Flameseeker Chronicles: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2’s new Harbinger, Virtuoso, and Willbender elite specs

    
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One of the most anticipated features of any Guild Wars 2 expansion is unquestionably the addition of new elite specializations. We got our first peek at the first elite spec for End of Dragons, the Mesmer’s Virtuoso, less than a month ago, with teases and details for Harbinger and Willbender in the intervening weeks. ArenaNet likes to milk these reveals for all of the hype they’re worth, so this week, all players have been given the opportunity to test the first three specs, the Necromancer’s Harbinger, the Mesmer’s Virtuoso, and the Guardian’s Willbender, and will be given the opportunity to test the other two groups of three in September and October.

For today’s Flameseeker Chronicles, I will be giving some broad strokes impressions on the gameplay and feel of the classes. If you’re a minmaxing theorycrafter and want a very detailed breakdown of every one of the new classes’ skills, passives, and other mechanics, as well as an ArenaNet dev hoarding an inordinate number of water bottles, be sure to watch the official Guild Chat stream from last Friday.

Harbinger

If you’ve ever found yourself unable to pick your favorite class between the Engineer and Necromancer, you’re in luck because it looks like the Harbinger is going to attempt to bring you the best of both worlds, with its necromantic spin on the alchemy portions of the Engineer’s toolkit.

In a lot of ways, Harbinger is like Blood is Power: The Elite Spec. Just like the Blood is Power skill necromancers have been using since the original Guild Wars, the Harbinger’s new shroud and slot skill abilities are centered around putting negative effects on the user while granting boons to themselves (and if speced, nearby allies) and dealing lots of damage. However, the negative effects Harbinger generates aren’t simple conditions that can be cleansed or transferred away as you might expect, they take the form of a new status effect called blight which reduces your max HP by 2% per stack and stacks intensity up to 25 times. Think of it like negative barrier. It’s interesting having the traditionally more tanky (for a light armor class) Necromancer have to sacrifice its own durability for additional damage and buffs. To mitigate this a bit, the Harbinger’s life force pool will deplete over time while not in shroud to heal them.

As for the Harbinger’s shroud, given that blight ticks up the longer your are in it, you might think that it would be optimal to jump into shroud, fire off all of your skills, and jump out as soon as possible to minimize the amount of health reduction placed on you, and that is a valid strategy, however, all of the Harbinger’s grandmaster traits are designed around rewarding you for staying in shroud longer. The top trait pulses damage and cripple to enemies, the middle pulses quickness to allies, and the bottom pulses torment and weakness.

I love how corruption’s visual effect starts around your character’s feet, then spreads upward to cover the whole body as it ticks up in intensity!

I also think it’s interesting that all three master traits grant some kind of stat boost based on your vitality stat. The designers really want to be sure that you are building your Harbinger with as big a health pool as possible.

The three trait lines for Harbinger are clearly built around direct damage in the top line, support in the center line, and condition damage in the bottom line. ArenaNet’s Cal Cohen explained in the Guild Chat stream that the Harbinger’s pistol skills were designed to lend themselves to both condition and power builds, and traits are meant to support either play style. Guild Wars 2 DPS meta builds tend to lean hard into either direct damage or condition damage, and I’ve always thought a power/condi hybrid class could be an interesting change of pace in content like fractals, providing some of the high damage potential of conditions, but shortening its slow ramp up with good direct damage. ArenaNet would have to really design a class around something like this, and that would seem to be easier said than done. Will Harbinger finally be it? Maybe, we’ll have to see how the meta shakes out over time.

If you are interested in playing Harbinger as a support, you will definitely want to take the Twisted Medicine trait, which shares elixir buffs in an area. This is especially nice when combined with Harbinger’s elite skill, which grants a little of every boon in the game to those affected. Honestly, I can’t see the point of running elixir skills without this trait slotted, unless you’re playing completely solo.

I’ll be honest, I went into this class expecting to be underwhelmed. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find it to be my favorite of the three showcased here. At first, I timidly tried to wait for my corruption to tick down before each fight and before popping each elixir. Then I realized just how much extra power that stacks of corruption, and the elixirs that put them on me, were giving, and I started using them more freely. Things died so fast that I ended up not needing that extra max health; the healing coming from my life force drain was enough to keep me going. Corruption might end up being a bigger problem in group content, where you will be more likely to take big hits that could one-shot a Harbinger with their max HP halved, but then you will also have a healer around to help out. I’m guessing this class will see a lot of balance tweaks both before the launch of End of Dragons and after, but I really like the high-risk, high-reward mechanics.

