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The Heart of the Heart of Thorns Debate

By Jason Winter on June 29, 2015 | Columns | Comments

The Heart of the Heart of Thorns Debate

It's been a little noisy lately, hasn't it?

A lot of people have given a lot of reasons for why things blew up the way they did, so here's mine: ArenaNet thinks it has plenty of content to justify the expansion label and price tag for Heart of Thorns. The problem is that not everyone agrees with that belief, which I think to be totally sincere on ArenaNet's part, and not any attempt to bamboozle or confuse people – which makes it potentially more dangerous than an intentional deception if it turns out not to be true.

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Working with the notion that ArenaNet is confident in what it's got in Heart of Thorns, that means one of two things are true:

There's plenty of content in Heart of Thorns. It's entirely possible that this is the case and the reason why things went all kerplooie was because not enough had yet been revealed. Too often, it seems that ArenaNet has prioritized form over function. The company wants to be artistic, whether that's in regard to the visual look of the game or the elegance of its gameplay decisions. Limited-time Living Story! Spontaneous big events that crop up at random! A fancy currency wallet! Dyes split up per character because it represents that character's journey! Time and again, it had to change its approach or scale back its vision to provide a more functional game as demanded by its fans.

Right now, ArenaNet's PR plan also falls into that mold. The company clearly wants to reveal things in their due time, “when it's ready,” perhaps, or maybe just because it wants to space things out so we don't get overwhelmed with information. I know that last time I pushed for patience, and I still stand by that, that the expansion itself can take as long as it needs to come out. But in today's pre-order-wary society – even before the Arkham Knight disaster – you better make sure you have all, or at least a significant majority, of your cards on the table before you start asking for money.

It's this approach that's led many people to make assumptions and mental leaps based on what we've heard or not heard. When pre-orders for the base game went live in April of 2012, we already had a ton of information out there to help us make our decisions. Right now, we're still lacking solid info on many of Heart of Thorns' major points, like the new WvW map, two-thirds of the elite specs, the exact nature of the “challenging group content,” and – the major point for some people – just how much new space we'll be getting. “It's just one small zone!” I heard a lot last week, meaning Verdant Brink. It's not, but when that's all that people can find with a cursory search, it's going to be what they base their purchase decisions on.

There's not enough content in Heart of Thorns. “Enough” is, of course, a subjective description, and I want to trust ArenaNet, but a few recent reveals have me a trifle worried.

By now, you've logged into the game and looked around Lion's Arch. It's really beautiful, isn't it? It's been a joy exploring the city for what seems like the first time again, rediscovering old favorites and finding new ones. Even experienced players, like myself, can lose ourselves for several hours, admiring the new vistas and taking screenshots of new favorite locations.

“Several hours,” though, is the extent of my interest. Just a week later, I've mostly gotten used to the city's new layout and it's starting to all seem familiar. The “entertainment value” of the new Lion's Arch lasted me a few days, or maybe a week or so at the outset.

That's fine for a free update, but it won't be nearly good enough for an expansion, and as I watched the piece-by-piece reveals of guild halls a few weeks ago, I developed many of the same notions. Yes, they're very big and pretty, maybe on par with a city in terms of size and grandeur. How long will the entertainment value of that last? A few days? A week or two?

As for the rest that comes with guild halls, there's a one-time combat instance you'll have to do with your guild to claim your hall. Then you can learn a new crafting skill to decorate them. You can do some new things WvW, you can form up PvP teams with your guild, and there's an arena you can fight in. Out of all of those, only the arena offers actual new gameplay – and even that, I think, won't be appealing for any length of time to most people. (Would you rather play the rewardless PvP of the arena or actual rewarding sPvP?) Instead of actual new guild missions, we get a portal that lets travel to those missions... which we can do already because, you know, waypoints.

It will all seem new and shiny and amazeballs for a short period of time, but after that initial luster has worn off... then what? Guild halls seem to me like they'll provide ways to do existing content rather than providing any meaningful and lasting new content of their own – and that's what people really want in an expansion. That's especially true of an expansion that players have waited three years for.

ArenaNet thinks it's got enough, but this is a little bit of unexplored territory for both the company and us. Guild Wars 2 was Not Your Typical MMO(TM); it tried doing a lot of things differently, and many fans stuck with it because of the promise the game had. Heart of Thorns is also looking to be Not Your Typical MMO Expansion(TM), but, if recent events are any indication, it still needs to meet basic expectations of value versus cost, in the minds of players.

And because it's so different, players aren't sure what to expect. If ArenaNet can pull it off with less pure content than a typical MMO expansion, kudos to them. But we've all been down that road before, hearing claims from MMO developers that there's plenty of material for an update or expansion, only to see players rocket through it all in a matter of weeks and ask, “Now what?” We've been asked to trust ArenaNet for a long time now, but the time is fast approaching when all those promises need to be delivered on. Maybe they're all covered in Heart of Thorns, but if that's the case, that information can't be hidden much longer.

I'll still buy Heart of Thorns, without question. I was planning to do that at the $50 price tag, even before the additional features were announced. I love Guild Wars 2 and I'll be playing it for a long time. But I'm one of the top percent of players in terms of dedication and general interest, and, as we found out last week, there are a lot of people who don't share that same level of tolerance for the game's imperfections. I hope ArenaNet either has a lot of content up its sleeve or is realistic about just how much it's offering and is prepared for what might happen if the expansion doesn't measure up to the three-year wait.

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