Guild Wars 2: Specializations are here! Yay!

Greetings, ladies and gentlemen!

On June 23, ArenaNet rolled out a major update to Guild Wars 2 which brought with it some welcome changes and new feature additions. One of the biggest changes to come with this update was a revamp to the major city, previously left in shambles, Lion’s Arch. I spent a decent amount of time exploring the reconstructed city and familiarizing myself with the numerous NPCs that populate it. I even made use of the crafting stations and trading post there, because my main character was still a Novice Armorsmith. I enjoy the new look of Lion’s Arch and will most likely find myself there anytime I need to stock up on mining picks or do some crafting, instead of hiding off in Hoelbrak. However, the major change I am most excited about is the revision of the Traits system into the new Specializations system.

Guild Wars 2 - Specializations

An image of my Warrior’s current build. It’s pretty fun, and it can tweaked for group play.

The Specializations system is a feature I have been eagerly anticipating since ArenaNet first teased their functionality (here), and introduced the new method for acquiring skills and traits (here). Though, I doubt that I would have been as excited to play with this new feature had it not been for my horrible experience with Guild Wars 2’s original Traits mechanic. While the Specializations system was born from the failings of the Traits mechanic, the former does a much better job of allowing players to create diverse and competent builds without having to waste a Major Trait choice on “+50% damage while downed”, simply because none of the other available options are worth taking. I enjoy many of the options presented in this new system because each one serves a purpose and feels viable, whereas the choices in the previous system didn’t always feel that way.

The Original Traits System

While it may not seem like it, I was actually pretty excited to play around with builds using the Traits mechanic around the launch of Guild Wars 2. It can be said I was as excited about Traits then, as I have been to use the Specializations system this past week or so. The primary aspect of Traits that excited me most was that it wasn’t a stupid-ass talent tree mechanic. Zoh Mah Gurr!

At the time before GW2’s launch, I was done with Talent Trees because every new “AAA” game had them. RIFT had done a passable job attempting something new with the system, but the talents and spells were nothing spectacular, and currently they are rarely any more creative than “Increases your damage by 2/4/6/8/10%.” SWTOR’s talent trees were a fucking joke, but they eventually scrapped this mechanic like World of Warcraft. The new system looks promising, but it’s not promising enough for me to subject myself to EA and BioWare’s monetization. However, as I am writing this, I am playing with the Mage talent trees on the magelo site (here), and, as I see it, building characters for RIFT, or even pretending to, feels way more fun than what WoW currently calls “character customization”. The weaknesses I saw, and still see, in talent trees didn’t seem to exist with GW2’s Traits mechanic. Unfortunately, it created a different set of problems.

The issue with the original Traits mechanic stemmed from its design as a whole. Whenever I wanted to experiment with a build for either my Warrior or Necromancer, I never felt like I was making good choices. I knew what weapons I wanted to use, and the utility skills I wanted to focus on, but deciding how to customize my character was always a battle between choosing the right traits or grabbing specific stat bonuses. Additionally, there weren’t always good or meaningful options in every trait line. For instance, the Strength trait line for Warriors always felt like a waste of points, because there were so few traits that made a significant impact on how I played my character (and it focused on weapons I don’t wish to use). Despite how bad the Traits mechanic was on release, the ArenaNet team sought to make worse choices with an update that I shall briefly discuss.

A Really Big, Stupid Change

On April 15, 2014, ArenaNet released an update with the intention of changing how players use the trait mechanic, and how players gained access to traits. This change was similar to what was done with Specializations, in that it was attempting to streamline the system. However, it also had the additive of making the acquisition of traits, especially for brand new characters, a fucking nightmare. I won’t go into the exact details of this update (you can read it here), but the person behind these changes had to be out of their mind to think this was a good idea.

This update dramatically slowed down the progression of trait tiers to the point that you would only unlock a tier every 30 levels. It also reduced the number of trait points necessary to customize your character, which is fine, but made the acquisition of the points needlessly sluggish. Additionally, players were forced to unlock traits either through events, or the expenditure of gold and skill points, and this included PvP players. Players who entered the Heart of the Mists no longer had access to all the traits or utility skills like they did at release. I already had trouble leveling my main to level cap (he hit 80 this year and I’ve had my account since release), but this change made chugging through the remainder of the 80 levels, or even leveling alts, undesirable and unappealing. Thankfully, the ArenaNet team were prescribed anti-psychotics, or they fired the lunatic behind this change (one can only hope), and went to work creating a system that would make the failed Traits mechanic go away forever.

The New Specializations System

Thus, we now have the shiny and new Specializations system, which goes back to what was great about the original system, and essentially removes the overly tedious and painful facets of the “really big, stupid change.” The new system feels great, and it looks like it can easily be expanded to provide professions with new build options. The Heart of Thorns expansion will release the first set of Elite Specializations for each profession, which will provide access to a new weapon (or shield), as well as some new traits. This concept of “Elite” Specializations has always seemed odd to me. Why couldn’t ArenaNet have simply added the new weapons and ability types, such as the Reaper Shouts, to professions without tying them to Specializations? This would allow them the opportunity to add new Specializations, weapons, and abilities at any point without needing to create new “sub-professions”. I’m still looking forward to the Reaper, and the currently unknown Warrior Elite Specialization, but it appears to me the people at ArenaNet just like to complicate things.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on the new Specializations system? Do you miss the original Traits mechanic? Which flavor of Quaggan is your favorite?

3 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2: Specializations are here! Yay!

    • Well, considering there is no sub-free required to play, I would say check it out just to play around with the new mechanic. However, if the gameplay post-80 did not hold your attention, I would say ‘no’ (unless you plan on grinding the 80 levels over and over, lawls).

      Progressing your Specializations and Utility Skills will be less tedious than the previous system because you can use the new “Hero Points” currency to progress both. Additionally, you acquire Hero Points through leveling at regular intervals allowing you to actually progress your character. You will unlock Specialization slots almost as slowly as the previous system, but you won’t be waiting until 80 for the Grandmaster Traits to become available. So, even if you have to wait until you hit level 45 to unlock Specialization Slot #2, and 71 for Specialization Slot #3, you can start unlocking traits in the Specialization lines you want to use as you chug to 80.

      In my opinion, this system gives something to look forward to while leveling. I am leveling a Necromancer and a Thief, and I am often double-checking where I am going to be spending my Hero Points. That isn’t something I ever had with the previous system, and is something that has been lost with the redesign of Talents in WoW.

      If you still have any reservations, you could always wait and see if the expansion has anything that pulls you back. There is one new class, and an Elite Specialization for each class (including the new one). 🙂


      • Based on what you’re saying I may wait till the expansion comes out. I enjoyed the WvW and PvP a bit but didn’t care for the endgame dungeon scene. Run past all the enemies, kill the bos, rinse, repeat, wasn’t quite my bag and I’d like to see if the do something better with that. The new trait system does sound intriguing though.

        Liked by 1 person

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