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

    
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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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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.