The Heart of Thorns Demo: From Story to Stronghold

Over the PAX East weekend, like other players, I had the first chance to experience the new Heart of Thorns demo. ArenaNet not only had the revenant available to play, but also the first area that players will explore (including the wyvern fight), and a Stronghold match. Here’s my first take on how playing the demo felt.

The First Zone

One of the first things which happens in the new zone is the player’s character talking to Braham and the other members of the band. No cut scene, just dialogue in-game. This is a direction ArenaNet really started going in season 2 of the Living World, but in Heart of Thorns they are expanding to have all the dialogue taking place in-game. On one hand, this is nice because as a player, you aren’t taken out of the action. But, on the other hand, I find it easy to miss some key pieces of dialogue, so I often feel like I need to just stand still and not do anything for fear of missing something.

Player and B-Iconics

Events in the new zone will be of a similar structure to what we have seen in the Silverwastes. Each event will be progressive, and in order to get to events with better rewards, the previous events must be successful. There will also be leaderboards for events which will be perpetual and will provide even better rewards for setting the new top “score.” This continues on the idea of making purposefully failing events to be the least attractive option.

Unlocking Masteries will be accomplished through finishing various events or accomplishing certain tasks. For the purpose of the demo, getting the first Mastery point was sped up so we’d be able to use the hang glider so it’s sort of hard for me to tell how it will feel in game. I like the concept though, and using the hang glider was awesome.

Playing the Revenant

I was mostly interested in getting a feel for how it felt to use a hammer as a ranged weapon because it is a bit different in concept to what is currently in-game. The closest parallel I can think of is how a mesmer utilizes the greatsword, but the revenant is distinctly different.

Surveying Wreckage

The Revenant

Nearly all the weapon skills are aimed based on where the character is facing, which doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but in actual game play, it is a bit weird to have to think about it. Currently in-game, most skills which have to be aimed give players a directional indicator, so you can choose where the effect will hit and it is independent of which direction the character is facing. Everything is tied to positioning for the revenant.

At one point I had my Field of the Mists (projectile blocking wall) up but I wanted to put some more space between myself and the mob so I could use a skill which does more damage at a distance. My initial instinct was to turn around, but that made the Field of the Mists pointless, so it was better to just dodge backwards. Then there are skills which shoot out a line of effect, but if you aren’t facing directly at where you want the projectile to go, you’ll miss. I’m sure once I get more time to play I’ll be able to adjust, but there is definitely a bit of a learning curve to this profession.

One aspect of the revenant which felt slightly overpowered to me is with each Legend I had a different heal skill available. So it is possible to use one heal skill, then switch the active Legend and use another heal skill. Since we don’t know all the specifics of how all the specializations will function this might not be a big deal, but it is definitely something which feels like it could be too strong.


Defiant Wyvern

The New Defiance Mechanic

At the end of the demo, every player that was playing at the same time got together to fight the Wyvern. On one hand, it was a bit odd because everyone was playing revenants, but at the same time it felt like a bit of a preview of what the Heart of Thorns launch would be like (revenants everywhere). However, the Wyvern fight was great at showcasing how the changes to defiance are a vast improvement.

For most of the fight the defiance bar is grayed out and nothing players do will have any effect on it. When it becomes active, it changes from gray to blue and players have a limited time to reduce the bar’s charge by hitting the Wyvern with crowd control abilities. Stronger CCs will reduce the bar more than weaker ones, which makes having strong abilities available in boss fights actually worthwhile. When I played the demo, we did manage to get the Wyvern’s defiance bar all the way down so we didn’t have to deal with him breathing fire all over the platform and could focus on beating him.

This change will really help world events be more enjoyable for everyone. With the change to defiance one person can’t really mess it up for everyone, and actually getting the bar all the way down feels like a real accomplishment.

Stronghold, the PvP for PvEers?

In Heart of Thorns there will be a new map added to the sPvP map rotation, but only in unranked matches. The goal of a Stronghold match is to break through the other team’s gates and take down their lord. However, it isn’t a direct assault. Each team needs to gather supplies to hire solders that have different tasks, for example there are Skritt who are door breakers and specialize in blowing up the enemy gates.



While taking out other players can be helpful in Stronghold, it isn’t the main point and if a team only focuses on killing, they won’t be able to get very far, especially if the other team manages to send the NPCs to do their things in between getting killed. It is a bit of a different mindset than what most people are used to, but the reasoning is simple. ArenaNet want this map to be there as a way to ease PvE people into PvP, sort of a transitional map.

I personally had a ton of fun running around in the Stronghold and figuring out where everything was and how to get the objectives accomplished. In the match I played, it seemed like most people had the idea of the map down and were focused more on the objectives, rather than just killing other players. However, many of the matches I watched over the weekend seemed to devolve into death matches in the middle of the map. Maybe it was just because it was new, but I do hope it won’t become an ongoing issue.

I have no doubt people who are mostly used to PvE and WvW will adapt quickly and probably will enjoy the Stronghold map a lot. I’m not so sure the PvP community will really enjoy it as much, which raises the concern about whether Stronghold will become another ignored map. With the map voting system the way it is, where maps with more votes have a higher chance of being chosen, there is the potential for Stronghold to be picked less often. If it’s rarely the chosen map, it could discourage PvEers from even trying, which could then exacerbate the problem.


For a first look at these systems, the demo was awesome. ArenaNet definitely have a good foundation here and it feels like they are moving things in the right direction. I’m really looking forward to seeing how things go once beta gets going and people can really spend some time figuring out how to best utilize the new class and fight mechanics.

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