GW2

Rumors that an Expansion for ArenaNet‘s popular MMO Guild Wars 2 are in the works have been cropping up for almost a year now. It was practically confirmed with the finale of season 2 of the game’s Living World updates, and technically at PAX South at the “Guild Wars 2 : Beyond the Point of No Return” panel.

Guild Wars 2 : Heart of Thorns was teased at the ending of season 2’s final episode, telling fans of the game to pay attention to PAX South for news on the continuation of the story. The Guild Wars 2 reddit community also happened upon a little trademark that NCSoft had filed around the same time.

Heart of Thorns will send players to explore the deepest reaches of the Maguuma Jungle in pursuit of the sixth elder dragon, Mordremoth, whose spheres of influence center around plants and the mind, making the thick jungle a perfect place to hide. Along with the new zones, collectively known as the Heart of Maguuma, the expansion will give players new professions, weapon types, specializations and a revamped progression system to accompany our characters into the thick jungle. Missing, however, from the typical MMO expansion checklist, is a raised level cap. Instead of invalidating any previously acquired gear with one swift stroke, ArenaNet opted to add more end-game content, and give level 80 characters more to do in the world, which, all in all, is a smart move.

“I think you need real character progression that you can keep using to evolve your characters long after you hit max character level and have the best gear in the game,” ArenaNet president and co-founder Mike O’Brien said. “Now you understand why we had to go build this expansion pack.”

The expansion will bring with it the new “Mastery” progression system, partially focusing on jungle survival and traversal skills our characters will need to brave the thicket where the expansion primarily takes place.

“This all comes together, so it’s not a collection of features,” O’Brien said. “It’s a comprehensive experience.

“I’ll put it simply: Heart of Thorns is our new vision for character progression in Guild Wars 2.”

Completing various events, story segments and challenges (not unlike the skill challenges currently in the game) will net players Mastery points, with which we can purchase account-wide skills and upgrades that boost all our virtual heroes, not just the one character.

“This is part of our no-grind philosophy for Guild Wars 2,” said game director Colin Johanson.

Along the leaf-gliding as seen in the trailer below, the various Mastery skills focusing on the new jungle environment also include learning long forgotten languages of ancient civilizations, or researching their lore. Mastery skills in relation with combat and crafting, which will be useful outside the jungle, will also be plentiful.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOUk2y0K2m8

The expansion will bring new professions to the game, of which only one has been revealed so far. Revenants will be heavy-armor casters, gaining their power from legends, with their skillset deviating depending on what historical figure they channel. Rytlock Brimstone, arguably the figurehead of the game, has been revealed as the first reventant lore-wise.

For those of you who want to stick to your preferred profession, Heart of Thorns will bring a specialization system, adding (a?) sub-class(es?) to each profession, lending more variety to gameplay. The first specialization to be revealed was the Druid, which gives Rangers advanced healing abilities and access to staff weapons. Specializations for each profession will be revealed periodically leading up to the expansion’s launch.

Changes are coming to PvP as well. A new World vs. World Borderland, the largest map ArenaNet has ever created, will give players plenty of content whenever they feel they need a change of scenery. Along the new map, ArenaNet is tweaking WvW to emphasize more on the taking and holding of objectives. For smaller teams, a new PvP game mode will be introduced, named Stronghold, which is reminiscent of PvP modes from previous Guild Wars games. Teams will need to manage resources and small armies in preparation to lay siege upon an enemy Stronghold. A guild leaderboard will also be implemented, promoting competition and friendly rivalry.

Speaking of guilds, a long-requested feature, Guild Halls, will also be implemented. Guilds will be able to create these gathering places for their members to organize and coordinate group activities, or just hang out with fellow guild members. Each guild’s hall will grow and change along with the guild itself.

Heart of Thorns will be playable at PAX East six weeks from now, and the beta testing phase will begin shortly after the event. The results of the beta will influence when the expansion will be released.

“Of course, the question on everybody’s mind is when it’s going to get released,” Johanson said. “It’s going to get released when beta testing says it’s ready to get released. We want to involve our players in that. It’ll be a process of beta testing the game and making sure that this fundamental groundwork that we’re laying is the groundwork that we want to build on top of growing forward.”

“When it’s ready — when players help us determine it’s ready through beta testing — that’s when we’ll release it.”

Come PAX East and we’ll know a lot more about the upcoming expansion, but what has been revealed so far is already extremely promising.

Guild Wars 2 : Heart of Thorns is slated to enter beta testing sometime in march.

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