As ArenaNet took the opportunity at PAX Prime to not only reveal the release date of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, but also detail the raid content, we reached out to game director Colin Johansen to learn more about said raids and get answers for some of our other questions ahead of release.
Traditionally, raid content has involved significant amount of planning and coordination for players to complete. How do you balance the needs of the most dedicated players with the needs of more casual players? Are these raids aimed at a small percentage of the player base?
These raids are absolutely content that involves a significant amount of planning and coordination to overcome them. That is the goal; that's who the target audience for this content is. We have a massive amount of content in this expansion and already in Guild Wars 2 as well as through our live strategy that we'll be continuing to add for players looking for other numerous experiences. Literally Guild Wars 2 is a series of games within a giant world. Raids are aimed directly at the group of players who are looking for a significant amount of planning and coordination to overcome and defeat challenges. We expect that a large amount of the Guild Wars 2 player base is going to be excited about raiding; it's something our players have been asking about for a while now. And although whenever a new raid wing gets released you may only see a subset of our player base beat it initially, over time the strategies of how to defeat that raid will perpetuate across the community and will become more approachable as more players learn how to overcome and defeat it. And so, naturally when a new raid comes out I think there will be a race for players to learn the strategies and defeat it and there'll be very few people who defeat it initially, and over time more and more people will learn how to defeat them and find out new strategies for how to overcome them.
Because we are removing so many barriers to entry that traditional raiding has, we believe that we will actually get a much larger group of players who can play them because it's more approachable for everyone, even though it is extremely challenging.
You have been talking a lot about new ways to progress your character. How, and to which extent, are you dealing with power creep?
Instead of the traditional systems that a typical MMO expansion would use, instead of adding new tiers of gear or levels to our game, we're adding our brand new mastery system which is our take on end game progression. The masteries system is a new way to progress and grow your character without increasing the level cap or forcing players to obtain new gear. Our end game progression system creates a more exciting and more rewarding way to access challenging end-game content in Guild Wars 2.
Will the core game's group content still be realistically relevant to players with the expansion and accessible to players without the expansion, in the sense that they don't become too easy for expansions players or too hard for core game-only players?
Absolutely; one of the reasons we picked masteries as our end game progression system is because we're not adding more levels to the game, and because we're not adding more tiers of gear. We don't leave a wasteland of meaningless content behind us that suddenly now is trivial because we've constantly raised the curve. Our mastery system allows us to add new challenges to the game that you need to progress your characters and overcome without ruining the encounters that we've already built into the game and making those a worthless place to play. On top of this, we're adding our map reward system, that goes back and adds unique and rare rewards that are already hard to earn in Guild Wars 2 to all the existing maps in the game. You earn these in ways you couldn't earn them before by playing events, jumping puzzles, and mini-dungeons in all 28 of our existing maps; this helps keep them alive and continues to give players reasons to go play in that content as well as in the new region. We're also adding through our mastery system the ability to unlock and craft precursor weapons which eventually allow you to build the legendary weapons in Guild Wars 2. These new legendary weapons and these legendary journeys that come available to you—which is a new feature of Heart of Thorns—send you all across the game world to gather components on epic quests that result in the end of you being able to build legendary weapons. We're also introducing new legendary pieces like legendary backpacks that you will also be able to go out in the world and earn that will continue to keep the core game a place that you will play in as well as the expansion.
In terms of time investment, roughly how long do you expect an experienced group to spend on a first time completion? How long for subsequent completions?
I can't say specific times right now, we're still continuing to test and iterate on our raid content, but I will say that the goal is for players to have to play and should get to play encounters over and over again, refining their strategies, tweaking their builds, learning how to play together and eventually get to a point where they overcome that encounter and move on to the next one in that raid. That is the goal of this content, is that it should require you to learn, practice, master, and then defeat before moving on to the next encounter. When you come back to play it again to continue to get more rewards, you're slowly learning how to get better at it once you've learned how to beat it, and that's the goal of our raids at its core. These are not things you should be able to walk right into and beat the first time, we want it to be a learning process.
Are the raids "PUGable" or do you need a more structured, coordinated group like a guild?
You will need a more structured, coordinated group to overcome content like this, you are going to need to learn how to play with other players and while you don't always have to have exactly the same group ideally you will build a group of players that you want to raid with or a large pool of players that you want to rotate between for raiding. You don't have to be in a guild to play this content, although we anticipate many of the people who play this content will be organised into guild groups that are playing together.
With regards to our raids being "PUGable", because we've removed barriers to entry that traditional raids would have, it is easier for any player who wants to get into raiding to be able to play them. We don't have any attunements that you have to grind through before you're even allowed to play the raid, and we've made it so that you're not locked into specific professions to overcome challenges in the raid. You bring the profession you love and you tweak the skills you need to help your party overcome the encounter. There is no massive gear grind that you have to go through before you can start raiding. Not having all those barriers to entry in our raids means that it is more approachable and it'll be easier for more players to be able to get together and play our raids.
I think there's often a misconception that casual players don't want challenging content, and I think that's a misrepresentation of what the term "casual player" means. To me, casual players in an MMO just mean they have less hours per week that they can spend playing versus someone who's a little more hard core, but that doesn't mean they're not as good at the game, it doesn't mean that they're not looking for challenging encounters to overcome. Many of our core audience, people would describe them as casual, but that core audience is looking for a challenge, and they to be able to defeat it, and they want to learn how to do it and they are really good at our game or they want to get really good at our game. And our raids should be all about let's present them with challenges they have to work together to overcome. If we can remove the barriers to entry that raids traditionally have, it means players who are often times coined as casual can play this content because they're good enough to do it, they just don't have as much time during the week, and we've built a system that is approachable and that respects their time. We've also made it so that players who do have more time can continue to play this content and play other content we've built as well.
What is the theme of the first raid to be released? Which races or characters will we meet?
For now we're not talking about the details of the story of the first raid because it comes chronologically after you've completed the personal story that drives the storyline in our expansion, Heart of Thorns. So I can't give you the story of the raid without giving story spoilers. You'll have to wait and see! I can say for sure that there are moments in there that people will be very excited to hear about.
How important will the raids be for the story? How do the stories of the raids fit into the overall story arc and with the living story?
The main story of the first raid kicks off after players will have finished the storyline of the expansion itself. The first three raid wings that make up our first raid tell a complementary story that occurs after that, and you don't need to do it to have finished the core storyline in the expansion, but it does continue to tell the story of our world. In the future, raids will be a key part of our live strategy after Heart of Thorns has shipped, and Living World will make its return as well. Both of those will have story elements that continue the story of our world.
What incentives are you putting in place for raids to be repeatable content?
There's a lot of different things we want to do to help support raids as something you can play over and over again with your friends, everything from the rewards structure that we're going to talk about more later on, but I can say they will be legendary rewards that will make you want to play raids multiple times so you can collect all the different rewards from them. I think the concept of having a challenge that you can eventually learn how to defeat, and then learn how to defeat faster and better in the future is a big component of making these repeatable as well. And certainly another key component of this is that we want to make it a great place to earn XP, which means it's a really good place for you to continue to earn and train your masteries as we add more to the game, not just with the expansion but in future live updates as well. Raids is a wonderful place to train your masteries because they give a lot of XP, and they'll also be great places for guilds to play together and earn guild rewards that will help them build their guild halls. Those are just some examples, and we'll certainly be looking at other things on top of that to have raids be a key replayable component of Guild Wars 2.
As previously confirmed, Heart of Thorns is set to land on October 23.