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Colin and MO Talk Heart of Thorns, Raids, and Free to Play

William Murphy Posted:
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During PAX Prime 2015, ArenaNet announced that not only is Guild Wars 2 (the base game) becoming free to play, not only is Heart of Thorns launching on October 23rd, but raids, legendary armor, and more are coming as part of the end-game experience in Heart of Thorns. We chatted with Colin Johanson and Mike O’Brien after the presentation to go deeper into all things HoT.

MMORPG: Aside from the obvious lowering of the barrier to entry, why decide now to make the base game for Guild Wars 2 free to play?

Mike O’Brien: It’s such a perfect time. First of all, you saw the presentation today. And that really was the thought process that went into this. Guild Wars 2 has such a pure business model. It’s so easy: buy the game and play it. And as we’re getting into expansion packs, we just really want to stay with that mindset: purity and clarity. We’re coming up with Heart of Thorns, do we need to make it have this additional prerequisite?

MMORPG: [Heart of Thorns] presumably won’t be the last expansion pack, either, so then if you add more onto that you have to buy the base game, and then the expansion…

MO: Right, so what kind of path are you leading down, then? That was certainly our thought as we prepared for pre-sales. Once you’re already down that path, buy Heart of Thorns.  We chose this timing because this is perfect. In two months, players who might try the game for free now will then hopefully see why it’s a good purchase to get Heart of Thorns come October 23rd [when the expansion launches].

MMORPG: What about the existing players. Are there more “perks” coming for those who bought the game originally only to have it be free to all now? Granted it’s three years later, but are there other perks for existing customers?

MO: We announced all existing players who pre-purchase HoT get the extra character slot. We announced that earlier. We have the anniversary gifts, too, with the 3rd birthday gift going out this week. We will likely focus more on those sort of “lifetime” account gifts to keep rewarding players who’ve been with us the longest. We love our existing fans, and the community, and I think the best thing we can do is just keep putting more content out there for every one of the GW2 players.

MMORPG: Let’s talk about raids, next. That’s the big exciting content piece out of the presentation. You gave some details about them, can you tease our readers a bit more with some of the rewards they might be getting from raiding?

Colin Johanson: We released our new Heart of Thorns website, shortly after the panel, and it basically breaks down everything we announced, and goes into greater details. We’ve talked about things since we announced in big chunks. This website really puts in so much stuff, and gives a good look at the whole expansion. And Legendary Armor is one of those things, and it’s awesome. It’s going to look really cool…

MMORPG: Are there previews of any of the skins and stuff like that?

Colin: Not yet, not yet. But I can say will do something unique. Just like Legendary weapons have their own unique looks and effects, Legendary armor will as well. We’ll talk more about that in the future.

MMORPG: I just want to fart rainbows.

Colin: [Laughs] I’m afraid that’s reserved for weapons.

MMORPG: [Laughing] I just made myself lose my own train of thought. Okay, so the raiding. Do you expect everyone will partake in? Raiding in a lot of games, at least in days gone by, has always been for the top five percent. Or do you see a lot of people getting in there?

Colin: Well I think at a broad level, the decisions we’ve made make raiding a lot more approachable in Guild Wars 2 than other games. From our combat to a lack of attunements, to the more fluidm role-based system, and I think we’ll see a large percentage of people at least try them. What they’ll see when they get in there is that it works really well in our game. We don’t try to exclude anybody. Raiding in Guild Wars 1, with Underworld and Fissure of Woe were GW1’s take on that kind of content. Domain of Anguish, all of those were the same concept we’re using for GW2. They were extremely popular in GW1, and I’d be surprised if they weren’t as popular here.

MMORPG: Do you think there will be a sect of people who love Fractals, and just kind of get together with a second group naturally and run raids?

Colin: Absolutely. I think there’s a natural evolution. With the expansion, they fulfill a slightly different experience. Now, instead of 3 in a row, you play 1 at a time. Tonight you might have only fifteen minutes and a Fractal is perfect for you. But then another night you have an hour or two, so you get organized and decide to take on one of our raids.  

MMORPG: Is that what you expect for a wing of a raid? About an hour?

Colin: It’s all over the place, really. It really depends on your skill set, your party, how many times you’ve been there. We’re not setting time expectations. Basically, our goal is to have you go in and the first time? You’re going to get absolutely smacked. You should come out of it saying, “What are we going to do to change our builds and what are we going to do to change our tactics. When you do beat it, we want you to just barely be able to clear it and move on.  You’ll keep going, you’ll get better, and just when your group or guild has it on “clear status”, our goal is to then bring on the next raid wing.

MMORPG: Do you expect people will need to have specific, or rather do you think that the elite specializations with their new powers and abilities will be required to progress through the raids? I think some folks are worried that they won’t be needed or wanted in groups if they’re not playing the “new hotness”.

Colin: We’ve been testing them with all different kinds of builds across all professions. I think the key with Elites is that it gives your profession an option to play a way they never had before. All the elites still use the core combat system (dodging, support, control), and the raids are built around that, not just one aspect of each profession.

MMORPG: So I could go in as a glass cannon guardian, and as long as my friends had my butt, I could do just fine.

Colin: I think that’s part of what makes Guild Wars 2 unique: every person in a group of ten for our raids will be responsible for themselves as well as helping out their team. First and foremost. Second, they’re responsible for controlling and damage dealing. And third, they’re also responsible for supporting their party. So if you want to go super high DPS in your party, someone else might be that way through condis [condition damage] and that’s fine. Just so long as there are others who also have non-DPS. You can even still tweak builds on the fly. Your warrior can bust out the banners or shouts, your guardian can have its aegis and so on.

MMORPG: One of the things GW2 gets flak for is its dungeons. Everyone loads up on ‘zerker stats and just runs into the wall, dies, and then runs into the wall again until the bosses drop and people get their loot. Is that something you’re trying to avoid in Raids?

Colin: I think that extends far beyond raids. I think that that is, when I look at the things we want to do better, and one of those is the creature encounters across the entire game. So we’re designing everything in this expansion, not just raids, to fully task players to use all of the skills and abilities we have available to us.

MMORPG: Like the recent introduction of interrupt armor.

Colin: Yep, and there are a bunch of different ways to fight different creatures. I’m most proud of that stuff, I think in this expansion. The jungle is a huge step forward to show that our combat system really shines when it uses all of the abilities. Fractals are one example of this, but Raids will really highlight this, as well as the overall expanse of the Maguuma zones.

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.