Smudge and I finished Act 1 of HoT last Tuesday.

The story is continuing to be good, though it’s switched tracks again, and is only giving tiny snippets of had been the primary focus through the end of Season 2.

At some point, it’s going to be interesting to go through all of this as a non-Sylvari, as both this and Season 2 have been good at acknowledging the fact that there’s an extra personal impact here. And at other times, they ignore it, and I’m the only Sylvari that everyone’s still willing to trust.

How they present the story has evolved a bit, and it’s obvious that they’ve enhanced the engine some. It used to be that any time your character had dialog, GW2 would go into a type of cutscene for it. Those are largely gone now. Also, dialog are often triggered by proximity, which would happen inside of story instances, but these are happening out in the main world now.

So, the presentation is a lot smoother, though you don’t get to see the models up close and pretty as much.

Pretty much the first thing they do is introduce the new Mastery system, which stands in for levels in HoT. It looks like there’s an interesting mix of things in the masteries, part content-gating, and part new mechanics like the gliders. A very interesting wrinkle is that there’s ‘red’ mastery points for the original game’s areas, and ‘green’ mastery points in the HoT areas (these line up with the color of the logos for both), which means they can keep expanding the system with new expansions without going down the path of ever-escalating levels that all the other MMOs have used. You still gain experience, and when you gain a ‘level’ you get the new mastery. …If you have the Mastery Points to pay for it, which get awarded for story completion, and achievements, and so on. Smudge and I have a bunch of red points stored up already, but the higher ranks of any one mastery category get expensive, so they’ll probably give out on us mid-way through.

All of Act 1 happens in the first new HoT zone, Verdant Brink, which we’re still exploring. It kind of sprawls and goes all over the place, roughly in three levels, so it’s bit hard to navigate, even with the new gliders to help out.

And it’s dangerous. There’s a day/night cycle that works a little bit like the sandstorms in Dry Top, but instead of just cutting down visibility and making certain boss encounters available, the entire zone gets a lot tougher at night, and there’s events to try and secure base camps and get supplies to them to make them safer. I’d kind of like to get a chance to really go through that on a map determined to hold things, but so far we just see people blow through, and abandon a lot of secured camps.