Editorials

Putting the “Special” in Specializations

One of the conundrums (and fascinations) of playing an MMO for a long time is that, at some point, major gameplay features are broken down, seemingly improved, and reintroduced into the game. For a long-time player, having to relearn new and improved features can be daunting. In my last article about Stronghold PvP, I shared that I was, by my own standards, not a theory crafter or build maker (people who test and create effective builds and equipment combinations for more efficient gameplay). After over two years with Guild Wars 2, I am still learning about each profession, how to pair utility skills and traits with certain weapons and stat sets. Granted, Guild Wars 2’s PvE combat is casual-friendly with the exception of dungeons and fractals. I was able to fumble my way to Orr on my first character over time, slowly gaining an understanding of how my skills and traits worked in concert. The thing I could never quite grasp was the number crunching aspect – what stat ranges I should aim for, how I could acquire them without breaking my character’s virtual bank, it was daunting to say the least.

Over time, ArenaNet made balance passes and mechanic tweaks to traits and skills that were easy to follow. Then came the first trait system overhaul in last year’s April Feature Pack, which was not received too well. The changes forced players with new characters to choose between doling out their hard-earned gold for traits from their profession trainers and attempting to complete an odd PvE/WvW scavenger hunt that would often far exceed the player’s level the moment they could unlock their first adept level traits. I was fortunate in that most of my characters had existed before the changes and got to keep their trait unlocks, leaving only the new grandmaster traits. With the new core specialization system set to roll out before the Heart of Thorns release, my thoughts are focused on the individual profession changes (that we are currently privy to) and why I am confident that the new specialization system will be a friendlier experience for casual-to-intermediate players like me in the long-term.

One of the big selling points of the specialization system is ArenaNet’s aim to consolidate, change, and add new traits and separate them from their associated stat points. Probably one of my larger hurdles when figuring out what I wanted to do with my characters trait-wise was deciding which traits I should take based on the stats I wanted or vise-versa. This will no longer be the case as trait-based stats will be removed from traits and distributed between our characters’ base stats and equipment stats (keep in mind that how this change applies to stats like boon and condition duration is still unclear). In addition, the player will only be able to select three trait lines to use at a time and slot three major traits in the chosen lines. The tiered traits will be locked to their respective tiers (that is, you will no longer be able to slot an extra adept trait in a master trait slot or in a grandmaster slot). Finally, some traits will be consolidated into single traits and changed for better function. I think the first mistake a player can make is think that these changes are limiting creative freedom when in reality it’s an attempt to reign-in superfluous traits by either applying them to a character’s baseline abilities or combining them with other useful traits. At the same time, we will see brand new traits and the addition of the elite specialization trait lines. Ultimately, ArenaNet is attempting to simultaneously liberate traits from their stat values, narrow the player’s focus on three trait lines, and use them to full potential.

Moving on from the broader topics, the AMA had divided segments for every profession (sans the revenant), sharing some of the larger changes coming to each class’s functionality, of which, I will touch on a few.

“By having specializations combined, I am a more effective elementalist!”

 Guardian

Starting with my favorite profession, the guardian is receiving a few important updates to its baseline abilities that were originally slotable traits, the first being an increase to elite skill duration. Consecration ground-targeting and an increase in spirit weapon duration are also being made baseline. Trait-wise, the guardian is seeing some major improvements in symbol-based traits and traits that affect burning damage and duration. Writ of Persistence combines three symbol-based traits into a single grandmaster trait, allowing the player the ability to invest in other traits they may not have before. This is a huge change for me as my guardian focuses on using symbols and consecrations together.

Warrior

As far as innate abilities go, the warrior will see a new feature in the form of physical skills that are actively affected by a character’s endurance level. Warrior skills like Stomp, Kick, and Rampage will provide stronger physical effects the higher a character’s endurance is. Traits concerning physical skills, such as Physical Training have been similarly tiered to provide increasing damage percentages for higher adrenaline as opposed to a flat damage increase percentage. Traits such as the Dual-Wielding adept trait have jumped ship from the Strength trait line to the Arms trait line and have risen to grandmaster status with the added benefit of a 15% attack speed increase. Other baseline changes include Healing Surge’s conversion to a shout skill and the reduction of Healing Signet’s passive healing ability (much to my warrior’s lament) with the application of the Resistance boon (condition immunity) on use.

What say you, hammer-wielding engineer?

What say you, hammer-wielding engineer?

Engineer

One of the cooler things I learned is that the auto-attack for the engineer’s pistol is being added to the “explosion” skill-type, which, through traits, can be buffed to apply more damage and more conditions (bleeding, crippling, and vulnerability) through traits like Steel-Packed Powder, Shrapnel, and an unnamed trait that increases damage to enemies with vulnerability. My advice, keep an eye on the Explosives and Firearms trait lines for some sick pistol action in the future. As far as baseline improvements go, the engineer will be seeing an increase of weapon range for all of its ranged weapons and their attacks will now automatically pierce targets and hit those immediately behind them. Lastly, bombs and mines will now have larger baseline blast radiuses.

Ranger

For ranger baseline improvements, players will see an overall increase in longbow attack speed and range (*happy tears*). The healing skill Troll Unguent will be classified as a Survival skill like its variant in the original Guild Wars for those familiar, while skills such as Heal as One and Rampage as One are being re-categorized as shouts. For those who use spirits skills, they are also returning to their Guild Wars roots in that they will remain rooted on summon but will have buffed abilities. Trap skills will also receive additional arming time, but will be balanced accordingly to compensate. As someone who uses traps on his ranger, I am curious as to what kind of compensation traps will receive in the future.

