Welcome to the Scrying Pool, my Guild Wars 2 column here on Mattsta.Ninja. This article is the next in a series of reviews for everything Heart of Thorns. So far I have talked about the personal story, the open world maps and their rewards and the guild halls, scribe and guild hall rewards. Today I’ll focus on one of the major features of HoT, Elite Specializations.
Elite Specializations are an extension of the 9 professions that players choose when first creating a character. When I was speculating what we were going to see with elite specializations months before the launch of HoT, I was thinking that elite specs were going to try and fill the gaps that each profession had. For Mesmer, I thought that this was a lack of straight offense on the right side of their bar.
What Elite Specializations ended up being however, was slightly different. Each of the elite specs offers a different game play, most of which were areas that the profession was previously missing. These areas fall into three categories—Damage, Support and Tank—and hybrids of these. Below are each of the professions and the categories I see them fitting into:
- Guardian — Damage
- Revenant — Support
- Warrior — Damage
- Engineer — Damage/Tank
- Ranger — Support
- Thief — Damage/Tank
- Elementalist — Damage/Support
- Mesmer — Damage/Tank/Support
- Necromancer — Damage
Each of these I think are pretty good elite specs. The ones that fall short currently are Thief and Engineer as nothing really needs a true tank currently and Thief’s evasion tank might be too unruly to ever get much use.
There are other elite specs that while good missed the mark a little bit on what the class needed. Necromancer is a perfect example, as the class was missing some good damage output. The class however, is also missing a good way to support other players which is leaving it out of many raid compositions. While I really like the Reaper, it might have been better for the profession to get a more hybrid Damage/Support spec.
Then there are some elite specs which just end up being too good. Mesmer is the only thing on the list with three different categories, getting some nice damage boost out of wells and traits like Chronophantasm, tank through some wells and the elite specs shield and support through wells, the shield and Alacrity. What is possibly worse is that it ends up doing all of these areas really well with the right rotations without needing to spec differently for each category. I think ArenaNet might have realized this before they put out the strong nerf to alacrity which reduced some of the support that Chronomancers are putting out.
The other really strong elite spec is the Glint stance for Revenant. Being all upkeeps and boon duration output, the class is able to easily upkeep many of the boons that required specialized builds and rotations to get anywhere close. Get a Herald and a Chronomancer together and you end up with a powerhouse of party support that isn’t going to get replaced without some major nerfs or reworks. Even with the huge nerf to alacrity, this combo is still a must have for raid groups.
While I have not PvP’d much since HoT came out, it sounds like most of the elite specs are really strong. The only real downside to this is that some of these strengths sound like they come in the form of gimmicks with infinite bunker Chronomancers and “It’s a Trap!” Dragonhunters highlighting the cheese. Outside of these it sounds like the elite specs did a good job of shaking up the meta, though some more fine tuning could be needed to further balance things out.
I think that Elite Specs being a must have for most of the professions and feeling incredibly powerful is intended. While right now it almost gives a feeling of no choice, these are ‘Elite’ specs and should be powerful to match. A consequence that we haven’t witnessed yet is that you can only have one elite spec equipt at a time. I think the feeling of no choice is because there really isn’t supposed to be much of a choice there until we get the next round of elite specs. Instead of deciding between vanilla Thief and the Daredevil, players might eventually just be deciding between Daredevil and the Shadowknight.
The only major problem I have with the elite specializations is the process of unlocking them. Characters must have all of the non-elite specializations by spending hero points to unlock all of the core skills and traits for the profession. After this elite specializations are unlocked in the same way as core abilities, just put hero points in to collect all of the skills and traits for that elite spec. Outside of a unique weapon and armor reward for starting and finishing the unlock of an elite spec, the only real difference is that the elite spec requires a lot more hero points to unlock than any line of core abilities.
At 250 hero points, fully unlocking an elite specialization takes much more effort than the core abilities that would come out to about 85 hero points for a comparable amount of skills and traits. And this is the nerfed value as the launch of HoT saw players needing a whopping 400 hero points in order to fully unlock a single elite spec.
I like the nerf to the amount of the hero points needed for elite specializations. As ArenaNet stated when they made the change, players were looking forward to equipping these elite specializations and then going out into the jungle to face the new challenges. With a 400 hero point requirement however, players would have been left doing the opposite as they faced the jungle’s challenges before they had the points to unlock the elite specialization.
This change did have a few oddities because of it. Players now end up going into the HoT personal story on their brand new abilities just to see their NPC allies still rocking the core set of abilities for their profession. I think the NPCs slow adoption of elite specs was intentional to match the players similar inability to fully equip their elite specialization until after they had likely finished the story. I imagine by the time the next season of the Living World rolls out later this year we will see our NPC allies using the new specializations alongside the players.
The idea of having players take a while to get their new elite specialization isn’t too weird. I am glad they made the change to make them more accessible, but not because of any sense of time commitment. Going into an expansion you are going to have lots players that want to choose their own focus on which area of the expansion they pursue first, whether that be unlocking their profession’s new goodies, exploring new areas or rushing through the story. Many hero points being locked behind the new mastery system would have made 400 points challenging to do without first doing everything else. Those players that wanted to focus on unlocking the elite spec would have been out of luck.
Instead of requiring an essentially random number of hero points, I was hoping that unlocking the elite specialization would have been more of a driven experience. This could have been done in a couple of different ways.
First is the story driven approach, where each elite specialization had a short side story that they could follow which would slowly—or even all at once at the end—unlock their elite specialization. The biggest problem with this is the extra amount of effort it would have taken to implement. Not only would it have been extra story—and likely more NPCs and instances to tell that story—there would need to be 9 different stories that needed to be told.
The second is to have a collection for each of the elite specializations. Before HoT came out we were able to see a glimpse of the achievements panel during one of ArenaNet’s livestream. On the stream you could see that there was a new category for collections simply called Specialization Collections. My speculation at the time had been that players would need to go out and do things on a profession that would eventually complete the collection for that profession and unlock the elite specialization. As we now know, those collections were for the ascended version of the unique elite specialization weapons. Even the specialization collections were subpar to what I was hoping for in an elite spec unlock collection. While I think that this would have been easier than the story driven approach, it would have had the same problem of requiring much more development time to implement for all 9 professions.
What I liked about both of these however, is that they could have been set up to allow players more choice in where they focused their efforts. Instead of diving into the HoT story, I could have chosen to start my journey with the Mesmer’s Chronomancer story or collection.
It would have been really interesting to meet a hermit in the jungle that had a bunch of strange quirks but knew all of these secret techniques to improve our abilities. Even at its worst it would have been better than putting a bunch of meaningless points into a random elite spec bucket.
The Scrying Pool Reviews Heart of Thorns:
- One HoT Story — Personal Story
- Map Meta — Open World Maps and their Meta Events
- The Grind — Open World Rewards
- Guild Wasteland — Guild Halls and Scribing
- Guild Hall…Rewards? — Rewards Purchased Through Guild Halls
- Bucket of Elite Specs — General look at Elite Specializations
- The Mattsta-ry System — General thoughts on the new Mastery System
- The Fractals and a Raid — Some simple thoughts on the instanced group content of HoT
- Fix-r-Upper — The small stuff ArenaNet can still fix with HoT