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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Ben Stone

Virtuoso was amazing. Although it is totally a glass cannon. It gives mesmers what they had been lacking, burst DPS. But you definitely feel the loss of the mirage skills that I have gotten used to.

Harbinger was surprising for me. I wasn’t expecting to like it and thought it seemed weak on paper, but it was really overpowered. The self sustain and death shroud generation was nuts. Maybe it will be susceptible to burst, but shroud seemed to be up so much that the negative health almost seemed negligible. I see this one being brought down a few pegs before launch.

Willbender felt like trash to me. Really did not vibe with it at all, and I hated that the first row of traits all give significant penalties. I wouldn’t pick this over existing specs in any scenario.

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imayb1

My two cents… Virtuoso has the worst-fitting name, the best animations, but a ton of visual noise. It feels weak to me in play and many of its skills seem to be full-face-on or forget it; strafing just doesn’t cut it. The traits feel super-simple and nothing stands out as really cool. I love the mesmer class and this keeps the class’s theme, but I can’t say I’d take it over the existing specs.

Harbinger looks awful as all of the utility skills have the SAME icon. Sure, each has a slightly different color– if you’re not colorblind– but they’re really boring. It’s all ‘click for a buff and blight’. Pistol main hand is okay. The blight mechanic is interesting, but there is no built-in mitigation for it. I feel there should be some sort of fail safe antidote. That said, it feels fun to play. I enjoy the shroud skills.

The Willbender (another poor name choice, IMO) has a lot of movement to it, making it easy to see the comparisons to thief/Daredevil. It’s styled more like a D&D monk and the utilities are really fun to use. The movement virtues are fun too, but I’m not sure they make up for the total loss of passive buffs. Sword off-hand is okay but not as good as guardian’s standard alternatives, IMO. Most of the traits are trade-offs like, “gain alacrity and regen but you cannot heal for the duration”. I was very disappointed that NONE of the new utility skills work under water.

I enjoy testing these early. The HoT elite specs felt a bit like they’d gone through a game of telephone by the time they saw release, so I’m guessing ANet will listen carefully to player feedback. I’m hoping they’ll survey folks to get responses from non-forum crawlers, too. I shall look forward to the next round of turnout.

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Arktouros

After playing with the Virtuoso for a bit I am just outright disappointed.

Trait wise it’s an incredibly boring class with 1st Generation style talents (bleed on crit, vuln on crit, boons on dodge, that kinda nonsense). The line is basically damage line #3 you’re only choosing this because you want to unlock the weapon. There’s no hard choices, no cool interactions, just real basic obvious choices.

Dagger has tremendous overlap and some cases straight up superiority to Greatsword. Not at all sure why it has 1200 range but why not. It’s like they took the best of Greatsword (Auto, Mind Wrack, and Berserker) and boiled it down to slightly weaker versions for Dagger leaving you free to choose better offhand 4/5 ability options.

The “Bladesongs” are just the same Shatters we’re used to without the clones. No waiting for 3 clones to go running up now you just instantly fire off the damage instead. You still damage/confuse/stun/block and all the myriad modifications there in from other trait lines. The clones/shatters were interesting because it was an opportunity cost thing of doing a big damage move in trade off for losing your survivability/utility with clones out. None of that exists.

The “Psionic” utilities are weird in that no other class has Psionics which is supposed to be the entire point of Specializations. This was a hugely wasted opportunity. Most of the abilities are just “more damage” along the lines of an Elementalist’s Arcane abilities. I mean there’s literally zero traits that impact Psionics even. This does fill a niche the Mesmer lacked (damage utilities) but in the most basic way imaginable.

I am not one to generally call developers lazy because I know the tremendous amount of work that goes into game dev but this is lazy, shoddy work out of people who are unimaginative and timid. This is basically Greatsword the specialization except with Daggers. You could poll any Mesmer player and get a half dozen better concepts than what they’ve come up with. My first impression is why aren’t Psionics just Banners as giant Swords? Why isn’t there a Psionic Trait, a Bladesong Trait and then a DPS trait? It’s all just so bad. Really can tell the talent has left the building.

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Bruno Brito

The biggest issue i have with E-specs is that sooner or later, they’ll overlap with core ( some of that already happened, like Daredevil is literally a improvement upon thief ), and then core will lag behind greatly. Not only that, these three new e-specs, i agree with you, they lack a lot of creativity.

Also, Harbinger seems the worst designed of the 3. Now that you have a self-hurting dps only class, can you even allow this class to have similar dps to the others? It has to be extremely far ahead or it becomes too demanding.

