Yesterday ArenaNet aimed to impress with their PAX presentation including the Heart of Thorns release date of October 23. The company brass talked about the vision of Heart of Thorn expansion and beyond, notably with raids (10-man instanced, difficult content) and the core game going free. Except for the forced clap pauses that seem to be part of all video game presentations, I was pretty impressed with the information drop. In reverse order…
The biggest note for MMO’dom in general is that Guild Wars 2 is now free. It’s really not F2P, which is a moniker used more to hint at the need for microtransactions and gimped gameplay, or a subscription game changing business models in an extreme manner. All content that is currently available is free. The Heart of Thorns expansion and all that content, with a few exceptions, will be paid.
There are restrictions. The vast majority of them are aimed at protecting the existing community and economy. No daily log in reward was a big one that I saw the community worry over. No sending gold or items by mail or getting access to a guild vault is a huge blow to any thought of gold buyers getting a heyday. Players also can’t access WvW until level 60, which I feel is reasonable, but the WvW community still talks like the sky is falling to spies, griefers, etc.
The notable “F2P” exception is limited character slots and bag space. Two character slots for free seems reasonable, but 3 bag slots seems tight. A player can go a cheap route and buy gems (with cash, not gold) to increase bag slots, or possibly find a Guild Wars 2 “core” key. But, I feel if they are invested enough to want bag slots, they would probably want to go the full mile and just buy Heart of Thorns.
Unlike the World of Warcraft “free demo”, where I hit the wall at level 20 and never came back (despite many thoughts of re-subbing), I feel free Guild Wars 2 players can get the full tour of what I’ve been playing the past three years. It’s the beyond that they won’t be able to get without heading through a pay wall.
Part of this beyond will be raids, which was the info drop that started the presentation. These are 10-man instanced bits of content. The first raid will have three wings, with the first wing coming a bit after Heart of Thorns launch.
Colin explained one tactic with a boss in the first wing. There is a platform, and the boss is aiming to insta-kill anybody on the platform. Players must get off the platform, use gliders to float above the platform, and fall down to CC (creature control) the boss before the cycle repeats.
Raids will have masteries tied to them, which we’ll learn about in future blog posts. However, Colin was very exact in saying that there would not be raid erosion in Guild Wars 2. It will never be easier to beat a raid by out-powering a raid with higher gear or character level tiers. I think that’s pretty cool.
The biggest shake-up with raids was that it would contain legendary armor. This has some worried about the rifts it might cause in the community. Legendary armor is the same stat-wise as ascended armor, which anybody can make. However, legendary armor can have its stats changed at any time. Ascended armor requires a modest reforging to do that. That gives legendary armor the slightest of edges to call it best-in-slot.
My gut feeling is that raids will be hard at first, just like Tequatl and the tri-Wurm. Players will find good mechanics and group compositions, and the raid love will trickle down. I think that ArenaNet will make raid accessible for the core players, but I feel like it will be made difficult.
Heart of Core
What has really happened, I feel, with Heart of Thorns is that the core game’s water is rising almost as much than the expansion-only content. Right now it seems like the expansion-only content will be the four new maps, the story missions, elite specializations, and raids. The core content will be Stronghold (PvP), new WvW borderlands, and new Fractals of the Mists (5-man dungeon) progression. I am not sure where masteries fits in. Early on ArenaNet has said that masteries was a Heart of Thorns only thing, despite there being core masteries. We’ll have to see if they stick to their guns on that notable mechanic.
However, I think most of the future updates will be behind the Heart of Thorns paywall. The presentation hinted that the Living World updates would continue, possibly with the raids being a large part of that. It is likely they will continue in the Heart of Thorns maps, or even add new maps.
ArenaNet took a lot of developer time this expansion cycle to work on the core game. Hopefully that is time well spent because I would love for a faster-than-three-years future expansion cycle. If we can get to Cantha in a year or so…. well, dreams can come true sometimes.