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Developer Update - September 2012 Skill Balances
In this follow-up to the previous Elementalist update, we'd like to address some of the issues that came up with the last update and also fix a few more problems with non-elite skills that we didn't cover before. Due to the volume of changes, this developer update will not include explanations for all of the changes, instead touching on the general themes of this update with some examples from each category.
In the last Elementalist update, we provided lowered exhaustion costs to several skills in order to make the cost/effectiveness ratio more reasonable. However, it remained that exhaustion was a strict penalty that players tended to avoid. Like with the Teardown mechanic for Dervish, we wanted to provide options that made the exhaustion mechanic feel empowering. To do this, we changed several skills to gain bonus effects when the caster is exhausted. Since it wouldn't really make much sense linguistically for a skill to become better when a character is "exhausted," this update also changes the previous term "exhaustion" to "Overcast." We feel this term better reflects the new functionality, since it implies an increase in power but with an associated resource cost.
New Overcast Skills
For the new bonus effects of Overcast to work, there need to be solid skills that apply Overcast. While Air Magic has many options for quickly building Overcast, skills like Meteor Shower and Maelstrom in the Fire and Water lines couldn't be cast frequently enough to easily control your level of Overcast. Fortunately, the addition of the 5-point exhaustion packet in the last update gave us the ability to tweak some existing skills in these lines to provide fuel for the combo skills while also improving their power a bit.
Breath of Fire: reduced recharge to 10 seconds; now causes 10 points of Overcast.
With 10 points of Overcast, the effective recharge of Breath of Fire stays the same, but now it can be used more often if the player can pay the Overcast cost.
Incendiary Bonds: reduced cost to 10 Energy; reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 7 seconds; now causes 5 points of Overcast; added the following functionality: "Activates early if target foe dies."
Again, in the case of Incendiary Bonds, the effective recharge of the skill can stay the same while the introduction of Overcast allows us to improve some of the skill's other metrics. As a small bonus, we have also allowed this skill to deal the AoE damage if the foe dies before the hex expires.
Icy Prism: increased recharge to 5 seconds; now causes 5 points of Overcast; changed functionality to: "Target foe is struck for 15...75 cold damage. If that foe has a Water Magic hex, Icy Prism deals +15...75 cold damage to all other nearby foes.
The new functionality of Icy Prism allows us to add a reliable damage option to Water Magic while simultaneously providing a way to quickly build Overcast for combos.
Vapor Blade: reduced cost to 10 Energy; reduced casting time to 1.5 seconds; now causes 5 points of Overcast.
Vapor Blade's high cost has typically made it difficult to afford with the already high average cost of Water Magic skills. The addition of Overcast allowed us to reduce the up-front cost a bit to make it a little more reliable as a damage option when low on Energy.
Overcast Combo Skills
Depreciated Early Game Skills
At the start of the game, all players receive a set of "starter" skills intended to get them used to the mechanics associated with their chosen profession. Mesmers get Conjure Phantasm and Backfire, Warriors get Sever Artery and Gash, and Necromancers get Animate Bone Horror and Deathly Swarm. However, in the case of Elementalists, their starter skills rapidly depreciate in usefulness to the point where they are virtually useless in later parts of the game. While a level 20 Warrior may still use the Sever/Gash combo, a level 20 Elementalist would never use Flare. One of the first things we wanted to do in this update was to add Overcast bonuses to these skills in order to keep them relevant in the late game while also introducing the concept of Overcast as a positive mechanic rather than a strictly negative one.
Flare: added the following functionality: "If you are Overcast, Flare hits adjacent foes as well."
Ice Spear: changed type to enchantment spell; added the following functionality: "If you are Overcast, you gain +1..4 Health regeneration for 5 seconds."
Lightning Strike: changed type to hex spell; changed functionality to: "Strike target foe for 5...50 lightning damage. This spell has 25% armor penetration. If you are Overcast, that foe is hexed with Lightning Strike for 3 seconds. When this hex ends, that foe is struck again for 5...50 lightning damage."
Stone Daggers: added the following functionality: "If you are Overcast, each projectile inflicts Bleeding for 1...5 seconds."
