We all know what it's like to jump into a new MMO. There's the joy of creating a character, of personally customizing your avatar in a new virtual world. There's the world itself, lush and beautiful and just waiting to be explored and ore nodes waiting to be plundered. There's the challenge of grasping new(-ish – let's not kid ourselves, these are still MMOs) systems for combat, questing, crafting, and so on. Everything is new and different and a joy to behold.
Eventually, “that” feeling sets in. You know the one I'm talking about. Maybe it takes a few weeks or a few months, but eventually the gleam of newness wears thin and the realization sets in that you'll be doing the same thing over and over, whether it's endless questing, running those same dungeons and raids every night/week, crafting one sword and then another sword and then another sword and then another sword and then...
Expansions are a little like that, but usually with a briefer “honeymoon” phase. There's still that “ooh, shiny and new” part, but you've got experience with the game and have an idea of what lies ahead. You're also more familiar with the game's basic mechanics and expansions are usually smaller than the base game, so you've got less time before you get to “that” part.
With Heart of Thorns, I'm still in that honeymoon phase, and I'm enjoying it immensely. It's just gosh-darned fun, not only because it's a new area, but because they're such different kinds of areas than what we played in previously, with their three-dimensional spaces and convoluted pathways, and nifty series of events that tell the story of an entire zone. It's brought back that feeling of when the game was new, when I'd just wander into a new zone, see what would happen, and then see what would happen again just over the next hill. It's the best time in an MMO, I think, before the fantastic becomes routine, and before you're concerned with optimizing your play time and just wandering around, sampling whatever the world has to offer.
That's how I'm playing the expansion so far. I'm taking my time and relishing in the newness of it all, before I get around to worrying about having enough currency for this thing or that. That'll come soon enough, and I'll have plenty of time to grind out mobs later. For now, here are a few of the things I'm finding most enjoyable during my first week in Heart of Thorns.
Reaping the benefits
Yep, the reaper's still fun. I was having a great time just slaying everything with the few skills and traits I had available the first few days, but after ArenaNet adjusted the Hero Point requirements for the elite specs and I was able to fully kit out my necromancer, I turned into the Totally Tanky Invincible Shroud Monster. I'm sure it's not OP at all and won't get nerfed at some point. The reaper is everything I'd hoped it would be, and I'm glad that ANet hasn't changed it much since the early betas.
I didn't want to change my engineer over to scrapper until I had everything unlocked. Now that I can unlock everything, I'm still holding off, since I'm using her to get through the story and am just a little hesitant to not have a ranged option. She and the necromancer are the two I've played the most, and I haven't really delved too much into the possibilities of converting my other characters to their elite specs, because I'm not sure how they'll jive with how I like to play them – that, and I'm sure there will be balance issues to be addressed and I don't want to get too attached to any one build only to have it snatched away by a patch. And I still have yet to make a revenant.
But still... how about that reaper?
Then there are the zones themselves. There's still a lot of “How do I get there?” and while it can be a bit of a pain to get where you're trying to go, for the moment, the wandering is fun and I'm liking how it takes me to unexpected places more often than not. Thanks to my slow-ish pace, I've only really gotten solid time in the first two zones, Verdant Brink and Auric Basin, but they're both very nicely done and, of course, beautiful to look at.
Most of all, I like the stories each zone is telling: Verdant Brink with its tale of the Pact in disarray and struggling for survival against the jungle's many evil denizens, and Auric Basin with the Exalted and their solemn duty to protect Glint's legacy. The boss fights are neat, too; I've taken down the wyvern a few times and participated in the main zone event for Auric Basin. We didn't quite succeed, but it was a neat event that I look forward to repeating.
I've been saying for a while now that I don't think that story and MMOs are necessarily a great marriage. I like the story of a world and the general feeling of why things are the way they are, but narrated stories, like you see in single-player MMOs, don't always translate well to MMOs, where you'll spend about 95% of your time doing non-story, multiplayer stuff anyway (not to mention playing multiple alts, all of whom are somehow The Most Important Person Ever). That's probably why games designed primarily as multiplayer shooters have all but eschewed the typical story experience – they know you're buying the game so you can spend most of your time fragging other people in death matches.
So, going into Heart of Thorns, I almost viewed the story as a “side quest” opposed to the “main quest” of exploring the jungle, doing events, and so on. That said, I think ArenaNet is doing as good a job as can be expected in an MMO. It's got its “wow” moments, and, now that they've got so many characters that we care about – one way or the other – they're making good use of them to drive those impactful narratives. The re-addition of character voices is a big help, and while I'm sure it's not easy scheduling all 10 of the PC voice actors, I really hope they're included in future story steps.
Probably sooner than I'd like, the shine of the expansion will dim and I'll dig more heavily into Heart of Thorns' seedier underbelly. I'm already feeling a bit of the mastery grind woes, and what I've seen of precursor crafting makes me – and my wallet – sad. But for now, I'm basking in the glow of the awesome that is an expansion I've waited three years for. There will be plenty of time for grousing later. I'd suggest you try to do the same, so you don't wind up a bitter old asura.
Jason Winter is the semi-proud owner of an underwater legendary weapon. You can find him on Twitter @winterinformal. Also, make sure to check out his girlfriend's adorable Guild Wars 2 charms on her etsy shop!