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Developer Update - August 2009 PvE and PvP Skill Balances


For our previous skill update we chose two professions, Paragon and Ritualist, and tried to address attributes and play styles that were underpowered. This month, we're applying that same approach to more professions, trying to identify not just individual skills to improve, but also larger issues to address. Here are some of the major themes we're tackling with this update:


The Assassin's focus on fighting single targets isn't ideal when in a party and battling groups of enemies. There are two reasons for this: First, with focused attacks from the party, an Assassin's target may die before an entire attack combo can be completed. Second, when facing numerous enemies, the Assassin's single-target damage usually isn't efficient. To address this, we've tried to make it easier to get into combos faster and added a few new area-of-effect options.


Against higher-level creatures in PvE, Ranger pets have always felt fragile defensively and weak offensively. Further, splitting eight skill slots between skills for the Ranger, skills for the pet, Charm Animal, and a Resurrection Signet is tough. Because Rangers with pets can be quite powerful in PvP as things stand, our changes are for PvE only: not requiring Charm Animal to bring your pet into a map (as long as you have Comfort Animal), adding inherent offensive and defensive bonuses for pets, and improving many pet-related skills.


Dervishes are meant to be in the thick of things, attacking hordes of enemies in melee, but they can be very vulnerable when not in an Avatar form. This created an interesting ebb-and-flow in PvP, but it doesn't mesh as well with the more continuous pace of PvE. With that in mind, we looked for opportunities to provide increased armor and rebalanced some of their healing skills. While adding these options for increasing survivability, we also tried to simplify complex skills where we could.


For Elementalists, we wanted to balance out the attribute lines a bit more. Air Magic has long had a place in PvP, but it felt inferior to Fire Magic in PvE. We've improved area-of-effect options for Air Magic to balance things out. Earth Magic has long been a staple of solo Elementalist builds in PvE, but it has only played a support role in PvP. We've adjusted a few skills to make Earth Magic offense more viable.


In addition to the above, we've improved a few skills for other professions and made a handful of changes to address balance issues in GvG and HA.


PvP Balance Issues



Melandru's Shot: increased recharge to 12 seconds.

After an extended period in which many different Ranger elite skills were all seeing play, our last change to Melandru's Shot gave it too much of an edge over the other Ranger elites. Any time we nerf a skill for PvP-related reasons, we consider whether or not to create a separate PvP-only version of the skill. In this case, we did not think this change would affect PvE play enough to justify splitting the skill.


Dwayna's Touch: increased recharge to 5 seconds.

Finale of Restoration: increased recharge to 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "For 10..35 seconds, the next 5 times that a chant or shout ends on target non-spirit ally, that ally is healed for 15..75 Health."

Overpowered healing is generally not good for PvP. We've made adjustments to two skills that have seemed a little too powerful. Dwayna's Touch had a very low recharge for a healing skill of its potency. We've bumped that up a bit to be more in line with other such healing skills. As an Echo skill (which triggers whenever a Shout or Chant ends), Finale of Restoration had the potential to put out massive amounts of healing with no set cap. Teams were able to capitalize on this, using it in GvG to indefinitely take up residence in the enemy base without fear of pressure from the defending NPCs. In response to this tactic, we have limited the number of times Finale of Restoration can trigger its healing and increased its recharge a bit. Again, we did not think these changes merited splitting these skills into separate PvP and PvE versions.


Aegis (PvP): now must target a party member.

In May, Aegis was redesigned as an anti-spike skill. Heroes' Ascent players realized, however, that its duration and ability to stop targeted spells was perfectly suited to keep Ghostly Heroes from being interrupted while using the Claim Resource skill. This has been detracting from the basic strategies in many of the HA maps and made Aegis a required skill. Now restricted to targeting party members, it can no longer be used in this way.


Assassin



Black Mantis Thrust: decreased activation time to 1/2 second.

Fox Fangs: decreased recharge to 3; increased damage to 10..35.

Jagged Strike: decreased activation time to 1/2 second.

Black Mantis Thrust and Jagged Strike were given shorter activation times to help players get through an attack chain using these skills a little faster. Fox Fangs already had a short activation time, but its longer recharge made it difficult to chain repeatedly, making it inferior to Wild Strike in nearly every way. Reducing its recharge brings those two skills more into line and allows an Assassin to chain from Black Mantis Thrust or Jagged Strike into Fox Fangs with both attacks activating quickly.


