[GW2] Heart of Thorns: How excited should I be?

My initial reaction to a GW2 expansion was one of positive surprise. This is going to be a slow year for MMOs, so it’s nice to have something to follow and look forward to. Of course I have no experience as far as Guild Wars expansions go, so I read the announcement details with some interest.

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Turns out, the things that I would naturally look for in an expansion aren’t featured in HoT: there’s no new big world, level cap raise, new race or player housing. Instead, the horizontal progression which has proven to be no less grindy in GW2, continues with sub-professions and more gear. There’s a new class, guild halls and erm, hang gliders. That last one scared me right away.

And then there’s the much inquired mastery system which I didn’t really understand until I read this article about how “GW2’s Mastery System could change MMOs Forever“. Now it wouldn’t be ArenaNet if they didn’t aim for some type of innovation and am certainly not opposed to that, but after reading several times over how the progression approach for Maguma Juungle is basically an MMO spin off Zelda or Metroid, I cringed a little. The map is designed to be vertical, with different levels your character can only access by unlocking certain skills and well, gimmicks really. It sounds like the Bazaar of the Four Winds on steroids.

And hey, skill-based progression is great and all but in the end it’s just another word for grind of a different kind. MMOs that want to be successful, unless they’re called Wildstar, don’t alienate their player base by making things too hard and random for you not to learn by heart, via trial and error. All the while I am with Bhagpuss here in wondering: what is there in HoT for explorers and potterers like us? Where is the whole new world, the carefree straying off the path to end up in a random event or epic dragon encounter?

And I don’t even like jungle zones.

16 comments

  1. I know people have been clamoring for an expansion, but the base game just fails to stir any interest in me. The expansion looks to add more of the same, which isn’t terribly surprising, but it doesn’t get me excited about the game.

    I think my main problem is that the game is a bit too limited and really doesn’t scratch my explorer itch. The vistas make exploring the land an achiever-fest. The lack of customization in weapon skills means there’s not any really unexpected mechanics to explore. What little there is to “explore”, stuff truly off the beaten path, is just overwhelmed by the highly directed gameplay. I’ve gotten 3 characters up to max level, but I just don’t love the characters the same way I do in other games.

    I certainly wish ArenaNet the best, but it might be time for me to accept that GW2 just isn’t a game for me, just like WoW is obviously not a game designed for me anymore. Except… where are the games designed for me?

    1. We won’t know for certain until we see the expansion for ourselves but based on the available information I’d disagree that HoT looks like “more of the same”. More of the same was what I wanted: more odd, quirky, amusing events like the Cowtapult or the quaggan who wants to be a pirate. More asurans feuding over stolen inventions, more charr singing about meat, more skritt being skritt.

      I wanted more races, more classes, more maps, even more Hearts. I wanted more variety, more options, more choice.

      Instead it appears that the only thing we are going to get more of is the highly organized, nay, orchestrated performance art we’ve been getting in Dry Top and Silverwastes. Only on steroids and in three dimensions. In a jungle.

      No, I foresee a complete change in gameplay with HoT, to the extent that I think we will effectively have a different MMO altogether. One that I don’t at the moment feel is going to be of much interest to me. I hope I’m wrong about that.

      If anything can save the game now it’s the well-established ANet hyperbole. So many times they have trumpeted an innovation or a new approach only to dribble out something weak and feeble. I really, really hope this turns out to be all sound and bluster and HoT really is “more of the same”.

      We’ll find out when this beta arrives I guess.

      1. I think I wasn’t clear about what I meant. Admittedly, I haven’t played much recently, but the big trends when I was playing was toward more gear grind with the fractals, and more living stories. This expansion seems more of precisely those things.

        This is on top of gameplay that didn’t excite me in the first place due to the reasons I said. It wasn’t bad, and was something a little different, but it grew stale for me pretty quick.

    2. Brian, have you tried Hearthstone? It’s scratching my PvP itch until Camelot launches. I don’t know how Blizzard did it (perhaps it’s the quick games, and heroes instead of decks), but they managed to make a CCG feel like PvP.

      My main problem with GW2 (only played WvW) was that, as you say, the mechanics were so limited, that how to play was quickly optimized. This was the dell knell for explorer types in that mode.

      But in Heartstone there seems to be no end of the weird and wacky decks you can put together to try out. Though the caveat is, I haven’t been playing that long. But so far, an explorer’s dream.

