The second Heart of Thorns beta weekend was the first chance that I’ve had to get my hands on the elite specialisation for my beloved guardian: the dragonhunter. Unperturbed by the enduring (and misplaced) dislike of the name from many parts of the community, I’ve been eager to strap on a longbow and trap me some mordrem. Nearly 48 hours in, I’m very happy to say that I had a blast! While the best part of HoT so far is blatantly gliding around and bouncing off of mushrooms, the dragonhunter didn’t let me down; allow me to ruminate on what worked and what could be a little better.
On my guardian, I’m currently running a sinister condition build that uses mace/torch and greatsword. It’s a lot of fun and does solid damage; perhaps, surprisingly, even more than a standard greatsword berserker build when running around clearing world content. The first thing that I tried on my dragonhunter was to see whether or not I could get a similar burning-based condition build working, but with sinister stats unavailable for beta characters I soon changed to berserker stats and eventually settled on this build.
I’m going to rifle through what I thought of various skills, with some added suggestions for potential changes that I’d like to see.
Spear of Justice Throw this at whatever you’re hitting and get burning, 10% increased damage and vulnerability on hit with the Big Game Hunter grandmaster trait – what’s not to like? It’s getting increased missile speed and half a second knocked off of the casting time1 soon, which will make it that bit easier to use every time that it’s up. The adept trait Zealot’s Aggression (do 7% more damage to crippled enemies) is going to be moved to the master tier and, along with a bump to 10% damage, will cause Justice to also apply cripple. This will have great synergy with Big Game Hunter and will go straight into my dragonhunter build.
Wings of Resolve Oh, I do love my new wings, but think that they could be so much better. This seems like the perfect candidate for an “oh shit” button, since it can move you away from danger and heal you for a decent amount. I would like to see Wings of Resolve have the same ¼ second cast time as the other virtues, and for it to break stun and immobilize. This would empower it as an excellent ‘get out of danger’ skill, and an iconic part of the dragonhunter specialization. I’ve been using the Soaring Devastation adept trait which causes it to damage and immobilize enemies that you land on, which is a decent bonus in PvE if you use it for a heal while in melee range. It would be awesome if this trait (or even base functionality) also increased the range from 600 to 900 so that it could be used instead of Judge’s Intervention as a gap closer at the start of a fight.
Shield of Courage This didn’t seem to do a whole lot for me, but I don’t know how much of that is because it needs a bit more visual feedback when it blocks projectiles. ArenaNet is looking into ways of improving it, with the current development iteration blocking attacks for allies inside the shield’s cone2 but leaving the dragonhunter vulnerable to attacks from behind. It’s not clear if this is still only blocking projectiles, or if it’s being expanded to cover all attacks. If it does become five seconds of total invulnerability in a small radius, then I can see this ability going from just okay to pretty darn useful so we’ll have to wait and see what happens!
Puncture Shot It does decent damage and the bounce to a second enemy helps the DPS ramp up significantly. This is getting a 66% increase in velocity3 which should serve to make it even better.
True Shot This skill feels really satisfying to use, causing heavy damage (possibly getting increased4) and piercing by default. At range you’ll want to use this on cooldown. I used the trait Hunter’s Determination which causes this to give you three seconds of stability for every enemy that you hit, which definitely helped me out in Verdant Brink where everything is trying to kill you in new and horrible ways.
Deflecting Shot If you played any amount of the beta you’ll be familiar with the joy that is the Mordrem Sniper. These guys will rapid fire your face in as soon as look at you, and Deflecting Shot (with backup from good ol’ Wall of Reflection) did well to mitigate some of that hurt. Changes are coming in an upcoming patch5 that will increase the base damage by 13%, reduce missile velocity by 25% to make it easier to block incoming projectiles, and then reward you for doing so with a 100% damage increase. Sniper, no (more) sniping!
Symbol of Energy So far this is the only longbow skill which actually feels a little lacklustre, and will be even more so when the burning is removed6, even if it will get a 10% base damage increase and some quality of life improvements by way of a 66% missile velocity increase and the ability to fire it behind yourself. I only really used this to turn on the Symbolic Avenger trait. I definitely see a future for this as being more of a utility skill, and can definitely see the ability to throw down some vigor at range being useful to drop on the melee group during raids. Perhaps in order to better support open world play it could grant an additional ‘energetic’ boon that makes it worth self-casting.
Hunter’s Ward I absolutely love the look of this, and functionally it’s pretty decent, as expected. The cripple and barriers work nicely for controlling weaker enemies; I also found that it worked to take most of the break bar off of some of the larger mordrem. I wouldn’t say no to a slight damage increase.
Purification This works as expected and is likely to see reasonable play in PvP builds where you would drop it as you disengaged from a fight for your adversary to run through and get themselves blinded. In PvE, I don’t really see it being used in place of either Signet of Resolve or Shelter.
Light’s Judgement is very much the most useful of the traps and something that will fit into DPS builds happily. The damage from the trap itself is fairly insignificant, but the effect of 25 stacks of vulnerability on all targets in range is going to increase personal and group damage by a large amount. I had success opening a fight from range with Spear of Justice and True Shot, then starting to cast Light’s Judgement, teleporting into melee range with Judge’s Intervention to drop the trap at their feet, and then switching to greatsword, dropping a symbol and cutting them to pieces.
Procession of Blades This trap looks brilliant, and does reasonable damage, but didn’t impress me as much as I’d thought it might beyond the novelty of spinning with my greatsword in the opposite direction to the trap, which I have affectionately coined ‘the dragonblender’. While trying to work out a fun condition build, it occurred to me that changing Procession of Blades so that it acts as a whirl finisher would increase its effectiveness significantly since I could drop it inside a fire field like Purging Flames for those sweet, sweet burning stacks.
Test of Faith is great for kiting and controlling enemies and has suitably punishing damage. I can definitely envisage slotting this for specific encounters.
Fragments of Faith Another reliable source of aegis is definitely going to be useful in challenging 5- and 10-man group content, but it’s unlikely to see much use in open world adventuring.
Dragon’s Maw hits nice and hard, has great control, and looks fantastic! It’s probably not going to displace Feel My Wrath! in most dungeon builds, but I really liked having it while running around Verdant Brink as an extra way of grouping mobs up and holding them in place while I threw barriers up around them with Hunter’s Ward.
…there you have it. Dragonhunter is a lot of fun and I have absolutely no concerns about choosing it as my first elite specialisation when Heart of Thorns launches on October 23. The idea of the usually supportive guardian grabbing a longbow and taking the fight to Mordremoth as a way of protecting Tyria absolutely works for me, and having an effective and varied ranged weapon at long last feels great.
If you’ve had a chance to get some time in with a dragonhunter during either of the beta events so far, please get in touch on Twitter or in the chat below and tell us what you thought of it, and what you think needs changing.