Welcome to the Scrying Pool, my Guild Wars 2 column here on Mattsta.Ninja. In the One HoT Story article I started my review series for Heart of Thorns with what I thought about the personal story that came with the expansion. In this article I’ll bring the discussion out into the open world with what I thought about the four new maps, their metas and their rewards.
Going into the expansion, I was expecting a little more from the map environments as ArenaNet touted the triple layer approach of canopy, ground floor and roots. The only map that really feels like it has a lot of verticality that is used throughout the map is Tangled Depths. Auric Basin and Dragon’s Stand have very little overlapping verticality and Verdant Brinks detached canopy makes it feel more like a larger single layer map than a map with a bunch of verticality.
Something that I was worried about going into the expansion with all of this verticality was being able to tell whether you were above or below where you wanted to be. The world map in Guild Wars 2 can make everything look flat on an unwavering level and I was worried that this would make it hard to navigate with all of the changing elevations.
One of the ways ArenaNet solved this was by adding UI to the map to give little up or down arrows that show whether an objective is above or below the player’s current elevation in a dynamic version of what I did to show differing levels on my Dry Top map. The other way is with the new movement abilities that players unlock through masteries. Gliding and Bouncing Mushrooms feel amazing and fit really well with how the maps were created to be both extremely useful and fun.
Overall I like the meta approach to the new maps. Something I didn’t like about the vanilla GW2 maps was how empty the dynamic event system made the maps feel. When events were going there was a lot happening, including areas changing as they were destroyed, conquered and liberated. Most of the time however, I thought that the maps felt stagnant and empty as events waited to occur again.
Something I had mentioned in a Scrying Pool a long time ago were event chains that told an interesting story, but because there was no good way to show that things were happening beyond a single event most of that story ended up being lost as a player ran off to find another event or map completion objective. There were two ways that I said that I wanted this problem to be fixed. The first was to add some kind of notification that there was more to a chain event or that the chain had been completed. The other way was to add achievements with a task list that listed each of the events in chronological order for that chain to show what the player has missed.
Both of these ideas were implemented with HoT with the introduction of outposts. Outposts have their own meta section in the event UI that will show a progress bar of the chain to clearly show whether there are more events left or not. Additionally, each outpost in Verdant Brink and Tangled Depths comes with it’s own achievement that gives a task list of each event in chronological order for that outpost.
While all of these outposts are linked to a common map wide story, each of these outposts come with its own story and flavor. In Tangled Depths for example, each outpost is working toward getting their nearby lane ready for the map wide meta. The outpost for Rata Novus however, is very different from the Ogre outpost. All of the outposts in Verdant Brink are to ready for nightfall and Auric Brink they are to ready Tarir’s defense for the impending Mordrem assault. Every outpost in these maps however, work toward that goal in their own way.
Even the map wide metas are not uniform from map to map. Verdant Brink has players spreading out and defending rally points all across the map. Auric Basin is assaulting Tarir in order to defend it. Tangled Depths has us drawing a line in the sand as we slowly give up land in order to defend turrets. Lastly, Dragon’s Stand has making a major offensive push against Mordremoth.
One of the things that I mentioned in the previous review article was that I really enjoyed the way that the story wove between personal instances and the open world. A large part of what makes that work in my opinion is the way these outposts build into a map wide meta. We come out of the first instance after giving Laranthir command of the area with the Pale Reavers to find that Laranthir is actually there commanding the area with the Pale Reavers. Likewise we give the egg to the city of Tarir and its Exalted guardians and come into the world to find the Exalted giving their lives to save the city and its egg.
While I think the maps and their metas are really good, I still think there is room for improvement. One thing that the new maps feel like they are missing is the sense of exploration. A large part of this is the way that map completion and achievements were laid out onto the map. There are many cool little places to find in the maps, but then you find a mastery point or strongbox and that exploration turns into a checkbox as players will have already reached that location to claim the objective.
I would like to see areas that are really cool but don’t have a purpose. My guild has the Lost Precipice guild hall and built into the map is this really neat jumping puzzle. There is no achievement or objective to doing the jumping puzzle other than coming across some really neat areas of the guild hall. Having jumping puzzles like these in the open world would really fill out the maps with the exploration that is missing. Jumping Puzzles like this could even have their own little chest to give the small rewards of a jumping puzzle, just not the achievement or point of interest that turns it into a must go place. In a way it isn’t about building places that have no one has ever seen, as in an MMO ever corner will have been found, but to give the illusion that the player is the first one to dig their toes in the sand.
The other area that I would like to see improved on these maps is the timing of events. A common complaint that I see from players is that all the maps are on timers. I actually like this method more than maps like Silverwastes where players can constantly hop maps to a nearly completed map since they are not bound to timers. Some of the timers on the new maps however, feel a little off. The downtime between the outpost metas and the map meta on Tangled Depths is really annoying. I wouldn’t have minded a downtime, but it would have been better positioned after the map meta and before the outposts kicked up again. Depending on how efficient the map is, players could find them sitting around waiting on the map for well over an hour.
Most of the other maps are better, but still suffer from feeling really long during different metas. Dragon’s Stand for example feels like it takes forever to get through the map wide meta, but then is followed up by a feeling of being rushed as the reward post-meta time can end up being really short before the map is cleared for the next meta. The daytime during Verdant Brink feels really good, but the nighttime feels too long which detracts from the dangerous feel that the nighttime meta should have instilled. Out of all of the maps, Auric Basin is probably the one that feels the best all around, though I wouldn’t mind the assault on Tarir being tightened up a bit with a slightly shorter time limit.
When Living World Season 2 was rolling out, I said that I liked the new map meta approach but was worried about what would happen over time as players did these maps less and less. The community came up to stomp out my worries by creating guilds focused on completing the maps by scheduling nights to go clear them. I’m once again worried as we have gone from 2 maps to 6 maps that are going to require this same focus including Tangled Depths meta which sits close to a Triple Trouble amount of coordination to defeat.
In the next article I’ll dive into the rewards that HoT brought us including the map currencies, weapon and armor skins and the new collections.
The Scrying Pool Reviews Heart of Thorns:
- One HoT Story — Personal Story
- Map Meta — Open World Maps and their Meta Events
- The Grind — Open World Rewards
- Guild Wasteland — Guild Halls and Scribing
- Guild Hall…Rewards? — Rewards Purchased Through Guild Halls
- Bucket of Elite Specs — General look at Elite Specializations
- The Mattsta-ry System — General thoughts on the new Mastery System
- The Fractals and a Raid — Some simple thoughts on the instanced group content of HoT
- Fix-r-Upper — The small stuff ArenaNet can still fix with HoT