For this update, we're focusing on improving underused and weak Elite skills for each profession, and taking the opportunity to adjust areas that were affected in last month's title balance build. In addition to explaining the individual changes, we also want to describe the internal process for designing this Elite skill update.
We update Elites so that players have more options to play with in all areas of the game. It presents new possibilities for players to experience their profession in a way they never have before and creates a more dynamic environment in PvP, increasing the enjoyment of the "meta-game" that develops between teams. As these updates typically contain power increases and don't threaten to ruin established build themes, they've historically proved popular with players.
When choosing which Elites to change, we looked at a number of factors:
The skill has to be generally unused across all formats.
All professions should have about the same number of updates (with the inevitable variations).
The skill has to be weak regardless of trends in the game. A skill that's strong as a counter to certain PvP builds but not others would not generally qualify.
Initially, we start at 6-8 Elites in each profession and brainstorm early ideas of how to improve the skill. Anything from minor number changes to outright redesigns are put on the table and discussed. The only thing sacred is the skill name. Naturally, some skills lend themselves better to being improved than others, which narrows the list down to 4-5 a profession. With this sublist of Elites, we talk about the profession's role in PvP and PvE, and discuss how we can either support an existing role we're happy with or create a new role. Sometimes, skills fall entirely outside of this scope so we improve them as one-offs or to test the waters with something new (Symbols of Inspiration is a good example).
Next, we test the skills internally and continue to discuss their implications. This is important in a game like Guild Wars, where the possibilities of skill interactions are so diverse that there are usually a few situations not considered at the initial brainstorm. As testing reveals additional opportunities or issues, we make final revisions and number changes to limit the number of potential abuses. The hardest thing in an Elites update isn't making a skill good enough; rather, it's anticipating how it might get out of control in obscure circumstances.
Below is each profession's skill updates and an explanation behind those changes. Because of the dramatic nature of many of these changes, we expect that further refinements may be required for at least a few skills. As always, we'll closely monitor the effects of this update and respond accordingly.
Assassin Elites have big shoes to fill, typically competing with skills that allow Shadow Stepping. Elites that don't fill that role need to be exceptional at doing something different. In most cases, something different means shutting down the target's defenses to open a killing opportunity. This was the reasoning behind the Mark of Insecurity changes. Mark of Insecurity is meant to shut down many anti-melee defenses so the Assassin can rip into the target or, at very least, force hex removal.
Palm Strike's is strong because it allows an Assassin to quickly use a Dual Attack and free up skill slots normally occupied by lead and off-hand attacks. However, its recharge was too long to make this worthwhile. The addition of Cripple has two motivations: first, it synergizes with Assassin skills based on conditions; two, it mitigates the fact that the skill doesn't have Shadow Step. We expect this change to provide new opportunities for interesting Assassin builds.
Wastrel's Collapse has yet to fit snugly into the Assassin's paradigm. Most Assassins don't have time to regularly cast a spell that is unreliable at best. Taking into account the other Elites that Assassins frequently use, we decided to turn it into a new Shadow Step that depends on correct timing to knock down the target and set up for a quick kill. The interesting choice for Assassins is that they now have three solid Elite options for closing to the target: Wastrel's Collapse with knockdown, Shadow Prison with a snaring hex, and Aura of Displacement with the escape option in lieu of additional offense.
Seeping Wound frequently wound up redundant as targets quickly reached the Health degeneration cap of -10. The additional degeneration from this Elite was simply wasted. By moving to a raw damage-per-second model, we eliminate this redundancy.
With Forms being such an attractive Elite choice for Dervishes (both mechanically and aesthetically) we wanted to add a couple of interesting alternatives to these skills. Reaper's Sweep was previously a weaker version of Wounding Strike, being overshadowed by the ability to regularly cause Deep Wound or at least Bleeding. The enchantment removal aspect for foes over 50% Health makes Reaper's Sweep a powerful way to crash through enemy defenses before finishing them off with a high damage and Deep Wound attack combination.
Onslaught was close to desirable, but it was a little too clumsy and expensive. When chasing someone in melee, a 1-second cast is too long to rationalize the movement speed increase. By dropping the casting time to a quarter-second, this has a much more responsive feel. Also, its lower cost makes it much easier to maintain over the course of a fight.
