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Copyright ArenaNet Source: guildwars2.com
Copyright ArenaNet
Source: guildwars2.com

Time to change the game.

With the first season of Guild Wars 2‘s Living Story wrapping up, developer ArenaNet has begun wheeling out its “feature patch”, which will drop on April 15th. They are releasing information about the patch in bite-sized portions over three weeks. Thus far, three pieces of the patch have been revealed and I will be covering those in this article, which will be the first of three outlining the new content.

Traits are what define builds in Guild Wars 2. Fresh Air for elementalists, Altruistic Healing for guardians, Prismatic Understanding for mesmers, etc. You don’t invest fully into a trait line for the stat boosts, since you can easily make up those points in your armor and trinkets; you invest for the traits themselves. ArenaNet has decided to simplify this system, as well as offer alternatives to obtain traits that will surely please players who enjoy exploration and a bit more challenge. Instead of having 70 points to distribute when your character hits level 80, you’ll have 14. To balance this, each point will equate to +50 of the associated stat boost, instead of the previous +10. As an example of what this means for spreading points, I’ll use my elementalist build. Right now I run 30/30/x/10/x, and once the patch releases it will be 6/6/x/2/x. In addition to this, the progression is also changing. In the current system, players can earn their first major trait at level 20. After the patch, new players (existing ones will be grandfathered in all aspects of the trait updates) cannot earn that same slot until level 36.

Perhaps the biggest piece of the change to traits comes in the form of trait guides. As homage to the first Guild Wars, players can choose to go adventuring and earn their traits by completing in-game tasks, or they can buy them from the profession trainer NPCs. All characters, new and old, will have to use one of these methods to unlock their new Grandmaster-tier traits (five for each class, one for each trait line). The final piece of the trait revamp is related to quality of life aspects, such as the ability to instantly refund all trait points (now free of charge) as well as the ability to move points around by clicking a newly-added minus button. These changes are being touted as a way to make experimentation easier and more streamlined, but it definitely throws a wrench into the thinking of people who use a specific gearset. Celestial armor carries equal boosts to all attributes instead of one major and two minor upgrades like all the other armor sets. With trait points being reduced from 70 to 14, there is no longer a way to evenly split them across all 5 lines, and so it throws that balance off.

Balancing the game has often been a trial for ArenaNet, as the community is often divided (and quite frankly, uninformed or biased) regarding what classes need help and which ones should get hit with the nerf gun. Through tinkering with runes and sigils while also addressing class balance with the new traits and other small adjustments, they hope to achieve a better meta across all game modes. The first major change here is that two-handed weapons will now have two sigil slots, something that was sorely needed. You won’t be able to equip two identical sigils, two different “stack on-kill” sigils, or utilize the old trick of getting 25 stacks of a boost and then unequipping said weapon, but overall the change is for the better. ArenaNet is also removing some of the hidden rules regarding sigils, and now each of those that have triggering effects will have their own cooldowns.

Runes are also receiving a long look in this feature patch. ArenaNet wants players to invest in complete rune sets as opposed to mixing and matching, and so they are making it more worthwhile to equip five or six of the same rune as opposed to two or three. For example, the Superior Rune of the Eagle has the following bonuses, in increasing number of runes equipped: +25 precision, +3% critical damage, +50 precision, +5% critical damage, +90 precision, and finally +5% damage to targets with less than 50% health. Here’s the new spread:

Copyright ArenaNet Source: guildwars2.com
Copyright ArenaNet
Source: guildwars2.com

For those wondering, ferocity is the new stat that affects critical damage (more on that later). The extra 10 precision and 1% damage to weakened foes may seem like a small boost, but as someone who runs offensive gear on all of my characters, every little bit helps. Also receiving buffs are runes that have a sixth bonus where something triggers at a given rate when a condition is met. For instance, the Superior Rune of the Nightmare currently has a 5% chance to inflict fear on an enemy who hits you. For this and all other runes with this type of bonus, the rate at which the effect happens is being increased to a whopping 50%. I could see this becoming an issue in PvP, but looking at it from a PvE standpoint I think it’s a welcome change.

The final major reveal so far is the change being made to critical damage and it is the one that I have a problem with. Critical hits carry a base 50% damage increase, and then whatever the character’s critical damage bonus is gets added onto that figure. On my main toon, who wears the best gear in the game, I have a 109% critical damage bonus. Due to the existence of active defenses in-game as well as how apt bosses are to deliver attacks that down players with a single blow regardless of , going with a fully offensive setup has always been the most optimal for PvE gameplay. Oftentimes this has led to arguments both in-game and on the forums between players who run optimal setups and players who continuously say “I play how I want” as their excuse for using everything else. These players, whether they know it or not, only make it harder for the offensively-geared to survive because enemies don’t die as quickly when they’re around.

There are a number of ways to fix the problem of Guild Wars 2 being too reliant on DPS (damage per second) as opposed to a balance of damage, support, and control, as was originally intended. Making enemy AI smarter, as in having them behave more like a human player, would’ve been the best way. Having mobs attack more times for fewer damage per strike would certainly help to reward defensive and healing setups while also allowing the big damage dealers to feel like they can eat an attack or two and save their dodges for bigger threats. Another idea I’ve seen tossed around called for making both the amount of endurance used per dodge and its associated recharge rate different across the eight classes, which would be a decent stopgap change. I’ve also read proposals that would simply buff healing and toughness to make them more worthwhile.

What did ArenaNet decide to do? Nerf the best players in the game. The switch from the easily understood critical damage % stat to the new ferocity has been said to be about a 10% drop in overall damage for the most offensive specs, but theorycrafting on the official forums and on Reddit has determined that the figure will probably be higher, with some saying it could reach 30%. Given the fact that certain classes can produce completely silly amounts of damage given the right circumstances, I could see how addressing this would make the list of potential adjustments. However, it’s by far the laziest option that ArenaNet had and it’s ill-advised when there are more pressing issues with the current metagame.

According to the reveal schedule for the feature patch, it seems as though next week’s information will be of the “quality of life” variety. Check back with us in a week’s time and stay in the loop!

If you’d like more information about the individual features discussed here, click on this link.

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