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The New Guild Wars 2 Expansion Is Freaking Beautiful (And Deep)

First things first, a couple of plugs — Just Cause 3 releases today, so make sure you check out Kevin Carbotte’s take on the trailer before you go on all your Medici-based shenanigans. And don’t forget to tune into the Level 1 Scrubs Game Awards Kigurumi Shoutcast Spectacular on Thursday, when we mock game industry hubris while dressed as cute animals. It’ll be like MST3K, but for Geoff Keighley’s face!

So. On to Guild Wars 2.

Gliding through the golden city of Tarir in the Auric Basin.
Gliding through the golden city of Tarir, in the Auric Basin.

I’m about a month in with the new expansion, Heart of Thorns. And so far, I’m impressed. Damn impressed. And not just with the graphics (seriously, look at them) (look at them).

To be clear about where I’m coming from, I main a sylvari mesmer (that’s him in the screenshots!) (the wings only come out when I’m gliding) (I’m not that much of an edgelord, honest), and I mostly do fractals and a little bit of PvP. My guild is absolutely tiny – just a few friends – and while we’ve got one of the new guild halls, we’re still slowly working on upgrading it. We only just got an arena and the World vs. World war room. None of us are working on scribing, the new crafting discipline that allows you to make banners and the like.

The Lost Precipice guild hall.
The Lost Precipice guild hall.

What I have completed is Chronomancer, the new elite specialization — kind of like a sub-class — for the mesmer.

Previously, mesmers were the slowest of the classes, relying on misdirection, clones, and stealth to get things done. Training Chronomancer gives mesmers access to shields, and new shield skills that let us stay in the fight a little longer. We also get wells — some much-needed AoE — and access to Alacrity, a new buff that speeds up everyone’s cooldowns.

But the most mind-blowing thing for me has got to be the new Continuum Split skill.

What if I told you you could instantly refresh every single cooldown? Ever?

What if I told you you could basically ignore the entire concept of cooldowns?

Continuum Split works like this: it explodes all of the illusions and phantasms I’m currently running, and marks my location and sets a small timer. Whatever I do in the next five or so seconds will be reset when that timer runs out — cooldowns go back to where they were, I get teleported back to where I was, et cetera.

A shot of the new Legendary Wyvern world boss in Verdant Brink.
The new Legendary Wyvern world boss, in Verdant Brink.

So what I’ve been doing is going through my usual rotation, setting up my phantasms, and then Continuum Splitting to go nova and set off two Gravity Wells and two Wells of Calamity back-to-back — once during the Continuum Split timer, and once afterwards — for an incredible amount of both damage and area control. If I’m in PvP, I’ll Blink behind the enemy as well, just so that I can “teleport” twice within seconds and seriously confuse them.

It is insane. I get giddy when I can pull this off.

The Chronomancer skills in general, and the Continuum Split skill in particular, have added an impressive level of depth and complexity to mesmer and team play. Now, not only am I working on maximizing my DPS output and slotting in the right silver-bullet selections from the mesmer’s vast array of utility skills, I’m considering positioning and cooldown management for the whole team as well. And that’s not even considering the new Chronobunker build for PvP.

While I can’t speak to the other elite specs as of yet (seriously, I made a revenant, instaleveled to 80, and haven’t touched it since), the excellent job ArenaNet has done with Chronomancer gives me hope that the other elite specs are just as deep.

Deep in the Tangled Depths, another new map for the expansion.
A landscape from the Tangled Depths, another new map in the expansion.

My one qualm so far has been ArenaNet’s decision to tie story progress to the new Mastery system.

The Mastery system itself is genius — once you hit max level, who needs more treadmills like gearscore? Unlock map shortcuts/sweet gliding skills/Fractal bonuses/Legendary crafting instead!

But at certain points in the story for Heart of Thorns, you’re told you can’t progress to the next instance until you’ve completed a certain Mastery, and that frustrates me.

Let me be clear, though: I completely understand ArenaNet’s decision, here. If they hadn’t tied story progress to Mastery track progress, people would have likely chewed through the expansion in record time, and then immediately resumed the Stockholm Syndrome complaints you see on every gaming forum.

I am only frustrated because I want it all and I want it all right now.

I love the Guild Wars 2 story. It is thought-provoking, modern, and refreshingly non-Tolkienian. So even though I just want to mainline it for days until I crash and go into withdrawal, and even though it frustrates me that I cannot do that, I can understand and respect the decision to make me wait, just a little bit.

(caption text redacted due to spoilers)
(caption text redacted due to spoilers)

I’ll have more on Guild Wars 2 and Heart of Thorns once I’ve finished the story, tried the new raid (GW2 has raiding now!) and done a little more PvP and WvW. But for now, I have to completely dodge the responsibility to conclude this column, because I want to go back and pla–

Jesse Mackenzie is the Managing Editor for aybonline.com. He can be reached at jessem@aybonline.com, and his opinions are his own.

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