Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Interview

We interview Colin Johanson and Mike O'Brien of ArenaNet about the upcoming Guild Wars 2 expansion, Heart of Thorns.

At PAX South this weekend, ArenaNet took control of the Main Theater to announce their first expansion for Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns (HoT). We got a chance to sit down with GW2 Game Director Colin Johanson as well as President and Co-Founder of ArenaNet Mike O’Brien to get more details about HoT. If you missed the announcement, you can find an overview of all the features the two revealed during the announcement here on ZAM.

The announcement was a high level look at all of the new major features coming in the expansion, but we were curious if any existing features were also going to be expanded and upgraded with the expansion. Colin simply said no. When they said these were the major features of the expansion, they really meant they were all of the features.

This expansion is looking toward the future, with every feature laying the foundation for how the game going forward. “We waited until [now] to announce this expansion, because we wanted to be at the point where we can say this is our plan and this our vision for the way that Guild Wars 2 will grow in the future, not just with this expansion, but in all of the content that we do.” The Mastery system is how PvE and PvE progression will grow, skills and traits will grow through the Specialization system and Guild Halls will allow you to grow your guilds and progress and expand them in the future. Since launch there have been questions about how Guild Wars 2 will expand and these systems are the answers.


The mastery system will be a bunch of different ability lines that you can spend points on, with new abilities unlocked if you spend more points into a line. Hang gliding, for example, will unlock the ability to fly farther and later on to use air currents to get to higher in places on the map or use them to shoot down quickly.

We compared the mastery system to the current WvW ability lines and Colin replied that it is a pretty fair comparison. He said that in some ways the mastery system took some inspiration from the WvW system, but then builds on it and probably improves what the WvW system does. That won’t leave the WvW system old and dusty, however, as he added that they are also taking some of the concepts from mastery and rolling those back in to make the WvW system even more robust.

While not going into specifics, they did talk a little more about how players will be unlocking mastery points to spend. One of the ways that players can get mastery points is through completing a map, and that map completion in Heart of Thorns was going to be much of the same key experience in HoT that it has always been in Guild Wars 2. The mastery point reward will be the final reward for completing a map, not replacing what is required for map completion. While there will be additional sources of mastery points located throughout a map, these additional sources will generally not be required for map completion.

Mastery points are going to complement everything from discovery to exploration to overcoming challenges, where it feels natural for a mastery point to belong in the world and be a core system of progression, growth and discovery. Any places or moments that fit those description could potentially have a mastery point. One of the things mentioned in the announcement was using your mastery points to unlock better hang gliding or secret locations through the lore. We asked if these hidden locations could then contain mastery points, where players are in a sense using mastery points to gain even more points, and Colin replied that it certainly makes sense that this is something players could encounter.

If you are wanting to max out all of your masteries, it might be a little harder than you think. Mike said that mastery is a long-term system, a system that they will continue to layer content onto including layering Living World content. Over time there will be more and more mastery points available, but they will also be adding new things that you can spend those points on. Additionally, players will have gotten a certain depth into these lines and new content will come out that will let you go even deeper.

We asked if these abilities are going to be showing up on the action bar for ones that are active, and were told that the action bar will remain for the player’s profession and expanded upon with specializations. The mastery system is complimentary to that, being passive; a context-specific interaction or very situational if active. An active one, Colin explained, is jumping from the top of an area and activating your hang glider. He said that it varies greatly based on each mastery line and that players will just need to wait to be able to experience all of the depth that the system has to offer.

With the example of hang gliding being used often, we were curious if this was the only example there was for exploring, or if this was just the one example they were using to explain the system. Colin confirmed that it is an example of one of the things that players will be able to do to master exploration. We also asked how learning languages of civilizations as part of the lore would work and if unknown civilizations would be talking gibberish to players before they learn the language. Colin again kept the details from us, saying that we will have to wait and see exactly how that works, but not before adding with that famous Colin smile, “We have some fun plans.” They didn’t want to go into too much detail on the mastery system for now, but said that they would share a lot more information about the mastery system before the launch of the expansion.

A big detail that we did learn is that it is not only the Heart of Maguuma that will be getting mastery points. In fact, there will be two separate mastery systems, one for the jungle and another for the core areas of Guild Wars 2. Players will be able to earn mastery points in the jungle to spend on abilities specific to the jungle and then earn separate mastery points for the core areas of the game to spend on abilities for the core areas.

Heart of Maguuma, Legendary Weapons and Specializations -->

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