Flameseeker Chronicles: Hands-on with Guild Wars 2’s siege turtles and updated End of Dragons elite specs

    
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We are finally in the home stretch for Guild Wars 2’s upcoming End of Dragons expansion! With less than three months to go, ArenaNet is currently treating us to one last beta to try out all of the elite specs, as well as the two-seat, hovering, cannon-toting siege turtle mount.

I’m a little disappointed we won’t be getting to see even the first zone of Cantha ahead of launch, as the previous two expansions’ betas did for their respective areas. At least we’ve gotten some good on-stream tours. However, what we did see has me pretty excited as well, so let’s dig into it!

The biggest headline of this beta is, of course, the chance to take the new siege turtle mount for a spin. In a lot of ways, the turtle feels like a bit of a novelty mount; it’s slower and more unwieldy than the raptor, and doesn’t jump as high as the springer. Its main differentiating factors are that it can, of course, carry a second player — who can act as a gunner, firing the shell-mounted cannons — and that it walks on the floor of any bodies of water that it enters, rather than swimming like players and skimmers. That last one is a fun but odd choice, especially so many years into the game. I’m curious to see what it might imply about underwater content in EoD. Only time will tell.

At first it seemed like this mount would only be useful when playing in duos, but even if you’re mainly a solo player who won’t be toting a gunner around much, it is also worth noting the siege turtle’s massive, 40k health pool, which can be useful for wading through mobs you don’t feel like fighting. Be mindful of your turtle’s defiance bar, though, as it can also be broken to dismount you. Also, the turtle’s slam attack doesn’t dismount you like other mounts’ engage skills, so you can use it to damage and cripple a pack of enemies, then scamper away.

The turtle’s running speed is measured by a speedometer above where the endurance bar normally is. As the mount, which has a bit of a clumsy turning radius, runs in a straight line, it ramps up speed. Frustratingly, bumping into any tiny rock or bit of debris on the ground — which can be difficult to see around the bulky turtle — brings you to a sudden halt, meaning you will have to ramp up your speed again. Anyone who has done the roller beetle race achievements knows this pain. It’s doubly frustrating given that running at top speed is how the gunner regenerates ammo for the siege turtle’s cannons.

Oddly enough, one of my biggest complaints about the siege turtle is something that Guild Wars 2 usually does a fantastic job at, and that is its sound design. The sounds for the jump jet and subsequent thud upon landing are there, but feel a lot less impactful than I would like. Even the shell slam’s deep rumble is a little weak compared to the engage skill of the raptor or griffon. Maybe the turtle’s sounds have been toned down in an attempt to save our ears from tiring of audio we will no doubt all be hearing quite a bit, but the turtle’s jump feels oddly weak because of the lack of auditory feedback.

Beta four also includes a number of significant changes to the nine upcoming elite specializations that were previously previewed in the first three betas. I am really impressed with the improvements ArenaNet has made here; it’s always a beautiful thing when studios actually take player beta feedback seriously.

The biggest winner in these updates, for me at least, is the Revenant’s Vindicator spec. In beta two, the dodge mechanic didn’t feel impactful enough to merit losing your second dodge, and the slot skills from the Alliance legend, which would flip from blue (support) versions to red (damage) versions whenever used, felt too complicated to use in real combat situations.

Fortunately for Revenant players, the designers at ArenaNet have made some great changes. For one, they ratcheted up the damage on the dodge attack, and, more importantly, they removed the slot skills’ flipover mechanic, allowing the player to choose to change their skills to damage or support mode with the F3 key, with a cooldown similar to swapping legends or weapons. I think this will still allow for fun hybrid damage/support builds, while also making specializing actually possible and reducing needless complexity. Add to that some improvements in the greatsword skills, and this went from being one of the more disappointing specs to one I’m actually excited for.

The Elementalist’s Catalyst spec has also had some major work done, with a revamp to the way its central jade sphere mechanic works. Energy works the same except that it does not drain while out of combat, and rather than one big jade sphere that goes down where you put it until your energy bar is empty that changes elements as you do, each element has its own sphere with its own cooldown. Each jade sphere summon costs a flat 10 energy and lasts for 5 seconds. You get a little less of a light show, but the spec feels a lot more manageable and unified now. Its defensive abilities have been buffed as well, but it’s still more squishy than I’m comfortable with for a melee/short range attacker. Then again, if it weren’t squishy, would it still be an Elem?

The Engineer’s Mechanist and the Ranger’s Untamed have both had their pets’ Return to Me and Attack My Target commands restored, bumped down to F6 and F7 respectively. As I said in my hands-on with the third beta, I’m not sure how much those commands actually saw use, but it’s nice to have them again, even if it is inconveniently far down the keyboard, especially since pets in this game tend to have a bit of a mind of their own. The Untamed had its pet buffed, while the Mechanist had its mech pet nerfed, and both of them saw improvements to their respective weapon skills, all of which were much needed changes.

I still had some problems with the Mechanist’s mech not summoning and skills not firing properly, but the patch notes did acknowledge that these are known issues that should (hopefully) be fixed by launch.

I could go on about all of the details of all of the elite spec updates — I didn’t even get to touch on the lovely Virtuoso and Willbender changes! — but I’ve gone on long enough, and you get the idea. Again, I’d like to say how much I appreciate ArenaNet for actually paying attention to these beta events, and making meaningful, often drastic course corrections in elite specialization mechanics. The balance of this game may not be perfect, but I don’t think that the ArenaNet of even two or three years ago would have been this responsive to the community. If you’re interested, be sure to check out the full patch notes for these spec changes, which, as always, have wonderfully detailed explanations of what feedback the balance team has been seeing and what they are trying to do to make these specs more fun to play.

I can’t wait to roam around Cantha on my siege turtle sporting a shiny new elite spec with everyone this February! If you want to check out this final beta to get one final preview of the new specs and mount you will be working on in End of Dragons, be sure to do so before the beta event ends this Saturday, December 4th.

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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