Flameseeker Chronicles: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2’s Heart of Thorns beta

My excitement for Guild Wars 2‘s first expansion has been no secret, so you can easily guess how much fun I had climbing the trees in heavy armour in the Heart of Thorns beta test last week. This playtest focused on the new Revenant profession and the Heart of Maguuma zone, starting off the player into a new personal story chain and showing us a quick glimpse at the Mastery system. The new Specialization mechanics were not ready for testing, unfortunately, but I was still able to get a good sense of how the Revenants will work in the expansion.

MMOs are always best enjoyed with friends, so our very own Brendan Drain joined me in the jungle for testing. We had more than a few giggles as we made our way across the dangerous yet beautiful zone while trying to get to grips with the new profession. We were sure to record our incredibly Irish antics for your viewing pleasure, the result of which is included below. You’ll be able to witness my poor sense of direction and propensity for squeakiness in all its glory in this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, in addition to a full write-up of my beta testing experience for those who prefer the written word.

I should probably begin by sharing that video of yours truly giggling manically and chasing after Brendan’s Revenant Lady that I promised, huh? I’d suggest getting familiar with your pause button for the first part of the video: We swiftly look through the Revenant Masteries and skills, but since it’s hard to make UI panes exciting, I kept it pretty brief. I’ve also taken the liberty of creating a short video guide with time markers so you can skip right to the juiciest sections if you so wish… I’m nice like that!

Introduction to Masteries / skills: 0.48

First steps into Heart of Maguuma: 7.00

Revenant skills, weapons and legends: 13.00

Exploring the jungle: 16.27

Itzel village: 23.38

HoT, character selectGetting comfortable with the Revenants

I was quite impressed with the overall playstyle of the Revenants, and I particularly enjoyed wielding a mighty hammer at such an impressive range. Despite the heavy armour and stereotypically close-quarter weaponry, the profession possesses a significant number of long range attacks. The basic attack skills on the hammer reached a whopping 1200 units, which synergised well with other skills like Vengeful Hammers. This makes whirling hammers circle menacingly around your toon, which helps to deter assailants and maintain the distance afforded to the profession with such a range. I did switch out my hammer to test the mace combo, but I felt that it might suit PvP better than PvE due to the Torment stacking abilities in its skillset.

The legend mechanic is great for lorenuts, as both of the legendary stances we had access to in the beta threw a respectful nod in the original game’s direction. Revenants have two legends equipped that change up the latter half of the skill bar, much as switching weapon does for the first five skills. I particularly enjoyed switching between the legends to pop two heals in tough situations, and this most definitely saved my neck more than once! I really loved this mechanic, and calling on the power of Jalis Ironhammer felt pretty darned special. This was definitely my preferred legend in the playtesting, perhaps because I felt that it suited the PvE content best.

The demonic alternative, Mallyx the Unyielding, focuses more on conditions: Players can absorb conditions from allies onto their Revenants and in the process gain a new boon called Resistance. Resistance will temporarily grant immunity to the harmful effects of conditions, so you aren’t affected by all of the conditions you absorb. I didn’t feel that I had quite enough time to get to grips with the careful balancing act this required in this round of beta testing, so I might well enjoy it more as I get more accustomed to the mechanic.

HoT, combat

Revenants seem as though they’ll be great in PvP, particularly when you consider how the new Resistance boon will give the character more than just a few more seconds of damage on its target. It’s potentially more powerful than condition removal since that condition can’t simply be reapplied during the Resistance period, which should make the profession nice and slippery in PvP.

The energy mechanic was fresh and interesting, especially since switching legend resets the bar to the midway point. I found it all a little complicated to keep track of, but my take on it is that upkeep skills such as the Vengeful Hammers I mentioned will deplete my characters energy, while the toon has a set regeneration rate per second while in combat. I found that I could swap legends right as one upkeep skill drained my energy in order to keep up my attacks, prolonging my usefulness in combat. I had to be careful about when I would pop my upkeeps to prevent energy drain, but those skills were certainly worth it when I could use them.

HoT, Hooded frogVerticality in the Heart of the Jungle

If you stuck with the video, you’ll have noticed that I’m a little bit prone to gushing when it comes to how pretty ArenaNet’s environments are. I’m not even sorry: This entire zone is all-out gorgeousness in its theme and detailing, and the creative team has absolutely outdone itself with the Heart of Maguuma. I am blown away by how damned intuitive the verticality is, especially since I really don’t rate Dry Top’s navigation. Lessons have most definitely been learned from the Maguuma Wastes because this zone is very fun to get around.

I kept going back to the Itzel village and the surrounding area because it was just that breathtaking. Their home sits sheltered within the tree canopy, with bridges suspended that interconnect each building. The village seems as if it could be more densely populated than it currently is, but I did stumble across two villagers that had some great dialogue introducing the player to the struggle between the Maguuma Hylek tribes and their Zintl worshipping cousins. The Itzel settlement joins onto a waterfall-filled drop down to the jungle’s root system and the journey was an absolute delight. Verticality is everything, and virtually every object looks like you should be using it as a stepping stone, hang hold, or dropping zone.

HoT, DragonA quick look at Masteries

We didn’t unlock all the Masteries required to make full use of the map’s verticality since the playtesting periods were only two hours long, but we did follow groups of people who had focused on each of the different Mastery areas required to unlock the bouncing mushrooms or gliders. Gliding is a delight to behold and seemed to be very fluid even at lower rungs on the Mastery ladder. The mushroom hopping is a great way to increase the explorable surface area of the zone without clunking it up too much (looking at you yet again, Dry Top!), and it’s a very simple mechanic to master.

Mastery reward tracks scale with your character XP, making them pretty easy to keep track of. The system is easy to use, yet it most definitely enhances the flavour of the expansion in its use. I like how the language-based Masteries could allow the player to feel much more at home with the native Hylek, especially since a sizeable chunk of the expansion’s lore revolves around the race. We stumbled across a Hylek NPC whose dialogue was unintelligible numbers: Was this simply dialogue that hadn’t yet been populated but had a text reference code in its place, or could this NPC be understood only by those who had worked on the Itzel Mastery tree?

HoT, brick roadWrapping it up

I really enjoyed my time beta testing both the Revenants and the Heart of Maguuma zone. My time was spent getting to grips with the new profession and exploring all the caverns and canopies on offer in the new zone. I am most impressed with the verticality of the jungle environ, the new mechanics offered up by the Revenants, and the new profession’s use of energy and legendary stances. I don’t know if it’s possible for me to become much more hyped for Heart of Thorns, but this beta test came mighty close to taking my excitement right off the squeeometer (which is totally a thing).

What did you think, readers? Whether or not you’ve played the beta, share your thoughts on the Revenants and the Heart of Maguuma with us in the comments below.

Tina Lauro has been playing Guild Wars 2 since it launched and now pens the long-running Flameseeker Chronicles column, which runs every other Wednesday and covers everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see covered, drop a comment Tina’s way or mail her at tina@massivelyop.com.
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