Black Lotus Strike: decreased recharge to 6 seconds; decreased Energy gain to 5..13.

Golden Lotus Strike: decreased recharge to 5 seconds; decreased Energy gain to 5..8.

Black Lotus Strike and Golden Lotus Strike were reasonably powerful skills, but they had high enough recharge that a PvE Assassin could not bring them without an alternate way to enter his combo. By dropping their recharge, we hope to make them more practical and free up more slots on the Assassin's skill bar for other skills. The Energy gain they provide has been decreased since you can use them more often now.


Golden Phoenix Strike: functionality changed to: "If you are not under the effects of an Enchantment, this skill misses. If it hits, Golden Phoenix Strike deals +10..30 damage and all adjacent foes take 10..30 damage."

Jungle Strike: functionality changed to: "Must follow a lead attack. If it hits, Jungle Strike strikes target foe for +10..25 damage. If it hits a foe that was Crippled, that foe and all adjacent foes take +1..31 damage."

These two skills now provide options for area-of-effect damage when using an Off-Hand Attack. Along with Death Blossom, these should give Assassins better ways to deal damage when fighting large numbers of creatures.


Sharpen Daggers: functionality changed to: "For 5..30 seconds, your dagger attacks cause Bleeding for 5..15 seconds."

Signet of Deadly Corruption (PvE): no longer follows a dual attack.

It's hard for a creature to survive long enough in PvE for skills that must follow a Dual Attack. Removing this requirement makes Signet of Deadly Corruption much easier to use in a group setting. Since it is a powerful spike skill in PvP, however, we're only making this change in PvE. The PvP version of this skill will still require a Dual Attack.


Shroud of Distress (PvE): functionality changed to: "For 30..60 seconds, if you are below 50% Health, you have +3..8 Health regeneration and a 75% chance to block attacks.

Unseen Fury (PvE): decreased recharge to 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "All adjacent foes are Blinded for 3..10 seconds. For 10..30 seconds, you cannot be blocked by Blinded foes."

Since we were adding a few more options for Assassins to run into the thick of things in PvE, we looked for a couple of underpowered defensive skills to adjust. Now providing Health regeneration when you are hurt, the long-lasting Shroud of Distress should make an Assassin fairly durable against moderate amounts of damage. With space always at a premium on an Assassin's skill bar, we've adjusted Unseen Fury to combo with itself and provide both offensive and defensive functions. Both of these changes are for PvE only.


Dervish



Conviction (PvE): functionality changed to: "For 10..35 seconds, you have +24 armor. If you are enchanted, you also have a 50% chance to block.

Vow of Piety: increased Energy cost to 15; reduced casting time to 0; increased recharge to 45 seconds. Functionality changed to: "Stance. For 20 seconds, you have +24 armor and +1..4 Health regeneration. Vow of Piety renews whenever an enchantment on you ends."

Armor of Sanctity: functionality changed to: "All adjacent foes suffer from Weakness for 5..15 seconds. For 10 seconds, you take 5..20 less damage from foes suffering from a condition."

In order to help Dervishes survive when surrounded by enemies, we've provided two different stances that give increased armor: Conviction and Vow of Piety. While we were at it, we removed some of the complexity from these skills, both of which used to give different bonuses depending on whether or not you were enchanted. Now they both just provide additional bonuses if you are enchanted. Armor of Sanctity was an interesting but often impractical defensive skill. By applying the Weakness condition to adjacent foes when it is first used, it ensures that the damage reduction will have some effect.


Meditation: increased recharge to 12 seconds. Functionality changed to: "You gain 20..125 Health. If you are not enchanted, you also gain 3..8 Energy."

Natural Healing: functionality changed to: "You are healed for 40..100 Health and an additional 40..80 Health if you are not enchanted."

Pious Restoration: increased recharge to 8 seconds; increased casting time to 1 second. Functionality changed to: "You gain 80..150 Health and lose 1 enchantment. If an enchantment was removed in this way, you also lose 1..3 hexes."

These healing skills were all too complicated or difficult to use. Meditation now always heals, rather than only healing if you were not enchanted. Natural Healing now provides additional healing if you are not enchanted, rather than causing you to lose Energy if you are enchanted. Pious Restoration now causes you to lose hexes if you had a single enchantment up when you cast it, rather than requiring that you have two or more enchantments in order for it to take effect. Because this made it more practical as a hex removal skill, we raised its recharge to be more in line with other such skills.