I can’t wait to take on the challenge of creating a druid outfit with a wardrobe of leather trenchcoats.

 Thief

For all those dagger users out there, the effects of the Dagger Mastery trait are being rolled into the baseline dagger skills damage, including a chance to poison the target. That said, the Deadly Arts specialization line is narrowing its focus to better reward poison application and trap users. Meanwhile, stolen items from the Steal skill are getting a rework. The stolen items that ArenaNet have been testing have been stripped of their ability to deal damage and are said to be in a current state of rebalancing. Skills like Ambush and Hide in Shadows have been classified as deception skills while the elite skill Dagger Storm and Withdrawl have been added to the trick skill pool. Speaking of tricks, the master trait, Trickster, not only reduces trick skill recharge times, but now also cures a condition when a trick is used.

Elementalist

The first thing worth mentioning about the elementalist is the change to its staff weapon. The trait Blasting Staff, which provides larger AoE fields for the staff’s AoE spells, has been applied to the elementalist’s baseline abilities. While my elementalist primarily runs dagger/dagger, I switch to staff on occasion, and the thought of a larger Lava Font makes me cackle. The next change worth mentioning are the changes Ice Bow and Lightning Hammer will be facing. For those familiar, these two elemental weapons do significant amounts of damage to the point where they are used too often to burn through larger enemies with longer health bars. My thought is, if the damage is made unappealing, will the skills ever be used again? How will the devs make these weapons worth using? Honestly, I thought increasing the cool-down time on those weapons or even the particular skills those weapons provide might be a better alternative (because, let’s face it, people really only give a crap about skill #4 on the Ice Bow). That way, players would have to consider when to best use those skills without sacrificing their power. Since we’re on the topic of crushing virtual hopes and dreams, the Elemental Attunement trait has been promoted to grandmaster trait status, forcing elementalist players to choose between extra boons for them and their allies and dodge rolling blast finishers in people’s faces. Supposedly, the changes made to the other specialization lines will help compensate those forced to make that choice (rest in peace, dagger/dagger builds); and with the raising of the baseline stats, one would hope not too many feelings are hurt.  Finally, the elementalist elite specialization was name-dropped, which we now know to be “The Tempest.” What do you think we will see with the eventual reveal? Axe? Sword? A giant paper fan?

Frosty cold elementalist

Necromancer

Similar to guardian consecrations, necromancers will see ground-targeting on Well skills as one of its new innate abilities. Minion master skill recharging will also be reduced and focus skills will see a baseline range increase. In the Spite specialization line, the old grandmaster trait, Dhuumfire, got kicked down to Soul Reaping and stripped of its cooldown, which makes sense (not quite sure why it wasn’t put there to begin with) as it hasn’t been getting much love otherwise. Elsewhere, there are numerous trait combinations, some of them a little odd. Take the new Toxic Landing trait, which appears to have absorbed Master of Corruption, a trait my condition necromancer (don’t laugh!) currently uses. Normally, I don’t equip traits that involve fall damage, but in this case, it’s now tied to an adept trait. Even better is that my current adept major trait, Hemophila, is being combined with the adept minor trait, allowing me to equip the new Toxic Landing while freeing up my major master trait for something completely new. Honestly, necromancer has some of the weirder trait combinations I have seen yet, with an increase in caveats to acquire those traits’ benefits.

Mesmer

For the core specializations, ArenaNet mentioned wanting to continue the mesmer’s tradition as a high skill-based class (which may have been why it was one of the last classes I leveled in both Guild Wars and Guild Wars 2). One of the problems with the mesmer specialization lines is that previously, many players could not access build-essential traits until much higher levels, which made it one of the harder professions to level (especially when trying to solo level in PvE… the horror). That said, the class is getting a clean up of its own. Glamour skill recharge times have all been reduced to lower base time. Traits such as Illusionary Persona, Illusionary Elasticity, Protective Mantras (thankyouthankyouthankyou!), Phantasmal damage boosting traits, and the range of Manipulation spells have all been made baseline. Meanwhile, most mesmer traits that granted retaliation were removed as the goal was to make the mesmer more of an evasive class rather than a class that was meant to get hit often.

The chronomancer in all of its history-changing and paradox-creating glory.

Yesterday, we got our first look at the mesmer’s elite specialization, the chronomancer (to no one’s surprise). From the preliminary information, the chronomancer will be more than capable of filling any of the three combat roles (damage, control, and support). The new specialization will also give the mesmer access to a new off-hand, the shield, and will be the only elite specialization with access to the Alacrity boon, which serves to speed up a chronomancer and their allies’ skill recharge time. Many of the chronomancer’s new skills appear to focus on setting up AoE fields (Wells) that aid allies and debilitate enemies, some of which are mobile and even boomerang back to the caster like the skill, Tides of Time. It even has a new shatter F5 skill that functions similarly to the necromancer skill, Spectral Walk, except that the player will be able to use any of their skills during its period of temporal liminality and will see everything reset to back before the shatter was used (yes, even elite skills). It’s all a little crazy when considering how that kind of power will be balanced. To me, it seems logical that the new shatter will either have a long cooldown or a relatively short duration.

There is a lot headed our way with the new core and elite specializations system and a lot to take in until then. Granted, a lot of these changes are currently in flux with core specializations still being a work-in-progress. I have no doubt there will  be plenty more changes before the system goes live, so I’ll hold off on any early build planning until I have something more concrete to work with. Am I a little overwhelmed? Of course, but I think that’s one of the the more enjoyable aspects of new feature overhauls and expansion content. It keeps things fresh and keeps players exploring, refining, and ultimately, improving.

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