- Format: PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: NCsoft
- Developer: ArenaNet
- Players: 1-Many
- Site: http://heartofthorns.guildwars2.com/
- Game code provided by PR
Guild Wars 2 (GW2): Heart of Thorns is very much like the – now free – base game; packed with content and full of brilliant MMO game-things which equates to it being a fairly good normal game. Perhaps that’s a little harsh; but either way we really enjoyed Heart of Thorns a great deal despite a few missteps – including a rather substantial grind for the new masteries, which slows down your progress substantially and locks out a lot for brilliant new abilities that make the game into a 3D Metroidvania.
Heart of Thorns whisks you off to the heart of the Maguuma Jungle, which if you’re familiar with the game is where the Asuran and Sylvari make their homes. However this expansion takes place further within the incredibly dense jungle. which has recently come alive coming off the consequences of GW2’s Living World content, which ultimately lead to the Elder Dragon Mordremoth being awoken. Mordremoth is the second of the Elder Dragons to take centre stage, with defeating him being the focus of this expansion.
As Mordremoth lies within the heart of Maguuma that is where the lion’s share of the content is, with a proper story-mission-led narrative taking you from entry to the jungle to facing him head-on. There are far fewer areas in here than the entirety of GW2; instead you have only four but they are at least three times the size of most of the previous maps due to the added verticality each level has. There are also numerous new enemy types and races that inhabit these new areas, with new dragon/dinosaur-like enemies, insectoids and plant based enemies or foe-liage if you prefer.
Huge events that sprawl across these maps make up the main focus of your progression and replace what were the little quests littered about in GW2. They’re called meta events, and completion of these progresses the story of these maps, unlocking new areas, baddies and sometimes little “Adventures”. Being part of these meta events is brilliant when you have a swathe of players beside you as you tackle huge beasts or powerful bosses, or scramble about picking up scrap metal or whatever an NPC has tasked you with collecting.
When you aren’t in the right place at the right time, when the server that you’re currently on is lacking in players or when you’re doing an event for the tenth time, it’s not so empowering or as much of a spectacle. Unfortunately, that happens pretty quickly too as you’ll have to spend a large portion of time grinding levels for the new endgame pursuit of Masteries.
The other issue is that meta events have weighted rewards that allow active event players to earn better rewards each time the meta event progresses, so long as they are there for it; so no switching to more populated servers, teleporting back to a town to access your bank, fitting in story missions or getting disconnected, or else you lose all your progress towards event rewards, which feels less than ideal if you don’t want to hang around for another 20 minutes for a little bit of extra loot.
Masteries are part of what makes Heart of Thorns a Metroidvania game – where you unlock account-wide abilities that allow access to otherwise locked-off areas of the world. There are quite a few tracks that can be leveled up in, with each having early masteries pertaining to a section of the story; though the benefits of these can mostly be used throughout all of the maps in Maguuma. There are also some Central Tyria tracks which can be earnt in Tyria that offer more diverse non-Maguuma bonuses like extra crafting experience or access to new weapon sets.
The most prominent of these masteries is the Glider, which, as its name might have given away, allows you to glide around – only in Maguuma though. Gliders are fun and gliding around Maguuma is an absolute delight, especially after you gain the ability to use updrafts that rocket you up into the sky. They are so fun in fact, that not only is Tyria a little less fun once you return there, you’ll likely take a few jumps that you’ll regret, forgetting that there’s no glider. Just like we did.
Alongside the jungle content is a new PvP game mode with one map, a new World versus World map which has initially replaced the existing Borderlands maps, and a host of other improvements to guilds, commanders, and PvP that we won’t delve into, with Raids also coming to the game later down the line. The PvP mode (Stronghold) however is much like Guild versus Guild from Guild Wars, not dissimilar to some smaller MOBA maps – with a Lord in a keep for each team that they must protect from the opposition.
Elite Specialisations are also a nice new addition to all the classes – one per class; accessible from level 80 you can train in these “better” specialisations that offer what seem to be only benefits. These add an extra profession mechanic, utility skills, and a new weapon set which arguably leaves some classes feeling short-changed by having new offhand weapons giving only two new weapon skills while others get five. In the case of the Warrior, which we played as, you have the Berserker specialisation which allows you to convert full adrenaline to a Berserk mode that gives you added benefits that the standard adrenal skills don’t offer. On Warriors, this elite specialisation seems too beneficial to pass up on making it less of a choice than it perhaps should be.
The last big addition is a ninth profession, the Revenant, which is the only big thing that some people might want to buy Heart of Thorns outright for if they haven’t played the base game. The Revenant is the third heavily armoured class and is based around the ability to use the strength of legendary characters from the GW lore. The mechanics behind these is switching stances which let you have two sets of utility skills with separate cooldowns, much in the same way that weapon switching does; giving them a good ability to change playstyles like with the Elementalist. They also feel a little like Thieves due in part to the fact that they seem to teleport around with some of their skills.
Heart of Thorns is a big package of a lot of things; it’s still dwarfed by the likes of the Factions, Nightfall and Eye of the North Campaigns for Guild Wars but combined with the Living World free updates and a very solid list of contents, it’s hard not to recommend to lapsed players who enjoyed the base game or new players who specifically want the Revenant. New players are still better off testing the water with the base game before taking on Heart of Thorns though as the lack of low level additions means it’s almost all pure endgame content – but very good endgame content.