Developer Update - February 2010 Skill Balances
This is the major playbalance update we announced a few months back. In addition to changes to Shadow Form, this update includes several other sets of changes to address a range of balance issues. The end result is one of the largest skill updates we've ever released. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Test Krewe and the team, we were able to test and implement changes targeting the following areas:
- Shadow Form and Invulnerability
- Hammer Mastery in PvE
- Ritualist in Endgame PvE
- Tactics Rework
- Blood Magic Rework
- Other Balance Issues
- Changes Since the Preview
 Shadow Form and Invulnerabilty
Shadow Form was grossly overpowered. For the most part, players could agree that the skill needed to be changed. Indeed, many of you expressed a desire to simply see the skill nerfed into oblivion. This is not the approach we've chosen to take. In order to avoid this sort of situation in the future, we decided to not just look at changing Shadow Form to something not ridiculously overpowered but to more clearly establish guidelines for what is and isn't in-bounds for Guild Wars. In doing so, we found that we would need to alter a few other skills, namely Obsidian Flesh, Spell Breaker and Holy Wrath.
Early on, we decided that anything that was unreasonable for a Shadow Form character to do must also be unreasonable for Smiters, Obsidian Flesh characters, 55 farmers, 105 farmers, Defy Pain warriors, etc. Anything we were willing to let those characters do, we should be willing to let a Shadow Form character do. In making these comparisons, we tried to evaluate builds and characters, not just individual skills. Obsidian Flesh had some inherent advantages with many strong Earth Magic skills that fit in well with farming and tanking concepts. Smiting characters had easy access to Protection Prayers. Defy Pain Warriors had some decent Strength skills but less energy and flexibility. Some key skills could be used well on secondary professions. Others could not. There were a lot of factors to evaluate. As you'll see from the very short list of changed skills, we determined that most of these characters were fine. Casual farming is fine. Tanking with monk support is also fine. Using a diverse and sophisticated team build to work get through endgame content more efficiently than the norm is also fine.
Ultimately, we focused on the lack of trade-offs in builds centered around Shadow Form and, to a lesser degree, other sources of invulnerability. All builds should have trade-offs. Extreme defense should come at the price of offense. Extreme offense should come at the cost of defense. The most efficient characters for solo-farming should differ somewhat from the best characters for team play. The best team builds for clearing endgame content efficiently should not consist almost exclusively of a single profession. (For example, a 5-Obsidian-Flesh-Elementalist/3-Monk team that can clear the Underworld is fine, but a build like that should not feel like it's a significantly better way to play than using a more balanced team.) In addition, we've maintained our stance that endgame content should not be completed so easily or so quickly that it becomes trivialized. All of our changes are geared toward reinforcing those principles.
- Shadow Form: decreased Energy cost to 5; decreased recharge to 30; changed functionality to: "Elite Enchantment Spell. For 5...18...21 seconds, you cannot be the target of enemy spells, and you gain 5 damage reduction for each Assassin enchantment on you. You cannot deal more than 5...21...25 damage with a single skill or attack."
No build in Guild Wars is completely invulnerable, but Shadow Form came closer than anything else, providing blanket protection against both attacks and spells. Further, by packaging both of these extreme effects in a single skill, a lot of skill slots and attribute points were left over for damage, utility or anything and everything else. This change provides only one half of that equation, though it also adds some damage reduction when combined with additional Assassin enchantments, such as Feigned Neutrality or even Way of the Master. This is a very strong skill that can be used for both tanking and farming, but has damage-dealing restrictions that limit offensive output. We chose this approach because we saw value in preserving endgame team builds based on having one tank and several damage dealers. After much discussion and testing, it was clear that the key to allowing this kind of play was having a skill or two providing permanent spell-immunity since spell-immunity both prevents damage and protects the other defensive effects that keep the tank alive. With these changes, we've tried to make a powerful, versatile and interesting skill that can be used well in a few situations but does not overshadow other character types in general usage.
- Obsidian Flesh: Obsidian Flesh: increased Energy cost to 25; removed the movement penalty; changed functionality to: "Elite Enchantment Spell. For 8...18...20 seconds, you gain +20 armor and cannot be the target of enemy spells, but cannot attack and have -2 Energy degeneration."
Obsidian Flesh is a popular skill for both farming and endgame content, especially as an endgame tank supported by monks to provide permanent, near-invulnerability. Indeed, as we tested a variety of changes to Shadow Form and found them to be insufficient, we often tried to make equivalently overpowered builds with Obsidian Flesh and rarely had a problem doing so. It became clear that we would either need to also make changes to Obsidian Flesh or changes to Shadow Form would have been merely to address a very narrow part of the issue (or worse, simply for the sake of appearance). We've increased the Energy cost, added -2 Energy degeneration and removed the ability to attack in order to limit this character's offensive potential. At the same time, we've eliminated the movement penalty. Due to the Elementalist's numerous tools for energy management, this apparently drastic set of changes does not actually alter this character's effectiveness in solo farming very much, especially now that the character can move at full speed (or faster!). At the same time, due to the presence of skills like Balthazar's Spirit and Mantra of Earth, which provide energy to a character under attack, the changes have little negative impact on Obsidian Flesh tanks.
