Skill update previews:April 2010

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April 2010 updates

Preliminary Skill Update Notes - 23 April 2010[edit]

Mesmer in PvE[edit]

We are working on a big update for the Mesmer in PvE. The focus of the changes will be to improve the role of the Mesmer in both normal and high-end PvE, but when appropriate, the changes will apply to PvP as well. We currently expect things to be ready in the first half of May, but since this is a large update and it is still under active development, we cannot guarantee any specific timeline.

A few other balance issues are being worked on in parallel and will be included in the same build if they are testing well enough. These will NOT include major changes to the Dervish (and in particular scythes), non-“Imbagon” Paragons, and the smiting line for the Monk. All of those are things we’ve been considering for major updates of their own. None are far enough along to be a part of this update.

The fundamental issue with Mesmer playbalance is that the pacing of combat is extremely different between PvE and PvP. The number of opponents, the rate at which enemies die, and the level of threat posed by individual enemies all dramatically alter the requirements for a shutdown and control-based character, like the Mesmer, to serve a meaningful role in a party.

In addition, there are some particular weaknesses we’re examining, such as the heavy interdependence of multiple Mesmer attribute lines and the number of specialized skills that are too narrow in usage to bring under normal circumstances.

Here’s a preview of some of the issues we’re tackling and how we’re approaching them:

Fast Casting[edit]

From a playbalance perspective, Fast Casting is one of the most interesting primary attributes in Guild Wars. In PvP, where reaction time, spike damage, and interruption are critical elements, it tends to overshadow other caster attributes. In PvE, where interruption and spike damage take a back seat to things like sustained DPS, it is not favored. We are testing changes to the Fast Casting attribute itself in order to address both of these problems.

Active Interruption[edit]

Interruption is part of what makes a Mesmer a Mesmer, but this poses a few problems in PvE:

  • It’s very difficult to interrupt reliably in Hard Mode due to the casting speed increase on all Hard Mode creatures.
  • Successful interruption often means spending some time not casting and instead watching your target for an opportunity to interrupt. While you’re doing this, you’re not actually helping your team and they know it.
  • The payoff for interrupting a creature is often unimpressive. You stop a single action but don’t necessarily reduce damage more than you would have by simply killing the creature more quickly instead of waiting around, trying to interrupt it.

As a key first step, we’re changing the way the Hard Mode casting speed increase works, so that spells with a casting time of 1 second or less are unaffected. This takes active interruption out of the realm of “don’t-even-think-about-it” to “maybe-if-the-payoff-was-good-enough.”

In addition, we’re improving a lot of the slow cast time/slow skill activation skills to make interruption more viable without devoting a character exclusively to waiting around and watching for opportunities to interrupt. We’ve also made skills that are dependent on interruption much more effective.

Examples of skills that affect cast time:

With skills like these we’re also adjusting things like energy cost and recharge times to make them more effective.

Examples of skills which are dependent on interruption:

  • Wastrel's Worry Wastrel's Worry – damage is now area-of-effect
  • Frustration Frustration – damage is very high now and the recharge is short to allow easier application to multiple foes.

With Wastrel’s Worry, we reward the extra effort focused on a single target by dealing damage to the entire group. Frustration works with focused interruption to spike down a character or, once it’s on multiple foes, combos well with some of the new mass interruption skills (like Panic; more on that later.)

Examples of interrupts which needed inherently stronger payoff:

  • Cry of Frustration Cry of Frustration – increased the damage to 15…61…75
  • Psychic Instability Psychic Instability – a successful interrupt now knocks down not only your target but all nearby foes. They are knocked down for 1…3…4 seconds.
  • Psychic Distraction Psychic Distraction – now interrupts any skill, not just spells. The interrupted skill is disabled on your target and all nearby foes.

Cry of Frustration is already great for interrupting groups of foes, but the current damage numbers still leave a party wondering what the Mesmer really accomplished that was better than just nuking someone. Solid, area-of-effect, armor-ignoring damage to go with that interrupt goes a lot way to reward the entire group for the Mesmer’s skillful play. Psychic Instability provides a clear and powerful payoff for an interrupt and works very well with skills like Wastrel’s Worry and Chaos Storm (which has been modified for damage and unconditional energy removal). Psychic Distraction has the potential to really shut down whole groups of enemies. (We are aware that Psychic Distraction currently sees play in some PvP formats. We’re moving its current functionality to Complicate.)

Attribute Pressure and Combo Complexity[edit]

Another difficulty Mesmers face is the interdependence of their attributes and the number of skills required to make some of their combos work. We’ve targeted key combo skills to make things simpler.

