Balance Patch Aftermath: May 16th
After the positive responses to the last article summing up balance and class states across the game modes, we thought another one would be appropriate for the latest big balance patch to hit Guild Wars 2. This month’s patch saw some of the biggest shake ups to come from the more recent cycle of balancing, giving way to older, less utilised skills and traits and hitting some of the big players. Whilst some classes took hits, others rose up, and across the game modes new builds emerged for almost every class in at least one game mode as the condition damage meta continued its steady rise to power (pun intended).
Whilst the Mesmer was probably the least loved class of this cycle, it saw good quality of life and small power buffs that are a welcome sight. The biggest chunk of the Mesmer patch notes was devoted to continuing the adding of small attacks on activation for the phantasm skills, comparatively weak skills, but a buff nonetheless. In PvP, the current condition damage build was hit with some small yet noticeable nerfs, mainly a Continuum Split cooldown increase and a huge hit to Illusionary Reversion requiring 3 clones to be shattered instead of 2. This comes side by side with a power build buff to the Mind Wrack shatter, but so far it seems like Mesmers are just living with the nerf and carrying on with the condi meta, especially given that both the nerfs hit power builds too, and the Mind Wrack changes aren’t enough to make up for it. In PvE, both raids and fractals saw 0 change here side from an annoying increase in cast time of Tides of Time, and in WvW it is much the same, with bunkering and utility remaining the key role in zergs and roaming still highly favouring condition builds.
Elementalist saw some huge hits to its PvP builds, with its bunker and healer status taking cooldown nerfs on skills and traits as well as less protection and invuln uptime. But in PvE land, Elementalist joined the condi meta with a bang! With condition based Elementalist the new top spot for DPS on large hitboxes. This comes mainly thanks to a huge buff to the Arcane Power skill, where it now applies to nearby allies with a Ferocity buff, and applies conditions when traited, as well as a big Glyph of Elemental Power buff to its condition output. Condi ele is easy to play and has huge rewards, and is already becoming extremely popular with the raiding community thanks to consistent high damage for much less effort than the power builds. In WvW, tempest has the same zerging role as always with its healing output being too good to sacrifice, but Arcane Power when traited and in Earth Attunement is essentially a new Venom Share Thief. The immobilise is disgustingly good, locking down targets for up to 15 seconds, or even more with some other skills used on top. This build, with co-ordinated groups that focus the same target together, can obliterate even the most tanky and well buffed target, as they simple can’t move.
Engineer got both buffs and gameplay changes, and although they weren’t huge in terms of new builds, they were some brilliant quality of life additions that people have been asking after for years. Turrets, something unique to Engineers, got a fantastic change where the Toolbelt skill (something again unique to the profession) would stay on the bar even after the turret was deployed. For PvE, this was a wonderful change to power Engineer builds, who would have to hold off dropping the turret since the Tool Belt skill was too good. Whilst not having big DPS ramifications, the change makes gameplay a lot smoother for the class and opens up new usage for the skills. In PvP, the main build being used for bunkering with Scrapper was tuned down, with some small and yet impactful nerfs to the sustain against physical damage. In WvW, Scrapper has been slowly falling out of favour with the zerging and GvG meta as Warriors and Necros continued to outpace them, and this change did little to impact that in either direction. Roaming in WvW however remains the same, with Engineer being a versatile and powerful class in the right hands.
Guardian was the most heavily hit class for PvP, with many arguing that these are welcome changes. Historically a ‘low risk high reward’ class, the Dragonhunter build with huge damage and high sustain got some of numbers tuned down, with its virtues nerfed, damage nerfed and cooldowns nerfed. The class remains a powerhouse in good hands despite these changes, but has taken away much of the free power it once had. In PvE, nothing really changed for Guardian, and this has seen a bit of a popularity decrease thanks to the rise of many other classes. Despite not getting nerfed, it also didn’t get buffed, and with some hits to the best in slot food for Power builds, that has left it falling behind the power creep. Still playable, still strong, but not keeping up with some other classes. Where Guardian saw some of its most interesting changes was World versus World, where already used utilities got cooldown buffs and utility buffs. With the nerfs only hitting PvP, this was a good cycle to the zerging Guard, the core of any WvW group. It also has seen the rise of the mighty Burn Guard, using the traited Virtue of Justice to apply ridiculous AoE burning just for hitting as many times as you can. Although this build wasn’t buffed, the changes to Revenant have meant the Resistance boon is up far less often, and this condition build has huge DPS (higher than Necro or Warrior) in zerging situations that have made it immensely popular in big group situations.
