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

    
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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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Craywulf
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Craywulf

jixjax It’s the epic journey (and all the stuff between) that matters, not the destination. Shortening the the time and distance from one destination to the next is the quickest way to kill a journey.

Xephyr
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Xephyr

MatthewRiddle jixjax Well there’s a magic carpet and a witch broom for that already. :)

Xephyr
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Xephyr

KirkSteadman Did you play the stress test or this beta event? I didn’t play this one but according to a friend of mine they actually fixed gliding so it’s much less clunky. You can either double tap spacebar, or just hold spacebar to fold out your glider now, instead of jump off cliff > fall for 2seconds > fold out glider.

KirkSteadman
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KirkSteadman

I hope they can make the gliding function like it did in Aion, From what I saw in their demo it looks kinda clunky. Just jump and hit space again to glide would be soooooo nice.

Line with more hugs
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Line with more hugs

DugFromTheEarth
They have put in better systems to get lengendaries reliably, as well as potentially tedious other masteries locking you out of content/shortcuts.
And, well, skins to unlock, more abundant crafting materials, the usual.
When you’ve done everything… you can stop really. Or just continue to do what you like, as any other game. That’s fine too, there will be more expansions and patches in the future.

I see that as pretty natural, grinding for years items that almost never dropped, on monsters with days or week long timers was not so engaging. Paying for the right to wait in front of a spawn point was one hell of a crappy model.

ManastuUtakata
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ManastuUtakata

DugFromTheEarth 
“Or will you find yourself back in the same spot people were in before the expansion?”
What is that same spot before the expansion? I am not sure what you mean by that.

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

web2nr DugFromTheEarth Nreff Thats what I get for not looking at the person who replied while trying to look busy at work:

My apologies Web2nr, my bad.

Xomon
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Xomon

Nice to know its not just one zone.

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

web2nr Nreff DugFromTheEarth Funny concidering I was the one who asked the original question. You decided to answer my question, with another question.

Im simply sticking to my original question, since your post did nothing to even come close to an answer

DugFromTheEarth
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DugFromTheEarth

Nreff DugFromTheEarth Um, I didnt think my question required some kind of philosophical breakdown. It was pretty straight forward. Gamers play though content, be it quests, lore finding, dungeons, achievement earnings, what have you. When players are done with said activities, what else will give them motivation to come back to do more?

The original base game had hidden nooks & crannies to explore, tons of lore to read and find, and lots of achievements to earn as well. That doesnt change the fact that players eventually did all or most of it, and finding themselves in a situation where they would ask “What now??”.

I get that the new areas in the expansion are huge, on a vertical level. I understand that means it will take longer to explore everything, get lost (hopefully in a fun way) more often, and require you to unlock things in order to make it to specific areas. Despite that, players WILL accomplish it all, and when they do, I ask again… what will there be to do? Quest and exploration are not “End game” content, regardless of if you arent gaining more character levels.

From what I have read and seen, it seems like players will find themselves right back at where they are at currently in the game. I was just curious if after the initial content of the expansion is “completed”, will there actually be new replayable, incentivized gameplay for players to take part in.  Yes, Im excited to see the new areas, explore them, and read up on the lore. But you know what Id also be excited for? Knowing that there was some new gameplay mechanics designed to provide me something to do in the game, long after ive done all that. WIth the original game, it was WvWvW. It kept me playing the game long after I had 100% world completelion (on 3 characters). However, even that has its limits, and Im looking for something new for the game to provide me to do. Im not saying it doesnt have anything, I am however asking to find out.