- Holy Wrath: removed upkeep cost; reduced casting time to 1 second. Functionality changed to: "Enchantment Spell. (10...26...30 seconds). The next 1...8...10 times target other ally takes attack damage, this Spell deals 66% of the damage back to the source (maximum of 5...41...50 damage)."
- Spell Breaker: changed functionality to: "Elite Enchantment Spell. For 5...15...17 seconds, target ally cannot be the target of enemy spells."
The previous version of Holy Wrath could only be used in specially-tailored builds due to the extreme energy loss caused by the skill, but it was a very powerful farming skill when used effectively. In looking at the issue of invulnerability-based builds, we found that Holy Wrath was so effective that it compensated for the short duration of Spell Breaker, essentially killing foes so quickly that a character could count on being spell immune while in combat. This new version is still very powerful but cannot be used against an infinite number of attacks. Since it is no longer maintained and must be re-cast periodically, it should call for somewhat more active play as well. In order to remove the energy loss from Holy Wrath without making the skill overpowered in a new way, we've restricted the skill to only target other allies now. The Spell Breaker change makes the skill consistent with other skills granting spell immunity. It will now prevent spell casting rather than allowing enemies to spend time casting and to pay the costs of a spell only to have it fail. Making this change was more a matter of keeping the game consistent than trying to balance 600-Smite, but we're mentioning it here because it is used in some 600-Smite builds.
We know that some people will question the decision to nerf more than just Shadow Form. Certainly, questions about this arose during our internal discussions. Ultimately, we thought it was far worse to nerf Shadow Form while leaving in place other overpowered combinations, perhaps not yet discovered by players, and set ourselves up to have to nerf these other skills later, after players had spent time, energy, and plat to outfit and develop the new overpowered characters. While we know it will not be possible to predict all of the clever combinations that players may invent, we have tried to set a clearer precedent for which kinds of characters we will preserve and which kinds we will need to change.
 Hammer Mastery in PvE
Hammer Mastery suffered from a number of issues that made it difficult to choose hammers over other Warrior weapons. The combination of high adrenaline costs, slow attack rate, and battles ending relatively quickly in PvE made it hard to use skills effectively before a battle ended, and having these slower skills and attacks blocked felt much harsher. Also, the most effective hammer skills have conditional bonuses when used with knockdown and Weakness, but Hammer Mastery has few ways to inflict Weakness. Further, Hammer Mastery lost its monopoly on knockdown (due to PvE skills that knockdown), robbing it of that unique role. Finally, taking a hammer means having lower AL, which is an especially meaningful downside in PvE, where the sheer number of foes can be very large.
 Underpowered Skills
- Backbreaker: reduced adrenaline cost to 9 strikes. Functionality changed to: "Elite Hammer Attack. If Backbreaker hits, you strike for +1...16...20 damage and your target is knocked down. This knockdown lasts 4 seconds if you have at least 8 Strength."
- Crude Swing: removed the following functionality: "You have -40 armor while using this skill."
Backbreaker's high adrenaline cost made it difficult to use regularly and made being blocked feel even worse. We've reduced the adrenaline cost to 9 and added a Strength requirement, restricting the increased knockdown duration to primary Warriors to remove this from Assassin gimmick builds. For Crude Swing, we've decided to simply remove the armor penalty. We think this is necessary, given the lower armor of hammer Warriors and the number of creatures that deal high damage in PvE.
Two of the skills we wanted to improve would give hammers better ways to inflict Weakness.
- Forceful Blow: reduced adrenaline cost to 4 strikes. Functionality changed to: "Elite Hammer Attack. Unblockable. If Forceful Blow hits, your target's stance ends, you strike for +10...34...40 damage, and your target is Weakened for 5...17...20 seconds."
- Staggering Blow: reduced adrenaline cost to 4 strikes; reduced activation time to 1 second.
Forceful Blow needed a lot of work. An Elite Hammer skill that doesn't cause knockdown has a lot of disadvantages to overcome. We've made the skill unblockable, reduced its adrenaline cost, removed its conditional drawback, and added stance removal, all while keeping the bonus damage and Weakness application. It now has a lot of upside to weigh against the lack of knockdown. In conjunction with some improvements to hammer skills used on foes suffering from conditions, we think this will make for some interesting build choices. We've also improved Staggering Blow, reducing its adrenaline cost and giving it a fast activation time. These are simple changes intended to make the skill more efficient, and the faster attack is something we've looked into adding to a few hammer skills to help compensate for the slower attack rate of hammers in general.
 Skills Benefiting from Knockdown
- Belly Smash: decreased recharge time to 10 seconds; decreased duration of Blindness to 3...6...7 seconds.
- Overbearing Smash: removed adrenaline cost; added Energy cost of 5; added recharge time of 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hammer Attack. Deals +1...16...20 damage. If it hits a knocked-down foe, this attack is unblockable and that foe is dazed for 1...7...8 seconds."
