This week I had the opportunity to participate in the first Heart of Thorns closed beta stress test. It was the first time I’d gotten my hands on any expansion-related content, and along with one of our writers, Kriss, I took to Verdant Brink for two hours of revenant-rolling, wyvern-wrangling fun. You can see how I fared in this VoD of the stream; since then, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience taking on ArenaNet’s latest dragon boss as an epic warrior of the Mists.
As the latest profession, the revenant makes good use of new technology developed by ArenaNet, and feels like a refreshing take on the heavy armour archetype. Depending on your weapon and the legend you’re currently channeling, the play styles can differ greatly. Throughout my time playing, I used mostly the hammer in Legendary Dwarf Stance, feeling like a strong, tanky frontliner who summoned giant hammers from the Mists to pulverise my enemies, and leaped about the battlefield. But even in this typical brawler-style heavy armour class we’ve come to know from many other MMOs, ArenaNet has found room to innovate. The hammer’s Phase Smash ability makes great use of a stationary camera to give you a real sense of perspective of the battle happening around you, and in doing so, adds a weighty feeling to your actions; it felt good landing from the Phase Smash ability, like I really had just leapt through the Mists and crushed my enemies below. Other use of new technology comes from the Field of the Mists ability, which generates a wall that moves with your character and blocks all projectiles. To me, this is the single greatest piece of new technology that I got to play with during my two hours. Positioning is crucial to using this ability effectively: it’s no good casting it, and then allowing projectile-swinging enemies into melee range, or standing behind your allies and letting them take arrows to the face. The latter is easier to do than you’d imagine due to the hammer’s naturally long range, and because of this I felt like I had to constantly think about the actions I was performing whilst playing as a revenant.
Anyone who has followed me on our podcast, or just in general, will know that I main a guardian, kitted out in full berserker gear. Nowadays, my time is mostly spent stacking in dungeons, pressing my rotation of skills and watching things die. I’m pretty sure I could do it without looking at the screen, and still come out relatively well. What I found most exciting was that not once did I have that feeling with the revenant. Granted, I’ve only played it for two hours so far and I was in full celestial gear at the time, but the positional awareness demanded of you to play well made me feel like a new player all over again – for all the right reasons. Back in Guild Wars 2’s betas and pre-launch, guardians were sold to me as positional powerhouses who’d leap in with their shields and reflects to save dying allies. With the berserker meta, that dream never really materialised itself – and we could go into why, but that’s been done to death already. With the revenant, I’m quietly confident that I’ll finally be able to regain some of that dream. Most of the skills I played with required my character to be facing the right direction, up in the frontline (for the Dwarf Stance) and thinking about where to move to next.
But it wasn’t all roses. Going off what was presented to me (and remember, this is still a beta and things aren’t polished yet), a few actions felt clunky. Switching between legendary stances had a delay that I sincerely hope is not intended, which made switching between them in clutch situations pretty difficult; when you switch, you go back to 50% of your energy bar, and you can use any of your new stance’s skills as long as they’re not still on cooldown from when you last used them, including those invaluable healing skills. Another problem is that we’ve yet to see any stances or weapon skills beyond those available in this stress test. Shiro Tagachi and Glint are suspected as another two legends, and I strongly believe that Shiro will be the one that fits the berserker role, along with a main-hand sword weapon. For the revenant to be a truly different profession, and not slink back to the way my guardian has, these weapons and legends need to have the same sort of attention to detail that the ones I played with do. Playing the DPS role with Shiro, or whatever other legend it may be, should be about darting around the battlefield, taking down an enemy and moving on. It needs to feel completely different to wielding a hammer on the frontline, or standing back and throwing out conditions with the Legendary Demon Stance. So far, ArenaNet hasn’t given me any reason to doubt that this won’t be the case for the revenant – but on that front, we’ll just have to wait and see.
One of the focuses of Heart of Thorns is challenging content, in a bid to keep people like myself entertained and logging in each day. Whilst this iteration of the wyvern fight is not considered part of this challenging content by the developers, as the platform you fight on has been enlarged and the general difficulty lowered, it definitely has some promising attributes that can hint at the content to come. The arena and the fight itself feel very much like they belong as part of a raid boss in a more traditional MMO, and for me this is very exciting. Players are instanced into one small map designed specifically for the wyvern fight, and the boss takes center stage. The platform does feel too big for the fight as it stands, and although fire fields from the wyvern can cover a large portion of it during the fight, I didn’t feel too punished for mispositioning as there were ample ‘safe’ zones to stand in throughout all phases. Despite this, there are promising mechanics at play. ArenaNet as of late has been experimenting with bigger and better boss fights – think the original Mordrem Terragrif, the Shadow of the Dragon and the Vinewrath – which all employ phases to the fights. Whilst they normally only employ a few specific phases that rotate throughout the fight, it still adds a new depth to bosses that I feel has been missing in Guild Wars 2. For the wyvern, this comes in the form of its interruptible flight pattern, its wing-beating knockbacks and its various fire-spewing abilities. This requires anyone taking on the wyvern to stay on their toes; for example, to interrupt its take-off and stop the creature from torching sections of the platform, players have a small window to break its defiance bar with crowd control. This is immediately more engaging than just afk auto-attacking, and a fantastic step in the right direction.
Right now, though, it’s only a step. I used to play Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and spent a lot of time in a raid group tackling some of the hardest content in the game. Raid bosses took weeks to learn the tactics for, with one fight in particular having three distinctly different phases, eight sets of one particular mechanic, and one mistake wiping the party. Guild Wars 2 is a distinctly different MMO, aimed at fulfilling a more relaxed approach to MMO gaming. Yet as somebody who enjoys both styles of playing an MMO, why can’t I have both in Guild Wars 2? That’s not to say that I think one-person party wipe mechanics are a good idea for this game, but I would love to see bosses in Heart of Thorns require more preparation and organisation to succeed, and to feel like I’m a pivotal role in taking down that boss. The wyvern fight goes some way to fulfilling this with the defiance mechanic, since I know I’ve contributed directly to denying it a phase that could easily down many unprepared players. It remains to be seen how much more of this we’ll get in the rest of the expansion, and I for one am looking forward to it.
How about you? Would you prefer more ‘traditional’ bosses in Guild Wars 2? What’re your hopes for the revenant, and Heart of Thorns? Let me know what you think in the comments below!