Fight or Kite: How Guild Wars 2’s Harbinger, Willbender, and Virtuoso stack up in PvP


Guild Wars 2 has always been my go-to home for MMOs. There’s just so much the studio did right when designing the game. But over the last few years, my time in game began to fall off. I just wasn’t super interested in a lot of what ArenaNet was doing. The hype had faded – or so I thought. Then ArenaNet began to tease the new elite specializations and I started to get all hot and bothered again.

The teasers the studio released over the last month made these specs look awesome. We had this quick dashing, dual sword wielding Guardian, a super flashy blade tossing Mesmer, and a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Necromancer. To learn more about these specs general PvE use and theme, you’ll need to check out Colin’s fantastic hands-on in last week’s Flameseeker Chronicles. But I was excited to try out these new specs specifically in PvP. So let’s do just that: Were these specs designed to have any place in a PvP environment or are they all flash and just trash? Let’s goooo!

The Guardian Willbender is fast and slow at the same time

The Guardian elite spec is the one that really got my attention again as the Guardian has been my main since before release. When the Dragonhunter was announced for the Heart of Thorns expansion, I was equally excited. I played that spec into the ground. In fact, I still play a Dragonhunter on my Guardian. Something about heavy armored, self-sustaining front-line fighters just hits the spot for me. However, when the Firebrand dropped, so did my play time with the Guard. Something about that whole spec just looked and sounded blah to me. Axe? Boring. Books? Boring. Mid-line support? Boring.

All that is to say, I was very hyped about the Willbender coming into the beta. I thought it was a funny name, but it turns out to be the perfect name for the spec. You see, someone must truly have him will bent and broken to ever find a place for this spec in serious combat. It appears that someone at ArenaNet took a very cool concept, realized mobility can be lacking for guards, and built a whole spec around that without considering how it would actually work out when implemented.

Let’s start out taking a look at the traits. The traits are absolutely boring. There is little to no interplay with other traits or with various specific boons or conditions. Most just increase a stat directly. In fact, of the nine major traits, six of them include a negative effect. So, as a baseline you are giving up something no matter what. None of the grandmaster traits adds anything excited either. Once upon a time, your choice of grandmaster essentially dictated your whole build. But these grandmaster traits barely hold a candle to even most master-tier versions.

Many specializations can use their traits to boost other build types. Maybe you want to boost your greatsword DPS or your condition damage. With the Willbender, the utilities added are physical skills, but none of the traits reduces physical skill cooldowns or adds anything to them. For instance, Pure of Voice (Honor line) converts allies conditions to boons and Monk’s Focus (Valor line) adds heals to mediation skills. There’s nothing built for physical skills here.

The designers instead opted for the idea that the top row will be related to Resolve (F2 skill), the middle to Justice (F1 skill), and the bottom to Courage (F3 skill). So mixing those will usually not be beneficial. If you wanted to do anything interesting outside of focusing on a specific virtue, well, too bad.

Now, let me mention the virtues. The ideas are nice, but in practice they’re miserable. First off, removing the passives is questionable design without seriously buffing the actives, which we don’t see here. Justice’s functionality could be good. The leap is nice, but it’s so slow, and the AOE it leaves behind is too small. No one in her right mind will be hit by this. Resolve dashes you forward and leaves a tiny trail behind you. Behind you. Whom is that trail expected to affect? Maybe your allies who are being useful in a team fight while you run away? The Courage one is actually pretty cool, but you are essentially giving up on utilizing any aegis effects to have it, so no I don’t think I will.

The spec seems built around a couple specific build ideas. Likely the designers anticipated needing the Virtues line with the Willbender. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity or variability.

I’ve rambled on long enough about the Willbender, and I didn’t even mention the actual skills, primarily because they offer very little actual utility. Outside of adding mobility, they don’t provide condition cleanse or boons, and almost all of them include animation locking (which equals death in PvP because they are so slow). The kick skill is almost the same as the Warrior’s, except it adds a stun instead of a knockback, and the Warrior’s has stacks so that you can pop it off two or three times, whereas the Guard’s is only once on a 15-second cooldown. The elite, your ultimate trump card, is literally just a little knockback or knockdown. Easily dodged or stabilitied through. Even though you have a lot of mobility skills now, the ranges are so inconsistent it makes no sense.

I simply don’t see any reason to play this spec as it is. If I wanted to be a mobile Guard, I’d take meditation skills with instant casts and a greatsword and mainhand sword. Whoever designed the concept of the Willbender did a great job; it’s just unfortunate that’s where the thought process behind the spec ended.

The Virtuoso turns your Mesmer into Guardian of the Galaxy’s Yondu

Yondu was the first thing I thought of when I saw the spec, at least. You have daggers floating around you that you can shoot off to kill your foes. There had to be some inspiration here. Now, I’ve only played the Mesmer enough to get my PvP legendary backpiece, so you’ll have to excuse my brevity. While I won’t have a bunch of comparisons, I can tell you what I see of the build potential.