- Renewing Smash: reduced Energy cost to 5; reduced activation time to 1 second; increased recharge time to 30 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hammer Attack. If it hits, Renewing Smash deals +10...34...40 damage. If you hit a knocked-down foe, you gain 3 Energy and this skill instantly recharges."
- Renewing Smash (PvP): split for PvP; reduced Energy cost to 5; increased recharge time to 30 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hammer Attack. If it hits, Renewing Smash deals +5...17...20 damage. If you hit a knocked-down foe, you gain 3 Energy and this skill instantly recharges."
With fast activation time and a powerful effect when used on a knocked-down foe, Belly Smash already fit the basic approach we've taken to improving hammers in PvE. We've reduced the recharge time significantly to address the only remaining weakness in the skill. The Blindness duration was lowered a bit to prevent permanent Blindness application. Overbearing Smash now provides very strong benefits when used against a knocked-down foe. Its cost was changed from adrenaline to Energy so that it will be available immediately after a knockdown, and it has been given an appropriate recharge time to match its powerful effect. We've also reworked Renewing Smash as a skill that provides a strong payoff for knocking down foes. Nearly free when used in this way, it deals hefty damage, strikes quickly, and recharges instantly. This is a prime example of what these changes are attempting to accomplish: even though there are now more ways, outside of Hammer Mastery, to knock enemies down, skills like Renewing Smash give hammer Warriors better ways to take advantage of these knockdowns. We have split this skill in PvP due to the differences in acceptable damage output between PvE and PvP, removing the fast attack and decreasing the bonus damage.
 Skills Working with Conditions
We're also increasing the payoff for attacking foes with conditions.
- Auspicious Blow: reduced adrenaline cost to 5 strikes. Functionality changed to: "Hammer Attack. Deals +5...17...20 damage and you gain 3...7...8 Energy. Unblockable if target foe is Weakened."
- Fierce Blow: functionality changed to: "Hammer Attack. If this attack hits, you strike for +5...17...20 damage. If you hit a foe suffering from Weakness, you inflict a Deep Wound for 1...7...8 seconds."
- Yeti Smash: increased adrenaline cost to 7; decreased activation time to 1 second; changed functionality to: "Hammer Attack. Lose all adrenaline. Attack all adjacent foes. If this attack strikes a foe suffering from a condition, that foe is knocked down. (50% failure chance with Hammer Mastery 4 or less.)"
Auspicious Blow already provided a conditional benefit when used against a weakened foe, but the basic effect of the skill was rather weak, and the conditional bonus was not exciting enough to compensate. With a lower adrenaline cost, unconditional bonus damage, and Energy gain, it's a much more viable skill that adds a decent bonus against Weakened foes. We've adjusted Fierce Blow to provide a greater reward for hitting Weakened foes. With the new and improved Crude Swing already providing a strong AoE hammer attack, we decided to rework Yeti Smash as another skill that rewards condition spreading. This new version is essentially a non-elite version of Earth Shaker. The condition prerequisite works well with the improved Belly Smash and Staggering Blow.
 Fighting without a Shield
- Dwarven Battle Stance: reduced Energy cost to 5. Functionality changed to: "Elite Stance. For 5...10...11 seconds, if you are wielding a hammer, you attack 33% faster, you gain +40 armor, and your attack skills interrupt foes when they hit."
The quirky elite skill Dwarven Battle Stance gave us a chance to provide a skill that addressed some of the downsides of using a hammer directly. This skill now gives bonus armor and faster attack while providing the ability to interrupt foes when using a skill. The interruption keeps it similar to the old functionality, but it adds the positive effect of encouraging skill use rather than ending on skill use.
 Ritualists in Endgame PvE
Although the Ritualist has a few very powerful skills for endgame PvE, many Ritualist skills are of little use there. We believe that part of this is that the high armor of endgame creatures makes lightning damage weak, especially without armor penetration, and that the damage output of endgame creatures makes most spirits difficult to keep around.
We've taken a multifaceted approach to addressing these weaknesses. First, we've improved Ritualist options for hexes, Health degeneration, and armor-ignoring damage. Second, we've improved many of the skills that deal lightning damage and increased the Ritualist's ability to inflict Cracked Armor as well as add armor penetration to their lightning damage. Finally, we've examined many of the skills used to enable and empower spirit usage and improved them as well.
 Hexes and Armor-Ignoring Damage
We're introducing several changes to allow stronger hexes, Health degeneration, and armor-ignoring damage by Ritualists. To keep a clean and clear distinction between which types of damage ignore armor and which types deal lighting damage, we've kept lightning damage to direct spells and used hexes, spirits, and enchantments for armor-ignoring damage.
- Ancestors' Rage: increased recharge to 10 seconds; damage now ignores armor.
- Destruction: increased Energy cost to 10; increased recharge time to 20 seconds; changed damage increase to "5...21...25 damage for each second the spirit was alive (maximum: 150)."
- Destruction (PvP): increased Energy cost to 10; increased recharge time to 20 seconds; changed damage increase to "1...8...10 damage for each second the Spirit was alive (maximum: 150)."
- Spirit Burn: increased Burning duration to 1...4...5 seconds.
