Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns interview unwraps specializations and traits

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, readers of all races, professions, and levels: I finally have the news we’ve all been waiting for! Today I’m not writing about Hylek tribes or PvP betas; I’m getting down into the nitty-gritty workings that power the upcoming Guild Wars 2 expansion with the first word on Heart of Thorns‘ new specializations and traits. This ambitious overhaul of one of the game’s core progression systems aims to completely decouple stats from traits and allow players to come up with more creative character builds.

I got to fire some quick interview questions across to Game Design Lead Jon Peters that should help tease out the changes that are coming our way. Peters has crafted an in-depth blog post on the topic that will go live on the official Guild Wars 2 website on Thursday, April 23rd, but since I love you all I shan’t keep you waiting for a breakdown of the new specializations and traits that will rock Tyria very soon. Keep reading for my summary of the additions and the full-text interview with Peters, noting of course that we’re dealing with very early information that is subject to change as development continues.

ranger druid fight

The first thing I should note is that specializations are a much bigger deal than I had originally envisioned: They will have a significant impact on endgame character builds and how skills and traits work. Each profession will now give the player a choice of five core specializations that correspond to the old trait lines. You’ll unlock three specialization slots as you level up to 80, so you can put together any combination of three specializations for even more unique build configurations. Each specialization automatically grants you three minor traits that define that specialization’s playstyle, and more are available to unlock.

Nine major traits, divided into three distinct tiers that are still called adept, master, and grandmaster, open up your build choices even more, allowing further specialization. Players can still select only one trait per tier, but you should find each trait more powerful or meaningful, with many old traits merged together and weaker traits removed altogether and rolled into the game’s base skills or mechanics. The end result is that your choice of each trait will be more important and impactful even though you’ll have fewer to choose from.

ice elementalist

The big change is that stats will be completely separated from traits to create a clear division between build choice and stat choice. The attribute points we once gained through a given trait line will instead be distributed in a small increase to base player stats from 926 to 1000 and a large increase to base stats on equipment, which will account for the bulk of our missing stat points. Our total stats will work out at about the same as pre-HoT Guild Wars 2 levels, but we can now try out unusual combinations of traits and stats to create more interesting builds. We also gain the advantage of having nine major traits instead of seven, including three grandmaster traits (presumably one for each specialization).

Skills are also seeing some significant changes, with many incorporating the functionality that will be lost in the trait cull and reorganisation. Using my Sylvari Necromancer as an example, Peters has promised that her Wells will automatically become ground-targeted as the ground targeting trait will be removed.

ranger druid

The way in which we unlock new skills and traits is also changing in a huge way. The current system will be replaced with three profession reward tracks that grant the player skills, traits, and specializations, with items and other rewards useful to that specialization thrown in for good measure. Progress on the new reward tracks will be made by spending Hero Points, a new type of limited points that are accrued both during the levelling process and also by completing what we know now as skill challenges. Rather than being tied to specific unlocks, these will now simply give you hero points and it’s up to you to choose which reward track to invest them in.

As expected, PvP players will have all skills and traits unlocked for them when they enter the Heart of the Mists to ensure rough parity between players of varying levels. Players who have used large numbers of skill point scrolls should be aware that skill points earned through any mechanic other than levelling or skill challenges will not be turned into hero points to spend on the profession reward tracks but will instead be converted into new crafting materials for the Mystic Forge. There will be a limited maximum number of hero points available for each character, and while you’ll get enough from levelling to 80 to unlock most things, you will need to do some skill challenges to unlock everything.

The three categories of profession reward tracks cover core specializations, core skills, and elite specializations. The core specialization reward tracks unlock the actual specialization and both its major and minor traits, with a total of five per profession. My little Asura is an Elementalist, so let’s explore the proposed Water Magic reward track as an example in a handy-dandy wee table I made:

tableCore skill reward tracks unlock all the skills in each category. My Charr Warrior may unlock Healing Signet, Signet of Might, Signet of Fury, Signet of Stamina, Dolyak Signet, and Signet of Rage with the Warrior’s signet track, for example.

