also given some gameplay footage, so keep an eye out for that at the end of the article (or watch it now, whatever). Enjoy!
PvE and The Heart of Maguuma
The beginning of the demo starts off precisely where the end of the Living Story ends. The Pact airships are flying towards The Maguuma Jungle with a clear focus on Mordremoth and the threat he poses. They’ve already toppled one Elder Dragon, so you can sense a pinch of confidence in the air as they inch closer to the domain of another. That confidence soon turns to chaos as vines shoot up into the sky and pierce the Pact airships like party balloons caught in a ranger’s barrage storm. Destiny’s Edge (minus Caithe, of course) rallies to control the situation, but their efforts fail as the entire fleet comes crashing down into the Maguuma Jungle.
And so begins a new adventure.
Right off the bat, you can tell that Heart of Thorns has been designed with the past two-and-a-half years of live Guild Wars 2 development and community feedback in mind. One of the most obvious pieces evidence of this can be seen five or ten minutes into the first playable instance. Yep. Your character has found its voice again. A big strength of the original game that was unfortunately absent from any further living story updates was the idea that your character felt directly included. This was partially addressed in season 2 through more involved dialogue options throughout the story, but now your character will speak when spoken to, and respond back as the situation demands. There are standard, unspoken dialogue options as well. One example being if a story sequence finishes up, an opportunity to hunt for secondary information arises and you can hound surrounding NPCs until they spill their secrets.
Another big area of improvement is the new map design philosophy. Heart of Thorns takes what we’ve seen in the Living Story zones, more specifically Dry Top and The Silverwastes, and applies the concept of masteries to open up new play styles and adventuring possibilities. For the uninitiated, masteries are account-wide ability points you unlock as you progress throughout the game. Once you have enough points for an ability, such as gliding or mushroom hopping, you can use your new mastery to traverse the map in new, usually easier ways. Aside from gliding, one of the masteries I encountered in the demo was a mushroom-type jump pad. In the PvE footage at the end of this article, you’ll eventually see a tall hill where players spawn as they complete the initial story sequence. This is actually a defensive sniper hill where players can provide support to those who decide to head down to the lower levels of the region where the enemies are spawning. Should this position be compromised and fall to your foes, players will need to run up quite a ways to reclaim to position. Or, if they had the foresight to invest in a mushroom mastery, they can use the jump pad below the hill and arrive almost immediately. It provides a great convenience to those who choose to spend their points in that specific area, but more importantly, it provides options. I did not invest in the mushroom mastery, so I had to take the scenic route up to the top of the sniper hill. However, once the enemies were killed and our base reclaimed, I used my glider to sail smoothly to the ground and get back to fighting. It’s probably one of the most important features being added to Guild Wars 2 right now, and if the demo is any indication of the future, I don’t doubt we’ll be seeing many more masteries in the game’s future.
Speaking of important features, let’s talk about the Revenant for a second.
At first glance, the Revenant is just a warrior with a blindfold, but once you make one you’ll get a glimpse of the sheer amount of versatility the profession offers. The big perk of playing one is being able to channel the power of spirits to unleash all sorts of effects on your foes. These spirits are bound to your F1 and F2 keys and, upon activation, determine the entire right side of your skill bar, including heals and the elite skill. And while the Revenant does not come equipped with a weapon swap, you can swap spirits. This means that you’ll be playing much more like an elementalist than other other professions when it comes to skill management. Though this time, since you’re swapping the right half of your bar instead of your left half, you get access to two heals, two sets of utilities, and two elite skills, which is something unlike any other profession. You’re going to want to carefully choose your main weapon and the two spirits that you can equip if you want to be a successful Revenant. Having access to twice as many skills comes with twice as much responsibility. If you don’t know your own bar, you’ll absolutely get wrecked in structured PvP.
Which brings us to our next topic...
Structured PvP and Stronghold
Stronghold is amazing! At least I think so. If I didn’t have a time limit I would probably still be in the ArenaNet offices playing. And this is coming from a hardcore World Vs World player. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to finally have another gamemode in sPvP. Sure, Conquest is fun, but for those who are looking for something a little more focused, I’m confident Stronghold will satisfy that hunger.
Stronghold is a crazy hybrid between World Vs World and Guild Vs Guild from the original Guild Wars. Two teams of five players are tasked with killing the enemy lord while simultaneously defending their own. It’s mighty difficult to be in two places at once, so luckily you can recruit NPCs with supply to aid you in this most challenging endeavor. Door Breakers, or bomb-toting skritt, are your ticket into the enemy’s fortress. If they can find their way from their spawn point to a door, they’ll blast away at the defense until it’s destroyed. There are two doors to destroy before the lord can be attacked, and the Door Breaker is the most effective means to achieving this goal. If the enemy team has a thirst that can only be quenched by the blood of a skritt, make sure to shut that player down yourself, or by summoning the archer NPCs to help escort the Door Breaker. Archers have a less focused objective than their skritt partners, as you’ll always need the extra firepower during the match. A team that manages to break down both doors already has a huge advantage over the other, as they no longer need to waste supply on Door Breakers and can focus solely on producing more archers to bring to the fight.
There are so many possible roles to fill in this game mode, which is probably why I love it as much as I do. A player isn’t pigeon-holed into just attacking the entire match’s duration. You can have supply runners, Skritt assassins, trebuchet supporters, NPC escorts, and probably something nobody has even thought of yet. It all comes down to what you, as a player, are comfortable with instead of what the game decides for you. And that is something worth getting excited about.
But honestly, I couldn’t pick just one area of Heart of Thorns I’m excited for. I’ve already seen an incredible amount of promise, and this is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. We still have specializations, guild halls, World Vs World (HYPE), and a whole mess of other areas to learn about before the expansion releases. But if you really need to satisfy your hunger, be sure to check out the gameplay video and screenshots we have of Heart of Thorns as well. And if that still wasn’t enough, there are tons of other Guild Wars 2 community members that painstakingly put together their preview content as well. Don’t even get me started on PAX East.
See you guys in game sometime!
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