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

    
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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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Karl_Hungus
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Karl_Hungus

Eliot_Lefebvre melissamcdon

boots2
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boots2

Siphaed ThunderJackson Digest a grid for a skin… that is optional… that was designed in the first place as a gold sink…

tonymcs
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tonymcs

Ironwu  In WoW, the results of dying depend on the activity engaged in.  In a raid or dungeon, when dealing with trash NPCs, you can die and run back in to the encounter, but once a Boss is engaged, if you die that’s it (unless you’re important enough to require a battle rez and there are some classes with that ability still alive).  The zerg style boss take down is reserved for World bosses that require a group of 40 players.  In that case, you respawn at the graveyard and run back to your body to rez.
The world boss fights incorporate a number of your wishes,  The time to resurrect at your body increases exponentially, your gear is slowly destroyed and the repair costs at the end are going to be large.  As WoW has tanks and healers, as well as the fight mechanics, the zerg is not always successful, but can enhance your chance of succeeding.  Most of the time the graveyard and boss distances are fixed, but one of the latest is Rukhma a flying bird.  In that case, players will engage him next to the graveyard, as every little bit helps ;-)

BhimaJenkins
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BhimaJenkins

Zebes

I agree with you on the isolated play… it is my biggest problem (that and, the meta is the same since the game modes have mostly just been conquest) with GW2 spvp. I’m one of the few that actually likes the Courtyard spvp map because, well… you get to actually fight RIGHT NEXT TO your allies and friends, instead of holding a point off yonder then yelling when you get 2v1’d to death. I wish Anet would just clone WoW’s Battleground maps and team sizes. I’d rather have GW2’s combat/gameplay and gear parity, but I want the diversity of what WoW’s BGs offer.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

ThunderJackson Digest 
Well no, the new backpiece that was introduced through Season 2 is a grind.  A player has to do all the things to make it only to turn around and make it again, and finally a 3rd time before getting the good one.  It’s nightmarish as a time and money sink.

Red Eyed
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Red Eyed

I really liked gliding in FireFall, I hope it’s just as cool in GW2.

Eliot_Lefebvre
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Eliot_Lefebvre

melissamcdon Not so; KISS exists.

melissamcdon
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melissamcdon

GnR: Most overrated band in rock history

Zebes
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Zebes

As a PVP player, Stronghold looks immensely disappointing. If I wanted a MOBA then I’d go play a MOBA. It’s a lot more of what already plagues the entire PVP scene: Isolated play.

AdeptusEnginus
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AdeptusEnginus

Ugh…If this really spells out how the expansion will play, maybe I won’t bother picking it up after all. More of the same is great for people who enjoy what there is now, but what there is now is what made me burn out with a vengeance. If this is the path they want to go with, I think I’ll just stick to my ARPGs until one of the new players enters the field. The PVE side of GW2 is just sinfully repetitive and, after some one and a half to two years of play, is the first MMO to successfully make me feel as though I was wasting my time. If MORE of that is what they want, I’d be out of my mind not to say “pass.”
The Strongholds are the only thing I’ve heard about thus far that seems even remotely interesting, and frankly loathe as I am to admit it, WoW has equally engaging battlegrounds at this point, and a far more diverse selection of them at that. Couple that with the fact that Anet knocks the balance pyramid around so infrequently, and you have a picture that just sounds inferior to other options out right now.

Props to those who will enjoy it, I hope this expac gives you all you want from it and more.