After four years, ArenaNet have finally released their first Guild Wars 2 expansion. You may remember Guild Wars 2, and just where you left off on your adventure all those years ago and the Easter eggs left behind which tantalisingly teased some sort of expansion into new areas and worlds. Well, the time has finally come to continue the adventure that began so many years ago.

For the uninformed, Guild Wars 2 went free-to-play in August 2015, and if you haven’t played it yet I highly recommend you do. Best experienced with friends, although playing solo is just as much fun since the events which occur throughout the maps are always filled with friendship, occurring in all zones as you’re leveling up.

Heart of Thorns

Guild Wars 2 introduced a number of unique mechanics to the MMO world from the get-go, and once again the latest addition separated itself even further from the “Oh it’s just another World of Warcraft clone” generalization that plagues many an online fantasy game. With the latest expansion comes new features, but what excited me the most going into Heart of Thorns was the freshly added Masteries which introduced a new dynamic to the end-game content. What I expected was a new adventure, and that’s exactly what I got with the brand new story mission: Torn from the sky.

Torn from the Sky and Masteries

Before you can unlock Masteries you need to complete the aforementioned Torn from the sky mission. Where Guild wars 2 left off, was with a story that featured the Risen battling and defeating Zhaitan the Dragon. A drawn-out affair that occurred every 10 levels, the final story mission was tedious to the extreme. I wasn’t particularly excited to enter into yet another overwrought mission, but it had to be done dammit. I would have much rather entered the expansion in the Maguuma Jungle, but that was unfortunately not the case. The mission was not as inspired as I’d hoped, though once again it predictably prepared you for what was to come. I’ll leave it at that for now so as to not spoil the story, which once again reminded me that ArenaNet are still masters of lore – even if they may not quite have the same grasp of narrative. There’s also no more awkward cut-scenes, with your conversations instead being experienced in third person, creating an extremely welcome feature for me.

I managed to convince a couple of friends to give Guild Wars 2 a second try, and it was then that I realized that Masteries are account-bound, meaning that they’re shared between all of your characters. This made leveling easily the best part of Guild Wars 2, and a whole lot more rewarding. However, in true Guild Wars style you need to complete challenges to acquire these Masteries. The Glider challenge for example, unlocked a glider that gave me an interesting new alternative to use when exploring the Guild Wars 2 world and discovering new areas.

It’s not a Deus Ex Machina travel system that will get you everywhere, but it is so much more than yet another comparison to World of WarCraft and its flying mounts.

Glider
Yes, I spent my 5000 gems on cosmetics, sue me.

Heading into the heart of Maguuma Jungle was once again a breathtaking experience. ArenaNet wasted no time in their absence when it came to ensuring a jaw-dropper of an experience in this new zone.  This is where I had my “Mastery epiphany,” as the importance and necessity of Masteries became clear.

Guild Halls
The Guild Hall, one of the latest features in Heart of Thorns. Here you can hang out with all your friends and discuss your next move in the War of Guilds.

Masteries are the latest leveling mechanics introduced in Heart of Thorns, adding an entirely new feature which left me wondering why so many MMOs have not considered implementing this feature in the past. This entire review could be centered on Masteries alone, as each one you select unlocks new story steps.

For example once I’d completed the “Glider Basics” Mastery, I unlocked the “Establishing a Foothold” story quest which has you, as its name suggests, mastering the Glider. This is where I had my moment of pure epiphany; it all made sense and I soon realized certain Masteries unlock certain story paths, so if you’re going for something specific, make sure you pick the right ones that suit you. This is something I’ve missed when not playing Guild Wars; the ability to feel rewarded for completing even the most mundane of missions, of which Guild Wars has plenty.

As part of the masteries in the Maguuma Jungle, found specifically at Magus Falls, you’re able to begin a Lore-specific set of quests in these regions. I started off with the Bouncing Mushrooms, part of the Itzel Lore, which of course unlocked a new story step, similar to the Glider Basics mission.

Do you remember Tyria? The land you saved by defeating Zhaitan? Well you’re able to complete Pact missions in Tyria which offer a separate category of Masteries. Yes, that’s correct there are two separate categories to Masteries and honestly just too much to do with the limited time we have on this planet

ArenaNet have also done a fantastic job in combining the way you go about leveling up these Masteries. I still have so much more to learn about them (A story for another day), but to be completely honest I do fear the day I finish up all the missions.

Dynamic Events and leveling Masteries

Experience is always a tough ask in an MMORPG. At times you’ll find yourself in a zone trying to get 100% completion to earn that final bar of experience, but I found Heart of Thorns made the effort of earning experience both exciting and rewarding with a combination of teamwork and a small sense of cunning adding to the journey. What’s the new zones so great is that they’re packed with dynamic events, very similar to the ones you see throughout leveling. These events occur all over the new zones, with the most frequent occurrences being in the densely-populated Silverwastes. These events were pretty tough at first thanks to plentiful mobs, emphasising a need to team up with other players to survive them. Soloing events however, is next to impossible.

Silverwastes event

Stronghold is Guild Wars’ MOBA

Stronghold is where it’s at, simple as that. Stronghold is Guild Wars 2 dipping into the MOBA genre. You have to find and destroy your enemy’s Lord in their Stronghold just like in various other MOBAs, gathering supplies along the way. Just like in most MOBAs. It reminded me a lot of some of the open PvP content in World of Warcraft, but this was considerably more fun. You have to move through the map – working together as a team of course –  breaking gates, killing guards and finally facing off against the enemy Lord. Also, although some guilds do take part in this mode for points, you do not need to be part of a guild to play Stronghold, thus making it a focal game mode for me, for quite some time to come in the future.

Stronghold GW2

Closing thoughts

Jumping back into Guild Wars 2 was wonderfully refreshing, and while at first I was hesitant to hit the grind again (knowing I’d be hooked), I found myself churning away heedlessly yet again. I’d even managed to convince a few friends to join me in my latest adventure, because as I’ve said before this game is best experienced with friends around you.

An enthralling story, beautiful scenery and, last but certinly not least, music that you’ll be humming to yourself in the shower. Do yourself a favour and get lost in Heart of Thorns, and Guild Wars 2, again.

 

 

Last Updated: December 1, 2015

Guild Wars 2: Heart of the Thorns
Summary
It was rather refreshing returning to Guild Wars 2 after an extended absence. With mountains of fresh and exiting content, Guild Wars 2 Heart of Thorns is most definitely worth it if you’re a fan of the franchise. The new map is beautiful to behold, and there is friendship around every corner. 
8.0
Guild Wars 2: Heart of the Thorns was reviewed on PC
81 / 100

Kyle Wolmarans

Critical Hit's esports guy. I talk about esports and drink whiskey. I also write and cast for elsewhere - but my work here is independent of that.

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