Reviewing and Ranking the Heart of Thorns Zones
It's been two months since Heart of Thorns launched with four new zones, and, like many of you, I've spent countless hours exploring the jungle, taking down wyverns, running for my life, getting knocked on my ass, and plunging to my death. It's been a thrill ride, punctuated with bouts of terror (so many mordrem!) and occasional anger (oh god, not more mushrooms!), but I generally like the new zones and what they bring to the game. In order, here are my rankings of the four Heart of Thorns zones.
In terms of moment-to-moment gameplay, I think I like Verdant Brink better, but Auric Basin has enough singular elements to make it #1 on my list. It's a visual and auric – er, aural, treat. The ambient music, both during the quiet times and the giant battle, are among my favorites in the entire game, and the giant golden city of the Exalted still impresses me. Lore-wise, the story of the Exalted and their excellent design make me just want to spend all day sitting on the grass of Tarir observing them.
The meta-event itself is excellent, requiring both individual and a strong group effort, spread out across four areas, making communication vital. The big issue with the zone, though, is that everything relies on that event and its associated event chains. Outside of those, it can be slow going, especially during the 15-minute trials period when, if you don't want (or can't get) access to Exalted armor, you just twiddle your thumbs. Even worse is when you're in an underpopulated zone, as not only will the event not complete, but all the loot boxes underneath the city will be locked away. Still, that's been a rare occurrence for me; usually I can get into an active zone, kick some Octovine butt (does the Octovine even have a butt?), and enjoy a truly epic event.
The first Heart of Thorns zones, in my mind, exemplifies what Guild Wars 2 should be about – running around from location to location, tackling events and helping people. It's a great exploratory zone, with just enough stuff tucked away on the various levels to be challenging to reach but not so much that I tend to get lost or frustrated for long periods of time.
The nighttime battles in the canopy are also great, and taking on a series of legendary enemies every couple hours is quite fulfilling. I'd say VB trails behind AB because those diverse enemies and the lack of an epic story, like defending Tarir, gives the zone more of a a “farming” feel to it and detracts from the overall story of aiding the Pact. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and even after a few months of playing, I'm still enjoying the zone for its random-ish encounters and plan to stick around for a good long while.
I love running the Dragon's Stand meta-event. A (nearly) non-stop hour of battling armies of mordrem into the heart of Mordremoth's domain, the various challenges across the three paths, and yes, the rewards, make it a fitting culmination to the Heart of Thorns story. I was concerned about the length of the event, but it fits nicely into about an hour-long wedge of time and gets finished right about at the time when I feel like I could use a break.
And it's a good thing that event does feel as momentous as it does, because that's really all the zone has going for it. That's by design, obviously; I'm not saying it should have any more going on. Still, it's a little bit of a bummer to realize that the only time I can really enjoy the zone is during a specific time doing specific things. There's not much point to freely roaming otherwise.
Another downside is how badly it exposes the downsides of the megaserver tech. It's a bit of an issue in other HoT zones too, but after the first week or two of the expansion's launch, I've never been placed naturally into a well-occupied Dragon's Stand map, even when I get there when the event is resetting. I'm always in a near-empty zone, having to get a group port to join others, and it's happened enough now that it can't just be my bad luck. It doesn't work like this in core Tyria zones and I can't imagine why it does here.
Even with some of their flaws, I still really like the three maps above and think they're working well. I still need to farm them for mats for my next legendary weapon and, despite the time commitment, I'm looking forward to it. Tangled Depths, on the other hand... well, let's just say there's a reason it's the map I still have the most work to do on.
All of the HoT zones are a more difficult to find your way around in than old Tyria zones – hey, it's a jungle, it's supposed to be hard to navigate – but Tangled Depths takes that to an extreme. There are multiple levels to everything, holes to plummet through, winding corridors that look like they'll take you toward your goal but instead take you away from it... and if you don't have Nuhoch Wallows unlocked, don't even bother trying to explore the zone.
And then there's the chak. Fighting bunches of them in narrow corridors that they fill with their deadly goop is a challenge that I've seen even large groups struggle with. There's nowhere to go, and running away usually just leads to pulling more aggro. Finally, there's the meta-event, something about lasers and lanes... I don't know precise details because I've never seen it completed and have only rarely managed to get to a location where I could have any influence on it. The combat difficulty combined with the near-impossibility of getting people organized and in the right places make it a messy, nigh-impossible, affair.
I like the idea of a map with TD's complex layout, and maybe in time I'll master it and figure out how best to get places. Lore-wise, I love the “lost city of the asura” concept and its associated events. For the moment, though, Tangled Depths the only one of the four HoT zones I'm not looking forward to having to complete.
How does my list compare with yours? What are your favorite and least-favorite HoT zones?