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Arktouros

That’s basically what annoys me about this scenario.

Damage wise it’s like just vastly superior to any other option I could take on a Mesmer. Even way more damage than I could take on a Mirage with Greatsword. The dagger’s innate AOE and damage vastly outpace everything else with just the dagger and bladesongs (I was hitting for 16k with my F1 skill cause I’m not an idiot and took Illusions instead of Dueling). Oh and I still get all the great defensive utility I got from OH sword. There’s no way you don’t buy this class cause it’s just such a clear and obvious upgrade…

…but it’s so fucking basic and boring. There’s no interesting interactions going on. Do you like damage? Here’s a fuckload of it. We’ll check back in 6 months when we nerf all that damage into the ground and now you’re uninteresting and have no damage. Thanks for the $40.

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Bruno Brito

It’s an complete improvement over mesmer mechanics because of how bladesongs work. They’re way better than clones. Shattering feels better, you don’t depend on visual clutter from the clones even tho Virtuoso has a LOT of visual noise.

I’m more interested in other features from the xpac. Elite specs are honestly kind of a sunken ship to me. But it’s a pity that of all three specs, only the Willbender was the more interesting one, and cohesive ( and it adds mobility to Guardian, which while it has in good spades, it was middle of the pack. Willbender feels like a thief-take on Guard ), and the other two lag behind greatly in conceptual and function terms.

Harbinger reminds me of the Barbarian in Neverwinter. To deal dps, you’re forced to take a talent that makes your Bloodletter damage you, and reduces it’s cd by 3s. So, right now, a lot of Barbarians are complaining on the forums because they’re the only class that damage themselves to dps ( and it’s quite the damage they deal to themselves ), and they do all that just to catch up.

It’s bad design all around.

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Arktouros

Clones are strong/good because they add a defensive component that’s understated. In PvE most mobs will attack your clones and doing things like dodging, generating a clone, then standing behind it will add a physical barrier that will eat a projectile hit for you kinda thing. That’s the interesting mechanic of the Mesmer and Shatters, you can keep your Clones up (defense, trait mechanics such as clones inflict conditions, etc) or you can sacrifice them for a burst of damage/etc.

So Bladesongs are not a direct upgrade per se, but instead they remove the “interesting choice” mechanic of Mesmers in favor of just a dumb more amount of damage/effects that there’s really no reason not to just roll them constantly (Ben did it wrong, but adding a second charge to F1 you can use your blades as fast as you generate them for giga damage with the Illusions line). That big damage for now is a huge improvement over the base Mesmer, but soon as they nerf that big damage (which they always do) then it’s basically going to be completely useless as a spec.

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Bruno Brito

I can’t speak for PvE mesmers, albeit i’ve seen complaints of them hating the clone mechanic because it dies from mob to mob.

PvP wise, it’s quite easy to find the Mesmer, so bladesongs giving that much damage is simply a upgrade. Shatters are way easier to dodge from clones than from blades.

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Greaterdivinity

Need to log in still, but I’m wondering how willbender with mace/sword will work. It seems much squishier than other specs from what I can tell, and while you’d definitely lose damage with the mace it would offer a fair amount of defensive utility (heal symbol, heal combo on primary attack, block/counterattack) it seems that the rest of the toolkit would make up for that for the most part while keeping you super mobile.

I just like the damned mace.

I’ve been seeing a fair amount of criticims that some of the new skills are essentially just taking from other classes rather than coming up with anything new. I can get that, but at the same time I don’t much care since I basically only play my guardian nowadays. Even my necro/ranger alts (the only ones I’ve really played) haven’t seen action in like…a year+

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Arktouros

I’ve been seeing a fair amount of criticims that some of the new skills are essentially just taking from other classes rather than coming up with anything new.

I mean that’s literally what specializations have always been. X class’s take on Y class. Not exactly a copy per se but a set of similar utilities while there’s usually some twist on the class mechanic. But really there’s only so many variations of skills they will come up with. Boons, conditions, removals, swaps, mobility, etc like eventually you’re going to run into a point where it all starts looking pretty similar I think.

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Bruno Brito

And there’ll come a time where one spec will overlap core. It already happens to some classes ( Daredevil, Scrapper, Soulbeast ), but i’m not looking forward when it happens to all of them.

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Ben Stone

It. Is. So. Squishy.

