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.
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.
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.
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:
Core 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!