Last weekend, many Guild Wars 2 players dove headlong into the first Heart of Thorns beta weekend event for pre-purchasers. During which, beta testers had access to all core legends of the revenant and every elite specialization that had been officially revealed up until that point. Those included were the tempest, reaper, dragonhunter, and chronomancer. Over the course of the weekend, I messed around with the Legendary Assassin Stance for the revenant, the shield and wibbly-wobbly wells of the chronomancer, and, of course, the crafty and trap-laying dragonhunter. Those who have played Guild Wars 2 with me long enough know I tend to favor my guardians (that’s right; I have two) for their ability to serve as a class; a punching bag in combat, but also as a group medic or a relatively decent damage dealer (they can also generate shiny blue magical bubbles, which, frankly, was a huge selling point for me). That said, I spent the majority of my time during the beta weekend event on the dragonhunter and loved (almost) every second of it.
While I still find the name “dragonhunter” hard to swallow (like a clammy sunnyside egg), I found almost instant relief in the max-ranged playstyle of the guardian’s new elite specialization. Guardians, boasting a skill and trait set that allows for great survivability, haven’t had a weapon skill set that favors long-ranged combat. Weapons like the scepter and staff fall at opposite ends of the mid-range weapon spectrum, but they don’t quite put enough distance between the player and their enemy. So enters the dragonhunter, with its longbow and traps so flashy they can make any trap-based ranger green with envy (you know, like my ranger… yup, no hard feelings here).Deflecting Shot
The bow skills, I found, were mostly useful. A common theme I’ve seen with both the revenant and other elite specializations are skills that benefit from positioning enemies along a linear attack route. The dragonhunter is no different. The bow’s first attack skill, Puncture Shot, bounces to other enemies behind the first enemy struck. If a second target is hit, both targets are crippled, which is great. Auto-attack skills that apply debilitating conditions are always a plus in my book. Skill two, True Shot, is a charged arrow attack with piercing (that is, it’ll hit enemies directly behind the first target) and pretty sick base damage. Skill three, Deflecting Shot, is an arrow fired with its own personal shield. Think of guardian sword skill three, Zealot’s Defense, but this time, the projectile shield moves with the arrow, blocking any incoming projectiles along the way. Once Deflecting Shot hits its mark, that target is smacked with a four second blind. The fourth longbow skill is Symbol of Energy. Unlike symbol skills on other weapons that cast their symbol at the same rate each time, Symbol of Energy only appears once the magical arrow that carries it reaches the ground. It can be a painful skill to use between the cast time and the time the arrow has to travel. Unless you’ve locked your enemy down with ample amounts of traps and movement impairing conditions (which is kind of the point of the dragonhunter), the symbol will sometimes miss its target, putting the skill on a fifteen second cooldown. Symbol of Energy does damage in pulses, applies burning to foes, and vigor to allies.
Finally, there’s Hunter’s Ward, the final longbow skill. Hunter’s Ward, simply put, is a better Barrage for guardians (*bitter ranger tears*). It does great damage, cripples foes, and traps them in fancy looking barriers. As far as usage goes, it’s better to throw this skill down first before launching Symbol of Energy. Sadly, the skill has a sixty second cooldown (no, I did not stutter) , which is double the cooldown length of Barrage. Honestly, I loved to see the cooldown knocked down to around forty-five seconds, the same as the non-elite trap skills. It has great skill synergy and while it’s better than Barrage, it’s not worth sixty seconds of waiting. Overall, I feel like the longbow’s skills casting speeds could be bumped up a little for skills one, two, and four. Obviously, I don’t want it to be as fast as the ranger (you know, to save that profession some dignity), but it’s slowness was pretty apparent during the beta weekend event.“Commander! We have enemy dragonhunters inside the Oasis!” “It’s a trap!”
