My experience with Guild Wars 2 has been very similar to a lot of people I’ve met over the years. We all agree it’s a wonderful, beautiful take on MMOs, and delivers on its promise of a subscription-free game. But at the same time, we often find ourselves gravitating towards other games every few months on a more consistent basis, like Final Fantasy XIV.
Guild Wars 2 is a massive success for ArenaNet, who is always listening to its fanbase for adjustments and the like, but it doesn’t offer up a lot of endgame activities or structures that hardcore MMO fans are usually accustomed to. The developer’s recent Heart of Thorns expansion is basically more of the same, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your initial experience.
Heart of Thorns is, first and foremost, a massive collective of content updates for $50. It takes place across four new zones, which may not sound like much — unless you account for the fact that they’re tiered. The concept works far better than it sounds, as the massive canopies make for a unique setting that hasn’t been done all that often in the MMO space. It’s also visually more impressive than any region in the base game, and contains more lore than any one person can ever handle.
I had a chance to speak to ArenaNet’s Loremaster and Writer Jeff Grub years back, and his enthusiasm for every pore of the Guild Wars lore was palpable. That passion is present in Heart of Thorns just as much as it was in the base game. The story is markedly better than it was in the past. The stakes feel high, the world is constantly out to get you (which is represented by the creepy forest feel of the new areas), and the entire presentation has been improved. Cutscenes don’t feel cheap and tacked on, bringing you further into the game’s world.
It’s important to note though, there’s no new level cap — it’s still at 80. Instead, “masteries” have replaced the level extension, and it’s a system that ArenaNet is interested in expanding upon going forward. They amount to new abilities and skill trees that players can pick from, including powers like gliding and environmental interaction. But just because ArenaNet has re-labeled late-game leveling in this manner doesn’t mean you’re free of grinding. To obtain every mastery, you’ll essentially have to level up from 1-80 multiple times over. Depending on who you ask, this is either an excessive amount of grinding, or a way to keep players engaged. I’m somewhere in the middle, partially because the effect is account-wide — it actively benefits players with multiple characters.
I also created a Revanant, the newest class in the expansion. It might be my favorite character yet, as I dig the necessity between switching styles, and utilizing offensive and defensive abilities on a whim. Thankfully, every existing class also sports a new specialization, which expands everyone’s abilities, and results in cool loadouts like casters using Greatswords. Vanilla Guild Wars 2 already had a fantastic open class system, and this just makes it even more approachable. There is no “wrong” choice when it comes to creation, basically, and even less of a need to re-roll a character.
For the most part, Guild Wars 2 continues excelling as a PVE game. It’s as easy as ever to walk out into the open world, do a few quests with strangers without even grouping, and participate in open events against world bosses. It’s awesome, and is easily the best public questing has ever been handled to date in an MMO. Guild Halls help accentuate that community feel, and if you’re into RPing or casual play, helping your teammates build and upgrade your hall results in a massive sense of accomplishment. But once you’ve obtained all the masteries you want and start seeing the same old content, you hit a wall — the lingering need for more endgame.
There is one way ArenaNet is planning on satiating the hardcore crowd, though — proper [10-person] raids. The Spirit Vale is set to drop next week on November 17, which is the first of three planned wings. While the jury is still out on that aspect of the game, Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is a pretty fantastic expansion all told, and you don’t have a lot to lose checking it out at some point without a subscription fee.