The changes to Ancestor's Rage and Spirit Burn are straightforward buffs to the Ritualist's ability to bypass armor. Ancestor's Rage did get a slight recharge increase to balance its improved damage-dealing. The change to Destruction makes what was a quirky armor-ignoring skill significantly easier to use.
- Anguished Was Lingwah: reduced Energy cost to 5; reduced casting time to 2 seconds; moved to Spawning Power attribute. Functionality changed to: "Item Spell. (10...50...60 seconds). Your Ritualist hexes cost 1...4...5 less Energy and last 33% longer. Drop Effect: your Ritualist hexes are all recharged."
- Binding Chains: reduced Energy cost to 10; reduced activation to 1 second; reduced recharge to 15 seconds; changed functionality to: "Hex Spell. For 3 seconds, target foe and all nearby foes move 90% slower and take 1...24...30 damage each second while moving."
- Dulled Weapon: increased Energy cost to 15; increased recharge time to 20 seconds; reduced duration to 5...13...15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hex Spell. For 5...13...15 seconds, target foe and all adjacent foes cannot achieve a critical hit and deal 1...12...15 less damage."
- Lamentation: increased Energy cost to 10; decreased recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hex Spell. For 5...17...20 seconds, target foe and all nearby foes suffer 0...2...3 Health degeneration. When this hex is applied, these foes take 10...42...50 damage if you are within earshot of a spirit or corpse."
- Renewing Surge: increased recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Hex Spell. (8 seconds.) Deals 2...10...12 damage each second. End effect: You gain 1...7...8 Energy."
These are some of the most dramatic changes to the Ritualist. We've reworked Anguished Was Lingwah as a very powerful skill that makes Ritualist hexes much more efficient. Along with this change, Lamentation and Renewing Surge have been converted to hexes, and a few existing hexes have been improved. Both of the mentioned skills deal armor-ignoring damage. Lamentation adds Health degeneration to that while Renewing Surge provides Energy gain.
For existing hexes, Binding Chains received a bit of a rework. It has an extremely powerful effect but very short duration. Similarly, Dulled Weapon's effect was made much more powerful with the addition of damage reduction. Both of these have had costs and recharge times adjusted to compensate.
As a side benefit, this set of changes allowed us to correct a naming inconsistency for us. Previously Anguished Was Lingwah created a Spirit of Pain rather than a Spirit of Anguish as you might expect. The new behavior is also fitting, since the Spirit of Anguish has a conditional effect related to hexes.
 Lightning Damage and Armor Penetration
We didn't want our changes to Health degeneration and armor-ignoring damage to completely overshadow all of the lightning damage available to Ritualists. With this in mind, we've increased options for armor penetration and for applying Cracked Armor. We've also reviewed the Ritualist's lighting-damage skills in general.
- Cruel Was Daoshen: increased casting time to 2 seconds; increased recharge time to 30 seconds; decreased damage to 10...82...100; added functionality: "Your Ritualist skills have 10% armor penetration."
- Destructive Was Glaive: decreased Energy cost to 5; decreased casting time to 3/4 second; decreased recharge time to 5 seconds; increased armor penetration to 20%.
- Destructive Was Glaive (PvP): split for PvP.
These changes greatly strengthen the armor penetration available to Ritualists. We made some minor adjustments to casting times, damage, and recharge as well to make sure these two skills were balanced against each other properly.
- Gaze from Beyond: reduced casting time to 1 second. Functionality changed to: "Spell. Target foe is struck for 20...56...65 lightning damage. That foe is Blinded for 2...5...6 seconds if you are within earshot of a spirit."
- Spirit Boon Strike: reduced Energy cost to 5; reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge time to 3 seconds; reduced damage to 20...56...65; reduced healing to 20...56...65; changed to affect "Your spirits within earshot."
- Spirit Rift: functionality changed to: "Spell. Open a Spirit Rift at target foe's location. After 3 seconds, all adjacent foes are struck for 25...113...135 lightning damage and suffer from Cracked Armor for 1...16...20 seconds."
Increasing the actual damage for these skills would have given them a single purpose with little to differentiate them from one another (and would have make them too effective at spiking foes in PvP). Instead, we've increased the utility on each of these skills and adjusted numbers accordingly. Gaze from Beyond provides a new way for Ritualists to blind foes. Spirit Boon Strike has been adjusted to be more focused on healing spirits. We added the "your spirits" clause here to prevent this skill from being too powerful when used with multiple Ritualists. Spirit Rift now applies Cracked Armor, allowing all your other lightning-damage skills to start dealing more damage.
 Spirits and Energy
Several Ritualist skills have existed primarily as a way to address the long casting and recharge times for spirits. Since making wholesale changes to casting times for spirits, it no longer makes sense for these skills to serve such a purpose. We've taken this as an opportunity to get something more interesting out of these skills. We're also using this as an opportunity to open up Energy-management options just a bit.