Revenants were feeling down in the dumps, with nothing changing for them for a long time, and seeing no real use in PvE whilst their PvP builds kept getting hammered. This patch, however, saw revenants rise up to join their condition damage brothers, with condition based builds getting enormous changes and buffs. The Corruption trait line saw new ways to apply torment, more poison, more duration and just generally more damage, breaking the 30k potential DPS and solidifying Revenant a place in pug raid groups. This buff was so huge that it made an impact in all 3 game modes, as the changes not only saw more damage to the class but also reliably and spammable boon rips. PvP was probably the least effected, with the changes being good, but not so good as to overtake the popular power Shiro build, but in WvW it turned Revenant from a utility slot with DPS comparable with a guardian to a utility slot that has competing damage with Necromancers and Warriors. The constant boon steals and corruptions allow for the revenant, and every other condition class on your zerg, to deal much higher damage without worrying about resistance.
Necromancers will have to wait a little longer for their dreamed after power PvE buffs, which although did come in small doses here, were not enough to give them a high enough DPS build to put them in the raiding meta. Condition builds however, got a fantastic new Plague elite skill rework, giving them a great new option. Sadly, thanks to the way both combo fields and public opinion work, Necros remain out of the PvE meta for raids, whilst keeping their easy to use and strong position in fractals. For PvP, sustain took a hit against both physical and condition builds, but especially with the loss of pulsing stability, giving other classes more opportunity to corrupt or strip the necromancer before unloading with CC. Power builds were buffed, but not enough to overtake the overwhelming strength of a condition based necromancer. In WvW, many players jumped, leapt, sang and danced for joy when they saw an Epidemic nerf that finally gave the skill some counter play. Now shooting slow moving projectiles off the original target, the skill can be dodged, or even shut down by terrain, and has far less impact, with most organised groups opting not to take the skill completely. However, with some Axe changes that saw more corruption and damage, the Celestial build became even stronger, keeping Necro as a must have for both boon corruption and damage.
An attempt at nerfing condition Ranger did little to deter the PvE community, with the nerfs being too small not to take this easy and high damage class. Ranger maintains its position as both meta for DPS and for healing, with some reduced burning stacks not being enough to counter the improved flanking mechanics on shortbow. Not a lot changed for PvP, its bunker build relying on ancient seeds and pet damage was taken down a notch with a cooldown nerf to the trait and a Smokescale nerf, but with no new build rising up it looks like Ranger will be taking this one as a slap in the face and moving on. In WvW, druid remains as a support based role that focuses on healing as opposed to damage, and longbow ranger sits about the same as always. The change did effect roaming, with pet damage lowered to the point where taking Lynx or Wyvern can be better than Smokescale if you aren’t using the stealth, but even here the changes were not significant for any major build impacts.
Thief took some hefty nerfs in PvP on the popular Dagger/Pistol build and to Staff builds, but was buffed when using Pistol/Pistol. This change was welcome for many who love to spam Unload over and over and over and over and over, but was fairly irritating for many who played thief well, as a big chunk of the nerf was to successful interrupt damage on Pulmonary Impact, taking away from the reward of a well-timed interrupt. In PvE, huge poison buffs to shortbow and the Deadly Arts traits saw an already powerful Condi thief rise up to be easily the highest realistic damage in a raid scenario, with the buff also making them even stronger in Fractals. Power Thief suffered from the same issue as Guardian, however, where the lack of changes caused it to sit stagnant whilst the other classes and builds crept up around it. In WvW, Choking Gas applying Daze to poisoned foes above 5 stacks is the new niche, spamming the skill into a zerg almost guaranteeing you interrupts that can proc both torment and pulmonary impact. Although not overly strong, it’s a fun and easy way to tag and contribute to a zerg fight, something Thief has historically lacked.
Warrior, last on our list, saw nerfs that hit hard in all the game modes. The main culprits in PvE came from a nerf to Smash Brawler, which lets the Warrior unleash fewer Berserk skills than before, resulting in lower damage and a messier rotation. Cast time increases to Arc Divider, Headbutt and Shield Bash saw PvP warrior floored, with the skills significantly easier to dodge than before and making their burst much harder and less reliable. Although Axe buffs tried to make up for this, percentage damage increases were not enough to keep up with other nerfs, forcing them down a peg as damage dealers. Sustain also took massive hits, with Endure Pain getting its duration halved and Healing Signets healing reduced. Skull Grinder, the other option for Berserk skills, was also hit hard with a massive 33% damage nerf and huge hits to its conditions applied. In WvW, most of these changes did not apply, but the cast time increases did make a difference when landing burst as both a roamer and a zerg player, which has thrown off a lot of Warrior mains despite the DPS remaining competitive.
Overall, this was a decent patch at bringing up some less powerful classes and nice builds, but neglect of some existing builds has seen them slowly slide down against the power creep. For PvP, almost everyone saw some nerfs, keeping the playing field relatively even across the board, whilst in WvW conditions became even stronger despite a nerf to Epidemic. Discussion continues to take place on Reddit and build making communities like Metabattle, but with the dust settling it’s going to be a long wait for some players until the next patch.