It's been a long three years since Guild Wars 2 launched. During that time it's been supported with regular events as well as a launch in China. ArenaNet is nearly ready to release the next chapter of the game through its first expansion, Heart of Thorns. For this entire weekend those who pre-purchase the game have been granted access to a beta event that has a large portion of the expansion available for play in an effort to test the product prior to its release later this year.
I spent several hours yesterday playing the expansion. Below you can read my thoughts summarized.
And then God said, "Let there be voice". Each of the classes now speak outside of cutscenes. Listening to the thoughts of your character as you adventure through the world is a great touch that makes it easier to become immersed in the narrative. Characters that accompany you through missions will also speak, resulting in you being able to focus on playing instead of reading chat bubbles.
Map design is at its best. Every map I have visited so far has been brimming with detail. I'd go as far as to say that map design is noticeably better than demonstrated on the original maps. There's also variety delivered immediately. Within five minutes I traveled from a dry, arid desert to a humid jungle.
Enemies are intelligent. I've had some difficulty combating foes, especially when dealing with more than one. This sense of challenge as enemies use a variety of skills with great care is a terrific thing for the quality of life of the game experience.
The style is as great as ever. I would argue that this game is one of the top three most visually pleasing MMORPGs on the market. Its menus, character design, and animations are extraordinary. The expansion meets the high standard set by the original package.
Gliding is fun. There is a lot of verticality in the new zones, so unlocking Gliding through the Mastery system is well worth it. Using it you can get from place to place using a glider. Seeing all the players gliding around the map is actually quite funny.
The Elite Specializations are great for the most part. Speaking to other players I'm hearing that the Elementalist Tempest and Necromancer Reaper are particularly thrilling. These are additions that are sure to breathe variety to the older professions.
The day/night cycle is much improved. I'm noticing that mid-day and night are very pronounced, a major adjustment over the subtle differences of before. This adds more variety to the atmosphere of each zone. Nothing is quite like a beautiful desert at night.
I don't care for the Revenant's style of play. Shiro stance makes you far too vulnerable to damage, and its heal is nearly useless. Jade Winds doesn't feel good in its current state. Most importantly, the profession doesn't feel unique; stance swapping is something most jobs already do in one form or another.
Mastery isn't as impactful as I hoped it would be. I feel far less compelled to unlock Mastery Points than I typically do earning levels. Considering this is part of the package that is meant to replace the leveling experience typically offered by an MMO expansion, I'm underwhelmed.
Many events aren't working. It's difficult to test something when it doesn't work at all. These broken events make it difficult to move forward and test subsequent content.
I got stuck in a wall for about a minute. Yes, this is a beta, so I wouldn't necessarily count it as an issue. However, it was a real nuisance given it happened in the middle of a main story mission.
A poor sense of progression. If things don't change much outside of what's offered by the beta, it'll be difficult to justify the expansion's $50 price tag. As opposed to the excitement of progressing through various levels in the original experience, what's here doesn't deliver much satisfaction. The Mastery system isn't exciting, leaving you to rely on either enjoying the new profession or the new Elite Specializations for validation.
Cosmetics are the name of the game. This expansion is sticking to the original formula of no holy trinity and standardized gear at endgame. Given the lack of an increase in level, what's offered by this expansion in regards to gear progression is set almost entirely around cosmetics. This is not a game trying to win you over in the long term with alluring long-term goals to strive for, and that's an instant disqualification for many hardcore RPG fans.
A lack of combat feedback. I remember enjoying the game when it came out in 2012. However, for one reason or another I'm not feeling the combat whatsoever during this beta experience. It's difficult to tell when abilities land, resulting in my eyes staring at the bottom skill bar. This may be an issue with the audio and visual presentation. Whatever it is, it's made the gameplay experience far less enjoyable than it should be.