- Ritual Lord: removed Energy cost; added Health sacrifice of 2%; increased recharge time to 45 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Elite Skill. For 5...29...35 seconds, your Ritualist attributes are boosted by 2...4...4 for your next skill. If that skill is a Binding Ritual, it recharges 10...51...60% faster and Ritual Lord recharges instantly."
- Ritual Lord (PvP): removed PvP version.
- Signet of Spirits: decreased damage to 5...21...25; increased recharge time to 30 seconds.
- Soul Twisting: moved to Spawning Power attribute; functionality changed to "Elite Skill. For 5...37...45 seconds, your Binding Rituals cost 15 less Energy (minimum 10) and recharge instantly. Soul Twisting ends after 1...3...3 Binding Rituals."
Ritual Lord now provides a way to create more powerful spirits with faster than normal recharge. It's low cost, and the conditional instant-recharge allows you to use this skill on every spirit you summon. Soul Twisting provides a way to chain-cast spirits that may need to be recast multiple times, such as some of the expensive damage-absorbing spirits which take damage while they prevent it. With many of the changes in this update making the Channeling Magic line even stronger, a slight adjustment to Signet of Spirits was needed. It still remains a very powerful skill.
- Signet of Creation: reduced recharge time to 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "You gain 4 Energy for every summoned creature you control within earshot, maximum 3...10...12."
- Signet of Creation (PvP): removed PvP version.
- Spirit Channeling: increased duration to 12 seconds; changed functionality to: "Elite Enchantment Spell. (12 seconds.) You have + 1...5...6 Energy regeneration. Initial effect: you gain 3...10...12 Energy if you are within earshot of a spirit."
Signet of Creation was reworked to provide a little more Energy management to a profession that is often sorely in need of more Energy. Spirit Channeling was adjusted to make it more competitive with Offering of Spirit. Of these two elites, Spirit Channeling now has slightly better Energy return overall, balanced by the fact that it is a bit more dependent on having a spirit in order to be effective and, as an enchantment, it is vulnerable to being removed.
 Tactics Rework
Tactics is the least exciting Warrior attribute and primarily sees use as a secondary attribute on other classes. There simply isn't room on a fun-to-play skill bar for the high number of purely defensive skills this attribute line has to offer. Aside from the occasional key skill used for farming or tanking, defensive skills don't have much place on a Warrior's skill bar, especially considering the high AL that Warriors get from their armor and shields. Additionally, the Energy requirements for many Tactics skills makes them better fits for other professions. Finally, many of the skills are very specialized in function, which keeps them from being useful in most situations.
 Tactical Offense
- Auspicious Parry: functionality changed to: "Elite Stance. For 8 seconds, the next attack against you is blocked. When this stance ends, you gain 1...3...4 strikes of adrenaline."
- Defensive Stance: changed costs to 5 strikes of adrenaline; reduced recharge time to 8 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Stance. For 1...4...5 seconds, you have a 75% chance to block. When this stance ends, gain 1 strike of adrenaline for each melee attack skill you have (maximum 0...3...4)."
- Deflect Arrows: changed cost to 5 strikes of adrenaline; increased recharge time to 12 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Stance. For 1...5...6 seconds, you have a 75% block chance. Whenever you block a projectile, adjacent foes suffer from Bleeding for 5...13...15 seconds."
- Thrill of Victory: functionality changed to: "Melee Attack. If this blow hits, you deal +20...36...40 damage. If you have more Health than target foe, you gain 1...2...2 strikes of adrenaline."
We shifted several defensive skills to feed into offense in some way. The elite skill Auspicious Parry now provides adrenaline when it ends, even if it didn't block anything. Defensive Stance also provides adrenaline when it ends, although the amount depends on how many melee attack skills you have on your skill bar. Both of these can be used both for defense and to fuel adrenal attacks. Deflect Arrows has been changed to block all types of attacks, but now causes Bleeding to adjacent foes when you block projectiles. This gives it a built-in mix of offense and defense. Thrill of Victory has a strong unconditional damage bonus, but it also provides adrenaline if you hit a foe with less Health than you. This adrenaline boost should give it a more exciting role, letting players use Thrill of Victory to drive their other attack skills.
We improved one purely defensive skill without making it feed into offense.
- Shield Stance: functionality changed to: "Stance. For 1...5...6 seconds, while wielding a shield, you have a 75% chance to block and have two points of damage reduction for each rank of Strength (maximum 15)."
This change keeps Shield Stance as a very specialized skill, requiring a shield, Tactics, and Strength, but it grants very strong defensive bonuses.
 Soldier Skills and Shouts
- Soldier's Defense: increased recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Stance. For 1...5...6 seconds, you have a 75% chance to block attacks while under the effects of a shout or chant. You gain 1 strike of adrenaline for each blocked attack."
- Soldier's Speed: reduced recharge time to 12 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Stance. For 3...15...18 seconds you move 15% faster. You move an additional 15% faster while affected by a chant or shout."
- Soldier's Stance: increased recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Elite Stance. For 5...13...15 seconds, you have a 75% chance to block. You attack 33% faster when under the effects of a chant or shout."
- Soldier's Stance (PvP): split for PvP.