Many Elementalist builds consist of a varied toolbox for flexible mid-line support. Water Magic has been popular lately, so we wanted to encourage alternatives to the standard build. The conditional nature of Blinding Surge's area-effect was unnecessary overall, and required players to analyze too many variables for a skill that has relatively sensitive timing. By making the area-effect a constant, players are encouraged to find good positional opportunities to maximize the Blindness.
Energy Boon's rework is intended to make it function like a burst where the Elementalist can afford to be more aggressive with Energy spending. This essentially behaves as a second high-Energy weapon swap to help in emergencies or close in for that kill. Additionally, it doubles as a self-heal, freeing up secondaries in smaller-format PvP. Ether Prism is now a flexible self-sufficient skill, offering self-protection, self-heal, and Energy management, something the Elementalist both lacked and needed.
Double Dragon's function has moved to a point-blank area-effect damage skill that also charges up the rest of the player's Fire Magic in the process.
Mesmers are in an unique place, balance-wise. Many of the best Mesmer skills are non-Elites, so we wanted to increase variety by adding more desirable Elites to the pool. Fevered Dreams' condition-spreading function never caught on, mostly because it was both Elite and completely susceptible to hex removal. Now, players can wait until a target has multiple conditions and use this to add immediate Daze while still getting the hex effect (potentially spreading Daze through the ranks like wildfire). Recurring Insecurity has had a number of abuse issues, mainly when combined with Soul Barbs. This had caused us to reduce it to unusable levels. By rate-limiting when the hex can reapply itself, we can again make it a usable, fire-and-forget degeneration hex.
Power Leech was supposed to function as an Elite Power Drain, but always was inferior to it instead. Reducing the Energy cost to 5 lets players use it when they need Energy, while the drastically increased Energy return coupled with the Energy denial makes Power Leech have huge potential, especially in hex-heavy teams.
Mesmer snares have paled in comparison to Water Magic for some time, making an Elite Illusion snare an unlikely choice. We've updated this to a universal slowing effect that is useful to cast on any enemy. This keeps it from directly competing with Elementalists for slowing capability, bringing something unique to the table.
Symbols of Inspiration was reworked not only to copy an enemy's Elite, but to assure that copied spells will be cast at an attribute level that makes them useful. Advanced strategies could feature this skill as a way to get a commonly-used Elite onto a profession that normally could not support it.
Monk Elites are a very delicate balance. They have to be very powerful to compete with other Elites, but not too powerful lest they bog the game down with too much defense. We chose a few skills that we were sure very few players used and gave them new roles that will allow them to compete with current favorites without raising the bar on Monk power.
Monks with strong Energy management are dangerous, a fact that has kept us from making Boon Signet and Peace and Harmony more powerful. We decided to change Boon Signet from Energy gain to a cheap, reusable heal that allows Monks to set up for a big burst of healing, provided they can plan effectively. Peace and Harmony gets a new functionality entirely, being the last word in effect removal, with the added bonus of shortening incoming conditions and hexes. By removing their Energy management effects, these skills can now be improved to a level where Monks may consider them over other Elites.
Life Sheath's lack of good UI feedback to attackers made it frustrating, while its numbers made it weak. We decided to, essentially, make it an elite version of Reversal of Fortune which both heals for more and removes conditions. This allows Monks to compress their bar without needing a separate condition removal skill.
Ray of Judgment was undesirable by almost all standards previously. We've changed it into an elite version of Symbol of Wrath, making it targetable and adding Burning with each pulse.
When working with the Necromancer Elites, we've taken great care to add something Necromancer players will covet, without promoting additional skills that can spike when used in multiplicity. Additionally, we've wanted to avoid long-duration, high-effect hexes, which previously homogenized Guild Battles and slowed the game to a halt.
Simply put, when reworking Aura of the Lich, we started with thematics: What does a lich do? This led us to an elite Animate Bone Horror spell, raising a minion even with no corpse present, and potentially creating an army in a single spell. We feel this will have applications in certain PvP formats and, beyond that, very fun to use.
