Strongholds and the Jungle in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns

So long.

While I was taking my test drive of the Revenant class at ArenaNet’s recent press event, I wasn’t just playing through old familiar portions of Guild Wars 2. No, I was being welcomed to the jungle, mercifully without having to listen to that tired old Guns N’ Roses chestnut in the process. And then I was taking on Strongholds, which meant less dusting off my withered PvE skills for the game and more immediately developing PvP skills I’m not entirely sure I ever had.

So how were they? In the former case, I honestly think I didn’t get enough of a playground to say much about it one way or the other, but it certainly didn’t have me leaping for joy at the content. In the latter, though, I was very thoroughly pleased with how balanced the gameplay felt and how much fun the whole thing was, though it was buoyed somewhat by the fact that I kept being on the winning team. Let’s hit this one point by point.

I’ve been a miner for a heart of thorns

The introduction to the demo area brought me into the story immediately after the game’s most recent living story events. The Pact airships have come crashing down, and the main character is paired up with the biconics whilst trying to search for Destiny’s Edge and other survivors. It’s all very momentum-based stuff, and… well. You’ve done the personal story in Guild Wars 2, haven’t you? The strength of what is set up in the series is that you have several distinct and interesting characters right out of the bat, and the biconics are some of my favorites. But the actual plot and the matter of moving forward is a bit… lacking. There’s some drive missing there. It’s as if I’d rather just slaughter whatever jungle creatures were around and then get my plot by watching these people chat in a coffee shop or something.

Standard stuff, in other words.

After that, I was off into the jungle proper, which was chiefly taken up by a big fight against a wyvern. An official developer diary about that wyvern fight has already been posted, and you’ve probably read that, too. That I found far more compelling because in many ways it reminded me a bit more of a boss fight from games like Final Fantasy XIV, with a high premium placed on positioning, smart ability-use, and understanding mechanics.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great deal of time or space to toy around with the glider. What I did play with was really fun, though.

As nifty as Masteries look to be in the future and with all of the fun on display, it seemed to largely be, well, more of what Guild Wars 2 already offers. If you like jumping puzzles, event spawns, and other map completion achievements, you will be very happy to see that all of that has survived largely intact. If you never want to see any of those ever again, sorry, but this is more of an evolution than a revolution. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had been given more time to glide hither and yon.

I will note that gliders are pretty cool, though, but they’re cut short by the lack of space to glide around. They add an interesting dimension to movement, and they neatly solve the traditional problem of flight as movement; you get the feeling of slipping the bonds of gravity without bypassing everything.

We're not getting our deposit back.Tangy, with notes of MOBAs

I took part in three Stronghold matches, and while it would probably be exaggerating to say that I led my team to victory in all three, I did not actively prevent those victories and was in fact a ready participant in all of them. So how did the mode break down?

It’s pretty straightforward: Your team’s goal is to knock down the doors between you and the enemy Lord, then kill said Lord before the other team accomplishes the same goal. To help you along, you can summon either Archers, who deal good damage to players and NPCs but very little to doors, or Doorbreakers, who do exactly what their name would imply. There are periodic hero summonings and a little pit in the center to grab more NPC summoning resources, allowing you to keep a stream of NPCs moving toward the target. It’s reminiscent of a MOBA insofar as you’re managing NPCs in addition to taking part yourself.

In practice, the NPC guards are easily negotiated and provide little threat to a player, but they can take out Doorbreakers right quick, as can players. So your goal becomes taking out guards and locking down other players, summoning NPCs as fast as you can before you get into the final slugfest with the main Lord. It’s PvP, but it’s the sort of PvP that focuses as much on the game state as on actually duking it out with another person.

As a lifelong lover of objective-based maps, I had a blast. Yes, the whole thing is heavily abstracted, but the five-player teams that we played with kept things engaged and made individual location impactful all the way through. At one point I was essentially kiting a Lord around to avoid dying whilst multiple Archers took him on, a strategy that worked well for dropping him for a bit until more allies could arrive. The interplay of supply and other objectives was interesting, and while most everyone was still learning an unfamiliar class on an unfamiliar map, I felt as if I could hold my own.

It’s diverse, and it makes for a PvP mode that’s a bit less about active face-smashing. Again, it doesn’t feel like a big sea change from the original Guild Wars 2 experience, but it’s a welcome tweak, and it’s fun.

Disclosure notice: Travel and lodging for this event were paid for by ArenaNet, as was most of the food. Said food included a Monte Cristo breakfast sandwich, which I had never tried before. Apparently it’s like a club sandwich but with French toast for the bread? It was pretty tasty, but my stomach wasn’t happy with it. Later that day, I had a beer. It was a Corona, though, so it ain’t like I was getting microbrews. Please drink responsibly.
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