I do love me some theorycrafting. I'm not necessarily the best player, but I love coming up with ways to build characters and then put them to the test in a game. So I'd say I'm looking forward to the elite specializations in Heart of Thorns as much as I am to the new zones and gameplay. After relatively little change to Guild Wars 2's professions over three years, I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's a pretty big deal, so I made the elite professions my focus during the recent beta weekend event.
I don't play my elementalist much, and I don't have a mesmer at all, so I created a new necromancer to try out the reaper and a guardian to put the dragonhunter through its paces. (Please don't say anything about my guardian's color scheme. He was dropped on his head as a baby, and since his mother is nine feet tall, it was quite the impact.)
Fear the reaper
I thought necromancers were badass to begin with, but the reaper makes them 46% more badass. The elite class is designed to wade right into the thick of your enemies and unleash hell on them. The reaper's greatsword attacks are slow but deadly, with one of them, a whirl combo that hits three targets, having a one-second cooldown if it strikes an enemy with less than half health. The 3 skill inflicts lots of vulnerability, the 5 sucks enemies in, and you can follow it up with the 4 to put down a field at your feet to damage, blind, and cripple your foes.
Toss in the shouts and the reaper becomes a real close-range dealer of death that loves to be surrounded by his enemies. Each shout gives you more for each enemy it effects, such as granting 4x Might per enemy or summoning a bone minion for each enemy affected, while the elite shout grants you 10-second stacks of Stability for each enemy affected. And it's just cool to hear your necromancer shout curses at your enemies as he drains their life force.
The first four of the reaper's shroud skills are fairly analogous to the base necromancer's skills, with a basic damage skill on 1 – melee instead of ranged – a gap-closer on 2, an armor/fear effect combo on 3, and a multi-target, close-range attack on 4. The 5 skill is a single, massive melee hit that does more damage the lower the target's health is and also chills it. This is a running theme with reaper – chills and damaging low-health enemies, such as with the greatsword skill mentioned above – that has a lot of synergy with its traits. Shroud also grants that additional survivability that comes in handy when, as is often the case with a reaper, you're in the middle of the action.
The build has its weaknesses – as mentioned, it's a rather slow class, and it can be tough to get into proper melee range. Shroud 2 helps, though it's just a straight-ahead charge, and I found myself plunging over a cliff on more than one occasion. The only other option is greatsword 5, which has only 600 range and a 30-second cooldown. You'll probably want to pair the GS with a ranged weapon, so you can still be effective if you're having trouble chasing people down. Still, I play necromancer as one of my two mains and I'm really looking forward to converting him into a reaper.
Shot in the light
While I mostly played my reaper in Verdant Brink, I played my dragonhunter more in the basic Tyria areas, to get an idea of how it fit into the game as a whole, rather than just the new area. If the necromancer/reaper has all sorts of complex interplay between its various parts, I felt like the dragonhunter with a longbow was a simpler, more easily managed and optimized class. That's not a bad thing; not everything has to require high skill and precise timing. Sometimes you just want to pewpew.
And I think that's all the guardian needs. It's always been the worst class at dealing ranged damage, and the longbow certainly helps with that. Though I only used the base celestial gear my character came with, I felt like my damage was good enough and would only be better if I switched to a more offensive-minded set of gear. All five of the abilities have the potential to damage multiple targets, as well as inflict conditions, making it a solid, well-rounded option.
The new set of skills, traps, didn't make as favorable an impression on me as the reaper's shouts. Traps in general seem underutilized, whether they belong to rangers or thieves. Against single opponents, they're too passive for my tastes, and in big group fights, they might as well just be AoEs. Two of the dragonhunter's traps cause crippling, which is nice when you're solo and playing like a squishy class, but guardians have good enough defenses that they don't really need the added CC. There's even a healing trap, but I don't want to wait for someone to trigger my heal. The traps be fun, but I don't know about them becoming a first-tier option.
Still, I have to give a thumbs-up to both the reaper and dragonhunter. They do a great job of giving necromancer and guardian players interesting new options and expanding gameplay without a direct increase in power. I wish more MMOs would take this approach instead of just making numbers bigger.
Speaking of which, now that I've had a chance to play around with it a little more, I'm also liking the Mastery system and how it redefines MMO progress, in more ways than one. I actually started writing about that primarily, but it went on for so long, and I still wanted to talk about the elite professions, so I've filed that one away and will expand upon it next time.
Just don't call my dragonhunter ugly. He's very sensitive.