New Overcast Combo Skills
Besides the early game skills, we also wanted to provide a few options for each element that benefit from having Overcast. We wanted to make sure that these skills were strong and had unique functionality in order to make accruing the Overcast worthwhile. Here are a few examples from each elemental line:
Arc Lightning: increased casting time to 1.5 seconds; increased recharge to 8 seconds; changed functionality to: "Target foe is struck for 5...40 lightning damage. If you are Overcast, two foes near your target are struck for 15...85 lightning damage. Damage from Arc Lightning has 25% armor penetration."
Previously, as an elemental combination skill, Arc Lightning was strictly more difficult to use than similar skills—Chain Lightning and Invoke Lightning—so we decided to divorce it from Water Magic and improve its combo potential with other Air Magic skills that provide Overcast.
Shell Shock: reduced lightning damage to 10...30; added the following functionality: "If you are Overcast, this spell strikes adjacent foes."
While a strong spell in PvP, Shell Shock had always been a little lackluster in PvE due to its single-target nature. Since Cracked Armor is a somewhat iconic condition for Air Magic, we wanted to make sure that Air Elementalists had strong ways of applying it.
Magnetic Aura: increased cost to 10 Energy; increased casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 12 seconds; changed functionality to: "For 1...5 seconds, you block the next attack against you and deal 10...50 damage to your attacker. If you are Overcast, all party members in earshot are also enchanted."
Magnetic Surge: changed type to enchantment spell; reduced casting time to 1.5 seconds; changed functionality to: "Target foe takes 15...75 damage. If you are Overcast, Magnetic Surge enchants all allies in earshot for 1...5 seconds to block the next attack against them."
The Magnetic skills gave us a unique opportunity to work on giving some more damage options to Earth Magic. We still feel that Earth Magic is a defensive line at heart but wanted to refit some skills to provided ways to deal damage while still protecting allies.
Smoldering Embers: reduced casting time to 1.5; changed functionality to: "Target foe is struck for 10...70 fire damage. If you are Overcast, that foe is hexed with Smoldering Embers for 3 seconds and takes 5...25 additional fire damage each second."
Smoldering Embers always seemed like an inferior version of Fireball, so this change is intended to differentiate it a little bit by giving it a unique functionality.
Phoenix: reduced casting time to 1.5 seconds; reduced recharge to 7 seconds; change functionality to: "A fiery Phoenix rises at your location and flies out to your target, exploding on impact. This explosion strikes your target and nearby foes for 10...60 fire damage. If you are Overcast, allies in the blast radius are healed for 20...80 Health."
Phoenix is an interesting spell for some PBAoE builds, but in general we felt that these types of builds had enough options already. This change is aimed at giving Phoenix a unique functionality that is also more related to the name.
Rust: added the following functionality: "If you are Overcast, foes struck with Rust have their signets interrupted and disabled for 1...10 seconds."
We wanted to preserve the signet-disabling functionality that was removed from Icy Prism, since it still finds uses in some niche situations. It seemed logical, then, to move it to the remaining Water Magic skill that affects signets.
Swirling Aura: reduced recharge to 15 seconds; changed functionality to: "For 5 seconds, you are enchanted with Swirling Aura and have +1...6 Health regeneration and a 50% chance to block projectiles. If you are Overcast when you cast this spell, all party members in earshot are also enchanted."
Like Magnetic Aura, we felt that we could rework the Aura skills to be more party support oriented.
Balance and Usability Changes
A few of the changes we are doing in order to balance certain aspects of the game or to improve the usability of skills.
Lightning Hammer: now applies Cracked Armor for 5...20 seconds.
Lightning Hammer (PvP): split for PvP.
Lightning Orb: no longer applies Cracked Armor.
Lightning Orb (PvP): removed from the game; the funcionality of this skill is now the same in PvP and PvE.
With new options to apply Cracked Armor in Air Magic, it made sense for us to remove the Cracked Armor from Lightning Orb as its inclusion made it clearly better than almost every other skill in the line. We moved the Cracked Armor to the more expensive Lightning Hammer to justify its cost.
Shock Arrow: changed condition for Energy gain to "strikes a foe with cracked armor."