    3. @Brian
      I think am with Bhag here in that HoT sounds considerably worse – I could have done with more of the same, if more of the same meant we got new maps with the traditional gameplay from 1.0. I loved GW2 at launch; I loved exploring the maps and running into chance encounters. Nevermind the vistas, there was so much else to discover and I enjoyed the events and hearts instead of following a questlog. If this was still GW2 I’d be happy, but now it sounds as if the gear grind of ‘endgame’ gets combined with another gimmicky jumping puzzle that spans the entirety of the new zone. Oh god.

  2. See, here’s the thing that I think a number of you are missing, even though you say you’re explorers. :) You don’t -have- to follow the highly obvious achiever signposts that Anet puts up, if you don’t want to.

    The biggest thrill I had, as an explorer, in the Silverwastes was going through the underground jumping puzzle. I made very sure to absolutely keep myself unspoiled, discovering every nook and cranny, wrong and right turn on my own. There was absolutely glorious scenery around every corner and when I came out over the high ground, to see the vast expanse of the wastes below and folks running around fighting the Mordrem and the giant vines arching across the landscape, my jaw dropped, progress through the jumping puzzle got absolutely put on hold and I took screenshots for like 15-20 minutes.

    There are plenty of secrets in the main open world zones not marked by vistas. I remember being absolutely thrilled in Diessa Plateau when I looked at some cliff bats up on a rock, and thought…”Hmm, can I climb up to get them?” Turns out if you follow the trail all the way up, there is a veteran at the top with a chest and a herb node – just to say, yo, explorers, good job finding us!

    I anticipate the verticality in Heart of Thorns to be absolutely spellbinding for me as an explorer. The scenery is going to be spectacular, and I’m looking forward to discovering more GW lore because hey, we’re going to be crossing over into very interesting territory – Maguuma, the land of the dinosaurs, the old land of asura and centaurs, the possibly ancient land of mursaat, we’re likely to be learning more about the two hylek tribes and maybe what’s going on with the White Mantle (how about the Shining Blade, the Bloodstone and Livia? they’re all very tied up in this particular thread) and so on.

    The one thing that does pause me a little is whether Anet is stupid enough to gate this sort of stuff behind *ahem* ‘challenging group content.’

    I don’t think so. I wouldn’t mind at all if the “challenging group content” just happened to exist alongside, in the zones themselves, as optional stuff. As an additional track to explore, alongside what soloers can be expected to do. This gives organized groups the opportunity to schedule takedowns, while leaving the doorway open for a couple of randoms to happen to be in the zone and join in on the fights – with the possibility that they may either get interested in more and join the organized groups, or just settle for being helped with a couple of otherwise inaccessible achievements.

    Also, soloers should have the opportunity to -contribute- to overall zone success via smaller, separate events, as shown by Dry Top and Silverwastes – loners who hate zerging can turn up at the basket or walk Serene or kill Light Golem or less popular Dry Top events, they can walk supply bulls or do the devourer events and tap fortress events as they go by, etc.

    All in all, I think there will be things to do as an explorer in HoT, with or without an achiever mindset to go along with it.

    1. It’s true, there was plenty to discover in the world. The original maps were great and I actually like hearts, I don’t tend to follow them by number though. But at ‘endgame’ we were stuck with pretty horrible dungeon runs, gear grind and jumping puzzles. The other events they added during my time, such as the Karka one (forgot the name) were zergy and not very enjoyable. Bot4W was terrible. :D I don’t like that kind of vertical and gimmicky gameplay and Maguuma sounds extremely gated by such mechanics?

    2. Oh, there is certainly a lot to explore if you’re in the mindset. It’s just that the achievement-focused “exploration” is front and center. As I was playing, I assumed that the game was offering the same achievement-flavored exploration I saw in other games. Once I saw there was a bit more going on in the game I went looking for it, but it was still so very little in a very heavily achiever-focused game.

  3. I am curious to see how much they will charge for this expansion. While new stuff is welcome, it does not seem like a whole lot in terms of content. Perhaps these jungle zones are quite large. And what there is looks to be gated behind a gimmicky mastery system. It actually sounds like a more subtle form of level zoning. Can’t survive in this area unless you have glider level 4 skill as opposed to being a level 80 character. Why not just have a quest that gives people the glider and then you have the freedom to explore as you see fit? Nope, need to stretch out that replayability,

    While I agree with Jeromai that there are things off the beaten path, the core gameplay is achiever focused. There aren’t that many things off the beaten path that an explorer could consume over a two-year period. At some point, you have to come off the explorer track and deal with the highly directed and achiever focused design.