Cultist's Fervor's downside has been toned down significantly by converting it to self-inflicted Bleeding instead of Health sacrifice. With this change, casting repeatedly will not have much more effect than casting a spell every 10 seconds, encouraging Necromancers to use as many spells as possible during its duration. Additionally, the Bleeding effect should have some synergy with skills that transfer conditions to foes.
Lingering Curse was always hard to improve, as it risked becoming a very powerful spike-enabling skill. We've eliminated the enchantment removal to circumvent this problem and have added area-effect and Health degeneration to give it a more natural role in hex builds.
Because Weaken Knees provided knockdown to a profession that did not normally have this ability, it was difficult to make it powerful enough to be useful without breaking inter-profession dynamics. We've changed it to simply punish moving foes with damage while providing a constant Health degeneration. This skill should now have the same flavor as the original intent: discouraging the target from moving, but staying within the realm of Necromancer functionality.
We've taken this opportunity to completely rework two Paragon elites that were greatly weakened in the past due to PvP imbalance. "Incoming!" was a skill whose design would only allow it to be overpowered or weak previously. We've changed this skill to act as an Elite version of "Fall Back!", a skill that's flexible and interesting. Similarly, Angelic Bond was either frustrating for opponents or undesirable for those using it. We've now made it so can protect well from spikes but crumbles in heavier pressure situations.
"It's Just a Flesh Wound!" has had its drawback removed, something that only limited the skill's potential. Now, it doubles as both condition removal and a single-target run speed increase. This allows condition-stacked allies to get back to safety and heal up before re-engaging the enemy.
Ranger Elites are similar to Monk Elites in that Rangers already rely on a few staple Elites that have strong effects. New Elites need to offer alternatives to these by either allowing the character to play a different role, or play the same one in a different way. Archer's Signet is an example of this philosophy, supporting condition-spreading builds by increasing the durations of all conditions caused with a bow. Our aim is for this to work well with common skills like Apply Poison and Hunter's Shot while also making less-commonly used skills like Concussion Shot more attractive.
Strike as One now lets Rangers control their pet's location much more effectively and provides a strong, multi-condition application for beastmasters, something that hasn't been readily available.
When looking at Trap-heavy builds, we found that neither Trapper's Focus nor Spike Trap were desirable Elites - even in builds specifically designed to function well with them. Trapper's Focus is now much easier to maintain, which we believe was the weakness of the skill. Spike Trap now pulses its damage and knockdown, making it have much more synergy with other pulsing damage traps and increasing its overall effectiveness.
Ritualist bundles have worked best when they can be held for a long time and then have a different effect when dropped. We've taken that approach with Destructive was Glaive, encouraging people to leverage its armor penetration quality and properly time the area-effect damage when dropped. Additionally, we've removed the needless contingencies on the skill to make it more straightforward.
Clamor of Souls is basically reworked to function as an alternative to Caretaker's Charge; the primary difference is that Clamor of Souls is area-effect. This is mainly to promote a bit of diversity within the existing Ritualist builds that we consider well-balanced.
Although there is a particular set of Elite Warrior skills that are favored in competitive play, this profession is fairly versatile and provides a lot of opportunities for interesting Elites. To start, we thought it would be fun to add an Elite version of Bull's Strike. Enraged Smash was ineffective, lacked versatility, and encouraged players not use the other skills on their bar. It seemed like a great candidate to switch over to this functionality.
Primal Rage, even if properly balanced, did not encourage fun play because it didn't work with attack skills. We've reworked it to be an Elite version of another popular skill, Frenzy, coupling movement speed in with the increased attack speed. This allows for skill bar compression and makes it possible for a Warrior to maintain a constant run speed increase if alternated with Rush or Sprint.
Whirling Axe's previous effect was unimpressive and even imposed an additional punishment on the user if blocked. Instead, we made Whirling Axe much like an Elite Wild Blow, without the drawback of using all the Warrior's adrenaline and not costing any Energy. This aims to open up additional ways to deal with blocking and stances.
We went for a PvE-oriented treatment of Hundred Blades, providing sword Warriors with a good tool for repeatedly dealing point-blank area-effect damage. This can either stack with similar effects typically provided by a secondary profession, or open up the player's secondary to a wider range of options.