Aura Slicer: functionality changed to: "If this attack hits, you deal +10..25 damage. If you are enchanted or this attack hits an enchanted foe, that foe begins Bleeding for 5..15 seconds."

Sand Shards: functionality changed to: "For 30 seconds, Sand Shards ends early if you use an attack skill. When Sand Shards ends, it creates a sand storm at your location that deals 10..20 damage each second for 10 seconds to nearby foes."

Winds of Disenchantment: moved to the Wind Prayers attribute. Functionality changed to: "Lose 1 enchantment. If an enchantment was removed in this way, all nearby foes lose 1 enchantment and take 20..80 cold damage."

All three of these skills were awkward to use. Additionally, because Enchantment removal does not play as fundamental a role in PvE as it does in PvP, Aura Slicer and Winds of Disenchantment were not generally useful. Aura Slicer has been redesigned to provide Bleeding. It no longer has any conditional bonus based on Cracked Armor. Winds of Disenchantment now deals damage as well as removing enchantments and no longer has any randomness to which enchantments it removes. In order to scale its damage based on an attribute, it is now tied to Wind Prayers rather than being associated with no attribute. With Sand Shards, we decided to introduce something new and different. This skill now lets a Dervish create a static AoE damage area. It is also the first Dervish enchantment that ends if the caster uses an attack skill. This should allow a Dervish to use it strategically even without bringing a skill that drops enchantments.


Elementalist



Chain Lightning: reduced casting time to 2 seconds; now only causes Exhaustion if not enchanted.

Invoke Lightning: reduced recharge to 10 seconds.

These skills were improved to make it more practical to deal area-of-effect damage with Air Magic.


Ebon Hawk: reduced casting time to 1 second; reduced damage to 10..85. Functionality changed to: "Send a projectile that strikes for 10..85 earth damage and causes Weakness for 5..15 seconds if it hits."

Earthen Shackles: reduced casting time to 1 second; decreased slow effect to 66%; now effects target and all adjacent foes.

Elemental Flame: functionality changed to: "For 5..20 seconds, whenever an Elemental hex is applied to target foe, that foe is set on fire for 3..5 seconds."

The key for many Earth Magic skill combinations is the initial application of Weakness. We've adjusted Ebon Hawk to be much more practical to use, reducing its damage a bit to fit its quicker casting time. We've also improved the Earthen Shackles-Elemental Flame combination by reducing Earthen Shackles' impractical 2 second casting time and allowing Elemental Flame to trigger when a hex is applied instead of when a hex ends. Since these would have been overpowered with Earthen Shackles' previous slow effect of 90%, we've reduced that to 66%.


Lava Arrows: No longer half-range.

Slippery Ground: increased recharge to 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "If target foe is Blind or moving, that foe is knocked down. (50% failure chance with Water Magic 4 or less.)"

Windborne Speed: reduced casting time to 3/4 seconds.

Winter's Embrace: functionality changed to: "For 2..6 seconds, target foe moves 66% slower and takes 5..15 damage while moving."

These skills were all simply underpowered. Lava Arrows is an inexpensive, fast-recharge, multi-target damage skill that did not have enough utility or battle-changing effect to justify it being half range. Slippery Ground requiring the target to be blind was too niche a condition. It now also works on moving targets but has had its recharge increased accordingly. Windborne Speed has had its casting time reduced slightly to match some of the other speed-buff skills available to an Elementalist.


Mesmer



Wastrel's Demise: decreased casting time to 1/4 second. Functionality changed to: "Hex Spell: Target foe takes 5..40 damage. If that foe was not using a skill, that foe suffers -1..3 Health degeneration for 10 seconds."

Confusing Images: increased Energy cost to 10; increased casting time to 2 seconds; increased recharge to 20 seconds. Functionality changed to: "For 2..10 seconds, target foe takes twice as long to activate non-attack skills.

Illusion of Pain: increased recharge to 8 seconds. Functionality changed to: "For 10 seconds, target foe has -3..10 Health degeneration and takes 3..10 damage each second. After 10 seconds, that foe is healed for 45..150."

For Mesmer, we selected a few skills that never quite found their place and made adjustments. Slowing the casting time of a single spell, Confusing Images wasn't practical. We've changed it to be a more widely applicable Arcane Conundrum, affecting skills as well as spells. We've adjusted some of its numbers accordingly. Illusion of Pain has been given additional damage to make it more effective at actually killing something. We've also changed how much it heals and how that works in order to enable more interesting skill combinations and to make it more useful against characters with hex removal. Wastrel's Demise was in a difficult spot, from a balance standpoint. Previously based on the number of equipped spells your target had, its bonus damage was too inconsistent in PvP and too consistently bad in PvE. In order to increase the damage without creating an unreasonable spike skill in PvP, we changed the conditional damage to be Health degeneration. We also simplified the conditions for getting bonus damage to make the skill more universally useful.


Monk



Shielding Hands: functionality changed to: "For 8 seconds, damage received by target ally is reduced by 3..18. When Shielding Hands ends, that ally is healed for 5..50 Health."

Divine Boon: decreased Energy loss to 1; now only provides healing when you cast Protection Prayers or Divine Prayers spells.

Over the last year or so, we've tended to nerf skills that were too good at bogging down PvP matches. This has left Protection Prayers feeling slightly weaker than Healing Prayers. To give protection a small boost without reintroducing this problem, we've adjusted a couple of skills to put a bit more healing into that attribute. Now providing a heal when it ends, Shielding Hands can serve as a more complete skill. Divine Boon, once a staple of protection Monk skill bars, became impractical to use when we raised its Energy loss to 2. We've lowered it to 1 again, but limited the skill to providing healing when you use Protection Prayers or Divine Prayers to limit its usefulness for smiters.


Selfless Spirit: reduced recharge to 15 seconds; decreased Energy reduction to 3. Functionality changed to: "For 15..20 seconds, spells you cast that target another ally cost 3 less Energy."

Seed of Life: decreased recharge to 20 seconds.

Both of these Monk PvE-Only skills felt weak compared to the other profession-specific PvE-Only skills. With a very long recharge compared to its duration and a condition that could cause it to end prematurely, Selfless Spirit wasn't worth the skill slot for most Monks. We've reduced the recharge and removed the early end condition to make it more consistently useful. To keep the skill from being overpowered, we have lowered the Energy cost reduction it provides by a couple of points. Seed of Life is an interesting spell that has a powerful effect if used at just the right time on just the right target. We've lowered its recharge a little bit to improve the skill without fundamentally changing how it plays.


Necromancer



Masochism (PvE): functionality changed to: "For 10..40 seconds, you have +2 to your Death Magic and Soul Reaping attributes and sacrifice 5..3% of your maximum Health when you cast a spell."

Poisoned Heart: functionality changed to: "You and all adjacent foes are Poisoned for 5..15 seconds."

A while back, we dramatically reduced the Energy costs of Health-sacrifice skills. This undercut the usefulness of Masochism's old functionality of providing Energy when you sacrifice Health. We decided to rework the skill as a Death Magic and Soul Reaping equivalent of Awaken the Blood. We altered Poisoned Heart to combo better with the Necromancer's ability to transfer conditions to foes.


Ranger Pets in PvE



Pets in PvE now have an inherent 33% damage reduction and +33% damage.

Because PvE often involves fighting higher-level creatures with armor and damage, pets needed some statistical bonuses in PvE.


Comfort Animal (PvE): decreased Energy cost to 5. Functionality changed to: "You heal your animal companion for 20..104 Health. If your companion is dead, it is resurrected with 10..58% Health. If you have Comfort Animal equipped, your animal companion will travel with you."

The other major issue with bringing a pet is the number of skill slots this takes up. To address this, we've changed Comfort Animal in PvE so that having it on your skill bar means your pet will come with you in PvE. This means you won't need to bring Charm Animal once you've charmed your pet. This change does not apply to PvP, where having another character on your side is a major benefit and the limitations on free skill slots are an important part of the playbalance.


Call of Haste (PvE): increased movement and attack speed to 33%.

Enraged Lunge (PvE): functionality changed to: "Your animal companion attempts an Enraged Lunge that applies a Deep Wound to target foe for 5..20 seconds and deals +10..50 damage."

Melandru's Assault (PvE): functionality changed to: "Your animal companion attempts a Melandru's Assault that deals +5..20 damage to all nearby foes."

Predatory Bond (PvE): functionality changed to: "For 5..20 seconds, your animal companion attacks 25% faster and heals you for 1..31 Health with each attack."

We've also improved a number of pet skills in order to make them more exciting and also to reduce skill-bar pressure further. Again, these changes are for PvE only. Predatory Bond and Call of Haste now have dual functions, adding an attack speed boost to complement their other effects. Melandru's Assault is no longer conditional and should be much more practical to use.