Now on the most important bit of the new system: Elite Specializations! Every specialization will unlock a new weapon type that was previously unobtainable by that profession; the Ranger will have a Druid specialization that grants access to staves, for instance, and we’ve been told the one “lucky profession will finally get access to a hammer.” This adds new mechanics and a completely new playstyle to the character you’ve grown accustomed to throughout the levelling process, which is sure to spice things up a little bit. I’ll be very interested to see how this changes the playstyles available to each profession and am already imagining my tree-headed Necromancer possibly swinging around a massive rusty greatsword that only a Charr could love! These level 80 specializations will enhance the endgame possibilities considerably, introducing new skills, weaponry, traits, and – most importantly to me – mechanics in Heart of Thorns.

Virtually every elite specialization will grant the player access to a whole new skillset that’s made up of a healing skill, four utility skills, and one elite skill. One as-yet-unnamed profession will be granted a full set of six shouts, and traps will also be reused to create better synergy with the Rune system. Each elite specialization will grant access to a full set of new traits just as a core specialization does. Equipping one will use up one of your three specialization slots, but it grants you three minor traits and nine major traits in addition to the new weapon. There will also be some very interesting mechanics here, with hints at a grandmaster trait that grants a defiance bar and another trait that removes conditions each time you evade an attack. Some will even change the profession’s core mechanic, with new ways to shatter illusions and take advantage of life force, so I’m sure there’s more information burning on the tips of the ArenaNet team’s tongues.

Want to know more? I sure do! I put five quick follow-up questions to Peters below, but I know that keen readers will be screaming thousands of alternate questions at their screens while they read all this information. If that describes you, you’re in luck: The ANet gang is hosting a multi-hour AMA session in an extended episode of Ready Up. Jon Peters and his fellow designers will join host Josh Davis to answer your burning questions at 12pm PT on Friday, April 24th, on the Guild Wars 2 Twitch channel. Tune in and fire away with the tough asks since we’ve sure been waiting long enough for the good stuff!

Massively Overpowered: Specializations are a big addition to Guild Wars 2 that will make trait choices much more meaningful. How will the levelling experience be affected by the new reliance on trait choice rather than stat choice and by when specializations unlock as you level?

Jon Peters: We will have more choices available to players at earlier phases in the game. We’re aiming to unlock specializations around level 20. Since traits are now rolled in together, some builds become more viable earlier on because you need only spend one trait on it rather than two or three. The experience will feel different for players because it will be about doing challenges when you feel like it and buying the traits that you want then using them however you’d like. With the old system, you had to buy stuff in tier 1 to get to tier 2. With the new system, as you’re playing, you will be able to get new hero points and spend them where you want.

Character customisation will have a solid foundation in eliminative choices in that each player will choose three of his or her chosen profession’s five available specializations. With choice in mind, what should a player with a level 80 character expect to be different when logging into Heart of Thorns for the first time?

Overall, players will see that lots of the traits have changed, traits have been merged together, and many of the remaining traits are more compelling. A player with a level 80 character will be able to equip 3 specializations, instead of deciding where to put trait points. There will be fewer total traits, but at the same time, each trait will do more and players will be selecting 9 of them instead of 7, including choosing 3 grandmaster traits. Additionally, by separating stats choices from the trait choices, players will be able to examine the specializations on the merit of their traits. That will affect the player’s decision from “which traits do I want in this line that has the appropriate stats” to a decision that is “which are the best traits for my build.”

Players no longer need to clear specific content for specific unlocks as hero points will be replacing skill points in the new profession reward tracks, and excess skill points will be converted into crafting materials. How will this affect players who have already cashed in a bundle of Scrolls of Knowledge?

If you already have Scrolls of Knowledge and a bunch of existing skill points, you will end up with a lot of crafting material that converts into a new currency that will be used in the Mystic Forge. We will be talking more about how that works and how you acquire that currency in the future.

Almost every elite specialization will unlock a single new weapon and a whole set of new skills that will reuse old types of skills like shouts and traps. What new weapons will each profession be getting access to, and how will that change their playstyles? I heard mention of a hammer…

We will be revealing each profession’s elite specialization individually. This is the best way for us to reveal everything about the new traits, skills, weapons and mechanics coming with each specialization. Stay tuned!