Introduced during Nightfall, all of the "Soldier's" skills provide a bonus while under the effects of a chant or shout. Of these, only Soldier's Strike had a decent effect without the chant or shout, and it's no coincidence that only Soldier's Strike was considered a decent skill from that set. We've changed the others to fit this pattern, giving each of them some effect even when you are not under the effects of a chant or shout, and we've examined at the viability of these skills in general. Soldier's Defense was given strong adrenaline-building potential. Soldier's Speed now has a very favorable ratio of duration to recharge. Soldier's Stance has been changed to combine both blocking and faster attack. This change is only for PvE, since this combination, with almost permanent uptime, would prove too powerful in PvP.
At the same time, we saw the "Soldier's" skills as suffering from a lack of Warrior shouts with 100% uptime. We modified two skills to remedy this problem
- "Fear Me!": added functionality: "For 1...12...15 seconds, your melee attacks gain +5...25...30% critical chance against non-moving foes."
- "To the Limit!": reduced recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Shout. For each foe within earshot (maximum 1...5...6), you gain one strike of adrenaline. For 10...18...20 seconds, you have +10...50...60 Health."
The Energy loss from "Fear Me!" was nerfed multiple times over the years, leaving the skill without a strong purpose. We've given it a very appealing bonus of increased critical hits against non-moving foes. The effect from "To the Limit!" was already useful, so we've combined that initial adrenaline gain with a modest Health buff. We've adjusted the times of both skills so that they can be kept active all the time.
We also took a look at Tactics shouts in general.
"Charge!" was always a niche elite skill, but with the numerous improvements to run buffs over the years and with the number of shout run buffs for Paragons, it's really lost its value. Adding a condition removal to the activation of this skill should give it a unique feel. "None Shall Pass!" already had a fun effect. We've adjusted the cost and added a condition for faster recharge to make it more efficient when used tactically.
 Knockdown Skills
- Grapple: functionality changed to: "Skill. You and target touched foe are knocked down. You lose your current stance."
- Shove: reduced recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Elite Skill. Target touched foe is knocked down. If that foe was moving, that foe's stance ends and that foe takes 15...63...75 damage before being knocked down."
We've made a change to the order of effects in Grapple, allowing you to use a stance that prevents knockdown to prevent Grapple from knocking you down. Shove has been reworked to combine many of the benefits of Bull's Strike and Wild Blow in a single skill worthy of elite status.
 Blood Magic Rework
The Blood Magic line was not very diverse, largely providing life stealing and Energy gain. Restricted by the need to keep Blood Spike in check, life stealing has limited application in most builds, and Energy gain is also something we keep a close eye on. With improvements to these effects not really an option, we decided to improve Blood Magic by diversifying the range of abilities and uses available to this attribute line.
We did not alter key skills involved in existing major uses for Blood Magic (blood spike, touch Rangers, bombers, and Energy gain), but we did change a number of existing skills to provide exciting new options.
 Blood Magic and Spellcasting
- Barbed Signet: increased Health sacrifice to 15%; decreased casting time to 1 second; decreased recharge to 10 seconds; changed functionality to: "Signet. (1...16...20 seconds.) Whenever you cast a Necromancer spell on a foe, that foe suffers from Bleeding for 2...13...16 seconds."
- Jaundiced Gaze: removed Health sacrifice; increased recharge time to 15 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Enchantment Spell. Remove an enchantment from target foe. If an enchantment was removed, for the next 1...12...15 seconds, your next enchantment spell casts 0...1...1 seconds faster and costs 1...8...10 less Energy."
- Necrosis: changed skill type to "Skill."
- Oppressive Gaze: reduced Energy cost to 10; reduced casting time to 1 second; increased recharge time to 10 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Spell. Target foe and adjacent foes take 10...26...30 shadow damage. Foes already suffering from a condition are Poisoned and Weakened for 5...17...20 seconds."
These are all new and powerful skills that should combine with many of the current ways that Necromancers are used. Barbed Signet adds condition-spreading and Health degeneration to any Blood Magic user. Jaundiced Gaze removes an enchantment and provides an interesting bonus that can fit into enchantment-heavy builds. Oppressive Gaze combines with the new and existing condition-spreading abilities of the Necromancer to strong effect. The Necrosis change is meant to keep the skill in check even with these new additions to Blood Magic. Necrosis was already a very powerful skill.
 Blood Magic and Physical Attackers
- Blood Bond: increased recharge time to 8 seconds; changed functionality to: "Hex Spell. Also hexes foes adjacent to your target (3...10...12 seconds). Allies hitting these foes gain 5...17...20 Health. If any of these foes dies while hexed, adjacent allies are healed for 20...84...100."
- Demonic Flesh: removed Health sacrifice; increased Energy cost to 5; decreased recharge to 30 seconds; changed functionality to: "Enchantment Spell. (30...54...60 seconds.) Whenever you use a skill that targets a foe, you deal 5...17...20 shadow damage to all other foes adjacent to you."
- Mark of Fury: reduced casting time to 3/4 second. Functionality changed to: "Hex Spell. (5 seconds.) Allies hitting target foe gain 0...2...2 strikes of adrenaline. End effect: inflicts Cracked Armor (1...12...15 seconds)."
