The Dragonhunter: A Rose By Any Name?

ArenaNet seems to have a bit of a problem with finding good names relating to the heavily armoured profession that serves as the Monk’s spiritual successor.

It’s understandable, really. While the guardian has many similarities with existing archetypes, the precise composition of the guardian is something that doesn’t really have an established name in the genre. While the ‘paladin’ archetype is probably closest, the guardian extends much broader (as I discussed after the guardian’s release) and paladins are typically associated with having a specific religious belief, which would fit poorly with the range of religious positions (or lack thereof) of the playable races.

With that said, the term ‘guardian’ has made for a fair label. It may not be as evocative as terms like ‘ranger’ and ‘elementalist’… however, it is functional and descriptive enough for the guardian’s abilities and role, and there aren’t really any more exotic terms that fit.

The term ‘dragonhunter’, on the other hand… Skyrim jokes aside, it feels a bit like a development placeholder term that never got replaced. While both terms are somewhat pedestrian at first glance, ‘guardian’ is descriptive to the general (but not exclusive) focus on defensive magic while remaining generic enough that it is easy to expect any organisation to include guardians within its ranks (some more than others, of course). Similarly, each of the other profession names, including the chronomancer specialisation, focus on abilities rather than goals.

Unlike the Chronomancer, whose name identifies their abilities, the name ‘dragonhunter’ seems to dictate the character’s objectives and personality while saying little about their abilities.

For the dragonhunter, this is turned on its head. The term says little about the character’s abilities, while limiting the character in goals: by its name, a dragonhunter is implied to only be focused on fighting the dragons, rather than pursuing other threats and goals. In the latest Ready Up, in fact, we are explicitly told that dragonhunters focus their efforts on hunting dragon minions, including taking up something of a ‘witch hunter’ aspect in sniffing out Mordremoth-influenced sylvari and other dragon-corrupted individuals among their allies. While it is a reasonable assumption that the PCs would have such a primary goal, it does lead to the impression that ArenaNet is telling us what the personality of the character should be, rather than letting the player come to their own opinion of their character’s goals and motivations.

Also, unlike the term ‘guardian’, it does not feel as if there is a lack of other terms that can be used. For instance, one proposal I would be inclined to make would be “Vigilant” – the implied connection to the Vigil can still indicate that it originates from dragon-fighting organisations, while also evoking the image of a sentinel standing watch over a town, ready to defend against interlopers through skilled archery and well-placed traps.

Now that we’ve got the complaining about names out of the way, let’s look at the profession itself…

What’s Old Is New Again

The new guardian elite specialisation feels a lot like ArenaNet is adding a ranger-like option for the guardian.

I’ll have to admit that I’ve flip-flopped a bit on my impression of the new specialisation. On initial reaction, the skills do look like they’ll be fun to use. On further reflection, however, while the new chronomancer skills and abilities neatly fit within the general theme of the mesmer, the dragonhunter takes the guardian in a very different direction, the combination of traps and archery feeling very much like a ranger enhanced with guardian magic.

With additional thought, however, it struck me that this might actually be the point. One of the main sources of nostalgia from Guild Wars 1 players was the secondary profession system, allowing a character to pick up traits and skills from another profession, even to the point of ‘playing to your secondary’, relying primarily on the skills of a secondary profession combined with the primary attribute of the main profession – a tactic particularly employed by touch rangers and “bunny thumper” hammer rangers, among others. The dragonhunter, then, can possibly be regarded as the first of a new set of specialisations that simulate secondary professions, granting a set of abilities normally associated with another profession while maintaining some of the flavour of the original profession.

Come Into My Parlour

So how does it all go together?

The dragonhunter could prove to play very similarly to trapper rangers.

Played in a pure sense, the dragonhunter would likely play very similar to a traditional trapper ranger. Plant a few traps between your firing position and the enemy, and open fire – if the enemy remains at range it may be conceding an advantage to the dragonhunter (especially given that one of the traits increases damage if you maintain a certain distance from the enemy). Conversely, if the enemy approaches, they will need to run the gauntlet of traps – some of which may include potent crowd control effects such as Dragon’s Maw. This is reinforced by the additional effects on the activation of Virtues – Courage allows a period of negating enemy ranged attacks, while Resolve can be used for a quick getaway.

One distinction between the dragonhunter longbow and the traditional ranger longbow is a greater focus on striking multiple targets. While rangers have a trait that allows arrows to pierce through targets, this is a fairly narrow line. In practise, even with this trait, longbow rangers tend to focus on a single target at once unless firing upon a closely packed group. The dragonhunter longbow attacks (as well as the Spear of Justice), on the other hand, are more focused on striking multiple targets, whether a circular area or a line, with the basic attack having a requirement to hit multiple targets in order to have the full effect. The line-based effects, however, appear to be more forgiving than the ranger’s Piercing Arrows trait, affecting a broader area, and while the auto attack requires the second target to be behind the first, a fairly wide angle is allowed.

The dragonhunter’s bow attacks show a strong focus on area attacks.

However, the new features of the dragonhunter do not necessarily need to be combined with the longbow. While the traps have a slight delay when set beneath a target’s feet rather than triggered by an enemy’s movement, it’s still quite possible for an enemy to be caught within the area when used in this manner, especially when combined with other crowd control effects such as Ring of Warding. Meanwhile, the traps that have a crowd control effect themselves can be used to keep the enemy within an area where they can be subjected to symbols and/or melee attacks. The enhanced Virtues, on the other hand, grant additional options that can be useful when combined with any weapon.

This last point, in fact, may be a bit of a balance concern. Simply by taking an elite specialisation, a guardian can gain three additional, quite potent skills to their bar, in addition to access to the new skills. While the benefits of traits from the existing core specialisations such as Altruistic Healing and Pure of Voice are not to be underestimated, it could be hard for the core specialisations to compete with a projectile blocker, a leap, and Spear of Justice on top of the rest of the line.

No More Tomes?

The Tome of Wrath - soon to go into retirement?

The Tome of Wrath – soon to go into retirement?

There’s one last thing to note, which from what I’ve seen was missing from the Twitch program: Jon Peters has raised the possibility of dropping the tomes from the guardian elites and replacing them with new skills. Tome of Courage may be replaced with Signet of Courage, which generates regular healing and can be activated to generate Light of Deliverance for an instant full party heal. Tome of Wrath, on the other hand, is proposed to be replaced by the “Feel My Wrath!” elite shout, which grants Fury and Quickness – although it’s not clear if this is just for the guardian, or whether it might affect allies as well (making it potential competition for a mesmer’s Time Warp).

I’m of mixed thoughts on this. It’s true that tomes tend not to be used by most guardians in most situations, however, I would be saddened to see that aspect removed. On the other hand, the proposed alternatives would be much more useful in most circumstances and allow for more fluid use than the current tome mechanics. The suggestion of bringing back the tomes in a specialisation may well be the best compromise, giving the core guardian gameplay more elites that do not have the unwieldiness of the tomes, while still keeping the tome concept available (once the tome-focused specialisation comes around) to those who wish to use them.

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