Next, I’m moving over to the dragonhunter’s new trap skills, starting with its healing skill, Purification. I’ll be honest, I did not care for this skill. I usually save healing for “oh sh*t” situations and having to rely on an enemy to trigger that big heal for me is not something I’d like to gamble with. Granted, it works much better in close quarters, but it can be annoying to use at long range, especially against more stationary ranged foes. A healing skill like Shelter is better suited for healing at a distance (or “Receive the Light!” if you’re crazy like me and try to create some kind of weird trap/shout hybrid). That said, a plus for using Purification at close range is that it blinds enemies for six seconds. What would get me to consider using Purification more often? Ground-targeting. This is a critique I have for every dragonhunter trap. These are magical traps, not physical traps. It makes sense for a ranger to physically place their traps, but with the dragonhunter, I feel their traps could, and probably should, function similarly to consecrations and be allowed a certain radius of placement. That way, a dragonhunter can strategically plan trap usage from a distance depending on who has enemy aggro.
Moving on from there we have the utility trap skills. The first is Fragments of Faith, which damages and cripples enemies and drops aegis fragments that grant aegis to the user or allies so long as they don’t already have the boon on them. Up next is Light’s Judgement (aka what I always thought Ray of Judgment should’ve been, visually speaking), which damages and applies ten stacks of vulnerability to foes that get caught. Additionally, Light’s Judgement also reveals stealthed foes. This extra feature has better application in things like WvW and PvP, but with all the changes to enemy tactics in Heart of Thorns, who knows? The third trap is Test of Faith. This skill really felt like copy of Fragments of Faith minus the aegis fragments, and the fact that it’s unblockable. That said, I really feel like Test of Faith should have a higher base damage or longer cripple duration to set it apart from its aegis spawning sibling. The last utility trap, Procession of Blades, is purely damage dealing and sports higher base damage than the other utility traps (visually, it’s the equivalent of your foes trying to run through magical helicopter propellers). As for the elite trap, Dragon’s Maw, I won’t talk about something I didn’t use (because of my crazy trap/shout hybrid build), but seeing as it does decent damage, traps enemies in a barrier, and smacks them with the slow condition, it sounds useful in theory. It pains me to know it has the same cooldown as the Hunter’s Ward longbow skill (it’s kind of a big deal for me). I think if the dragonhunter had faster attacks and access to improving skill cooldowns (perhaps through traits like most professions), I would feel more comfortable with using Dragon’s Maw instead of “Feel My Wrath!” as a band-aid to fix the elite spec’s speed problem.Wings of Resolve
On a more positive note, the dragonhunter’s traits synergize pretty well with the longbow, traps, and upgraded virtues. My hope is that, like most other professions, they slip in a few cooldown or attack speed benefits into certain traits for the longbow if they don’t make it baseline. Traits I liked specifically were Piercing Light for the added bleeds, Zealot’s Aggression because it can be paired with Dulled Senses, Hunter’s Determination because everyone loves a little extra stability in their lives, Heavy Light because ranged knockback is always fun, and Big Game Hunter because it stacks extra damage to Spear of Justice’s tethered enemies on top of extra vulnerability application. Speaking of virtues, I found that I enjoyed their new active abilities in combat – though I felt like some virtue effects favored different ranges of combat. Spear of Justice appears to work better in mid-to-close range combat while Shield of Courage favors mid-to-long range. Wings of Resolve was different in that it allowed for mobile healing in a mid-range radius, like a shorter range version of the meditation skill, Merciful Intervention.
Overall, I think dragonhunter is headed to a good place and will be a fine addition to the guardian’s playstyle when the expansion finally rolls around. It has a few aspects that could see some improvement. A small attack speed increase, skill cooldown reduction, improved variation for trap effects, and ground-targeted traps are the big issues for me right now. As for anything extra, I thought it might be nice if the dragonhunter had a taunt to lure foes into traps (seriously, this would be awesome, and it makes thematic sense). Other than that, I look forward to the next beta weekend event where I’ll likely give the reaper and herald elite specs some attention as well as check out all the dragonhunter changes. Until then, I’ll be out dragon hunting on all my non-dragonhunter characters.