Unlike skills like Glowing Ice and Glowing Gaze, Shock Arrow's "while attacking" clause made it difficult to reliably use it for Energy gain. Now that Elementalists have improved access to Cracked Armor it made sense to change the conditional Energy gain on Shock Arrow. Players should find that getting the Energy from this skill is now much more reliable.
Glowstone: reduced casting time to 3/4 second.
Compared to the other Glowing skills, Glowstone was a little weak. Since it's a projectile and can be obstructed, unlike Glowing Gaze and Glowing Ice, and does not have bonus armor penetration, like Shock Arrow, we took the casting time down a bit in order to bring it up to par with the others.
Fire Storm: reduced recharge to 20 seconds.
Fire Storm is a fairly generic AoE spell that didn't have much going for it over several of the other AoE skills in Fire Magic. We felt a small decrease to its recharge would help its playability without making it overpowered.
Bed of Coals: reduced duration to 5 seconds; reduced radius to adjacent; reduced recharge to 15 seconds; the Bed of Coals is now created at target foe's location.
Bed of Coals has always been a really interesting combo skill in concept, but it was held back by its PBAoE nature. We've removed that restriction but reduced the duration in order to open up more interesting combo opportunities.
Intensity: increased radius to include all foes in the area; increased damage percentage to 60...70%.
We liked the previous change to Intensity as a skill to make single-target skills into AoE skills, but it felt a little weak in practice, so we've tuned up the numbers a bit.
Glimmering Mark: increased recharge to 15 seconds.
Mirror of Ice: increased recharge to 15 seconds.
Stone Sheath: increased cost to 10 Energy.
Gust: increased cost to 10 Energy.
We're making a few more small balance changes to some doublecast skills, which we've noticed have been just a little bit too efficient for their cost as players get better at the positioning and timing required to use them properly. Glimmering Mark was providing too much continuous shutdown for martial professions, so we've increased the recharge a bit in order to give windows of opportunity for counterattacks.
We recognized that a few skills in several elemental lines had very difficult-to-use functionality, so we wanted to provide some incentive for these skills to be used more often.
Crystal Wave: reduced recharge to 15 seconds; reduced damage to 10...70; added the following functionality: "Each condition removed deals 5...15 damage."
The unique effect on Crystal Wave always seemed to combo with Fragility but had nothing much to offer on its own. We've changed the damage to scale based on the number of conditions removed and lowered the recharge slightly to make this difficult combo a little more rewarding as well as making it valuable on builds that do not include Fragility.
Earthen Shackles: changed functionality to: "For 5...20 seconds, target and all nearby foes move 90% slower. When Earthen Shackles ends, it applies Weakness for 5...20 seconds."
In the case of Earthen Shackles, we felt that the synergy it had with Fire Magic wasn't very compelling in most cases. Especially since skills like Grasping Earth and Ward Against Foes apply unconditional slows, it didn't seem worthwhile to keep this as a slow that required burning. The new version provides a strong but temporary slow similar to Binding Chains, and Weakness when it ends. Earth Magic already has strong combos with the Weakness condition, so we feel having a way to apply it in an area should open up some new build opportunities.
Lightning Javelin: increased recharge to 5 seconds; added the following functionality: "Lightning Javelin strikes all foes between you and your target."
Lightning Javelin is a bit of an experiment on the types of things we can do with projectile skills in the Guild Wars engine. We feel like this new functionality will encourage better positioning while giving a cheap way to interrupt multiple attackers.
Cross Elemental Combos
Cross-elemental combo skills had a few serious issues with usability that prevented the majority of them from being viable. We identified two major problems with most of these skills that we wanted to correct in this update. The first is that many of these skills required high investment in both attributes for even a minimum level of effectiveness. In order to optimize a skill, like Lightning Touch, you needed high investment in both Water and Air, which limited damage and the types of skills you could choose. The second problem was that most cross-elemental skills didn't provide functionality that wasn't already provided by one of the two lines in the first place. A skill like Arc Lightning didn't provide any extra functionality with Water Magic that you couldn't get from Chain Lightning for a smaller investment.
