I pre-ordered HoT when it released, but didn't really give it much of a chance, because I didn't really like what I was hearing about the new class augmentations (daredevil, scrapper etc). I liked GW2 when i bought it; the game systems that promote exploration and make the game challenging no matter what level your character is are great; I liked being able to work on multiple crafting disciplines, even if the system took forever. My biggest complaint with the game was that I couldn't really find a class that I liked that didn't feel super weak or squishy. I usually play thief type characters, and the "in combat" stealth in GW2 seemed fun, until I realized that the way the weapons were set up basically only gave you a few options as far as playstyle (dagger/pistal + shortbow, i'm looking at you). I liked the melee style of thief, but hated having a weak ranged attack; I also enjoyed engineer, but I felt it odd that even when something got in melee range, I was shooting at it.
Anyway, all that is to say that I found the game "fun", but that it didn't really "click" with me enough to pay the $60-$70 for Heart of Thorns. I now find myself bored with other games, particularly with how they structure content at max level. I never got to max level in GW2, so i never got to experience fractals or hard mode dungeons, etc.
I love dungeons in most games, but the few dungeons I tried in this game were MUCH more difficult than in most other games. I usually enjoy challenging dungeons, but even the "normal" dungeons were basically wipefests the last tiem I played.
I'm curious what end-game in GW2 consists of nowadays? What is involved? I know that raids now exist, but I'm on a work/life schedule that probably would not be conducive to reliable attendance, so i'm not sure if I would be able to raid.
Apart from the traditional "raids are end game", the end game in GW2 is whatever you want it to be. GW2 can be segmented into 3 main parts, WvW, PvP, and PvE. Each part has subgroups: WvW (roaming/havok, raid groups, gvg), PvP (ranked, unranked), PvE (open world, dungeons/fractals, raids). End game is whatever your niche happens to be, or you could be someone who likes to float between the various parts of the game. There barriers to move around are minimal.
WvW - Fighting others in open world environments. Matchups are a lot more balanced than they used to be and somewhat faster paced.
PvP - Self explanatory, playing against others on one of the pvp maps. A ranked queue is activated during seasons, people see how far they can get.
PvE = Open world PvE typically involves doing the meta events on the HoT maps. Each one involves some degree of coordination, the loot is pretty good. Raids are pretty self explanatory, so are dungeons/fractals. Fractals are divided into tiers with 4 being the most challenging, gives you 8-12g before selling mats if you do your dailiies
Theres also a bunch of collections to do for skins (the real end game of GW2: Fashion Wars). Collections sort of guide your game play, some can be fun, some can be quite annoying. Going through them will keep your busy for sure.
The dungeons in the game can be challenge IF you run with new people. A lot of people will tell you that the dungeons are easy, but those same people also ran the dungeons countless times over have had someone in their group that was able to carry. By "normal" dungeons I assume you mean the story modes of dungeons, those tend to be longer and harder than their "explorer" counterparts, IMO. Fractals are relatively harder than dungeons (lvl 50-100) but a lot more fun and rewarding, imo. Also by the time you've reach level 50 you'll have a good grasp on your classes and game mechanics.
Thief: Yeah, your most viable options in PVE are staff -> dagger/dagger -> sword -> pistol pretty much in that order. I really wouldn't call thieves squashy as long as they are fighting something. Ever weapon combo has a place in WvW/PvP with d/p or staff being meta (paired with shortbow of course). Ranged options on thieves are meh though, not necessarily weak but not spectacular either.
Engineer: Scrapper is a fully melee variant of engineer, take grenade kit if you must range.
If you want a class thats not so squishy, can melee + range fairly well, and hit hard, play a warrior. Good melee and ranged damage, still beefy in dps gear, can take a hit. Since you have HoT, revenants are pretty solid, I personally find their gameplay somewhat boring though. Actually Necromancer/Reaper might be something you'd like, they have very strong melee options (dagger/greatsword) and 2 mid range weapons (axe/scepter), and a decent enough long range option (staff).
It's fairly open ended. For the most part, one does at max level whatever they were doing from level 1 up to the endgame. The only exception so far are raids- which are basically super dungeons in so far as they follow similar deigns to the normal dungeons.
Adding raids to GW2 didn't really introduce a strict path of gameplay like many expected. It's still a game that is pretty loose in endgame choices.
Thanks for your replies, they've given me something to think about. I actually returned HoT, so I'd have to buy it again, which is my main concern. I don't know if I want to sink a whole bunch of time into the game again if nothing's really changed. Like I said, the game was fun enough while leveling, but I just couldnt find a class that I really liked 100%.
You don't need HoT to keep playing. It's just blocking you from materies, elite specs, and the new living story (though you can unlock that by logging in even if you don't have HoT and it'll become playable if you ever do obtain HoT). Oh and raids, you can't do raids without HoT iirc. You should be able to play the new fractals and stuff though. But yea, the core way GW2 works and functions as a game didn't really change in HoT.