We had an opportunity to sit down with members of the Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns development team to learn more about one of the most exciting new features of the expansion - Guild Halls.
"Guild Halls is something we're really, really excited about," says game designer Link Hughes. "They're a really large feature and I think they really epitomises why we're excited about doing an expansion. We've been very active with updating the game. We had a two week release cadence for a very long time. But there were features like Guild Halls that we started to think about that we really wanted to do, but just couldn't fit in to that sort of development cycle. And so we're really excited to have the opportunity to dig into larger features like that. And add foundations to the game that we can continue to grow.
"So Guild Halls themselves are a really exciting way for us to double down on making a game that is already one of the most social, friendly online experiences that you can participate in, even deeper and richer. Giving our guilds a lot to work towards, to build, to unlock and to really work together to build a shared history and have time for their relationships to develop and grow as they work together towards accomplishing those things."
Guild Halls is not simply a case of giving guilds more things to work towards, it will also facilitate any other activity the guild and its players want to partake in.
"We really wanted to make it a place that you could go with your guild, but also build things that you could take out into the rest of Tyria," says Jessica Boettiger, test lead World vs World and PvP. "Not only is it a cool place to hang out, but you're actually continuing to develop tools and strategies that are going to help you play the entire game better."
"For example in World vs World we're kind of overhauling our existent guild claiming system so basically in the War Room, which is a structure you can build inside your Guild Hall, you're able to craft these tactics and improvements. And then as you go out in World vs World capture towers, keeps, a castle, you're now able to claim that for your guild and slot in these improvements and tactics, and bring new tools out into the battlefield such as banners that can help buff your group. There are player transforms, mobile siege weapons that will help you be more efficient at spreading out and taking more territory. There is also defensive improvements. You can call down air strikes at Stonemist to help you defend. So there's a huge variety of ways that we're adding strategic depth and more meaningful gameplay and more option for players to do what they love to do in World vs World."
"We're really excited to introduce Guild Teams [for PvP]," continues Boettiger. "Players are able to form rosters under their guild banner and then go into our structured PvP game modes such as Conquest and Stronghold, which is our newest game mode we're bringing with the expansion. And they're really able to make a name for themselves and kind of build a reputation and see how they stack up against other guild teams on a guild leaderboard that we're going to be introduing as well."
Guild Halls isn't something that's gifted to players with the introduction of the new expansion. It has to be earned.
"Unlike [what you] might expect, it's not like you go buy a key and then you can just go hangout in your clubhouse, right," explains Hughes. "Guild Halls really live in the story of the expansion and in the world. There are locations where this new organisation in the world, the Guild Initiative, has identified that there are concentrations of activity with the dragon's minions, Elder Dragon Mordremoth being sort of the big threat that looms over the expansion. And so that organisation is looking for guilds to mount expeditions, go out into the jungle and take them and then hold them. But that process is really like a big adventure, right. You have to go out their, play with your friends, guild mates, other people, to just make public world safe enough to even access those areas. And once you've done that you have to actually drive out that Mordrem infestation and only when you've done will you be able to actually claim that hall for your own. It's going to be really exciting to get to do that together and have that momentous moment of not just paying for a deed."
One concern with this sort of content that's heavily tied to your guild is how well it scales between different size guilds.
"We've heard a lot from our community that they really want to make sure that small guilds are able to participate in the content that we release for guilds," says Hughes. "We actually have put out several collaborative initiative threads we call them on our forums where we solicited feedback from our players and we definitely heard that. So while the moments in the Guild Halls system and that adventures are momentous and large we're balancing them so that guilds of varying sizes can absolutely partake in them. The intial adventure will be potentially more challenging for a group of, you know, five people. And probably not feesible for a one person guild, right. But they should be interesting and with just a few friends you should absolutely be able to get through that. And then once you have your Guild Hall and you're unlocking things, and progressing, and growing that space, there's different things we've designed in the economy to restrict how fast a larger guild can get ahead of everyone else. There's timegated things, and so we expect that large guilds will be mostly waiting for that limiter whereas small guilds will have plenty of that, but will be working together to get the resources and materials they need in order to make progress. And so that should keep the two relatively aligned."
Boettiger also outlined how the new banners and systems for World vs World and PvP also scaled to benefit smaller guilds and teams as well as the larger, more organised ones.
Speaking on another interesting feature that's packed into the Guild Halls experience, Link Hughes had this to say about scribing.
"We're really excited about scribing. It's something I haven't seen in other games where we allow our crafting players, who often already will make items to give to friends to help them get a boost, to really allow them to make items for their guild specifically. Some of the examples items that you can take into the world like banners to place down that your guild can get buffs from, but also just anyone around can get buffs from. Other examples are the tools and tactics for World vs World and that guild claiming funcitonality, which can absolutely be used in your own claim, but can also be used to help other players progress their claims as well. There's also decorations for your guild. The ability to not just take some basic decoration and make your space really cool, but to go out find rare materials and then upgrade those decorations into like more luxurious and varied versions. It should be a lot of fun for scribes to like step up and be able to give back to their community in a real, practical way that has gameplay attached to it."
"With Guild Halls we're creating more of a hearth and home story [compared to narrative of Guild Wars 2 and its living world]," says Hughes when asked about the locations and spaces you unlock in your Guild Halls. "This is a place where people are coming to settle this location that's on a dangerous frontier. The jungle is teeming with the dragon's minions and you're looking to fortify this location, hold it. But inside these fortifications you're trying to set down roots and build this place up and also uncover what happened here. There's kind of a archeological component to Guild Halls as you identify who made this place that the Mordrem have taken over and what was it used for. Players will be able to dig into that and there's different stories for the different guild halls that players will be able to discover."
There are of course two Guild Halls to unlock and explore in Heart of Thorns - The Gilded Hollow, The Lost Precipice, and the Guild Halls also feature a portal that will allow guild members to group up and head to any activity they want to partake in. Sort of a lobby system within the world if you will.
As for release dates Arenanet and NCsoft are still not communicating a date and the reason for that is very simple. "Beta testing is so important for us at Arenanet, we really value that feedback that we get from our players," says Hughes. Being able to see when large groups of players are moving through that content, how it works. So we don't have a release date yet, cause honestly it's really important for us to get that feedback and get the game to a place we're really happy with, so that we know we're going to nail it for our players." You'll gain access to the upcoming beta weekends if you pre-purchase Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns.