Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns devs talk new lands, masteries and PvP

GW2HoT 01-2015 Rytlock

PCG: Looking at the masteries, one thing you said was that mastery points were account bound. Does it follow the World vs. World system, where you expect characters to specialise in masteries rather than trying to collect them all? So you have one character focused on a particular thing, and another maybe another?

Colin: The World vs World ability system is in some ways a template for what the masteries system provides. But I'd say the mastery system is a more advanced, more expansive system than that—built on things we've learned both for what we want to do with PvE, and some of the things we learned from the World vs. World system as well. And we're actually going to make some changes to the World vs. World system to make it a little bit more like the way the masteries system is going to function. At its core, exactly how you progress is something we're going to come and talk about later—between now and the release of the expansion. The most important message we want to get across is you do it once, and when you've earned a mastery point you've got it for every character, and you've earned those abilities for every character. You don't have to go back and grind on every one of your characters to get all this.

PCG: Oh, so an ability you purchase for one character is applied to all of them?

Colin: That is currently the plan, yes.

PCG: Another thing you announced was profession specialisations. The one you revealed was the Druid. That the Ranger was getting a staff weapon. Beyond having a different weapon, how different will the druid specialisation be from a 'standard' Ranger?

Colin: We're really trying to make it feel like it's almost a sub-profession or a secondary profession if you will, and not just a new set of a couple of skills. It's not just opening up the capacity to use a staff. When a ranger becomes a druid, they have an entire new set of skills and traits that come available to them. And their profession mechanic changes as well. That's true with all the specialisations. You actually play the profession differently, not just in skills and traits, but in the core mechanics of those professions. Some of them will change an existing profession, some of them might give them entirely new profession abilities and remove other ones. It really varies specialisation to specialisation, but it really should feel like you are playing a new version of your old profession. And players can actually mix and match a little bit. If you are playing as a Druid you will be able to use a lot of the Ranger's skills, and you can actually slot them in to make a lot of creative builds. But a Ranger can not use any of the stuff a Druid has unless they become a Druid.

PCG: So philosophically, with creating these specialisations, was the idea to fill gaps a profession wouldn't normally be equipped for?

Colin: Yeah, I think that's a fair description. We definitely looked at each profession and asked what are some of the things that we think this profession doesn't currently do that we'd love for them to be able to do? What role do we want to try to expand on that they can't do, or what gameplay would be really awesome to add to this profession? In some cases, we went way outside the box to go with some stuff that I think people are going to be pretty shocked and pretty excited when they get a chance to see how some of this stuff works. It's definitely trying to create a wider variety of roles for players in combat and with their profession. That is a big part of the specialisation system.

It's also laying a permanent groundwork for us that we can use to expand and build on in the future, and that's a common theme with everything you're going to find in this expansion. Every decision we made, and the entire reason we made this expansion, was so that when this expansion releases we have the framework. We have the pillars we need so that we can regularly grow the game in the future. Specialisations is one of the key components of that.

PCG: So this is a template for not just Guild Wars this year, but Guild Wars over the next three, four, five, etc. years?

Colin: Yeah, absolutely. Every major system, from the way that we're handling progression with the mastery system, to the way that we're growing professions, to the guild progression and guild growth that we're doing with the guilds and Guild Halls—each of those are intended to be a very clear message to our fans and to our players. This is the system we will use now for Guild Wars, and in the future for Guild Wars, to provide permanently these systems of growth for you, your characters and your account.

Mike: That's why I said up on stage that this expansion pack is so fundamental to Guild Wars. This is not "hey, wouldn't it be fun to do an expansion pack, let's throw in some features". This is us thinking about what Guild Wars needs to continue to grow and evolve for years to come. When we sat down and thought about that at the very beginning of this process, what we thought is Guild Wars needs the ability for us to deliver really challenging group content—content that is challenging enough that you come the first time and say "wow, I'm not prepared for this, I've gotta go prepare". And it needs the character progression to keep that possible, so you can keep evolving your characters—even though you're max level, even though you've got the best gear in the game—keep evolving your characters and keep learning the skills and abilities you need to take on new content that you can't take on yet. So this expansion pack is all about laying the groundwork, the features that we need in place so that we can keep building that new character progression and new super-challenging content for years to come.

This is us thinking about what Guild Wars needs to continue to grow and evolve for years to come.

PCG: With most of the expansion it's easy to see how it's an extension of the game. With the new WvW borderland map you've announced, that sounds more integrated into an existing thing. How does that affect World vs. World overall?

Colin: Yeah, so the new borderland map joins the rotation with the borderlands we have today. I think it just expands the depth of the World vs. World experience. Currently, the borderland is replicated three times as a home for each world, and our new borderland will give us a chance to get a lot more variety in gameplay. As a map itself, the borderland map is the strongest interpretation of how we believe the World vs. World experience should be played. Every location really provides key strategic value to the world that holds it. I think when you consider World vs. World as kind of like playing a giant RTS, and you're one of the troops, you want to have holding locations provide strategic value. That's a big part of that component of building a giant strategy and fighting with your army.

Towers are located at chokepoints in the new borderland map, and have walls around them that guard those chokepoints, so holding a tower actually helps you control movement in the map. It helps you prevent enemy armies from making quick assaults on your keeps. There are shrines that you can take, and the more shrines you hold, the more abilities that become available to your world around your keep, so defending your home becomes easier the more shrines that you hold. It becomes more important to hold each of those strategic locations. We're going to take the philosophy that we've built into this map, and we're actually going to apply it broadly to World vs. World as well, to make holding and defending key locations a bigger part of World vs. World. We think some of the most fun experiences in World vs. World are when you have these battles that happen at these towers and keeps—these epic siege moments—and we really want to get more of that experience and make that more of an important part of winning in World vs. World.

PCG: The Living World has wrapped up, and players have got this expansion coming in the future. Do they have anything to look forward to between these two points? Are there any game updates planned?

Mike: Well things are going to start happening really fast with the expansion pack. We are six weeks away from PAX East and Rezzed, and so people are going to be able to play the expansion pack for the first time in early March and then get into beta testing right after that. Of course, the live game will continue, so there are updates for the live game. But mostly right now we're going to be focused on beta testing this expansion pack. We waited to announce this until we had the whole package together. The whole package is together and it's coming up fast. Sitting down with players last night, talking about the expansion pack, of course the first words on everybody's lips are "when?" The truth is, that all depends on beta testing. We are getting right into beta testing here and we will be playing the expansion pack with all the Guild Wars 2 players, and testing these very important groundwork systems that we're building in. When the groundwork is there—when this is the foundation we're ready for to build Guild Wars on top of for the coming years—that's when we'll release it.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.