My only complaint is that I wish that corruption showed up visually on the health circle the way barrier does, rather than just being a negative number below my health number. But this is, admittedly, a minor quibble.

Virtuoso

The Mesmer has always had a strange relationship with some of its weapons. Everyone knows that greatswords are clearly a melee weapon, right? Not for Mesmers! What a Warrior sees as a big, sharp hunk of metal to bash baddies with, the Mesmer sees as a conduit for shooting magical laser beams at people. It turns out the Virtuoso’s dagger is a ranged weapon as well, not as a throwing weapon but as a magical casting weapon. Someday Mesmers are going to get longbow, but instead of using it to shoot arrows, they will use it to smack people over the head.

The Virtuoso has given up the Mesmer’s iconic clone mechanic. Instead, any action that would normally create a clone will now create a floating psionic dagger, up to a maximum of five. Anyone else getting flashbacks to their WildStar Esper? The great thing is that your daggers don’t disappear when you go out of combat like clones do. Because of this, you can actually charge up your daggers out of combat, using a skill like Blade Recharge, then swap that skill out for something else if that’s not actually what you want on your bar while in combat. It’s kind of ironic, Mesmers finally got rid of the need to remember to charge up their mantras out of combat, but now Virtuosos will have functionally the same thing with their daggers.

Depending on their build, Virtuosos have a number of options for ways to generate blades fast. My favorite was a synergy between the bottom adept trait, which causes bleeds on critical hits, and a grandmster trait that generates a blade every five stacks of bleeding. With assassin gear and AoEs hitting big packs of mobs, I was generating blades faster than I could use them. I can see the grandmaster trait that stocks a blade for every attack dodged or blocked being very popular too, given the Mesmer’s already incredible damage blocking/avoiding potential, only made better by the block on Bladeturn Requiem on the F4 slot. I actually ended up having more trouble with running into the cooldowns of my bladesongs (Virtuoso’s version of shatters) than I did generating blades. This is a shame, too, because contrary to clones, there’s not even a little bit of benefit from having blades up. I wish there was a passive that granted me a small amount of extra power per blade or something.

Honestly, I found the Virtuoso a little lackluster. It’s got some nice AoEs and burst potential, but overall it just doesn’t feel that different from the core Mesmer. Certainly not in the way that the Chronomancer and Mirage did. Plus, why is it called Virtuoso? That name made me think it would be a bard class, but there’s absolutely no musical theming here, except that shatters are called bladesongs, and it offers little to no support. If anything, it’s themed more like a knife-throwing circus performer. I don’t get it.

Willbender

When the silhouette of what we would come to know as the Willbender was debuted, there was a lot of debate over whether this would be a Shiro Tagachi/Imperial Guard-themed Guardian spec or an Assassin-like Thief spec. The debate even prompted an official GW2 Twitter poll, in which a quarter of respondents thought Thief was more likely, while 68% correctly guessed Guardian. In a way both were right, as this new Guardian elite spec has a distinct Thief flavor to it.

Perhaps the biggest change that Guardians who follow the path of the Willbender will notice is that virtues no longer have a passive while off cooldown, but have become active abilities that have shorter cooldowns, gain unique movement effects, and grant temporary virtue buffs that are applied on use. However, only one virtue buff can be up at a time. Virtues also put Willbender flames on the ground, each virtue with its own AoE shape, that damage enemies and heal allies.

The comparison was quickly drawn between the Willbender and the Daredevil, and I agree that comparison is inescapable. Almost every tool the Willbender adds to the Guardian’s kit adds some amount of mobility. They even have physical-type skills (a skill type previously used by the Daredevil as well as the Warrior) which will, graphically, look very familiar to Daredevil players.

I wasn’t super impressed by the offhand sword. It has some decent damage and a gap closer, but the mainhand sword already had those covered, and it deals less damage than the focus. Maybe it’s useful in situations I’m not thinking of. I’ll leave that up to the theory crafters. It’s unfortunate that some of the uniqueness of the Daredevil is being taken away, but the Willbender is a really fun class.

The three elite specs demoed this week are a solid showcase of what ArenaNet has planned for End of Dragons. As always, they are well-polished, wonderfully animated, and sure to provide an interesting chance of pace. I can’t wait to see how they fit into the ever-changing landscape of unique builds for these classes. Be sure to check them out for yourself before the beta ends August 21st. I’m even more excited than before to see what’s in store for the other six classes, so look forward to more analysis as those betas arrive!

And stay tuned for our Fight or Kite column next week as our resident PvP expert, Sam Kash, will analyze how these new elite specs will shake up Guild Wars 2’s PvP modes.

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!
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