There have been hints at new core mechanics for each profession based on its elite specialization, such as an alternate way to take advantage of life force for Necromancers. Can you elaborate a bit more on some of the new mechanics, and have you any plans for future specializations with entirely new mechanics?

Fundamentally, we’re altering how players play the game with their chosen profession. In the first set of specializations, that often means altering the profession mechanic. For example, the active version of the virtues for the Guardian profession are going to be different.

Thanks for speaking with us, and don’t forget to check out the blog posts on the official ArenaNet website — there are two!

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80 Comments on "Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns interview unwraps specializations and traits"

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solipsis
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solipsis

Do people need to buy the expansion to get this revamp?

Radfist
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Radfist

confectionally  I wouldn’t say they were fine.  The link to stats and certain weapons ruined a lot of the choice from the first system.  This one seems like a vast improvement.

No More Tears
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No More Tears

confectionally Siphaed I’m not normally a fan of removing player choice, but to look at it a different way, in this case it makes it both 1) easier for devs to balance individual classes and builds, and 2) to create your own builds. Stats are completely separate from traits, and traits are very streamlined. Furthermore, loss of build diversity (the majority of which were useless or crappy) is compensated somewhat by the introduction of elite specs, while still maintaining the general ease of the new “skill tree” system. We also don’t know the final state of traits (as they’re still being worked on), and how much the elite specs mix things up.
You keep reasoning that it was a pain to create your builds, but the reason you had so much trouble was because of the current system — the one that they’re replacing completely. You’re simply not going to need to spend that much time again. Your existing equipment isn’t going to be invalid, so saying that you’ll need to “start from scratch” is a gross exaggeration. You’ll simply look at the new traits and pick the ones that you like the most. There are only three traits per tier, and nearly all of the traits are based on or copies of existing traits, so it’s not going to be that confusing.

If you’re upset about the difficulty in creating builds, that’s precisely what they’re fixing.

If you’re upset about not having the most optimal cutting-edge meta builds in a game that hardly requires you to do so, you are arguably a metagamer, and I would think you’d be excited about this.
If you’re upset about having to simply make new builds at all, the reality is that you were never going to be able to stick with your existing builds. At some point, your traits or equipment would have been adjusted or changed anyways, and you’d have to tweak yet again.
If you’re upset about endless tweaking of builds, again, that’s never going to go away; as said elsewhere, MMOs are constantly changing.
If you’re upset about Anet dropping the ball yet again regarding class/skill/trait balance or simply botching their new implementation of the trait system… well, Anet has been pretty consistent in that for two years.

Day2Dan
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Day2Dan

confectionally Kalamari Please keep in mind that the Major traits are changing as well. They are being moved around, merged, etc. If you relied on two adept traits in a build, those may be COMBINED as one in the system, so you may actually just GAIN functionality.
The stream today is supposed to go over the traits in their current test build (which are not final). Maybe you should tune in and see what they look like before you make any judgments? :)

Siphaed
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Siphaed

Craywulf Dystopiq If true for the sword, I’ll still play with the staff because the sword is soooo lame!

wolfcry62
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wolfcry62

confectionally Kalamari I understand what you are saying, I use a condition mesmer build that is 0/5/3/3/3 in PvP, but I’m still excited because there are a lot more good things. Some of the effects that some traits had are becoming regular, less traits means more powerful or meaningful in combat, and specializations. They are gonna start with one for each profession but the plan is that they are gonna keep adding more and more. Maybe, in short term, it could sound dissapointing but with time I’m sure this would open a lot of builds paths.

confectionally
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confectionally

