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E3 2015: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Developer Interview

Having the opportunity to sit down with the development team responsible for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns has honestly renewed my faith in the franchise. As a huge fan of the original game, I was initially excited for the release of Guild Wars 2. Unfortunately, as I progressed through Guild Wars 2 I noticed a lot of key features that weren’t present, or were lackluster, in the MMORPG sequel including: marginalized PvP, bland skillsets, and a nonexistent guild hall. After discussing the future of Guild Wars 2 with game director Colin Johanson, and other members of the team, I believe that ArenaNet is actually listening to its players and bringing about much needed changes that will truly make Guild Wars 2: Heart of the Thorns an excellent expansion.

“Over time we really started feeling like there were some core big features that we really wanted to bring to the game, and that’s one of the things that lead us to want to do an expansion. One of the pillars of that is guild halls,” said Crystin Cox, lead designer. “We really wanted to create something in guild halls that was more than a set of social features. We really wanted to bring the idea of having a space for your guild into the world. Guild halls are a lot more than a building; they’re a map, they’re a place, they’re an expansive experience that actually exists in the world of Tyria.”

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GUILD HALLS WITH MEANING

For the first time in MMORPG history, guild halls have an immense amount of impact on the game and are more than simply a place to wait until the next queue pops. First off, guild halls have to be earned and aren’t simply purchased. Guilds can gain access to their own, instanced location inside of Tyria by completing a series of meta events in order to unlock a specific area within the Maguuma Jungle. Players are then tasked with clearing the mordrem out of the location and securing the crystal at the heart of the guild hall.

Once a guild hall is claimed there are all kinds of features, perks and additional buildings that can be constructed. A few examples are the Tavern, which provides buffs and social aspects, the Market, where players can access special vendors and buy mini-pets, and the War Room that allows the construction of World vs World material. Furthermore, there’s a giant arena that can be fully customized with structures, traps and decorations where guild members can battle one another or other guilds. There’s even a staging portal that allows entire guilds to be transported across Tyria for PvP, WvW or PvE missions.

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“Guild halls are not off on the battle islands, like they were in Guild Wars 1, they’re not in the mists. They’re really a part of the new area that we’re releasing and they have their own story. We’re actually adding a new organization to the world with the launch of Heart of Thorns called the Guild Initiative,” said Link Hughes, game designer. “They’re looking for guilds who are willing to mount an expedition, to travel out into the jungle and investigate those locations. To clear out their mordrem infestation and then ultimately take and hold them.”

 

BIGGER, BETTER PVP

Even though PvE is at the core of obtaining a guild hall, there are a lot of PvP updates planned around guilds in Heart of Thorns. One of the biggest improvements is the addition of the Stronghold battleground. Stronghold is likely the closest thing that we’ll ever see to Guild vs Guild battles because it incorporates NPC and Guild Lord elements into the fight. Instead of simply fighting over capture points in Conquest, or swarms of enemies in World vs World, players now have an option to play a little more strategically and think about new way to defeat enemies using siege equipment or hired mercenaries. There are elements from Guild vs Guild, fortifications and guild lords, Fort Aspenwood, supply lines, and even some ideas borrowed from the MOBA genre. Stronghold victories are determined by points with 500 for killing the enemy lord, 50 for each gate destroyed, 20 for hero kills, 10 for guard and 5 for each player killed. There’s even going to be a leaderboard system to determine which guild has the best team.

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“While you still have a competitive PvP objective, there’s a lot of different roles and opportunities for people to have a variety of builds. We’re really excited to see what the meta becomes in it because there are so many different things you can do,” said Jessica Boettiger, test lead for PvP. “You can gather supplies to summon NPCs that’ll help push down your lane, you can summon these really awesome and powerful mist champions that are periodic events that spawn on the map. It really offers an opportunity for people that didn’t know they were interested in PvP, or have been putoff by it, because there’s so much you can do to support your team in other ways besides just combat.”

A new gameplay mode isn’t the only update that PvP in Guild Wars 2 is getting. In addition to Stronghold, a new Borderland map is being added and guild members will be able to create multiple structured pvp teams. These teams will be able to compete for a guild ranking on the leaderboard. Moreover, players will be able to create items in the guild war room that can be taken into World vs World such as banners or even a massive air strike, which can be used when defending Stonemist Castle.

“In addition to this great space that guilds can claim and decorate there’s also the war room where guilds can craft tool and create improvements that they can take into battle in World vs World. Now you can build tools that you create in your guild hall to the guild claiming system in World vs World,” said Boettiger. “You’re able to slot improvements to the objectives that you claim. There’s tactics where you can create banners to nominate someone in your guild to be a bannerman; we have support banners and defense banners, really just adding to the strategic depth in World vs World.”

CLASS IMPROVEMENTS

While the updates to PvP, guild halls and the Maguuma Jungle are the larger portions of the expansion, classes are also getting revamped. Later this month, trait changes are coming to Guild Wars 2 that are going to allow classes to be specialized in a much more dynamic way. Heart of Thorns is going to further add on to that concept by allowing professions to specialize into entirely new entities, which have access to unique traits, skills, mechanics and even different weapons. One example is the Mesmer’s ability to specialize into the Chronomancer, who has the ability to control time and gains access to shields.

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An expansion wouldn’t be complete without a new class. The Revenant is going to channel the power of legendary icons: Jalis Ironhammer, Mallyx the Unyielding, and Ventari to create a brand new style of combat. Its abilities will be determined by the stance that it chooses, which permits the Revenant to either be a heavy damage dealer, tank or support class. If properly implemented, the Revenant could be the most versatile class in the game.

It really feels like Guild Wars 2 is moving in the right direction after missing many important features on launch. The team appears to be aware of the keys elements that the game is lacking and definitely want to continue to make improvements in the years to come. Heart of Thorns isn’t simply a new class and series of quests; it’s a move in the right direction for the future of Guild Wars 2. Improving existing content can be just as important as adding to it.

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is currently available for pre-order and comes in three variants: Standard, Deluxe and Ultimate editions. The standard edition simply includes the expansion and the original game, as well as access to weekend beta events. An upgrade to the deluxe version grants an additional character slot, miniature Revenant Rytlock, a Revenant finisher move, a glider and one of three Mordremoth’s Bane guild hall decorations. The Ultimate edition includes all other bonuses with the addition of 4,000 gems.

“Guild halls in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns are so much more than the name implies, they are a body of features that will represent one of the deepest community and social focused systems of any online game world,” said Johanson. “At their core, guild halls are maps that guilds can own, progress, decorate, customize and grow. They include a customizable brawling arena, a war room to build tools to go to war against other guilds in World vs. World PvP, a new crafting discipline called the Scribe, and that’s just a few of the highlights. As a whole the features are designed to emphasize community, give players a place to call their own and build a shared history in the game, and even activate player creativity in ways that have yet to be seen.”

 

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About Nick Shively

Nick is an eSports and RPG enthusiast. He can normally be found in the deepest parts of a dungeon or in the arena slaying opponents. Nick has been a gamer since an early age and involved in the industry since 2011. He obtained a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2015.