Although Demonic Flesh will also work with characters that can manage frequent spellcasting, all of these skills are probably best suited to be used in conjunction with physical attackers. We view skills like these as an extension of the support role that the Necromancer can already play with skills like Order of Pain and Order of the Vampire. Blood Bond should be best in groups with a lot of physical attackers, while Demonic Flesh is meant for characters who get up close to the action and use skills frequently. Mark of Fury is maintaining its purpose as a hex providing adrenaline, but it should now have a very different feel. With a much shorter duration, it provides a burst of adrenaline and inflicts Cracked Armor when it ends, helping to secure the kill.
 Existing Skills
We also improved a few existing skill that were interesting in concept but too weak to be as useful as we'd like.
- Blood of the Aggressor: removed Health sacrifice; increased recharge time to 5 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Spell. Steal up to 5...37...45 Health from target foe. If that foe was attacking, that foe suffers Weakness for 3...10...12 seconds."
- Blood Renewal: reduced Health sacrifice to 15%; reduced recharge time to 7 seconds; reduced duration to 7 seconds.
- Life Siphon: reduced casting time to 1 second; increase recharge time to 5 seconds.
- Ravenous Gaze: added Health sacrifice of 8%; reduced Energy cost to 1; increased recharge time to 10 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Elite Spell. Deals 15...27...30 damage and steals 15...27...30 Health from target and nearby foes."
With Health sacrifice and conditional life stealing, Blood of the Aggressor was meant as a survival skill but had a bit of an identity crisis. The addition of Weakness, the unconditional Health steal, and the removal of Health sacrifice on this skill now all point it in the same direction: keeping the caster alive when under attack. The addition of condition spreading should also help this skill synergize with other Necromancer skills. The hefty Health sacrifice on Blood Renewal has always made it difficult to use. We've lowered the sacrifice to make this less of an issue and also decreased the recharge time and duration to make the heal when it ends more of a factor. Life Siphon has always been a core Necromancer skill in concept. We've dropped the casting time to 1 second to make it easier to use, especially on multiple targets. As an elite skill, Ravenous Gaze has a little more leeway to represent a change in what you can do as a Necromancer. This design makes it a powerful AoE skill that must be used wisely for maximum effect.
 Other Issues
As always, we will also try to address any individual balance problems as well, including attempting to correct problems caused by previous balance updates. In addition to the broader issues we're tackling with this balance update, there are a number of individual issues we'd like to address.
- Issues from Previous Updates: Soldier's Fury and heroes/henchmen; Crippling Shot; Heal as One, which wasn't updated to match the Comfort Animal change in PvE; pulsing damage-over-time hexes that do not ignore armor; Pious Concentration.
- GvG Issues: Featherfoot Grace; Light of Deliverance (PvP); Power Block; Primal Rage; Resilient Weapon.
- HA Issues: Shattering Assault Rangers.
 Issues with Previous Balance Updates
After the last update, in which we made Soldier's Fury repeatedly apply Cracked Armor to the character using it, players raised concerns about how this interacts with hero and henchman AI. These were very valid concerns, and we've changed both Soldier's Fury and the other Paragon skill with similar behavior, Aggressive Refrain, so that they provide a fixed -20 armor rather using Cracked Armor for a similar effect.
- Crippling Shot: increased Cripple duration to 1...8...10; removed the following functionality: "This arrow moves twice as fast."
We're also adjusting Crippling Shot, removing the faster arrow speed in favor of slightly longer Cripple duration. Although the skill was not severely overpowered with the addition faster arrow speed in the last update, we agreed with player sentiment that longer Cripple duration is a better change for the skill. Having its unblockable arrows move at normal speed will allow players to counter the skill through both dodging and interruption, while the longer Cripple duration helps counteract the increasingly common condition-reduction item bonuses in PvP.
- Heal as One: reduced recharge to 5 seconds; functionality changed to: "Elite Skill. For 15 seconds, your animal companion steals 1...16...20 Health whenever it hits with an attack. You and your companion are both healed for 20...87...104 Health. If your companion is dead, it�s resurrected with 50% Health. If you have this skill equipped, your companion will travel with you."
- Heal as One (PvP): split for PvP.
Never the strongest of Ranger elites in the first place, Heal as One was originally intended to provide some interesting bar compression by healing both the you and your pet with a single skill. After the change to the nonelite Comfort Animal a few updates back, which allowed you to bring a pet without having Charm Animal on your skill bar, Heal as One lost its bar compression advantage. These changes attempt to remedy that and make the skill better overall. It now provides life stealing for your pet, and its healing is no longer contingent on you or your pet being below 75% Health. As with the changes to Comfort Animal, these improvements to Heal as One do not apply to PvP, where having additional creatures on your team is a more significant advantage inherently.
- Glimmering Mark: damage is now armor-ignoring; reduced damage to 5...21...25 damage per second.
