I had a great time finally getting my hands on the Dragonhunter in the second Heart of Thorns beta weekend, and wrote about it at length for GuildMag. While some agreed with me and were happy to see some positive reflections on this elite specialisation, the majority of the responses that I had were trying to tell me that my experience couldn’t have possibly been any good because the whole Dragonhunter design is terrible, traps are the worst, and (my personal favourite) “posts like this are what make ArenaNet think that guardians have been in a good place for the last three years”. I still refute all of their negativity, and feel that most of it stems from the mistaken belief that elite specs are intended to be a direct upgrade to core trait lines, as opposed to providing an alternative playstyle; something that I believe that the Dragonhunter provides well.
Ahead of an as yet unannounced third beta weekend, Dragonhunter designer and all–round enthusiastic owner of hair Karl McLain (bring back the skill bar!) has posted another raft of upcoming changes on the official forums, which you can read for yourself here. I’m going to whip through them quickly below.
Spear of Justice: Increased missile velocity by 100%. Reduced the casting speed from 3/4 second to 1/4 second. Updated skill facts when virtue traits are equipped. Fixed a bug that caused this trait to not trigger with Wrath of Justice. Reduced recharge from 25 to 20. This ability is now unblockable.
The increased missile velocity is something seen across the board and will help to make the Dragonhunter’s abilities feel snappier, as will the reduced cast time. Making it unblockable certainly doesn’t hurt either. The interaction with the Wrath of Justice trait isn’t something that I tried testing during BWE2 but it synergises well with the longbow, gifting Spear of Justice an additional 3 second immobilize to keep enemies at range if you spec into Radiance.
Wings of Resolve: This ability now removes Immobilize at the beginning. Cooldown has been reduced from 50 seconds to 30.
This is an excellent change, and something that I’d suggested would work nicely to change Wings of Resolve into a fully functioning “oh shit” button, allowing you to leap out of harms way and heal up. Would I rather have a range increase from 600 to 900 instead of the reduction in cooldown? Perhaps, but having a strong AoE heal effect now on a 30 second cooldown is likely to be of some use as we make the step up into 10–person raiding. One change that I would still like to see would be for the cast time to be reduced; it feels a little strange that this, a clutch heal, is the slowest of the new physical virtues.
Shield of Courage: Reduced the cast to 0.25 seconds. The after-cast of this ability has been reduced by 200 ms. This ability now blocks all attacks from the front, while attacks from behind will strike the guardian.
Now that this blocks all attacks again instead of just blocking projectiles I’m interested to see how well it works in group content. Depending, obviously, on encounter design I could potentially see this being used to completely negate a frontal attack from a boss, allowing the rest of the party to stay in melee range and lay the smack down instead of having to move out to safety.
Puncture Shot: Increased missile velocity by 66%
Here is another tweak to make the longbow feel more responsive. Auto–attack damage felt reasonable to me in BWE2 and clearly didn’t warrant a further increase by the devs.
True Shot: Damage increased by 12.5%
Cries abound to have the root removed from True Shot, but I’m actually in favour of the direction that’s being taken instead. Keep the (slight) penalty while increasing the pay–off by buffing the damage. Looking forward to bursting some mordrem heads with this again.
Deflecting Shot: Reduced missile velocity by 25%. Reduced after-cast by 300 milliseconds. Increased base damage by 13%. Destroying a projectile with this ability increases the damage it deals by 100%. Increased the blocking radius by 33%. The attack radius of this ability has not been increased.
These changes had been mentioned in a previous forum post but didn’t make it into BWE2. In theory they should definitely work to make this skill shot more compelling. I never managed to block projectiles on a tangent, like a curtain wall across between an enemy and an ally, but I was able to put it to good effect facing straight–on against the deadly mordrem snipers.
Symbol of Energy: Increased missile velocity by 60%. Increased symbol damage by 10%. Initial burning impact now inflicts two stacks of burning, up from one. This skill can now be fired behind you.
I’m very happy to see that the burning stacks are staying on Symbol of Energy, after it had previously been indicated that they would be removed; longbow could yet find a place in a condition damage build.