There is a decent amount of play among the traits. The traits also have good interplay with other skills too. Duelist’s Reversal grants boons on dodges. Since dodging is always something you’ll be using, that can work with a ton of other builds. Fury is spread all around these traits too. The three paths the designers had in mind here appear to be defensive with the top row providing bonuses for dodges and even giving all your profession abilities (F1-F4) aegis. The middle row improves damage and pumps up your ability to create blades (which are your new clones). Lastly, the bottom row buffs critical hits, fury, and increases your bleed effects. Overall, there’s a lot of variability here to work with other class abilities.

There isn’t a lot to say about the profession abilities themselves other than they are almost like upgrades to the basic Mesmer shatters. If you liked to play a shatter build, you’ll have fun here too.

In sort of a change of pace, ArenaNet chose to create a new utility type called psionic. From the last expansion, I believe the idea was to simply expand the existing types to the other classes with the elite specs, so you might have thought Mesmers would get shouts or something they don’t have already. In fact, while calling it a shout would be odd, Virtuoso does imply skill in artistic endeavors, which could include singing. So with a spec called Virtuoso, shouts might have made sense. But instead ArenaNet broke from expectations and created something entirely new.

Unfortunately, as with the Willbender, none of the traits directly enhances psionic skills, so that’s kind of a missed opportunity too. Once again, with the Virtuoso theme, my mind is drawn to Yondu (who whistles to control his arrow), so shouts/singing would have made some sense.

These psionic skills look very nice. I think they have some decent utility, but again, I always miss condition cleanse as it is a must in PvP. The cooldowns are fairly long too, so you likely won’t want to have a full loadout of psionics. Weapon skills all provide some utility with the blade spec mechanic as well. The blade storm is very strong. Not only does it look impressive, but it makes a good AoE, the damage is good if it hits, and the cooldown is fairly short too. Even if it doesn’t hit, the speed of the storm is slow enough that it can really lock down an area too.

Overall, I think the Virtuoso has some good potential. I could see the traits being mixed in with other traits well and coordinating into a good build. The utilities could provide some more boons too.

The Harbinger is a Necromancer on a potion binge

I mentioned near the top that the Guardian was my main originally. After Path of Fire and my absolute disdain for the Firebrand styling, I went back and have been spending most of my GW2 time as a Reaper. It’s cool, it’s menacing, and it’s powerful. Style matters as much to me as DPS charts.

Right off the bat, there’s a trait to boost elixir skills. Nicely done. Oh, and a trait to boost the new weapon. Doubly nice. On top of that, traits have a synergy with the other trait tracks too (not just with the class mechanic skill), but they focus on slightly different play styles as well. The top row boosts direct damage and power builds, the middle one focuses on more support style (sharing boons and spreading debilitating conditions), and the bottom row pumps up condition damage. The grandmaster traits are impactful too. They each boost the shroud in a different way for a different playstyle. This is really the proper way to design traits.

One of the most unique aspects to the Harbinger is the change to the shroud mechanic. Now, it was probably just me, but I had a hell of a time building and maintaining life force in PvP. The big change to the mechanics here is that now your shroud’s life force is constantly being depleted to heal yourself. In PvE, that’s not a problem as monsters die left and right, so you constantly get chunks of life force. But in PvP, I just could not maintain it at all. It almost felt as if I was giving up on shroud, that it wasn’t really going to be an active part of my PvP combat, which really didn’t make sense. Maybe if the heal overage were converted to barrier, or maybe if it didn’t drain while at max HP. I’m not sure, but this aspect of it I did not like at all.

I think the pistol and change to shroud skills would sync up pretty well. You could pop off some shots at mid-range, switch to shroud to jump in there and smash some faces, then switch back and repeat. However, since I couldn’t get my shroud to fill up for more than a handful of seconds, it didn’t really play that well to me in PvP. I thought the pistols skills were good, though. Having stun on a 12-second cooldown is very nice.

The utilities add a new profession mechanic as well called Blight, which reduces your total HP. The Necro is known as an HP sponge, so under normal circumstances I think this would’ve been pretty cool. But a big part of the reason the Necro is known for that is because it’s always had these two life bars (the main and the shroud’s). However, the change to life force constantly depleting acts as a double negative with the Blight on top. So, I just don’t know. If one of the grandmaster traits reduced the life force drain or if you could somehow use Blight with other types of shroud, it might be more interesting and useful to me. As it is, it’s a tough drink for me to swallow.

Other than the Blight, though, I think the utilities are pretty good. You have a stun-breaker, which is essential in PvP. There’s also a condition cleanse! Other than that, the game basically just dumps boons on you. So, in that way the Harbinger isn’t super exciting either. You definitely won’t be playing a full elixir build.

I could see myself trying out some more build combos with the Harbinger, but I’m not sure I would play it over the other specs thanks to the amount of sacrifice you really have to take with the blights and the life force drain. With more tests and practice, it might have a place to play.

As you can see, I wasn’t over the moon with any of these specializations – in PvP at least. From a theme standpoint, I thought they were all cool, but the mechanics could still use some work. I know there aren’t a lot of PvP players left in GW2, so I may or may not write up something similar for the other specs when they’re released. If you want more of this, though, you’ve got to let me know below!

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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