Editorial | 12/14/2015 at 8:00 AM

MMO Co-Opportunities Volume LXI: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns

We do a full run-down of the co-opportunities of Guild Wars 2's new expansion, Heart of Thorns

For this installment of MMO Co-opportunities, we'll be looking at the co-opportunities of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns (henceforth, HoT). HoT is the first expansion to Guild Wars 2 (GW2). While GW2 is now a free-to-play game, players must purchase HoT to access much of the content it provides. The additions and changes it adds to the game are across all three game types: PvE, PvP, and World vs. World. I'll be focusing on the PvE aspect since the other two modes are competitive against other players.

I discussed a good portion of the new PvE content in my two beta previews, but I'll do a quick rehash. HoT adds a new elite specialization to each profession which only becomes unlocked after all other specializations and skills are learned. Once learned and slotted, the elite specializations grant access to a new weapon set and an upgrade, of sorts, to that profession’s unique mechanic (for example, Mesmers get a fifth shatter ability). HoT also adds a completely new profession, the Revenant.

Four new zones are introduced in the expansion, all of them level 80, and all of them part of the Heart of Maguuma. The personal storyline of the game will take players through these zones, taking up where it left off at the end of the Season 2 living story. These new zones are inextricably linked to the new mastery system also introduced in HoT. Progressing and navigating through the Heart of Maguuma zones requires access to special abilities, such as gliding or jumping on mushrooms. These abilities are unlocked through the mastery system, which acts as a post-level-80 character progression. Instead of XP being channeled towards new levels, XP at level 80 is put towards mastery levels and mastery points. These points can be spent across several different mastery tracks which can give players the new aforementioned abilities, or put them on personal goal tracks to do things like craft their own legendary weapon precursors.

So what kind of Co-Opportunities await players in HoT? The Heart of Maguuma zones are definitely group-oriented. Many of the hero point locations in these zones require or are much easier with at least a small group of people. Many of the events in these new zones seem more difficult than the events in previous game zones and many require coordination by players in the zone. For example, the meta-event (an event that chains, culminating in a large-scale battle) in Auric Basic requires four large groups of people in separate rooms to coordinate with each other so they can kill each room’s boss within two minutes of all the other bosses. Each of these bosses also has stacking shields that players must painstakingly bring down, so communication if map chat is essential to make sure the event succeeds.

Many of the elite specializations shine in group play as well. For example, Chronomancers (the elite specialization for Mesmers) get new Well skills as well as the new alacrity buff (reduces recharge time). Both wells and alacrity are at their best effectiveness when also shared with allies. Tempests (the elite specialization for Elementalists) gain access to Shout skills, all of which give some kind of benefit to a set amount of nearby allies. Again, they shine in group play. While it isn’t a new co-opportunity to GW2, I definitely want to make a nod towards the personal storyline. Like all the other personal storyline instances before it, the HoT storyline can be fully done with others, meaning other players can join in your story instances and gain credit towards their own personal storyline if they’re on the same step. Some of the story instances are a little challenging than I remember the core storyline instances, so bringing a friend or two can go a long way. And, of course, it’ll probably be more fun, too!

Raids and Guild Halls have also been added with HoT, which are certainly geared towards hardcore players and players in big guilds. Raids require ten level 80 characters to begin. The first one that has been added to the game is Spirit Vale. Guild Halls have their own progression track and take 100 gold to start said progression track. Since I just started playing GW2 again for the first time in a couple years just about a month before the launch of HoT, I haven’t yet delved into Raids or Guild Halls. This means I can’t go into detail on them from personal experience, but they certainly sound promising and they are definitely co-opportunities.

I’ll end this issue with my overall impressions of the expansion as well as addressing the big question a casual or past GW2 player probably has about HoT: “Who is the expansion for?” HoT is definitely for players who are at least moderately invested in GW2. The brunt of the current content (more HoT-exclusive content is surely coming) is for level 80 characters. The new PvE zones, new storyline, and masteries are all for level 80 characters only. The elite specializations (in PvE) are not only just for level 80 characters, but require a decent amount of dedication to that specific character to fully utilize the specialization (i.e. collecting hero points on a character-by-character basis). The mastery system also requires a good amount of work (lots of XP grinding to get those levels).

For non level-80 characters, the expansion offers much less. The biggest draw for a pre-level-80 is the new Revenant profession. If you are a PvPer (and level doesn’t matter for PvP), you’ll also need HoT to play with any of the elite specializations in PvP (but it doesn’t require any character-specific unlocks, just like all of PvP). Let’s be honest, though - if you care about elite specializations in PvP, you are probably at least moderately invested in the game, which brings me back to my original point. If you are a very casual GW2 player that does not have a level 80 character yet, it’s probably safe to hold off on the expansion. This is especially true since the launch of HoT brought a bunch of quality-of-life improvements to the game, and most of these are available for all GW2 players, not just owners of HoT.

On the other side of the coin, though, if you do have at least one level 80 character and you are interested in continuing on with that character, picking up the expansion is a no-brainer. HoT adds a sizable amount of content for previously maxed-out characters to work on. Much of this content is just for the challenge, or cosmetic look, or just plain fun, and that’s how GW2 should be, in my opinion. I fall smack dab into the middle of the target demographic for the expansion, so I’m quite enjoying it. As I said before, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve played. Between the stuff Arenanet has added since I stopped playing last time and the new stuff added with HoT, I have plenty to keep myself occupied for quite awhile. While HoT was a little different than I would have guessed a GW2 expansion would look like, I think it’s a solid expansion and worth the purchase if you belong to the right group of people - namely, people who play (or want to play) a good amount of GW2.