Some members of the community are suggesting that traps ought to be completely replaced, and that they’re anti–synergetic with longbow, but I don’t buy it. Traps may not suit a melee–oriented stacking DPS playstyle (although I think that they may see some use in that fashion) but are instead designed to be laid for enemies to be lured through for a sizeable pay–off. I believe that the Dragonhunter traps currently do this very well, backed up by the longbow skills that enable the player to kite in a controlled manner. I don’t agree either with the people calling for Dragonhunter traps to be AoE–targetted like wells or staff marks. We already have skills like that; these are supposed to support a different playstyle.
Traps (general): Reduced the cast time of all traps to 1/2 second, down from 1 second.
This is a nice quality of life improvement across the board, and will make dropping traps in melee (as I liked to do with Light's Judgement for vulnerability stacking) a little bit easier. I’m happy, but it’s unlikely win over the unbelievers!
Purification: Fixed an issue that caused this ability to not function correctly with Runes of the Trapper.
Just a bugfix, although I must admit that I wasn’t even aware that Runes of the Trapper existed until now; it makes me wonder if there’s some fun condi longbow/trapper build in there for me to use in Stronghold.
Piercing Light: This trait has been reworked. While activating, traps will now daze enemies in the radius for 1 second. Trap recharges are reduced by 20%.
Not sure about this one. Losing the bleeds is definitely going to throw a wrench in the works of any potential condition builds. I’m still hoping that we get a whirl finisher on Procession of Blades so that it could be used to apply additional condition stacks when used in a combo field. The daze effect doesn’t seem all that enticing as a replacement.
Zealot’s Aggression: This trait now allows Justice’s passive effect to cripple, in addition to dealing extra damage to crippled enemies.
Now this is something that I’m looking forward to trying out. How good it is will depend on how often the cripple effect triggers and how long it lasts: will it be perma–cripple against anyone that you have tethered with Spear of Justice? An earlier forum post suggested that this trait was due a damage increase from 7% to 10% which seems to have fallen by the wayside (or been left off of this list).
Hunter’s Determination: This trait has been reworked to apply aegis to the guardian and drop a Fragments of Faith trap at their location when controlled.
I’m a little sad about this change as well, since I’ve been using this trait to maintain a little bit of extra mobility. That being said, the new implementation actually seems like it could be more powerful, albeit in a PvP setting. In PvE I fully expect to be taking Dulled Senses instead.
Dulled Senses: This trait has been updated: Enemies you knock back are crippled. Enemies you cripple are also inflicted with vulnerability.
Bonus vulnerability. Sure, why not? With the change to Zealot’s Aggression giving Dragonhunter’s a way to passively apply cripple to enemies we suddenly have synergy popping up all over the place. Now we have both this trait and the grandmaster trait Big Game Hunter adding vulnerability stacks to tethered enemies, and a cumulative 17% damage increase, on top of the burning that is being applied. I can see Zealot’s Aggression/Dulled Senses/Big Game Hunter being the de facto trait configuration for PvE Dragonhunters.
Hunter’s Fortification: This trait has been reworked to remove conditions when blocking attacks. In addition, receive less damage when you have no conditions on you.
How many conditions will it remove and how often? Could we combo this with Shield of Courage for a full personal condition clear or will it be hampered by an internal cooldown? This is arguably less effective that AoE protection in a group context.
Heavy Light: This trait has been updated: Longbow arrows knock back when enemies are within the range threshold. Gain stability when you knock an enemy back.
Moving the stability gain from Hunter’s Determination to Heavy Light is interesting, and something that should actually work pretty well in PvP. Depending on how the internal cooldown is set this could result some a pretty powerful close–range longbow play.
Some decent changes here, but it still feels like the traps will need some love to win other people over. Spear of Justice and Wings of Resolve got a whole lot better, but Shield of Resolve still seems slightly confused. I’m a little concerned about where condition applications are going to come from with a longbow/trap setup now that bleeds have been replaced with daze. Overall I’m still happy with the playstyle that is opened up by taking the Dragonhunter elite spec, and am really excited to see how it can be applied to challenging content.