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Heart of Thorns and Character Progression

David North Posted:
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Players have been waiting for this moment, but that wait is finally over.  The first expansion to Guild Wars 2 is finally announced!  Even though not everyone could make it to PAX, Twitch allowed tens of thousands of players to tune and and soak up the excitement, and boy did we soak it all up.  ArenaNet not only announced the long awaited expansion, but also gave some info regarding the features of Heart of Thorns, which seem to focus around character progression. 

Normally with the release of an expansion to an MMO you get an increase to the max level, and new loot added to the every lasting, and boring gear treadmill.  ArenaNet has a very different vision for what character progression means in Guild Wars 2.  Level 80 is still max level, and ascended armor will still be the best you can equip.  So if we aren’t leveling up, and we aren’t getting better gear, how are we supposed to get stronger?

Do you have hundreds and hundreds of skill points just piling up?  Well you’ll finally get a chance to use them thanks to new profession specializations!  These specializations will start to add new types of skills, and even change the core mechanics of your character’s profession.  If that wasn’t enough, you’ll even gain access to a whole new weapon that your profession previously didn’t have.  This new feature has been described as changing one profession into a whole new one. 

At the moment we just know the specifics about the Ranger, who can gain new powers turning them into Druids.  These new warriors of nature will have the ability to use magic through staffs, yet still have access to all their abilities as a Ranger.  From the video footage we’ve seen, it looks like Engineers will gain hammers, plus flying helicopter turrets, and Mesmers gain proficiency with shields, unlocking the powers of time control, which I beleive turns them into Chronomancers.

The Engineers are getting the hammer, and some sweet looking armor!

This seems like a great way to allow level 80 characters to gain more power, but will one specialization be enough?  It really hasn’t been made completely clear if Heart of Thorns will only bring one specialization to each profession, but it sure seems that way.  During the reveal they were compared to the multiple professions we saw in the original Guild Wars series. I’m hoping this means we’ll see at least two specializations to choose from in time, allowing for more choices, and ultimately more build diversity.  But it's not likely to be the case when the expansion launches. 

Character specializations are just the start of ArenaNet’s new take of character progression.  A new feature called masteries will be added, allowing characters to gain new abilities that focus on survival in the harsh Maguuma Jungle.  These masteries have been compared to the skills used in WvW, that allow characters to use siege weapons more effectively, as well as fight against guards, and mercenaries. While it seems masteries will be modeled after this system, it will be interesting to see how these new skills are acquired.  I hope they take a more Elder Scrolls approach, by leveling up these new skills by actually using them. 

As players enter new unexplored areas, they will need to master new survival techniques.

ArenaNet didn’t follow the old MMO formula when they made Guild Wars 2, and it seems like they won’t be following the standard formula for an expansion either.  Heart of Thorns looks to to use new methods for character progression, by actually focusing on the character rather than the gear it has equipped.  These new ways of character progression will more than likely be used for all future expansions.  As players reach new and different lands to explore, they will need to master new survival techniques, and learn new weapon proficiencies.  Heart of Thorns looks to be the new format for creating expansions for the new generation of MMOs.

What do you think of ArenaNet’s take on character progression?  What would you like to see in both the specialization, and mastery features? 


David North