Siphaed confectionally When did I ever say I didn’t want the game to change?  Did you even read my last comment?  I’m not upset about change.  I’m upset that I spent 2+ years building a sand castle and now Anet is going to come kick it over.  I have a build that works for me.  I don’t *want* to change it.  I was happy to finally get to a point where I felt like I didn’t need to mess with it anymore and could just play.  It took a long time to get there and it was frustrating and tedious.  I don’t want to go through the whole song and dance all over again.  It’s boring and gets in the way of the things I actually want to do in game.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

confectionally Siphaed 
There is a significant difference between not being like other MMO’s and not evolving game systems over time.  Every MMO does this.  Why?  Because they’re evolving games.  Even GW1 -which was not an MMO, but a CORPG- changed skills and traits and things over the years. Guild Wars 2 is still far from the same as other MMO’s with it’s dynamic questing system, making all zones viable end-game by way of downscaling, shared credit & separate loot tables, hybrid combat, and so many other things.  That does not mean that it won’t be sharing some of the core things of the genre that are so needed, such as CHANGE.   Sorry, but this isn’t a single player game where your character will play the same 1, 3, 5, 7, 11 years from now.  Nope, they will change.  Change with it or go to single player games.  MMOs all evolve.

confectionally
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confectionally

Siphaed confectionally Guild Wars 2 has built its brand on telling us all how they’re so different from other MMOs, so I don’t see what “WoW and other games do things in X way” has to do with anything.  As for your other point, you’re clearly not the only person who feels this way.  Personally I’m not opposed to any and all change, but I am very opposed to change that’s going to massively break a lot of things for a lot of people with no way to go back to doing stuff how we liked it.

Siphaed
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Siphaed

confectionally 
Are you new to MMO expansions and changes to classes?   At least they’re not throwing everything out and starting from scratch like Blizzard did EVERY. SINGLE. EXPANSION.  Seriously?!  

Many of the traits were broken, not viable under any circumstance, or completely redundant.  This redo of the trait system with the combination of the specialization means that they can toss out those useless ones, fix the broken ones, and add in new, more useful ones.    With the separation of stats, one doesn’t have to pointless put 6 pts into a path that has useless traits just to get that extra Condi damage; on flip of that they won’t have to pointlessly obtain + healing just to get the good traits and sacrifice damage in the build.

confectionally
Guest
confectionally

Kalamari confectionally We have been told that it’s now going to be that you have to go all or nothing into any given trait line, and that Master and Grandmaster slots will no longer be able to be filled with traits from lower tiers.  Having seen the details of the ele water line alone – that information isn’t available here but is on the GW2 official blog – I already know that the current build I use will have to be completely changed because it relies on things that won’t be possible anymore per the changes to that line.

Enikuo
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Enikuo

I’m excited about stats and traits being uncoupled. I like so many non-optimal weapons sets for my characters. I am hoping that this change will reduce the margin between my stubbon noob builds and the optimal meta builds in PvE.
It would be cool if they revamped runes at some point too. There are so many interesting, but very niche, runes that are worthless because it costs so much to swap them out.

Kalamari
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Kalamari

confectionally so, you have already seen all the new and overhauled traits and what they do? interesting…

confectionally
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confectionally

I’m so disappointed by this.  After this goes live it will no longer be possible to play the ele build I’ve spent the entirety of the game’s life tweaking and improving to be perfect for me.  The idea of having that taken away and being forced to start over basically from scratch for that character, not to mention all my alts, is so daunting and depressing that at this point I don’t even know if I can bring myself to care about Heart of Thorns anymore.
This is the exact opposite of what I hoped for from specializations and trait changes.  I’m angry that Anet ignores drastically broken things in favor of continually “fixing” things that were working fine.

McGuffn
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McGuffn

So, what’s the large hexagon to the left of the traits for? Is it just an “I choose you” button that is grayed out before you select it? Or can you slot something mysterious there?

McGuffn
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McGuffn

ColdinT BobDobalina Thieves will get a third hand so it is easier to pickpocket. New weapon will be third hand dagger.

McGuffn
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McGuffn

Craywulf Not really. Now that we know that a large part of the specialization is just a trait line It is easier to predict that there simply won’t be a huge distinction between an (elite) specialization and someone that hasn’t taken that route.

imayb1
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imayb1

wolfyseyes The trick is what you want to do with all your skill points/scrolls and how much will be grandfathered in, IMO. Any skill points earned outside of leveling and map chevrons become mystic forge fodder– but if you use hoarded scrolls on a new character now, will that character’s earnings grandfathered in as ‘legitimate’ Hero points? 
Also noteworthy: existing characters will automatically get their elite spec. unlocked with HoT’s release. They didn’t specify ‘only L80’s’ but they did say specs are only available to L80s. I’m not sure if you’d have to earn the elite unlock on a new character after HoT’s release.

