Recently I wrote about the philosophy shifts in Heart of Thorns and why they’re wrong. The TLDR version is that, while some of the changes actually bring the game more in line with what I would have designed the game to be, the fact remains that eighty level’s worth of content is still in front of it. I still believe that, but I didn’t want to leave you with the impression that I absolutely hated Heart of Thorns, so I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve really enjoyed about Heart of Thorns.
The revenant (the class, not the recent movie) has been everything I love about a Guild Wars 2 class. There really isn’t a weapon combination that I hate; on the contrary, I actually hate that I can only have two weapon combinations slotted at a time. I like the way legends work, changing my role with a touch of a button. Best of all, there are decent group healing options available. But perhaps more important is the fact that they added a new class. As someone who loves nothing better than creating new alts, I hate it when games refuse to add classes. I get it, balance is hard, especially in PvP, and adding a new class will inevitably throw off that delicate balance for a while, but for me it sells the expansion better than a new zone or a level cap bump. I don’t expect games to add a new class every expansion, but if you don’t, you either shouldn’t charge full price or you should give me something really big and interesting to do with the characters I have, not just a handful of new zones.
In addition to the new class, Elite Specs have renewed my interest in several classes. The chronomancer’s shield is cool and has some nice support mechanics, the scrapper’s hammer and drones are a nice addition to the engineer’s already varied arsenal, and the thief’s daredevil spec is just fun all around. I’m not sure if it counts, but the additional defense and healing shield with the revenant’s herald spec has saved me on more than one occasion. It’s a great middle ground between the simple WoW-style skill trees we’ve seen in so many games and some of the more intimidating systems like the original Guild Wars’ dual classing or Rift’s soul system. I just hope we don’t have to wait a couple of years for another expansion before we get another set of elite specs for all of the classes.
Guild Wars 2 has always tried really hard to be story driven and fallen flat every time. Aside from some dubious decisions regarding gating areas behind (admittedly, one time) mastery grinds, Heart of Thorns has done a much better job in that department than either the base game or the living world story. It has been a lot less predictable and trope-filled than the original story (despite still revolving around slaying a magical dragon). The best move is replacing the weird looking-past-each-other (which I’ve complained about many times, so I won’t reiterate it here) with actual in-world cutscenes, and, perhaps more immersive, voiced conversations that don’t take you out of gameplay. For instance, early on there’s a moment where you meet up with some Hylek, and you talk to them as you walk to their village, rather than talking first and then walking in awkward silence as you did in many of the base game story instances. Similarly, there are times when you find NPCs outside of instances and have to stop and chat with them to find what you’re looking for.
I know I’ve complained about cosmetic fluff being the only incentive for certain content, but I love the idea that each elite spec has a themed weapon (and, in the case of the Revenant, an armor set). The scavenger hunt to collect all of the random items could only feel fun in a game where cheap quick travel points dot the landscape, and it gives level 80 players a good excuse to visit a lot of the pre-expansion zones.
All in all, despite a few annoyances, I think Heart of Thorns is a solid expansion. ArenaNet can’t help it that they made some choices when developing the base game that didn’t pan out the way they had hoped, and now they’re doing the best they can to stay faithful to the original vision while forging ahead in the direction that the majority of players want. Also, as discussed in a recent episode of the Massively OP Podcast around the 17:30 mark (I promise I’m not just linking that because they answered my question about LotRO in the mailbag section), ArenaNet has always been good at trying something new, and, if the players don’t like it, admitting it was bad and scrapping it. And for that, if for nothing else, I have to give them a lot of respect, because that’s really hard for a lot of companies to do, MMO developer or otherwise.