I’ve been gradually making my way through the world of Tyria with my various toons, and recently made some headway into the Heart of Thorns expansion area. The maps that came with the expansion are noteworthy because they play so differently than the rest of the GW2 maps, which I find is interesting from a game design perspective.
So for starters (and potential Spoiler Alert) — Heart of Thorns takes place in the heart of the dense, imposing jungles of central Maguuma. Following the defeat of the Elder Dragon of Death Zhaitan, the Pact moved into Maguuma to take on the Elder Dragon Mordremoth… only to have its entire air fleet blown out of the sky by an act of treachery. Never trust a talking vegetable!
Compared to the rest of GW2 zones, such as the rolling hills and plains of Kryta, the wastelands of Ascalon, the lonely majesty of the Shiverpeaks, the tropical rainforests of Metrica and Caledon, heart of Maguuma Jungle is a forbidding place. It is a deep, dense jungle with gigantic gnarled vines everywhere, a high treetop canopy lined with wreckage of downed airships, and a lethal vine-filled jungle floor that kills within seconds anything that has the misfortune of falling in. The simple act of moving around is very different, as there is considerable amount of vertical movement required to maneuver around this terrain — gliders to cross chasms, using updrafts to extend gliding range, using mushrooms to boost speed and jump up cliffsides, etc. For new players like myself who just got used to the typical and simple MMORPG horizontal movements, this was not an easy change… one false step and you can fall thousands of feet. The existence of multiple “vertical zones” sometimes make it difficult to get to specific places, such as Mastery Point and Hero Point locations.
To make matters worse, Maguuma is a very, very hostile place. Not only do the Mordrem (Mordremoth’s minions) scour the jungles, but the wildlife can be extremely dangerous (Hint: watch out for those annoying, deceptively tiny Mushroom soldiers — they are surprisingly fast and deal horrendous damage). The Maguuma zones also have day and night cycles — when night falls, the jungle comes to life and the Mordrem launch repeated assaults against Pact camps, and wandering around Maguuma alone at night is a particularly perilous undertaking.
When Fungi and I started these zones, we both found them difficult and daunting, and frankly frustrating to play. And make no mistake — in a sense they still are, but I have found that traveling with a group or party significantly increases my chance of success. Interestingly, it has forced me to talk to strangers and team up with them! The other night I managed to stumble my way to a Hero Point location overrun with Mushroom soldiers, followed by a tricky jump to access the point in question. After several failed attempts, I joined another player who was also struggling with it, and between the two of us we managed to get to the prize. This sort of induced behavior is very interesting! Whether that was the intent of the design or not, it did force me to meet new people and make new friends.
Another uncommon phenomenon that happens is a map-run (or a zerg run); on occasion a veteran player would announce such a run, and believe me, these are godsends for noobs like myself. These runs allowed me to grab a number of Waypoints, Mastery and Hero Points in one go (I did one in Verdant Brink and one in Auric Basin)… but they do tend to be very fast runs so sometimes it’s a challenge to keep up, especially if you take an accidental tumble and fall behind. Once again, I do tend to profusely thank the veteran player after such runs, and add them as new friends.
Heart of Thorns is a substantial change of pace than the rest of the maps. It’s significantly more challenging, but playing on HoT maps also greatly benefits from teaming with other players. While I initially found them frustrating to play, HoT does encourage the multiplayer aspect of MMORPGs.