KirkSteadman
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KirkSteadman

arktourosx I am hoping this actually opens up some more viable builds, last time I played the game each class had maybe 2 or 3 viable builds and some classes had only 1.

Loyheta
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Loyheta

Craywulf Dystopiq which are revealed and which are speculated? I know Engineer with hammer is revealed

imayb1
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imayb1

TheZebes Craywulf From looking at the elementalist’s water trait line example, you can see that they’ve moved adept and master traits around to different tiers again. They also renumbered them: adept are I-III, master IV-VI, and grand VII-IX. 

I’m not happy they’re tier-locking the traits, but as a result of all the re-arranging, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether my builds will be viable or crap.

Styopa
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Styopa

MatthewRiddle Styopa Craywulf They picked 80 because that’s how many WoW had at the time.  Or that’s an astonishingly crazy random happenstance that they coincidentally landed on the same number?

I’m not saying it’s not doable, nor that that aren’t several ways to do it.  With 3 80s, yeah, I know.  I’m saying it was stupid dull and pointless from 30-80, like driving in Oklahoma.  Possible, but who’d want to?

Styopa
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Styopa

SylvTaylor Styopa Craywulf ?  I’d followed GW2 pretty closely that year or more before release, and I don’t recall that at all.  I remember an early selling point was the level downscaling which would have been fairly pointless (or impossible) without actual levels?  

In fact, a leaked conversation between Jon Peters and alpha testers refers to the passive stat bonus on runes “scaling with you from lvl 10 to 90”.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

Styopa MatthewRiddle Craywulf Could there have been less than 80 levels? That is debatable, we don’t know why they chose 80 levels.
But I feel between PvE, story missions, WvW, crafting, sPvP, dungeons, there are plenty of different ways to gain experience.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

Craywulf MatthewRiddle So crafting disciplines would be auto-400, so you couldn’t gain any levels from it. Crafting materials would be the same for everyone, so they’d skyrocket in price on the Auction House and absolutely force people to go out and harvest them. You’d have to craft everything because with everyone having access to the best gear at character creation, the price on the Auction House for the certain more popular gear (Berserker) would be outrageous.
Doesn’t sound good to me.

Styopa
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Styopa

MatthewRiddle Styopa Craywulf I understand they can’t REMOVE them, but they could either camouflage them behind the UI (as Craywulf already suggested below) or telescope them down so they aren’t so seemingly meaningful.  GW1 had 20 levels, which was ample to L2P (if one was ever going to).  On the face of it there was no point of 80 levels in GW2, as you had all your meaningful abilities really by lvl 30* and it just meant a 50 level grind through content (that you’d seen before, it this was an alt – all the variety in zones is below that too).
*nota bene: I largely stopped playing before the last “experience update”, and have 3x80s (necro, thief, and engy), and a couple in the mid 50s, only returned to ‘tick’ the continuing story since otherwise I’d miss it.  So if I’m totally off the boat, sorry.

TheZebes
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TheZebes

Craywulf TheZebes I’m glad that they are adding that stuff into the skills, but that cannot fix all the issues this change creates.

Again, going to Mesmer. The Inspiration line has three GM traits that people rarely use. It does have two or three adept traits people use and all four Master traits get used. At least 4 of those adept and master traits get used together. Maybe they roll both Glamour traits into one. Okay, but where do they put it? If they put it in Master, that kicks out Warden’s Feedback as a trait. That kills reflect builds. If they put it into minor, then what are they kicking out of minor traits? 

The Domination line is the same. Multiple powerful minor traits.Some decent major traits, and only one good GM trait (used only in Teq/Wurm and dungeons). How do they pare down that line and not hurt builds?

