It is only natural that an online game grows and changes. In order for an MMORPG to be successful, it stands to reason that the game itself becomes a living, changing being, capable, yet not guaranteed to please a developers fanbase as intended. Thus far, in Guild Wars 2, we have had two expansions released with accompanying living world content. While opinions may differ on whether Heart of Thorns satiated the player base that clamored for more content, I’m here to make the argument that the content in the jungles of Maguuma made some substantial missteps that were eventually made right by release of the Path of Fire expansion.
Before I get swarmed by dozens of angry quaggans, I’m not going to tell you Heart of Thorns didn’t bring some systems into the fray that were instrumental in the success of Path of Fire. The addition of new class specializations and advanced masteries were more of a necessity for the longevity of the game. That isn’t to say that every piece of the mastery system is an unabashed success. Simply put, the distaste for many of the Heart of Thorns features are so glaringly prevalent due to how utterly enjoyable Path of Fire was. I’ll break this down into my main three sticking points between the two expansions, World Design, Obtaining Hero and Mastery Points, and Lasting Impact.
It was slated leading up to the release of Heart of Thorns that players would encounter a new way to play. Each area would be sectioned off by levels that would require the player to unlock certain masteries to traverse the world. These masteries were broken down into “must have” abilities so that you could make your way through the jungles and complete the missions and tasks at hand.
The main issue regarding this mastery design implementation was that, mastery points for Heart of Thorns were sectioned off by much of those different levels that barred players from obtaining the necessary amount of mastery points in the event that they didn’t unlock the right masteries at the right time.
After my first week in the jungle, I personally took to the official forums to see what masteries I should prioritize so that I could obtain more mastery points faster, and lo and behold I did end up “wasting” a number of mastery points in areas where they could have been better spent early on.
Couple that with each level being so broken up, between updrafts, bouncing mushrooms, and dubious nuhoch wallows where you’re never quite sure where you will end up, it made traveling feel more like a chore than a fun experience.
In comparison, Path of Fire streamlined the entirety of the mastery process and built them around Mounts. It was quite easy to discern what mount was needed in which situation, and the masteries required to unlock skills for those mounts felt almost inconsequential. I quickly obtained the masteries needed for each of the mounts around the time that I needed them. Overall this made the flow of area progression much easier, and the mounts made traversing the (mostly) flat landscape quick and enjoyable.
Obtaining Hero Points and Mastery Points
I touched briefly in the last section about how Heart of Thorns sectioned off mastery points until you obtained the required masteries, but they also did this with skill points. While prohibiting some skill points is expected, mainly due to challenge being a big part of the game, Heart of Thorns adds insult to injury in that several of the skill points are guarded by enemies that are nigh impossible for some classes to defeat on their own.
For the informed Guild Wars 2 player, you may question why this is such a problem seeing as how there are Hero Point and Mastery Point trains running at least a few times throughout the day. To that I say, humbug. I am personally in favor of group content and applaud Arenanets willingness to give it the old college try at making some battles require a group. Unfortunately, there are way too many enemies that are just a little too much for one person, and in some cases, it may be too much for two or three people if you happen to be fighting a boss like the Vampire Beast Broodmother.
Yes, there are trains that run through and help new players obtain these Hero Points, but the question is, what happens when those trains slow down? What happens if you are playing in an off hour where you don’t have the help you need to succeed? In some situations, like completing the meta event, or finishing a “group recommended” public event, it’s perfectly fine to fail. In these Hero and Mastery point situations, players require these skills to unlock new abilities for their class, or to unlock the next mastery so they can move to the next area. So not only do they make it somewhat annoying to travel to these destinations, but they then make the content to acquire these points nearly impossible for many classes to do solo.
In comparison, I could count on one hand the amount of mastery points and hero points I needed assistance with in Path of Fire. While the real enjoyment of traveling the Crystal Desert didn’t happen until I received the Griffon mount, obtaining every other mount was easy to do, and simply by having each of them I was able to find my way to every Hero and Mastery point with ease. Pretty much every single Hero Point boss encounter was built with single player completion in mind which made redoing each Hero Point objective on all of my alts a pleasure rather than a chore.
This last one may raise a few eyebrows. In terms of lasting impact, I’m not talking about what kind of long term consequences the stories had in Heart of Thorns or Path of Fire, though that may be an article for another time. Instead, I’m speaking to the actual impact of what you obtained in those expansions in the greater scheme of the game.
More appropriately, it’s a question of, what do these masteries really matter in the grand scheme of things? In short, when it comes to Heart of Thorns, they matter very little. There is no “ease of use” factor when it comes to using the glider, there are no bouncing mushrooms or exalted marks outside of the few Heart of Thorns levels that include the living world areas during the expansion. While some of the specializations for classes introduced in Heart of Thorns are some of my favorites, it’s not uncommon for your favorite specialization to take on a diminished role once the balancing bat hits. By that distinction, specializations as a lasting impact are really tough to discern.
By contrast, the one, major addition Path of Fire brought to the game, Mounts, has fundamentally changed all game modes, creating a massive, lasting impact that spans even to the Heart of Thorns expansion. In many ways, using my Griffin mount to get around the world feels almost like cheating. You can soar the skies, bypassing trash mobs and dodging attacks, and jump up to Vistas and Hero Points in an instant that once took you several minutes to get to. In terms of lasting enjoyment, Mounts have added such a considerable amount of fun, even when going back to the original game, that I’ve redoubled my efforts to finish world completion on several of the characters I have yet to achieve it on.
At this point, if you’re new to Guild Wars 2, and you’re wondering if you should hop into the new expansions, I probably won’t be the first to tell you that you should get Path of Fire first. There is a lot to love about it, and what you take away from playing through the Crystal Desert will undoubtedly enthrall you, pushing you to want to play more. I would not completely count out buying Heart of Thorns at some point, but I honestly don’t feel that Heart of Thorns is indicative of what makes Guild Wars 2 great.