The Hype Train Has Left Boston: Heart of Thorns Demo Impressions

Last weekend, I traveled to PAX East in Boston and got the opportunity to play the Heart of Thorns demo on the convention floor Friday and a little bit more with Game Director Colin Johanson and Lead Game Designer Isaiah Cartwright on Saturday. Right out the door, there are many things to be excited about in regards to the upcoming expansion and while there is a plethora of features yet to be revealed, I am going to share my experiences and thoughts on the content I was able to play.  If you are worried about spoilers, turn back now.

Verdant Brink (Story Instance)

The first thing players see in the demo is the first cutscene from the end of season two of the Living Story. The next scene pans over the wreckage of the Glory of Tyria, trapped in a swath of jungle tendrils. The Commander and b-iconics are fast to arrive on the scene. Whether there are any story steps beforehand is unknown, but it is my opinion that the heroes were occupied with the Shadow of the Dragon, not immediately aware of the Pact fleet’s destruction. An interesting point to note is that Canach is with the group and appears to have not been with the Pact Fleet.

Pact Fleet Destruction

Immediately, Braham runs off in search of information about his mother, which leads the group to the sylvari Laranthir and the survivors of his airship. There is a conversation about what should be done and what the player will notice is that the player character speaks quite a bit. In my guided demo time, Colin shared that players would be hearing a lot more from their characters in Heart of Thorns, and that they’d be stepping up in terms of leadership. With Trahearne and Destiny’s Edge missing in action, the survival of the Pact appears to have fallen on the Commander’s shoulders. In addition, Colin also explained that the story, similar to the first personal story, would allow the player to choose diverging paths that ultimately lead to the same end, which I can only assume is our confrontation with Mordremoth. This is something that is personally exciting to me since I journeyed through the last two seasons of the Living Story disengaged with my character’s role in the story because of their lack of voice and tone control. For example, part of me wanted to be progressively less rude to Canach as the Living Story went on, but the game did not allow for those flavored personality choices that had been used a lot earlier on. The demo only offered the choice to help Laranthir save some of his crew from the Mordrem Court; the other choice required the player to help a charr pact member find salvage to fortify their current position. Overall, I enjoyed what I saw and heard from the demo story instance. There was a lot of tension between Laranthir and Pact members of the other races, even from members of your own team.

Verdant Brink (Explorable Instance) and the Wyvern

After completing the story, the player character, along with a host of freed Pact soldiers, are extracted to a better location. Once there, the player enters the full, explorable map. Laranthir and the Pale Reavers have set up a sniping post and the players can either pick up a sniper rifle or take the battle to the jungle floor.

Laranthir and the Pale Reavers

Laranthir and the Pale Reavers

The player is also rewarded with a mastery point, which can be spent on the glider mastery meter. I immediately jumped into action, and by that, I mean that I accidently fell off a cliff, but managed to glide my way to safety. From there I decided to take the Mordrem head on. The nearby events asked players to snipe Mordrem and set explosives to clear the massive vines. For the purpose of the demo, there was not a lot of map to explore, however, after those initial events were completed, players were beckoned to a nearby helicopter to join the group event to fight the Wyvern. From there the player was brought to a ledge high above the boss platform. Colin and Isaiah quickly pointed out that, for the demo, the boss platform had been made larger and the Wyvern’s difficulty had been lowered a bit, which means that it is possible that players will be fighting in small quarters with a more ferocious opponent in the future. I was fortunate in that I was partied with a guildmate so there was some extra team coordination going on. The boss fight, while new in its own right, resembled boss fights like ones against the Molten Berserker and Firestorm as well as the Champion Mordrem Teragriff. Players had to actively dance around the Wyvern’s fire fields while simultaneously watching for indicators of when to use skills that grant stability for when the Wyvern would attempt to blow or smack our characters away, or crowd control for when the Wyvern would attempt to take flight. I expect the Wyvern fight to be challenging for small groups, but for all the right reasons. It requires players to study the creature’s movements and look out for one another; otherwise, the group could easily fall apart and I like that in a boss encounter.

The Revenant

For both demos, I played as the new revenant profession. I channeled the legendary King Jalis Ironhammer for the majority of my first playthrough. During my playthrough with Colin and Isaiah, I made a comment about how the “Legendary Dwarf Stance’s” unique utility and elite skills were relatively straightforward and required less time to understand how they worked, while the Demon Lord Mallyx’s “Legendary Demon Stance” had more complex skills and required additional condition management and understanding of displacement effects. I also learned that the Legendary Dwarf Stance favored the hammer weapon set (though that isn’t to say that it doesn’t work well with the other weapons), which focused on taunts, stability/damage reduction, and ranged battlefield support. The mace and axe worked with the Legendary Demon Stance as it dealt more conditions, but also played with enemy positioning. I frequently lined up enemies with skill five for the axe, Temporal Rift, to suck nearby enemies into a straight line before dropping skill two for the mace, Searing Fissure. Later, Isaiah pointed out that after using skill two, I should target the enemy in the back of the line and use skill four, Frigid Blitz, and then skill two again before using skill three, multi-blast finisher Echoing Eruption. At that point, the Mordrem were simply lining up to die. I found myself enjoying the Legendary Dwarf Stance the most, which may have had a little to do with it being the easier of the two to learn. Admittedly, I have always felt uneasy about pulling conditions onto myself before understanding the skills that allow me to manage them, which sadly, I did not before the demos ended. It’s on my to-do list, though. Ultimately, the hammer was preferable for the fight against the Wyvern (and likely more effective in larger group boss encounters) while I found that the mace/axe combination was more useful against the normal ground mobs.

Mordrem 2

Sassy Wyvern

It’ll be interesting to see how the revenant shapes up as it is bound to have many more legends and weapons (and more than three trait categories). From what I played of it, I can definitely say that it has its own unique feel from the other professions. The energy bar was not overly difficult to manage, though remembering to keep an eye on my maintain skill, Vengeful Hammers, was difficult at times. It definitely brought me back to my time in the original Guild Wars, which was likely the designer’s goal from the beginning.

Honestly, I cannot wait to see more information pour in about the upcoming expansion and get back into the Heart of the Maguuma. It has introduced a new profession that wields the power of the Mists and the legends that reside within, and new encounters and stories that are engaging and challenging. It will also introduce features that will form a mostly solid foundation for ArenaNet to build up and around from in the future. Heart of Thorns boasts a bolder, braver future Tyria, unwilling to sit down and die at the claws of Mordremoth.

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