Guild Wars 2 | The Mastery System, or Not New Levels
We're nearly there. 23 October is just a few weeks away. Which means there can't be a lot left to announce. As Heart of Thorns completes its final beta weekend, take a look at what to expect. Starting with the Mastery System
The sell is simple: ArenaNet know you've levelled all the way to 80 and farmed all that gear. The last thing they want to do is make you start over. So Heart of Thorns will not have any new levels. Instead, it will have sideways progression in the form of the Mastery System.
What, then, can the Mastery system offer? Since its not forward progression, you shouldn't expect to get gradually more powerful in any way. You will get some new combat skills from some of them. Mostly, you will wander off down new paths. Literally, because there are 7 'tracks' you will follow. Tracks that are clearly aimed at different types of gameplay.
Looking at the game, these seem to be divided into two sections - Pact Tyria Mastery Tracks and Heart of Maguuma Mastery Tracks.
Pact Tyria Tracks
These focus on content from the old world that is still going to relevant as you advance into Maguuma.
Master The Fractals
This track does what it says on the tin and is aimed at helping you get further and further through fractals. If Fractals are your thing, this track is likely going to be awesome. Not all the details of this track are available. There is at least one Mastery mentioning Agony, suggesting some kind of Agony resistance effect might be possible.
This is designed to open up new vendors, bonus experience, increased speed in cities and automatic looting. Whatever they call it, this is the track of little fixes that makes your life better. You get those quality of life improvements from playing, not from the cash shop like certain other games (Star Wars, I am looking at you).
This is the thing that many many players have been waiting for. A non-random way to get your legendary precursor. No longer will players have to drop endless gear into the Mystic Toilet with nothing to show for it. This track lets you learn to craft the existing and new legendary precursors. There are four tiers - three of ye olde Precursors and one of Maguuma precursors. Expect the most desirable precursors (Greatswords) to be in the third tier.
ArenaNet talked for a while about some kind of scavenger hunt approach to precursors. Rather than being a different approach, the Mastery system includes this. You open up collections which then require you to get trophies for completing tasks. Kill things, Dance with Queen Jennah, etc. and you will complete the first tier and get a 'distressed' version of the precursor. The second collection is about crafting and refining it. The third gives you more tasks to get the final recipe.
What isn't mentioned is the likely grind. I suspect both the second tier collection and the final recipe will involve some grind. Guild Wars 2 does love its grind, after all. But current precursor access requires a grind combined with luck, so just a grind is going to be a better option for many.
Heart of Maguuma
This will let you learn the languages of Tyria, leading you to new secret areas and battle techniques. If you love the story behind the MMO world you are playing, this is for you. There are three lore tracks, which is how you get to seven - Exalted, Nuhoch and Itzel.
There are some unusual abilities in this track. Want to bounce on some mushrooms? Thats in Itzel lore. In fact, there are several strange Itzel things you can do with mushrooms. It seems the Itzel have a thing for mushrooms.
Both the Itzel and the Nuhoch tracks give you immunity to modrem attack types. Exalted gives you the ability to pierce Mordrem bark. There are various bonuses to help you get around more easily. All in all, theres a lot of practical elements to the lore tracks, as well as the lore.
Hang gliding. Thats it by the way, hang gliding. There will be areas you need this mastery track to get to. Also, this is not flying. You will need to master it both in terms of opening it in game and working out how to manage the ability so you don't plummet to your death. Expect to see a lot of dead people falling out of the sky.
Maguuma is not the end
This is a system ArenaNet intends to expand. Its something that could be worked into the Living Story well. Adding a new track that combines with several of the Living Story episodes, for example.
Thinking more widely, this system has an interesting interaction with Achievements. Achievements in Guild Wars 2 are used to encourage replay. The Mastery system provides a similar function. To keep both, ArenaNet will want to find some kind of differentiation between them and make it clear what the two are providing.
All in all, this is an interesting experiment and a good attempt at an alternative to levelling. The enormous grind for Ascended and Legendary items would not be palatable if it was wiped out every expansion. WoW is also experimenting with sideways progression in the form of Artifact weapons. Others will be watching to see how these go.