- Seeping Wound: fixed a bug that caused damage from Seeping Wound to be affected by armor; reduced casting time to 1/4 second. Functionality changed to: "Elite Hex Spell. For 1...6...7 seconds, target foe moves 50% slower. That foe takes 10...30...35 damage each second while suffering from a condition. This spell has half the normal range."
Glimmering Mark has been switched to deal armor-ignoring damage in order to make it more comparable to other damage-over-time hexes. Seeping Wound has undergone more significant changes. Because Assassin skill bars are typically very tight, Assassin elites must be very good in order to be considered. We've reworked Seeping Wound as a skill that makes it easier for an Assassin to catch an opponent, get into an attack chain quickly, and have the potential to kill a fleeing foe. To keep this strong combination of effects in check, this skill now has half range.
- Pious Concentration: increased Energy cost to 10; increased recharge time to 10 seconds.
We've altered the Energy cost and recharge on Pious Concentration to follow same line as our previous changes to Mantra of Resolve (PvP). Because Pious Concentration's enchantment removal limits the types of builds it can be used in, and because it is a Dervish skill rather than a skill belonging to a pure caster profession, we've given it a shorter recharge time than Mantra of Resolve (PvP).
 GvG Issues
Talking to the Test Krewe members about GvG, we've identified a number of skills to adjust.
- Featherfoot Grace: decreased condition expiration bonus to 25%.
- Light of Deliverance (PvP): added the following functionality: "All your Smiting Prayers are disabled for 20 seconds."
- Power Block: decreased disable time to 1...8...12 seconds.
- Primal Rage: removed Energy cost; added adrenaline cost of 4; decreased recharge to 10 seconds.
- Resilient Weapon: decreased duration to 3...10...12; increased recharge to 6 seconds.
Due to the prevalence of condition-duration reducing items now, the built-in reduction of Featherfoot Grace could make characters too resistant to Cripple and other conditions. Even with this change, the fast-casting, long-lasting enchantment should remain a very strong skill. Primal Rage is an amazing combination of increased movement speed and increased attack speed. With an Energy cost rather than an adrenal one, this skill was also available on demand. We've changed its cost to adrenaline to make it more similar to Rush in usage. Its recharge has been reduced to allow some time for building adrenaline again. Resilient Weapon was by far the longest-lasting defensive weapon spell. Since weapon spells cannot be removed, we believe their durations must be kept relatively short. We've altered this skill's duration and recharge time to bring it more in line with the others.
 HA Issues
Especially when used by Ranger/Assassins, Shattering Assault has been providing nearly nonstop damage and enchantment removal on characters highly resistant to the elemental damage so common in Heroes' Ascent. We've moved this skill to Critical Strikes and given it a modest recharge bump up to 6 seconds. In order to maintain some balance in distribution of elite skills, we've moved Fox's Promise to Dagger Mastery.
 Changes Since the Preview
As expected, we've made some changes to the update since the preview released last week. Here's a quick summary of the changes and the reasons behind them:
- "Fear Me!" had its critical hit bonus decreased to 5...25...30. This better balances it against other skills that increase critical hit chance.
- "Retreat!" was removed from the update. During our final phases of balance testing, we had still not gotten this skill to an acceptable state. We may still attempt to change this skill in a future update.
- Barbed Signet had its health sacrifice raised to 15%, its duration decreased to 1...16...20, and its bleeding duration decreased to 2...13...16. This is still a very powerful and very fun skill.
- Demonic Flesh now deals shadow damage instead of stealing health. Life stealing provided too much health gain when farming.
- Fierce Blow is not being split for PvP after all. After further testing, we found no issues with the PvE version in PvP.
- Heal as One had its recharge lowered to 5 and life stealing raised to 1...16...20 but its healing lowered to 20...87...104. In order for it to work as a healing skill, it needed to be available a little more often than the 8 second recharge allowed. The healing needed to be lowered accordingly. the life stealing numbers were increased to make the skill strong enough to justify its elite status.
- Light of Deliverance (PvP) was added to the update to address concerns about GvG support characters with strong smiting damage and party healing.
- Power Block was added to the update to allow more options for spellcasters in GvG.
- Primal Rage had its recharge lowered to 10 to allow some time for building adrenaline again.
- Resilient Weapon had its duration upped a bit to 3...10...12. Further testing showed the previous change (3...7...8) to be too harsh.
- Ritual Lord now raises your attributes 2...4...4 ranks. The effect from raising attributes a set 2 ranks was not strong enough to make this skill an exciting elite.
- Seeping Wound had its duration changed from a flat 6 seconds to 1...6...7 seconds. This limits the skill's usage as a snare to characters able to spec in Critical Strikes.
- Soul Twisting now works on the next 1...3...3 binding rituals and does not require you to be near a spirit. Because this skill now has a scaling value, we moved it to Spawning Power.
- Spirit Rift was changed to deal damage in a single hit, much as it did already, rather than dealing damage in multiple pulses. This preserves as much of the existing behavior and playbalance as possible while still adding Cracked Armor.
- Steelfang Slash was removed from the update. Further testing showed that combinations chaining Steelfang Slash and Backbreaker were still viable and could keep a character knocked down for an unreasonable amount of time.