After dropping hints as far back as May of last year, Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet unveiled the first full expansion pack for its popular online role-playing game today. The news came during the "Guild Wars 2: Beyond the Point of No Return" panel at PAX South in San Antonio, Texas.
Rumors of an expansion picked up last week, when ArenaNet released the finale of Season 2 of its Living World updates to Guild Wars 2. The final episode ended with a teaser telling fans to tune in for further news during PAX South. Around the same time, the Guild Wars 2 Reddit community discovered that NCSoft had filed a trademark.
Titled Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, the expansion will send players deeper into the Maguuma Jungle, where the game's current lead bad guy, the elder dragon Mordremoth, is hiding. A trailer (embedded below) showed off new classes, weapon types, areas and enemies, as well as players using gliders to soar through zones.
While describing the expansion and reiterating Guild Wars 2's core values, ArenaNet president and co-founder Mike O'Brien announced that unlike the usual MMO expansion, Heart of Thorns won't feature a new level of gear that invalidates old gear, nor a new level cap. Instead, it will be focused on new, more challenging content.
"I think you need real character progression that you can keep using to evolve your characters long after you hit max character level and have the best gear in the game," O'Brien said. "Now you understand why we had to go build this expansion pack."
Heart of Thorns will introduce a new progression system called "Masteries." It will focus on providing new skills and abilities that players need to survive in the deep jungle environment that the expansion focuses on. The game's professions will also have new specializations, and guilds will get new progression as well.
"This all comes together, so it's not a collection of features," O'Brien said. "It's a comprehensive experience.
"I'll put it simply: Heart of Thorns is our new vision for character progression in Guild Wars 2."
Guild Wars 2 game director Colin Johanson promised that the zones in Heart of Thorns — known collectively as The Heart of Maguuma — will be some of the richest areas ever designed in the game. He also went into further detail on the Mastery system.
Johanson revealed that challenges and story pieces completed in Heart of Thorns will award Mastery points, which can be used to purchase abilities. These are account-wide, so they will apply to every character you have. "This is part of our no-grind philosophy for Guild Wars 2," Johanson said.
Mastery skills will include the hang-gliding featured in the trailer, as well as more abstract things like learning the languages and lore of ancient civilizations in the Maguuma Jungle. He promised fresh combat abilities as well but declined to go into detail on how these will work or what they will be. The Mastery system will also tinker with the game's crafting system, making legendary weapons less difficult to create.
Johanson also went into specializations, the new system that will change professions in Guild Wars 2. He said they will almost be like a new profession onto their own. As an example, rangers will be able to specialize into druids, opening up new healing and utility skills, access to a new weapon type and "new profession mechanics that fundamentally change the way that rangers play."
Each profession's specialization will be revealed one by one as the expansion's launch approaches.
One new profession was revealed for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns: the revenant. Popular character Rytlock Brimstone was revealed as the game's very first revenant. The class will channel powers from legends of the world's past. The historical figure they channel will change the abilities available to them at any one moment.
Turning to player-versus-player, Johanson said they want to continue building on the idea of players being units in a massive RTS for the game's world-versus-world mode. This includes a new map called Borderland that is the biggest map ArenaNet has created so far. The developer is also tweaking the world-versus-world experience to make holding onto objectives a bigger part.
For the game's small-team competitive PvP mode, Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns will receive a new game mode called Stronghold. This mode is an evolution of PvP modes from the original Guild Wars. Players must build up resources, hire troops and assault an enemy stronghold. The game will also receive leaderboards for guilds, encouraging more competition between them.
Guilds will also receive the ability to create Guild Halls in Heart of Thorns. This long-requested feature will give friends a place to gather and prepare for group activities. Guild Halls will also grow and change over time.
Voice actress Jennifer Hale hosted the PAX South panel where the announcement was revealed. During the pre-show, she noted that more than 1,100 fans were packed into the theater in person in San Antonio. Another 70,000-plus watched on Twitch.
Johanson said ArenaNet will not be talking about when the expansion will launch today. "When it's ready," he said with a laugh. For now, fans can find information as it is ready on the game's official website.
Polygon will be interviewing ArenaNet later today about Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns. Let us know in the comments if there are any questions you'd like us to ask, and we'll do our best to get answers.