The whole thing started, a few minutes late with a seemingly interminable warm-up during which Jennifer Hale, who voices Queen Jennah, did a sterling job getting the audience all hyped up. She was quite hyper herself and I had to turn the sound off pretty quickly.
Eventually Jennifer introduced ArenaNet co-founder Mike O’Brien who announced that, yes, Heart of Thorns is indeed an expansion. He immediately queued up a video:
That got a great response. Then Mike got out his giant wet blanket.
He listed all the things we weren't going to get, like a level cap increase, new gear, any kind of meaningful progression or a release date. He placed enormous emphasis on how "challenging" the new maps would be and how group-focused the expansion is. Every time he invited the audience in the room to endorse a point he got a feeble and lackluster response. Shots of the room showed a lot of people sitting on their hands looking glum.
It seemed evident to me that, at least at PaxSouth, few shared his disdain for the established MMO systems GW2 supposedly eschews. They seemed to be wistfully imagining what it would be like if GW2 had them too. It felt as if a lot of the room would have liked to yell "Yes please!" every time Mike asked them whether they wanted something he'd just told them they weren't going to get.
Mike didn't hang around. He introduced Colin Johanson, who came on and made a pretty good fist of repairing the damage. He had some videos to show us too but more importantly he had lots of explanatory detail that focused on what we are going to get not what we aren't. Weirdly, the first thing I remember hearing him mention was hang gliders.
Here's the list of things I remember
- Hang gliders
- Large, three-level jungle maps (roots, ground, canopy)
- Mastery System
- Language System for the new NPC races in Maguuma.
- Precursors for Legendaries - available through the collection system.
- New Legendaries.
- New Class - Revenant. Rytlock is one. Channels abilities from famous GW1 NPCs.
- Sub-professions, for example Druid for Ranger
- Access to previously unusable weapons for existing classes via sub-classes e.g. Greatsword for Necro, Staff for Ranger.
- New WvW Map with structures that give buffs across all WvW maps.
- Greater incentives to hold and defend structures.
- Guild vs Guild mode for sPvP
- New sPvP map
- Guild Halls
Of all those things the one that got by far the loudest, longest and most enthusiastic response was Guild Halls.
On balance it's more than I expected if less than I hoped for. No new race, too much focus on "end game" difficulty, no real housing but an interesting new progression that sounds like EQ2's AAs, a new class and some really gorgeous new maps to explore.
The language system sounds particularly intriguing and the changes to WvW are not only a lot more than I was expecting but sound as though they could move that part of the game in exactly the direction I'd like to see it go.
We'll be chewing this over for months so for now I'll leave it at that but my overall takeaway is relief: it certainly could have been a lot worse.