When redesigning combo skills, we worked with these ideas in mind:
- An elemental combo skill should have an attribute spread and cost that requires only modest investment in attribute level.
- Combo skills should provide functionality that is not easily obtained in either of the two lines that make the combo.
- A combo skill should combo with the most common feature of that element (a skill which combos with fire should combo with Burning).
The Teinai's skills gave us a unique opportunity to create a few extra elemental synergy skills.
Teinai's Wind: increased casting time to 1 second; changed functionality to: "Target foe and all adjacent foes take 10...40 cold damage. Burning foes struck by Teinai's Wind take an additional 40...80 damage and are interrupted."
Teinai's Crystals: reduced cost to 5 Energy; increased casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 8 seconds; changed functionality to: "Target foe takes 20...40 damage. If target foe has a Water Magic hex, this spell strikes target and nearby foes for an additional 20...40 damage, and nearby foes also suffer Cracked Armor for 5...15 seconds."
Teinai's Heat: changed type to ward spell; reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 20 seconds; changed functionality to: "Place a ward of Teinai's Heat at your location for 10...15 seconds. Foes within the ward suffer 2...5 Health degeneration. Weakened foes attack 33% slower. This skill is disabled for 20 seconds."
Teinai's Prison: reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 15 seconds; changed functionality to: "For 1...6 seconds, target foe's legs are encased in ice, causing the foe to move 66% slower. If that foe has Cracked Armor, the chill seeps through causing 5...9 Health degeneration."
Teinai's Crystals is now a way to apply Cracked Armor when using a water/earth hybrid build, while Teinai's Heat is now a ward that slows attack speed. Teinai's Wind provides an interrupt to fire AoE builds, and Teinai's Prison gives degeneration to air/water combos.
Ash Blast: changed type to hex spell; increased recharge to 15 seconds; changed functionality to: "Target and adjacent foes are struck for 35...65 earth damage. Burning foes struck by Ash Blast are hexed for 5 seconds and have a 20...75% chance to miss with attacks."
With a name like Ash Blast, we felt it best if this skill comboed with Fire Magic. However, it needed something to differentiate it from the Blinding of Steam. By providing a miss chance instead of Blind, it acts more like Blurred Vision than Blinding Flash.
Iron Mist: changed type to enchantment spell; reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced recharge to 20 seconds; changed functionality to: "For 8...15 seconds, you have +15 armor. Your Air Magic spells that target a foe activate and recharge 25% faster, but you are Overcast by 3 points."
Iron Mist has always been a fairly controversial skill due to its potential for griefing your own team. This change gives a brief boost of power to Air Elementalists but has a prohibitively high cost to prevent overuse.
Elemental Flame: changed type to enchantment spell; increased cost to 10 Energy; increased recharge to 30 seconds; changed functionality to: "For 10...35 seconds, whenever you apply an Elemental hex to a foe, that foe is set on fire for 3...5 seconds."
Elemental Flame (PvP): split for PvP; reduced Burning duration to 1...2 seconds; reduced enchantment duration to 5...20 seconds.
At first we thought that Elemental Flame would need a large overhaul, since Fire Magic already has many ways to apply Burning. However, after testing this spell out as an enchantment instead of a hex, we discovered that it was a lot more fun to use once you didn't have to precast it. This skill has been split for PvP due to the danger of adding too much reliable damage to water shares.
Slippery Ground: reduced recharge to 10 seconds; now knocks down foes adjacent to your target.
Slippery Ground (PvP): split for PvP.
Functionally, we felt that Slippery Ground was in a good place. As a ranged version of Bull's Strike, we couldn't make it any more powerful in PvP without breaking it, but it lacked strong synergies in PvE due to its long recharge and single target restriction. With an improved radius, it now has combo opportunities with other skills, like Blinding Surge.
The previous Elementalist update focused primarily on elite skills and small usability improvements. This update addresses many of the other problematic aspects of the profession. The changes to Overcast and Cross Elemental Combos should address two of the major lingering aspects of the profession not covered in the previous update. Additionally, smaller quality-of-life issues specific to each elemental line should make the overall experience of playing an Elementalist much smoother.