Meeting the Jungle Hands‑On

by Anatoli Ingram on 05th March, 2015

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Hi there! My name is Anatoli Ingram, and some of you might be familiar with my previous work as Massively Overpowered’s Guild Wars 2 columnist. ArenaNet has offered me an exciting opportunity: as Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™ enters its final stages of development and testing, I’ll be along to give you an inside look at the studio—from how content is designed and created to the people behind it. If you’ve ever wondered how some of your favorite features get from the drawing board to the live game, stay tuned!

The Wyvern Sleeps Tonight

Last week I visited beautiful Bellevue, Washington, to take part in ArenaNet’s first playable demo of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. Press and community members from all over gathered at the studio to eat a fantastic dinner with the developers and get pumped for the next morning’s play session. I had a chance to chat with Game Design Lead Mike Zadorojny, who told me how much it means to ArenaNet to finally unveil expansion content in a playable form. It’s just as difficult for the developers to have to keep everything under wraps as it is for the players to have to wait, he said; the devs thrive on player feedback and are always anxious to get new content into our hands.

The PvE demo gave us a taste of story to set the stage. No sooner did we get our first look at how the remnants of the Pact fared following their disastrous attack on Mordremoth (spoiler: they’re not hanging out on the jungle canopy having tea and scones) than we were tasked with helping them drive off the dragon’s forces. After lighting up every Mordrem in sight, we snagged a Pact chopper to our next target: a fire-spewing wyvern boss that had claimed a chunk of airship for its very own. We didn’t take kindly to that and glided down to confront it.

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It might seem like a massive pack of revenants wielding the power of the Mists would make short work of an upstart wyvern, but it didn’t take long for our valiant team to start getting downed. The wyvern has more in common with the instanced story bosses found in the Living World Season 2 than with current Guild Wars 2 world bosses, only it’s far meaner and considerably more difficult to tackle as a group. There are plenty of ways to contribute to the fight, from reviving players caught in the wyvern’s devastating fire breath to providing allies with boons—such as stability—to defend against its powerful knockback. If the wyvern does knock you off the side of its perch, you can always catch an updraft to glide back into the fray—provided you’ve put mastery points into gliding, of course.

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Whoever Controls the Supply, Controls the Universe

At long last we vanquished the beast. But rather than rest on our laurels, we moved on to try out the brand-new PvP mode, Stronghold. I don’t spend much time in structured PvP, but even as a newbie, the experience was a blast. The actions available to each side at any time are very clear, so it was easy to keep track of our advantages and disadvantages. I stuck with my tried-and-true profession this time—the necromancer—and concentrated on gathering supply to spawn helpful NPCs. I admittedly gathered some of those supplies from other players after stomping on their corpses, but sometimes the quickest path to a goal lies directly through the enemy.

Later, I asked PvP Game Designer Hugh Norfolk and Competitive Events Manager Josh Davis about how Stronghold took shape. The mode has roots in everything from the Guild vs. Guild mode and Fort Aspenwood mission in the original Guild Wars to MOBA-style games, but the competitive design team wanted to make sure that every part of it fit well with Guild Wars 2‘s unique combat mechanics. One of the goals ArenaNet has for Stronghold is to provide a bridge into structured PvP for players who might not usually give Conquest-style PvP a try—just like yours truly. While Conquest mode has a distinct metagame in which each profession tends to have defined roles, Stronghold introduces map-specific roles which encourage build diversity. In light of that, and because Stronghold fans might want to play over and over, ArenaNet will be paying close attention to feedback on Stronghold’s place in the normal PvP queue throughout beta testing.

Although ArenaNet employees spend a lot of time playing new content internally, Hugh and Josh told me that the real test comes when fans outside of the studio give it a try. The demo rooms were full of exultations and laments as players won (or lost) battles and explored the limits of the revenant’s versatility. With its crowd-control skills, condition damage, and heavy armor, the revenant is a force to be reckoned with in PvP, but don’t worry about it being too overpowered; those of us playing other professions still held our own, and we haven’t even seen the new specializations yet!

Striking the Right Balance

I asked Game Director Colin Johanson what led to the decision to develop a boxed expansion for GW2, and he said that ArenaNet spent a long time looking for just the right way of delivering new content to the game. While Living World has been excellent for Guild Wars 2, it was also clear that the fans wanted something more that would bring big story moments and sweeping improvements to gameplay all in one package. Based on that feedback, the decision was made to keep the best of all worlds by opting for boxed expansion content supplemented by Living World content.

If you’re ready to go hands-on with the Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns demo, you’ll get your chance soon at PAX East in Boston and EGX Rezzed in London. Be sure to keep that constructive feedback coming as you play—it really does make all the difference in the world.

Happy dragon hunting, and I’ll see you in the Mists!