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Enter the Reaper!

Do you feel a chill in the air?  The Reaper is coming to Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns!

With today’s elite specialization reveal, Robert Gee presents us with an avatar-donning, shadow scythe-wielding badass to make necromancer players everywhere itch to get their hands on the reaper.  Or at least to make this alt-holic necro loving player twitchy!

As we already knew from this year’s PAX South reveal, the necromancer elite specialization is getting the greatsword as its new weapon. Coming  with it are some devastating damage skills, and a new take on shouts.  To top it off, Death Shroud becomes Reaper’s Shroud which includes some spectacular effects, such as a shadowy scythe that appears when the Shroud activates. This ties in well with the necromancer’s existing shadow scythe that appears when using a staff, and keeps the class well-anchored thematically with its “Master of Death” roots.

Look at all the shadowy goodness!

With the scythe effects, the reaper also gets access to a new avatar to strike fear into an enemy’s soul.  The avatar’s aesthetic is straight out of Grim Reaper lore, complete with hood, darkened and not visible face, glowing eyes, frayed garments, and deathly wings.  When Reaper’s Shroud activates, the reaper seems to explode into it, kicking the menacing look up several notches. Couple this with the melee skills the Shroud gets through its minor trait, Shroud Knight, and the fear of death is sure to follow — I think I’ll feel better playing as a reaper than having to play against one and see that suddenly explode in my face!

Through  the greatsword, necromancers now have access to an AoE direct damage weapon. Like the guardian’s Whirling Wrath, the warrior’s Hundred Blades, or even Fiery Whirl from the elementalist’s conjured Fiery Greatsword, the reaper in Reaper’s Shroud gets

Death’s Charge—Spin your scythe and dash forward a moderate distance, damaging foes in your path. When the dash ends, release an explosive poison cloud.

ArenaNet also appear to want to further incentivize necromancer players into switching into their shadowy forms more often. Reaper’s Shroud looks like the extra tankiness necromancer players have longed for.  The studio’s balance changes to the necromancer over the past year or more have tried to encourage more Death Shroud use, to the anger of many players.  With Reaper’s Shroud and its accompanying melee skills, perhaps we might ask if ArenaNet has been trying to prepare players for the new Shroud for some time.  Death Shroud has allowed necromancers to remain at range, which makes sense for a light armor-wearing caster class, yet with Reaper’s Shroud encouraging melee, a new balance has to be struck in order to, as Gee puts it, “allow reapers to get close, stay close, and cleave enemies.”

The answer appears to lie in exploitation of the Chilled condition.  Gee reveals that the reaper’s devastating cleaves, offset by slower cast times than other class counterparts, also make up for this by allowing the reaper to inflict Chilled for longer times through its second minor trait, Shivers of Dread, and in combination with Fear thanks to the third minor trait, Cold Shoulder. This combination allows reapers time to close the gap into melee range in order to counteract the crowd-control effect of Fear.

Chilled? Feared? Dead.

The greatsword-wielding reaper also puts out a lot of damage designed with slower cast times in order for players to feel the full-force behind the skills.  Gee’s description of the execution skill Gravedigger reminds some on the GuildMag team of the thief’s main hand dagger skill Heartseeker because of its ability to execute and inflict damage based on your target foe’s remaining health. Gravedigger is an AoE high damage skill with the ability to take “a huge chunk” out of an enemy with the additional bonus of reduced recharge time if any of the enemies hit by it are below 50% health.  Trait this with the Spite line grandmaster Close to Death, which boasts an increased damage of 20% to enemies below the 50% health threshold, and I can already hear wannabe-reapers cackling madly.

A surprising addition to the reaper’s arsenal are shouts.  While many in the community were expecting stances given the use of the greatsword, ArenaNet decided to introduce a twist on the existing AoE shout mechanic.  Fittingly, reaper shouts will inflict damage on enemies rather than the supportive boons we associate with guardian and warrior shouts, allowing the specialization to … *ahem* reap some rewards for closing gaps and jumping into the frontline.  This is an interesting choice given that Grim Reapers are typically silent, but I can see how ArenaNet might be using the thriller/horror movie genre Gee referenced as influencing this design.  Still, I suspect the soldier-like origin of these skills may not be “necromancy” enough for some players.

Whether or not the reaper will bring group utility to its arsenal remains to be seen.  The inability of the necromancer to do this has made the class the target of exclusion and disdain in certain quarters.  Given that Gee describes the reaper’s shouts as one tool to help the specialization “become dangerous powerhouses over prolonged encounters,” it appears that, at the moment, necromancers will continue to be a class that can outlast its enemies with skillful play and now a more hard-hitting arsenal.  With the added benefits to its Chilled use, we’ve already seen spikes in the Trading Post prices for superior runes that bring enhanced Chilled duration and benefits. Though, as happened with the prices of precursors after Heart of Thorns was announced, these prices are beginning to stabilize once again.

Catch the reaper in action on tomorrow’s Points of Interest episode at twitch.tv/guildwars2 at 12 p.m. Pacific time (UTC -7). I, for one, am looking forward to it, and I now have greater incentive to finish my quest for Twilight!

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