The new zones are a huge strength of the expansion, and it’s easy and fun to explore them with your friends, doing renown hearts and events and collecting mastery points.. Unfortunately, however, the ease of this falls apart a bit with the introduction of some of the later mounts. To be perfectly clear, I really enjoy the new mount system. From a co-opportunity perspective, however, it has substantial flaws. The first mount (the Raptor) is gained in the very first mission of the expansion’s story and it possesses a special movement ability (a long leap forward) that allows mounted players to jump over small chasms. This ability can be upgraded with Mastery points after you reach unlock eligibility (through gaining Mastery XP), letting the Raptor leap farther. At the beginning, this just seems awesome with no potential drawbacks, but later you find out this upgrade is actually required to reach the second half of the Crystal Desert’s second zone, which in turn contains the second mount, effectively gating both character and mount progression.
Now, it’s not exceedingly challenging to get this upgrade with a small amount of time, but this represents the beginning of the fragmentation of accessibility. A player without this Raptor upgrade cannot easily access any of the zones past the first half of the second zone (Desert Highlands). The second mount, the Springer, is even more integral to reaching necessary areas for story advancement, and is also not awarded to players for free like the Raptor was. Though I can’t imagine any player reaching the Springer renown heart and not being able to afford the 1g cost, the mounts that follow it become more and more expensive. The Skimmer is 4g and the Jackal costs 20g, meaning the basic mounts all together cost a total of 25g. This is not an insignificant amount of gold to a casual player. Then there’s the ultimate mount, the Griffon. In addition to the scavenger hunt required to unlock it, the Griffon also requires that the player buy vendor items that come to a whopping total of 250g. Now, the Griffon is absolutely not required for any of the expansion’s content, but I know that a lot of people will be heartbroken when they find out they won’t be able to unlock this mount. I can confidently say that the vast majority of GW2 players will never have that amount of gold to spend on a mount, which is a real shame since the Griffon is really fun and useful. Most people who can afford it are (or have been at one time) deeply invested in the game. Unless you win the equivalent of the lottery in terms of item drops, 250g requires some degree of serious farming, which the casual player will likely never do.
This fragmenting of accessibility really impedes the sense of wonder and exploration when you’re playing the game with friends. In a lot of cases, people’s Mastery progressions won’t be the same as their friends. While this was a bit annoying at times in Heart of Thorns, it’s really a huge drag in Path of Fire. For example, if one player has unlocked an upgraded jump on a Springer, he may find that he can access an area on the map that his friend can’t. In this case, his choice is usually running on ahead without his friend or deciding to not explore the area, a no-win situation. Not only is exploring the expansion’s areas just fun, but it’s necessary for gaining more Hero Points (for unlocking more of your Elite Specialization) and Mastery Points (for upgrading your mounts). Suddenly, a group of players who wants to play together and not split up becomes impeded by the progression of the least progressed character, and that’s a big downer for everyone involved.