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Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Studio Visit
By Stephen Meyerink

March 3, 2015 – If you've heard me tell the tale on our podcast, you know that Guild Wars 2 was something of a mixed experience for me. On the one hand, I brought perhaps-unreasonable expectations to the original release, an MMORPG that made big promises and packed some utterly gorgeous art design. I loved its ambitious premise and commitment to changing up tired paradigms in the space, but as a longtime player of the original Guild Wars, I found its rather limited selection of skills — with main skills unlocked nearly in their entirety by the fourth or fifth hour — as well as the seemingly passive nature of the quest design to be a big disappointment. I played the game for a fair number of hours, but ended up moving on.

With that in the back of my mind, I recently moseyed over to ArenaNet's offices in Bellevue, WA to get some of the first ever hands-on time with GW2's upcoming expansion, Heart of Thorns. Much the same as the first release, Heart of Thorns is making moves to break the MMORPG expansion mold. There won't be a new tier of gear dropped by bunny rabbits in the new jungle environments that outclasses your God-Slayer Sword Zenith +10, nor will there be a boosted level cap to send you back into the grind. Instead, Heart of Thorns is playing with some interesting Metroidvania/Zelda-style mechanics in its new Mastery system, aiming to make the act of actually playing the new content its own reward, without negating all the work put into your characters in the past. The new jungle locales are much more vertical than you might be used to in many other MMOs, and with Mastery abilities like a glider, learning how to navigate the jungle becomes part of the fun. The expansion also includes a new profession (the Revenant), a new PvP mode called Stronghold, and a feature GW1 veterans might recognize: Guilds — though the team is still keeping the details on Guilds under wraps.

During my time in the studio, I played an hour each of player versus environment and player vs player content, and had a lovely conversation with game designer Matt Wuerffel about the finer points of building an MMO expansion.

You'll want to check back tomorrow, too. Being the intrepid RPGFan Music man that I am, I toured the sound studio and spoke with composer Maclaine Diemer and Studio Audio Director James Ackley about all things aural. Equally exciting: after much begging and pleading and asking once, those fine gentlemen are allowing RPGFan Music to exclusively debut the Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns theme song. This tune was composed by Diemer himself, and will play on the launcher and login screen of the expansion — so be sure to come back tomorrow to get your music itch scratched!

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