    1. Sadly, I don’t think there will ever be a game that can cater to explorers over a two-year period. We demand new content and consume content a little too fast for that.

      The thing is, people need to then address their secondary. If they’re not Explorer-Achiever, then they’re Explorer-Socializer or Explorer-Killer. Socializer means find guilds and those social structures that hold you in place. Killer means go look at the PvP and WvW aspects.

      If it’s just the presence of Achiever signposts that drive one away, then we reach more of an impasse, because there are generally a lot of the Achiever subtype to cater for in any game, and by and large, they’re *ahem* kinda thick when it comes to picking up hints and cues without BIG LETTERS TELLING THEM WHAT TO DO NOW AND NEXT. ;)

      I think the most we can hope for there is to turn off obvious signposting as an option, knowing full well that the default needs it on so they know what to do and don’t quit in frustration from being totally confused and overwhelmed before they’ve grasped all the possibilities.

      It’s the same thing with the open world of GW2, imo. Before they had hearts and clear things for Achievers to do to “map complete,” a ton of people felt lost and aimless and confused.

      The world, from an explorer’s perspective, is made for just striking out in a random direction and seeing what’s around the next corner. When I level, I almost never can do 4-5 hearts in sequence, before heart number 3 I’ve gone off somewhere else because I just choose to ignore them and go do something more immediately interesting.

      But not everyone can level like this, and they placed signposts in the zone, and now more people faithfully follow the signposts and map complete everything to 100% and feel that it’s boring somehow. Of course it is, you’re busy achiever metagaming rather than actually paying attention to the world (ie. an Explorer value.) Conversely, if one is a socializer, then I’d say, pay attention to the players -in- the world and help them out and travel with them, it will feel a lot more rewarding to a socializer.

      1. Yes I think the option off is probably the best. I hate to be harsh but the general player base is a bit dull. I have not been back to the game in awhile but when I do login, it always surprises me to see the way people play their characters and questions asked in chat. People get confused about the simplest things and need a lot of handholding.

      2. According to the original Bartle paper, explorer doesn’t mean only super-tramp, but also someone who likes to explore all the hidden nooks and crannies of the game systems, skills etc. Bartle says the explorer types are the ones who usually start and edit wikis. (Which in my particular case is accurate. I’m an explorer type, and I started a wiki for old PvP game I used to play, which is still going, though I’ve left the game).

        But as Brian says above, the systems in GW2 are so limited (weapons skills etc.) there isn’t much meat to be explored once the initial level is uncovered. I suppose at some point, in any game, all possibilities will be tapped out, but with GW2 it just seemed to happen very, very fast.

      3. To be fair, as Jeromai said no MMO can offer the pure ‘world exploration fancy’ forever or they’d be adding new zones every month. I’d say GW2 is one of the more successful games when it comes to initial exploration fun compared to most MMOs with their pretty empty worlds and invisible borders. In GW2 you could stray off the path all the time, that’s why it was so great before we hit the inevitable levelcap roadblock.

        I’m an explorer-killer and tried to do just that; I played WvW until my realm was first on EU side but it became boring fast and suffered from so many issues. The events they kept adding were more often jumping puzzles than not and everything became item-centric once more. Maybe the big question is really: can there be any endgame design that isn’t achievement-oriented? If so, how would it look like?

      4. Syl – it’s possible that the very concept of “endgame” is an achiever oriented one. You don’t need to reach level cap to socialise, you only need to level up to explore because stuff you want to explore is level-gated, and PvP doesn’t have to be at max level. Achievers need “endgame” though, to have something to keep achieving after the sound of the last ‘ding’ fades in their ears.

        You can certainly have a game that’s not al about endless progression/achievement. Dark Age of Camelot’s elder game was the realm war, which you didn’t have to be at level cap to participate in (initially – once the game had been going for a while and most participants were level 50, that set a de facto bar to lower levels) and where there was very little power growth by characters, compared to the gear-based chasm between fresh level cap character and PvP-geared veteran in a modern MMO. Arguably RvR scratched both the killer itch and the socialiser one with realm pride and relic raids, and it’s a shame that no other game has successfully duplicated it in practice since.

  4. I’d say a socializer-oriented endgame design would revolve around the formation of social structures in game, leading groups of people and organizing various social events for them.

    I don’t know if a killer-oriented endgame design would be stable or not, but I’d lean toward what FPSes are doing, constant competitive lobby matches pitting players against each other until critical mass ran out.

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