Heart of Thorns Systems Impressions

Last week, I focused on my impressions of the story in Heart of Thorns; today I turn my attention to the two systems that have changed Guild Wars 2 and the way we play the game: masteries and elite specialisations. 


With the new addition of masteries, Heart of Thorns made me care about earning experience points once again. Experience was something I had long since dismissed upon reaching max level –  an afterthought of event completion. By not doing these activities, I was missing out on many benefits of the game like community interaction. Now that I was being forced to do events in Heart of Thorns, I began to work towards a goal with other players. It reminded me of the community itself.

The addition of masteries allowed me to build upon my character without diminishing what I had done before. The fact I could now glide didn’t rescind conquering the Arah dungeon. This made me feel as if my character was growing and adapting to the new challenges presented to him. Improving my masteries truly made me feel as if I was honing my skills and represented a realistic progression. At first I learnt to glide and, once I had some time under my belt, I learnt to utilise the perilous updrafts that were scattered throughout the jungle.

When fighting my way through Dragon’s Stand, I was greeted by a cave masked in poison. Part of the event chain lay within – assuming it was safe to enter, I quickly ran inside. A few seconds later, I was dead on the floor. I was left to wait outside the cave and feel helpless. While others were progressing the event, I couldn’t support the group due to my lack of Nuhoch Alchemy. Whenever I passed by the cave, I felt like its presence was mocking me, and when I was finally able to enter a few days later, it truly felt as if my character had grown and overcome an old challenge. The many gated hero points and secret areas acted as an almost personal vendetta that I needed to overcome.

Despite this, few masteries exist which make a noticeable impact on combat. The Nuhoch Stealth Detection mastery, which allowed me to see stealthed Mordrem, was a welcomed addition; although it should have represented the first of many. It was satisfying once I unlocked it when, after being killed countless times by these invisible menaces, I was finally able to seek them out. Masteries shouldn’t just increase your abilities on a personal level, they should increase how you are able to help those around you. When I was fighting a wyvern atop a mountain peak in Verdant Brink, I sorely missed a mastery that would allow me to strip it from the sky (as we were told would exist, pre-Heart of Thorns launch) or exploit cracks in its armour for my allies to do more damage. Masteries should have been something to turn the tide of combat. Having someone join the fight who had mastered how to hunt wyverns would have been a nice way to highlight a true expert in something.

There needed to be more masteries and they also needed to be more diverse. Masteries didn’t pose the dilemma they needed to present: choice. I should have been asking myself, “do I master a specific mastery to become an elite in that area, or train everything equally?” Masteries should have been tactical, meaningful, and reverberating decisions that affected my character’s future and the world around me. I wanted my thief to be able to become the master assassin that I always imagined him to be, not placed in the same line as everyone else. Few masteries really exist that allow you to have a proper impact on the world, and instead were simply new ways to Press F.

Elite Specialisations

Having mained a thief since the launch of the game, I could safely say I had mastered the profession. I knew all the skills, I knew which traits were good and bad, and I knew the weapon to equip for the situation I was in. Needless to say, my first goal was to unlock the thief’s elite specialisation: the daredevil. I was excited for the new potentials it offered me and how it would force me to change and adapt the skills that I had already learnt.

Training and becoming a daredevil felt as if I had made a personal and meaningful change for my character. The elite specialisations felt like an advancement more than an alternative. I knew having a third dodge and the raw power of the staff were too much to pass up on. Because elite specialisations weren’t a complete re-design, it didn’t feel like a whole new class, but the same old character – the one I had done so much on and mastered in so many ways. Despite my love for the thematics of the daredevil, their changes felt limited to only being given a third dodge. These changes paled in comparison to other classes (the ranger, for example, becoming a druid and taking the role of the first truly dedicated healer).

Unlocking my elite specialisation became my own personal adventure. Now needing them to unlock the daredevil, hero points became worth completing, which reminded me how fun it was to seek out and attempt these challenges. It was a joy to get a group of people together to face off against the more difficult hero points. While attempting the hero point, we would all excitedly compare our new classes and abilities; it was a memorable reminder of the Guild Wars 2 community.

Much like masteries, elite specialisations are a form of horizontal progression that allows players to develop and expand upon their original characters. With the addition of elite specialisations, I was able to spend more time on the characters I loved so much. When I was adding new skills to my action bar, and changing traits around, I wasn’t thinking, “How does this make me stronger?”, I was looking at ways that these new additions would build upon the skills and experience I had already learnt. It was exciting to map my progress towards finishing my daredevil, being intrigued about what I was going to unlock next, and visibly seeing how I was becoming stronger. I wasn’t left debating going to a new class, because it was better. I was asking myself how I could develop the one I had already spent over 1,000 hours on.

To say that Heart of Thorns is a perfect expansion is wrong, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction and a positive framework for the future. The direction of the story to a darker theme is highlighted through the brilliant implementation of the maps and plays in well to the overall story of Guild Wars 2 – the race against the Elder Dragons. The additions of open-world storytelling and our characters’ voices are a welcome change, but in the wake of their implementation, the joy of freedom that the Living World can now so proudly boast has been forgotten. On a more positive note, masteries and elite specialisations are another good path for Guild Wars 2 to go down. Although lacking in diversity and scope, with the addition of combat interaction and more ways for us to support our allies, masteries can be a powerful force of end-game progression. Coupled with elite specialisations, which allow us to expand upon our already gained skills, the future for Guild Wars 2 is looking set to head down an exciting path.

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