Here are a few examples:

  • Arcane Conundrum Arcane Conundrum – provides energy when it ends.
  • Empathy Empathy – reduces damage dealt in addition to dealing damage when a foe attacks
  • Shatter Delusions Shatter Delusions – damage is area-of-effect; recharge is very short
  • Accumulated Pain Accumulated Pain – lower energy cost; recharge is short; now deals decent damage
  • Phantom Pain Phantom Pain – lower energy cost; shorter recharge; higher degen

The Illusion Magic hex Arcane Conundrum works best with interruption skills in the Domination Magic line. We’ve made it return energy on end to give players the option to run Fast Casting, Domination Magic and Illusion Magic without Inspiration Magic (traditionally used for energy gain). A few other changes of this sort, plus some energy cost changes in general, give Mesmer more options about which attributes they invest in.

Empathy is another example of easing attribute pressure. By giving this Domination Magic skill strong utility against attacking foes (and enhancing a few damage-oriented skills like Chaos Storm), we’ve made it more viable to make a Fast Casting, Domination, Inspiration build that doesn’t feel useless when fighting enemy groups that don’t include spell-casters.

With strong aoe damage and short recharge, Shatter Delusions gives a Domination Mesmer effectively adds value to every hex he puts on foes. This allows bars to specialize a bit more (in terms of attributes) without being as niche. Similarly, with decent damage on a reasonable recharge and cost, Accumulated Pain is much easier to justify having on skill bar now and adds value to hexes an Illusion Mesmer stacks on foes.

Phantom Pain is an example of identifying a skill that’s only really useful when used in a combination and making two types of changes: (1) making the combo easier by reducing the energy cost so that rapidly combining pairs of skills doesn’t run you out of energy and (2) penalizing you less when you don’t pull off the combo with more basic damage potential and with a shorter recharge (also better suited to the reality of rapid enemy deaths in PvE).

Control and Damage Hexes[edit]

Next to interrupts, control and damage hexes are the defining skill type for the Mesmer. Hexes are tricky, though, because enemies tend to die quickly in PvE. We’ve really focused making sure the hexes are worthwhile very quickly.

Examples of bread-and-butter hexes for PvE:

  • Mistrust Mistrust – much shorter recharge; much higher damage
  • Wandering Eye Wandering Eye – lower energy cost; shorter recharge; much higher damage

Skills like Mistrust and Wandering Eye (and Clumsiness, for that matter) are hexes but they aren’t the sort of thing you simply stack on enemies; they encourage very active play and require battlefield awareness. We’ve looked at recharge, damage and energy cost to make sure they can be used to efficiently hurt enemies and protect allies from damage in PvE.

Here are some examples of powerful, elite hexes:

  • Ineptitude Ineptitude – area of effect; slightly shorter recharge
  • Migraine Migraine – massive health degeneration; slows all skills, not just spells; makes spells easily interruptible
  • Panic Panic – new behavior: “For 1…8…10 seconds, target foe and all nearby foes are hexed with Panic. When a hexed foe successfully uses a skill, all other nearby foes are interrupted.”
  • Stolen Speed Stolen Speed – area of effect; now slows enemy spells much more and speeds up spells all your allies cast against them.

Ineptitude falls into the same category of hex disruption as Mistrust, Wandering Eye and Clumsiness. Taken together, these skills allow a very powerful style of play, interrupting enemy offense while dealing damage.

Panic is one of the really fun new changes we’ve been playing with. We knew we had a winner the first time we tried it out. Although it lacks the precision of some other interruption elites, Panic makes the Mesmer extremely good at cutting down damage from enemy groups.

The Mesmer has always been a profession with “selfish” skills that do not benefit allies directly. Stolen Speed gave us an opportunity to let a Mesmer help a group while still feeling like a Mesmer. As with many skills we’ve added an area-of-effect in order to better fit with the kill rate and number of enemies in PvE.

With Migraine, we’ve taken a very different approach, providing an elite hex which is great at shutting down one enemy at a time. This can be combined with other group-affecting abilities to provide an effective, unique, and interesting role for a Mesmer.

Each of those elites allows the Mesmer to contribute to a group in a very different way, each focusing to a different degree and in different ways on the combination of damage prevention and damage dealing.

Area of Effect[edit]

As you can see in a lot of the examples, we have provided more ways for Mesmers to deal with groups of creatures. Sometimes we’ve simply changed skills to be area-of-effect, but we’ve also tried to focus our efforts on skills like Mistrust, Wandering Eye, and Shatter Delusions, letting you cast on a single character in order to affect a group. In this way, we avoid have the Mesmer just feel like an AoE damage dealer.

Moving Forward[edit]

This is just an overview of some of the issues we’ve identified, how we are approaching them, and the types of changes we’re testing. We’re taking on other issues as well (things like energy denial, signets, utility functions like condition-spreading and enchantment/hex removal, and overly specialized counters) and, of course, looking at skills that are fine conceptually but are simply underpowered.

As we’re designing and testing changes, we’re looking very specifically at enabling roles (typically with a blend of damage mitigation and damage dealing) and play styles. We’re aiming to add and some powerful and appealing options for the Mesmer in PvE without introducing excessive power creep into the game. So far things are looking good, but we still have more things to tackle and a lot of fine-tuning to do. Depending on exactly how long this process takes, we may have another preview before the update comes out.