It’s been over three years since Guild Wars 2 was released, and a lot has changed in that time. Besides the normal MMO changes of class balancing and new in-app purchases, there has been the addition of the living world ongoing story. There’s been so much living world content that it is split into two seasons. There have also been new areas added related to the ongoing story events.
The story of Heart of Thorns picks up where the living world season 2 left off, so it’s worth at least checking out a recap video before diving into the expansion content. You can also purchase the season 2 content in-game if you missed it when it was released. The story has two aspects: solo- or group-playable instances, much like the base game’s story instances. While these instances technically allow you to enter and play alone, you might struggle to survive the later instances alone.
The early story instances are great and tough but not impossible. Unfortunately, much like in the base game story, things get a bit buggy and frustrating as you reach the later parts of the story. The final story instance is a buggy mess, with a long boss fight that is not so much challenging as it is incredibly frustrating. Much like the final story instance of the base game’s story, the Heart of Thorns finale is simply awful.
Fortunately, these story instances are but one part of what this expansion has to offer. The second aspect of the story takes place in the world, where players have to work together on maps to advance and complete the map-wide meta-events. These are very similar to those that take place in the Silverwastes area, though they seem to have been streamlined. These meta-events comprise chains of related events that advance the action across the entire map. For instance, if you arrive in Verdant Brink during the nighttime phase of the map, you’ll need to help NPCs survive the night, fend off attacks from monsters, and collect supplies to defend camps. If you hang around until daybreak, you’ll then be helping rebuild any camps that were destroyed overnight, rescuing lost soldiers, healing the injured, and so on. These smaller events generally build up to a large-scale final event that often requires coordination on several fronts to succeed. Taking part in these events is a pretty fun way to explore the new areas, as well as collect loot and experience. There are some bugs that still need to be ironed out, but generally, these world events are much more satisfying than the story instances.
To go along with the story events are several new level 80 maps where these events take place. The new maps are breathtaking in their scope. You’ll be travelling into the heart of the Maguuma Jungle, fighting hordes of new enemies, and learning to use new abilities, called masteries, to fully explore the areas.
Masteries are special training that only level 80 characters can undertake. Instead of the old system, where once you reached 80, you would simply gain skill points over and over again, you’ll now be working towards unlocking masteries. These are split between Tyria – the base game maps – and the new Maguuma maps. The Tyria masteries give access to crafting bonuses, faster revives, legendary crafting, bonuses in fractals and auto-looting.
Heart of Maguuma masteries include access to vendors in the new areas, and a variety of new abilities to help you get around in the new areas. Most notable (and most widely advertised) of these is gliding, which lets you access areas you wouldn’t normally be able to get to in the new maps. Plus it’s quite a lot of fun, and almost makes up for the lack of mounts in the game. Several glider skins are already available to purchase in the gem store if you don’t like the default glider.
All of these masteries will take you a fair while to unlock, as you need both experience points and mastery points to unlock them. However, masteries are account-bound, meaning you’ll only have to go to the effort of unlocking each one once.
In addition to masteries, each character class gets access to an elite specialization. This gives access to a new weapon and new abilities to go with it. To fully unlock a character’s elite specialization, you’ll need lots of hero points – a replacement for skill points – which can be gained through exploration and killing certain monsters – much like skill points. It takes quite a bit of work: even my character with 100% pre-expansion world completion didn’t have enough hero points to unlock the last few skills of her tempest specialization.
The expansion also adds a new character class, the revenant, a heavy armour-wearing class who channels the Mists to invoke the powers of legendary spirits, and gains skills based on which spirit she is currently attuned to. A revenant can use the mace, sword, axe, hammer and staff. They use hammers as ranged weapons and staves as melee weapons, and have some really cool spirit-related abilities that makes them feel quite different from the other classes.
As expected, Heart of Thorns includes new armour sets, new weapons, and new legendary weapons as well. The launch of the expansion has been incredibly smooth as well, which is somewhat unusual for MMO launches. The game was playable on launch day, and while it certainly hasn’t been bug free, there have been almost daily patches to keep things going.
Overall, I’m really impressed with Heart of Thorns. The new areas will keep you busy for a good long while, and the masteries provide something to work towards once you’ve reached the level cap, and the elite specializations add something new to all the classes. This is a wonderful addition, especially if you’ve been playing the same few characters since the base game launched three years ago.