My review of the Guild Wars 2 expansion Heart of Thorns after a full weekend and many full weeknights of playing comes in two parts: (1) the amount of foreseeable entertainment is absolutely worth the price of admission, and (2) it is sticky. The first part is an easy, subjective absolute for me; getting hours upon hours of stuff to do. The second part is good and bad.
Heart of Thorns is sticky. That is clearly the design intent behind just about everything in the expansion. It permeates so clearly that I feel it overwhelms the sense of bite-size. There are no micro-accomplishments, or rather there are, but the sense of stickiness overshadows them. For fans of Guild Wars 2 that have the MMO on top of their playlists this is a fantastic feature. For players looking for lighter fare, I am not sure.
Let’s compare and contrast. The conventional MMO having quests is filled to the brim with micro-accomplishments. That is, indeed, the core of the game for say World of Warcraft. I sign on with only a half-hour to spare, look at my quests, kill 10 denizens appropriate to the ecosystem, and accomplish that quest. The core of Guild Wars 2, while not having quests had hearts. These were basically quests attuned to a specific area and less to a specific action.
There are no hearts, half-ironically, in Heart of Thorns. Rather the open world is filled with outposts, which is an location able to be advanced in a storywise fashion. Each chapter of the outpost’s story is an event, which generally take less than 10 minutes each to complete. Most outposts seem to have hour-long stories if going full bore. If I understand the map I can sign on to easily do an event within my allotted half hour time limit, but this accomplishment feels less significant than a quest. A quest is usually a permanent, controllable advancement. For better and worse, a Guild Wars 2 event is more organic and impermanent. I might sign on two hours later to find the same event.
What I have felt so far is the urge to continue the outpost’s story. It’s usually easy enough to jump in. Just find the Greek-architecture icon for the outpost, and that person will guide the player to the current event. However, I have found it very hard to stop. One event leads to another. This leads to a final culmination. Then it leads to a mapwide meta event, and then finally after two hours it feels like I can stop. That is some sticky content!
There are small victories to be had in finding mastery points, hero point challenges, and vistas the same as old world Guild Wars 2. Yet, unlike hearts and quests they don’t feel like the meat of things. They are the secondary objectives to playing. The same goes for achievements for this article, which are a whole ‘nother level of sticky for hardcore Guild Wars 2 players.
This is of course looking at a part of Heart of Thorns. One can easily play two matches of PvP or jump in to a WvW battle in a half-hour’s time. For longer term players there are tons and tons of achievement steps which can be knocked out in less than a half-hour’s time, the most notable of which are the legendary weapon achievements. There are also Fractal dungeons, revamped now, so that the entire level is a single “island” of the Fractal instead of the previous 3-4 islands.
Still it is notable to go from sitcoms as the usual content feed to feature-length movies. How often do you watch a complete movie in half-hour chunks?
I am hoping that the pendulum starts swinging back. ArenaNet has clearly shown that they can make challenging open world content that is sticky and lengthy enough for all the hardcore able to spend contiguous hours of playtime. Raids are also coming, which just dogpiles on. Anybody that walked away from Guild Wars 2 for “lack of endgame” is going to find it is all different now. For casuals that enjoyed Guild Wars 2’s calmer chunks, I feel they are amiss. Maybe not necessary, but definitely amiss. It’s hard to recommend the expansion to my friends who play Guild Wars 2 a few hours a month.
I would say the absolute saving grace is how ArenaNet interwove many of the features of Heart of Thorns back in to the core game with masteries. There are levels upon levels of masteries that can only be progressed in the old maps. The legendary collections, which are basically thematic quests, all rely on these bite-size accomplishments. I am absolutely loving the hammer legendary’s first step of going to many famous statues around the world and /ponder’ing them. Soon I will be kneeling in front of the many giants of the game. Of course, Fractals are now doable in small chunks. Without these islands of familiar calm to fall back on, I would feel truly overwhelmed.
So. If you are a Guild Wars 2 fan enjoying many hours of the game, Heart of Thorns is a no-brainer. It adds so much to the game it feels to me ridiculous not to get it. If you walked away from Guild Wars 2 because it wasn’t sticky enough, Heart of Thorns should definitely be considered. It will provide easily dozens upon dozens of hours from easier goals (map completion) to hardcore goals (all Heart of Thorns achievements). For those looking for a casual time, a lighter MMO, I would recommend Heart of Thorns, but understand that it is going to hit you with stickiness. Heart of Thorns has turned Guild Wars 2 in to a full-grown MMO, if ever there was a doubt about it before.