I pretty much never die in PvE in GW2, and I was dying. Everything was just not enough. It just felt super weak in general, especially compared to the other two new specs which are clearly best elite specs for the respective classes in terms of damage output.

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TomTurtle

I didn’t want to necessarily spoil myself ahead of End of Dragons, but I caved in and gave the beta shot. I gave each spec a brief playthrough in open world PvE content, both solo and group.

Virtuoso’s gameplay looked a bit bland at its first reveal regardless of its visuals. Getting my hands on it however won me over and excites me for it becoming my Mesmer main’s new elite spec. It feels good to deal good damage with another ranged weapon. It definitely is a squishier spec due to the lack of clones gaining aggro, but the upside of the mechanic of stocking blades, even out of combat, is very welcome.

Harbinger is very straightforward in gameplay and effective at dealing damage. Its condition application is quick and easy, especially for cleave which I appreciate. The support build is simple, which feels good to provide boons to allies as a Necromancer. Its mobility in shroud is a surprising change and very fun for the profession to get.

Willbender feels like a PvP spec through and through. It’s kind of fun moving around so much, but I can’t see myself playing it much, which is similar to my feelings on using a Warrior’s Spellbreaker. Its animation locking and delays don’t feel that good especially with mobs often moving out of the way.

I don’t think I’ll spend much more time checking this round of elite specs out as I want to keep the novelty somewhat intact for EoD. I am looking forward to the remaining six reveals and their beta tests for sure.

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Axetwin .

Willbender is more durable than you think. Their Virtues have shorter cooldowns, the second virtue can proc a lot of heals, and the third continuously procs Aegis for its duration. The skills are actually designed to be actively used and not just be relied on as an oh shit button.

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Life_Isnt_Just_Dank_Memes

I watched Wooden Potatoes for a bit and IDK why but for me this game was an absolute revelation when it came out and now all the classes feel samey because it’s built around dodging and then attacking. Attacking and dodging. What was new is now the norm and rote.

And it sucks that I feel this way. It’s not the game’s fault. It’s a brilliant game. One of my favorite ever. I think I am just over it and it bums me out because I don’t just want to see Cantha in a stream when it comes out. I want to visit it, but I don’t actually want to have to play.

I hope it sells gangbusters for them though. That studio deserves nothing but good things going forward. They’ve made 2 of my favorite games of all time.

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styopa

“it’s built around dodging and then attacking”
I’ll certainly concede that’s how it’s a) perceived by the Anet devs as how it SHOULD be played, but b) my engineer with juggernaut and flamethrower, or my condi herald with torment runes and..well, buffs up the wazoo… both sneer at effete prancing.

I’m NOT the greatest nimble dodger anymore, whether it’s my reflexes or just never able to reach the levels of OCD I used to be able to invest as a teen or both, I gravitate toward classes that are more forgiving of my slow responses and yes, I do occasionally stand in the fire.

And when everyone else in a fight is blown back while I just stand there, taking it? TOTALLY WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION.

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Ben Stone

I love the flamethrower elixer build. Its super fun.

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Axetwin .

MightyTeapot put it best when he said “Guild Wars 2 is not a PvE game. It is and always has been a PvP game”, meaning even the PvE aspect of the game is designed with a PvP mindset.

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Bruno Brito

Bear in mind, most of Anet’s designs for classes usually are not how the classes are played.

Reaper was supposed to be a slow, durable, death-knight esque, spec. Instead, it’s a high-powered/condition spec as it’s played. Players rather play core if they want durability. Scourge was supposed to be support, but as of right now, they’re just vomiting AoE everywhere and screwing your day.

Daredevil was supposed to be a duelist, but instead they just improve Thief’s normal assassination skills.

Willbender will find a competitive niche, as it happens to all Guard specs. Don’t worry about it.

Stefan
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Stefan

Decided to recently take the plunge into Guild Wars 2 again, since i never played it again past the original core content, no living story or expansions and it is great to see how well the game has grown.

I also find that you are spot on with the wildstar Esper reference it really looks a lot like that

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Dug From The Earth

Some great class additions for sure.

Now if they would just implement some great UI additions to handle the games core mechanics better. Especially a better way at tracking/managing boons and conditions, which are a core element of so many classes.

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styopa

The entire GW2 UI is so badly in need of a top-to-bottom dev pass it’s not really funny anymore. It’s such crap even basic things like popup window behavior is inconsistent from core to expansion content, the AH seems to be built around SQL queries and a crappy web server from 2002, and to buy coal from a crafting vendor be sure to look under “L” for “Lump of Coal”!