It’s been some three months after the announcement of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, and now ArenaNet has finally unveiled the first of the elite specialisations which will be adding additional options to Guild Wars 2’s professions. One could say that it’s about time.The Chronomancer concept art from Utopia: More machine than woman.
Many players cite the chronomancer as being the thing that they most wish could have been extracted out of the ruins of the cancelled Guild Wars: Utopia campaign. In this, its popularity exceeds that of the all-but-forgotten summoner by a wide margin. How much of this is because of the fascination with the concept of time magic, and how much because of the exotic appearance of the Utopia concept art, is difficult to say.
Personally, I’ve always had my doubts on whether the chronomancer could actually stand as its own profession. While not explicitly time-oriented, the Guild Wars 1 mesmer already had a number of skills that, while not always themed as time manipulation, certainly had many of the same effects as one would expect from time magic: slowing down foes, speeding up themselves and allies, messing with skill recharges, and so on. The Guild Wars 2 mesmer’s greater focus on toying with time and space as well as perceptions seemed the final nail in the coffin for the chronomancer as an independent profession.
However, it does make it a good fit as an expansion to the existing mesmer.
Our Shields Can Repel Firepower Of Some Magnitudes
So, how can we expect to see the chronomancer altering how the mesmer plays?
Let’s start with the temporal elephant in the room. As I’ve commented on before, having an offhand as the first weapon for an elite specialisation with the mesmer has a problem. Many mesmer players already feel a little spoiled for choice for offhands, while only having two weapons available as main-hand weapons. Neither weapon can really be considered a ‘bread and butter’ weapon usable for all builds: the sceptre will produce clones whether you want it to or not unless you interrupt the autoattack chain, while the sword is a melee weapon.
Both of these can be assets with certain tactics, but they are awkward for others – for instance, if you want to kite a melee champion while running three phantasms to wear it down, neither mainhand will be particularly attractive. The melee nature of the sword may be particularly noteworthy since the presenters revealed in the last Ready Up that the mesmer was losing many sources of retaliation on the principle that mesmers shouldn’t want to be hit – while if you’re going into melee with a sword, you’re probably not going to avoid taking hits.Between the defensive qualities of the chronomancer’s shield and those of the sword or scepter it will be combined with, shield-equipped chronomancers will likely be tough nuts to crack.
However, as is often the case, the shield seems to be intended to counter this perceived vulnerability by providing the chronomancer with some effective defensive skills. The ability to double-stun multiple opponents in a wide line through Tides of Time will be a powerful defensive as well as offensive tool, while Echo of Memory allows for multiple blocks (and phantasms). As a result, the shield-equipped chronomancer will likely prove to have the tools to keep itself alive in a swirling melee. It probably still won’t have quite the pizazz of a full new two-handed weapon, but the other new skills might just make up for it.
Well, What Do We Have Here?
Possibly more importantly, the chronomancer seems poised to address one of the key weaknesses of the Guild Wars 2 mesmer. With few area of effect attacks, and even fewer that can be fired blindly into the region of a suspected stealthed enemy, the mesmer has traditionally been vulnerable to being swarmed by hordes of weak enemies or left to flail helplessly against a stealth-happy thief. In addition to the potential of Tides of Time to stop a thief or a horde in their tracks, and the addition of another phantasm with a bouncing attack, the chronomancer also brings a new skillset to the mesmer: wells.Tick, Tick, BOOM!
Well, ArenaNet calls them wells. I’m more inclined to call them clocks, myself: the animation shows a clock hand ticking down, with a pulse occurring with every tick and the strongest effect (usually) on the third and final tick. As is typical of mesmer duality, most of these clocks generate a beneficial effect on allies while harming enemies, presenting the mesmer with a choice, similar to Chaos Storm, of dropping it on enemies or allies depending on the desired effect (although both would obviously be ideal). While the cooldowns will probably prevent the chronomancer from being able to deal with multiple opponents (or stealthing thieves) as well as more AoE-oriented professions, it should mean that a chronomancer at least has the opportunity to finish off a thief that left it a little too late before stealthing.
The final, and probably most significant, new skill through the chronomancer elite specialisation is the first skill we see outside the engineer that uses the new F5 slot: Continuum Split (and Shift). Presently, the maximum duration (if there is one) of Continuum Split is unclear – while linked to the number of illusions you used to power it, the numbers have not been released and may still be in development. However, in one skill ArenaNet has produced a wide range of tactical options – you can use it to make repeat uses of powerful skills like Echo from Guild Wars 1, to absorb an incoming spike, as a Portal Entre/Portal Exeunt substitute for fast retreats, or all three at the same time.
Making History Repeat Itself
While new skills are probably the most obvious additions, the chronomancer has also brought a number of new mechanics to the game. The new Slow condition allows a means of slowing enemies down that isn’t associated with cold themes, allowing this capability to be spread to places where Chilled isn’t really thematically appropriate. More importantly, however, the Alacrity buff provides the chronomancer with a means to speed the recharge of themselves and their allies and phantasms. The effect of the shield phantasm may be particularly interesting in this respect, as the phantasms may provide Alacrity to each other with their bouncing attacks leading to more phantasm attacks (and thus more Alacrity).The Well of Recall is another source of Alacrity, as represented by a purple flame.
Speaking of phantasms, players who seek to combine shattering and phantasms often criticise that phantasms are treated no better than clones for the purpose of shattering. This should be answered with the new Chronophantasma trait, effectively allowing each phantasm to survive unscathed through the first use of a shatter skill. In fact, since the phantasms are treated as being summoned anew (albeit without their second life) when this happens, careful use of shattering could also be used to effectively extend the life of a phantasm. For the truly shatter-happy, this can be combined with Illusionary Reversion to ensure that you always (well, almost) have a clone handy to fuel your next shatter.
Playing with Timey Wimey Balls
So, in light of the above, how does it seem the chronomancer will work as a specialisation?
While the precise numbers will obviously strongly influence the balance between this and the core specialisations, the chronomancer elite specialisation does seem to be offering an interesting range of new capabilities and options to mesmer characters. However, when compared to the “core” specialisations (as revealed in the last Ready Up and, probably more usefully, in summaries of the information from that episode on Dulfy and other sites) it does not seem that it would be a no-brainer to use the chronomancer specialisation every time. For some builds and tactics it will obviously make a huge difference, but for others, taking a third core specialisation may well be more useful.
For what ArenaNet appears to be aiming to do with the elite specialisations concept, that’s probably a pretty good place to be.Wibbly, wobbly, DEADLY!