The Best Worst Zone in Guild Wars 2
Sorry about the title…this is not a discussion about all of the zones in Guild Wars 2 in listicle form, but rather a backhanded compliment to ANet for their zone design in the game’s first major expansion Heart of Thorns.
When the next expansion Path of Fire was announced it seemed to spark a review of HoT among many in my circles who had played it (and questions from those who hadn’t and whether they’d need it for PoF, the answer to which is “no”). HoT continued the “dragons are bad” theme of the base game by focusing on Mordremoth, a force of nature who had been corrupting the Sylvari and others to do bad shit across Tyria (I’m not big on specifics).
Like most expansions, HoT introduced a new area. The “Heart of Maguuma”, a mostly jungle-themed zone, is a level 80 zone and because the expansion didn’t raise the level cap, the primary motivator to Do Stuff(tm) is mastery levels. Here, you choose which path you want your XP to work towards, hitting milestones that grant you abilities that were initially specific to the HoT regions, like being able to speak to the natives or read inscriptions in dormant temples. The first mastery you are pushed toward is gliding…because you need it to traverse all of the zones in the expansion.
Getting around the jungle is a royal pain in the ass. Mordremoth’s influence has caused a whole lot of wild growth, so the zones are mostly masses of plateaus blocked and bridged by trees and massive vines cutting through what were ancient buildings before the invasion turned them into rubble. The map, therefore, becomes almost useless as PoI that you might be interested in visiting which appear to be only a few short steps away are actually a few short steps and several levels above or below you with no easy way to get to. Gliding helps; you can tap the SPACE bar while jumping or falling to deploy the glider, but that’s only good for a short time, and only helps to get to a point below you (unless you can use updrafts). In order to get higher, you need to unlock additional mastery levels which allow you to use bouncing mushrooms. If you’re really good (or patient), you might be able to find some vines to run along to get yourself into a position where using the glider is an option.
Despite the irritation that these new zones offer, they are some of the most amazingly designed zones in MMO history (in my opinion). The fact that players are frustrated by the difficulty of simply getting around means that the design compliments the narrative: Mordremoth isn’t interested in letting the players and their allies have an easy go of it. The zones are meant to be out of control with overgrowth, and either mindlessly uncaring or intelligently maddening as a means to literally frustrate the players. The details in each zone are such that not only is it frequently difficult to figure out how to get to a PoI but it’s also difficult to get one’s bearings in almost any situation since each area is almost universally devoid of meaningful landmarks. I suspect that the design was intended to invoke the European’s difficult initial forays into places like the Amazon jungle, and in that I consider ANet to have succeeded in spectacular fashion: I really fucking hate the Heart of Maguuma, but we have a job to do, and noping our way back out to familiar zones isn’t an option.
The good news is that at least some of the zones of Elonia featured in the PoF expansion are deserts, last seen in Guild Wars: Nightfall and cast in a distinctly ancient North African theme. From the limited videos and screens that I’ve seen, it looks like we’ll be trading in the oppressively humid tangles of the jungle for the oppressively dry heat of an open and windswept desert. Despite the lack of opportunity for detail inherent in what is essentially an ocean of sand, I fully expect that the zone designers at ANet will continue to prove that they are top-shelf in visual design, and I’m looking forward to getting back into GW2 in the run up to the expansion’s release on September 22nd.