After its release three years ago, an expansion for MMORPG game Guild Wars 2 was more than welcome if not slightly overdue. Cue Heart of Thorns!
Set in the fantasy world Tyria, one of the five remaining elder dragons, Mordremoth, has awoken. Tyria's Pact seeks to destroy Mordremoth before he becomes too powerful, but to no avail - the Pact gets destroyed and scattered across the brand new Maguuma zone. This is where you step in. As one of the high officers within Tyria's Pact, you have to lend your aid in order to stop Mordremoth.
Heart of Thorns introduces four new areas, each jungle-themed. As expected from Guild Wars 2, the new zones are beautiful and easy on the eyes. Apart from new scenery to enjoy there are of course also many new adventures awaiting you, from battling new enemies to discovering new civilisations.
As you venture into the new zones that Heart of Thorns has in store for you, your character will gain experience but not levels. Unlike most MMO games, Heart of Thorns does not raise the level 80 cap - instead, you will earn Mastery Points which you can spend on unlocking new abilities. One of the most notable new abilities is the glider ability, which allows you to explore new areas faster than ever before. Each profession can now learn a new skill, which unlocks a new weapon as well as new traits and mechanics, all of which will still provide the feeling of progress despite the level cap. The new Elite Specialisations can drastically change the play-style of each profession, giving players the chance to play a variety of different ways without having to level up a whole new character.
Unlocking new abilities will require a lot of Mastery Points, but luckily once unlocked on one character they will become available to all characters bound to your account. Only one mastery track can be learned at a time, and they are organised by region (Heart of Maguuma and Central Tyria).
Heart of Thorns also offers a brand new profession: the Revenant. Revenants wear heavy armor and use energy resources to channel the Mists to invoke the powers of great heroes from the past. Each of these heroes (assassin, centaur, demon, dwarf, dragon) comes with their own abilities and perks. Though a complex class to master, being able to swiftly swap between heroes gives a Revenant many strategic options in battle. A versatile and interesting profession to play, Revenants are an excellent option for those who don't want to commit to one role. If you're looking to quickly jump back into Guild Wars 2 with Heart of Thorns playing a Revenant, you're out of luck: like all other classes, Revenants start at level one.
As the name suggests, guilds are quite important in Guild Wars 2. Being in one provides members with weapon and armour perks. Every guild can now also unlock their very own Guild Halls. Working together, guilds can gather funds and resources to establish buildings within these Guild Halls such as a workshop or a tavern. These Guild Halls aren't just for show; with activities such as guild quests or a friendly brawl in the arena, guild members can do more than just casually hang out - although that is certainly an option too.
Guild Wars 2 has always focussed on more social gameplay and Arenanet has demonstrated this once again with this expansion: like all level 80 areas, the new zones in Heart of Thorns consist of public events where players will have to work together to succeed.
After playing the same World-versus-World battlegrounds for three years, players finally get a new battleground: Desert Borderlands. Even though Desert Borderlands is the only battleground currently available in Heart of Thorns, ArenaNet says they'll bring back the previous ones too.
For fervent PvP'ers, Heart of Thorns adds the all new Stronghold mode to Guild Wars 2. In a new map called the Battle of Champion's Dusk, two teams will battle for victory. With some PvE added, players will have to destroy gates and fight guards to get to their opponents' stronghold and engage in battle with the lord residing inside. Victory is granted to the team who succeeds first at defeating their opponent's lord. However simple or familiar that formula may sound, Stronghold has proven to be very popular amongst players.
Heart of Thorns will also introduce the first raids in Guild Wars 2. According to the official Guild Wars 2 website, these 10-man raids will offer very challenging content where coordination and communication are key. Successful raids will reward players with many new items, from components to build legendary armour through to trophies to display in your Guild Halls. The first raid wing, titled Spirit Vale, is said to release on the November 17, with the other two wings following in early 2016.
Whilst a great expansion, new players should be warned that this doesn't offer a whole new formula; if you didn't like Guild Wars 2 before, don't expect Heart of Thorns to convert you. It's aimed at current and re-visiting players - new players will have a long way to go before reaching the content of Heart of Thrones. Luckily there is an option once you hit level 80 to catch up on live content you have missed: costing two hundred gems each to unlock, you can play through all available previous Episodes leading up to the current one, as well as watch a cinematic recapping of previous events.
Another perk of Guild Wars 2 that is definitely worth mention, is that ArenaNet decided in August to make their base game free. Guild Wars 2 has been a free to play from the very beginning: besides the initial purchase of the base game, there were no monthly costs or other hidden fees. Where most if not all game expansions require you to purchase a base game first, ArenaNet's decision to provide Guild Wars 2 for free was very refreshing. Since only Heart of Thorns is a mandatory purchase to play, there is no better time than now to explore the beautiful world known as Tyria.
Heart of Thorns is a long anticipated and widely welcomed addition to Guild Wars 2. Offering a wealth of new content to test even the most hardened players and with much more to look forward to, Guild Wars 2 remains one of the best MMORPGs currently available.
8 / 10
+ Lots of new adventuring, the new Revenant class offers something different, refreshed modes.
- Newcomers have a lot of content to get through before reaching the new content.