It seems like they created a whole new mess for no reason. Just let people pick multiple adept or major traits if they want to.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

MatthewRiddle I saw that too but I wasn’t sure exactly.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

MatthewRiddle They can remove it by hiding it. You don’t see the down-scale unless you look at the bottom left corner of your screen. As far as other stuff you mentioned, that’s just gated, they can change that any time.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

Styopa Craywulf Sadly they can’t remove levels. They’d have to overhaul the entire game, change crafting disciplines, remove 90% of the armor/weapons from the game, etc.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

TheZebes I noticed the traits are locked by rank too, but if you read the article on the GW2 site, they expressed that some traits are being converted into the class, one example is trait for Necro Wells being ground targeted is no longer a trait, instead all wells have become ground-targeted by default. So this allows some continuity of some builds while they overhaul the trait specialization.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

Craywulf Dystopiq In the GW2 videos for Maguuma Jungle, we’ve seen an Engineer running around with a two-handed hammer and floating turrets. So that is pretty much confirmed.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

woolydub It’s pretty common for MMO expansions to release new classes/stuff you can only get by buying the expansion. GW2 has no sub fee, I think it’s fair to ask people to buy something every year or two.

MatthewRiddle
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MatthewRiddle

TheZebes Remember that an Elite Specialization also comes with a trait line, so it’s not completely locked into the weapon choice. There is also how the core mechanic changes, too. So perhaps Mesmer gets the Shield, not many new weapon skills, but perhaps they get a new awesome way to shatter illusions and their new trait line makes that shield do amazing things. So it’s not the end of the world if a profession just gets a single weapon.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

Sazri Ah okay…thanks for clearing that up.

Sazri
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Sazri

Craywulf Dystopiq Revanants can already use axes without a specialization.

skoryy
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skoryy

Very intriguing. I’m curious as to where this goes, but anything that helps build diversity usually means good things. I like my pistol thieves!

TheZebes
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TheZebes

I liked what I saw for the most part but there are two major issues.

1. Weapon additions are not equal and thus not as equally impactful. Weapon choice is easily the strongest factor in build making and playstyle. Those new specializations getting only a new off-hand are getting screwed,

2. From looking at the UI that has been shown, it looks rather clearly that you can now only pick one adept or master trait per line. This is a huge loss in build option and build diversity. It really hurts certain professions like Mesmer, who often have adept and master traits that are far better than Grandmaster traits.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

wolfyseyes my necromancer was the first profession I maxed even though I started the game with a ranger.

skoryy
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skoryy

Thieves 4 life, yo ;)

ColdinT
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ColdinT

BobDobalina ColdinT It would be nice to know for sure though. I actually have a Hunter sitting in the bank just in case it ends up being rifle.

Xephyr
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Xephyr

HeckHound Xephyr Most skills are. Tornado for example could be a Tempest skill, in game it’s a ”transform” skill but on that image it doesn’t seem to fit into any of the other categories besides Tempest.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

wolfyseyes Honestly there’s no excuse not to try getting all your professions at max. I have 3 of the 8 professions at max, and probably a week of playing time left to bring it to 4 max professions.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

Dystopiq Speculated weapon to professions:

Ranger – Staff (revealed)
Necromancer -Greatsword (revealed)
Engineer – Hammer
Warrior – Pistol (off hand)
Mesmer – Shield (off hand)
Thief – Rifle
Guardian – Longbow
Elementalist – sword (main hand)
Revenant – Axe (main hand)

Xephyr
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Xephyr

wolfyseyes both. :)

HeckHound
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HeckHound

Xephyr HeckHound 
I thought that was currently the case anyway?

Xephyr
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Xephyr

HeckHound it could just be a type of skills though. Each skill now has a category it belongs to.

HeckHound
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HeckHound

So…Elementalist specialisation is the Tempest at the moment?

All in all, I quite like the look of the changes but I’ll reserve judgement to see how it actually plays out.

Craywulf
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Craywulf

SylvTaylor Seriously? Oh man I would’ve loved to been part of that Alpha !

Tina Lauro
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Tina Lauro

Remember too that the elite specialization is only one of three unlocked specializations, so it will always be blended with a good smattering of the skills you levelled with. Whether or not this helps is still unclear until we see the skills, of course, but it’s worth considering.

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