Norrath to Tyria: Professions – Classes on Steroids

One of EverQuest 2’s strengths is the huge variety of classes available in the game.  When the game launched in 2004 there were 24 classes available to use when creating your character (now 25).  These classes were split into 4 archetypes, each holding 6 classes.  Archetypes define your role in EQ2: each class is designed to be able to fulfill the role of their archetype, and the main differences between classes for this role in a single archetype is “how” you do it.

EQ2 Class Icons

The original 24 classes available at launch.

Every class in the Priest archetype, for example, is supposed to be able to heal well enough that generally it doesn’t matter which you bring.  Each, of course, has their specialty in exactly how they heal.  Clerics use reactive heals, Druids use regenerative heals, and Shaman use wards to prevent damage.  Alongside this, each healer has basic heals, and the intent being to allow them to provide similar healing but having to work it in different ways.  Now look at the Fighters.  Generally, each Fighter is supposed to be able to tank in different ways and have their own benefits.  Balance is always a tricky issue, since two of the six Fighters are avoidance tanks.

Obviously I’m being high level here and in actual practice some classes within an archetype are much more preferred over the others due to convenience or just how current balance is working out, but overall the system is at least intended to work this way even if it doesn’t in practice.  It is this archetype system that is most interesting to me, and most relevant to Guild Wars 2.

A Class by any other name…

Aside: Guild Wars uses the term “Professions” instead of “Classes”.  In practice, these two terms are interchangeable, and if you accidentally use class instead of profession everyone will still know what you mean.  Regardless, “Profession” is the term used by ArenaNet, and is the standard term used all through Guild Wars 1 and 2, so when talking about Guild Wars 2 I will be using Profession, and when talking about EQ2 or other MMOs that do not also have special terms I will use Class.

The 8 professions available at launch.

Guild Wars 2 has only 8 professions, a mere third compared to EverQuest 2.  Each profession, however, is highly fleshed out as the developers designed each profession to be able to perform every role in different ways similar to the archetypes in EQ2.  An easy way to look at it is while the EverQuest 2 developers took the 24 initial professions and divided them into four archetypes (6 per archetype), Guild Wars 2 places all eight professions into all archetypes.  This means every profession is capable of performing every role, just in different ways.

I’ll go over the big changes GW2 is making to the roles in more detail in a later post, but for now you just need to know that the three major general roles (Tanking, Healing, and DPS) have been altered into Control, Support, and Damage.  Control encompasses all forms of crowd control such as stuns, snares, and daze (an effect similar to Stifle in EQ2), among others.  Support is anything you do to help your allies, whether it be buffs (known as “boons”), debuffs (known as “conditions”), and blocking attacks, among others.  Damage is more complicated than trying to reach your highest sustained DPS all the time as there are multiple forms of doing damage that behaves differently and have their own benefits and negatives, such as projectiles, DoTs, and spike damage to name a few.  This will be covered in more detail in a later post, but essentially everyone has the ability to do all the roles, and may even be expected to do all three within the same fight due to the way combat works.

Bring the player, not the profession (…nor the race!)

With the differences between each profession being how they perform each role, each profession can be viewed as a specific playstyle (or set of playstyles).  Each profession plays a different way, but in general are not significantly more powerful at any role than any other profession.  Although certain professions are a bit more geared towards one role than the other (i.e. they have more options), it does not make them vastly more powerful than others.  Fighters in EQ2 are significantly better tanks than the other classes, and Priests are significantly better healers than the other classes.  This is not the case with GW2.  A warrior and a necromancer can both provide support to allies, and an elementalist or thief can control enemies just as well as the others.

Since no profession is significantly better at a role than others, players are encouraged to play what they want to play, as well as playing with whomever they want to play with.  Anecdotes abound in MMOs where players had to switch to characters they didn’t want to play that evening because the group was missing a healer, or having to look for more because the only guild members on are warriors or rangers.  This isn’t the case.  Instead, you’ll be looking for players who are good at the profession/build they’re playing.  It could be a group of all warriors or all thieves, yet they would still be capable of playing through even the hardest content.  While that sounds like a condemnation of how easy the content is, in reality it’s a comment on the capabilities of each profession.  It wouldn’t be easy at all to do it, and a varied group would have a relatively easier time, but it’s still possible to do.

On another note, just like EQ2 all professions are available to all races.  Some races are not very friendly towards certain professions (specifically talking about in-game lore here) and NPCs of those professions in that race are few and far between, but players are free to choose any profession.  It’s interesting to note that player characters are considered “heroes”, and are the exception to a lot of things regarding how the in-game world works.

Pick a Profession, Any Profession

Of course, this equality between the professions leads us to one specific question: Which profession should you play?  Honestly, the answer really is “whichever you want”.  No matter the profession you choose, you will be able to perform well.  Each profession has several unique factors, such as a theme, unique mechanic, armor type, and weapon list. Each of these contribute to a different playstyle for that profession.

One way to determine a profession, though, is by looking at your favorite profession in EQ2.  Below you’ll find a quick overview of the eight professions, as well as which EQ2 classes I think are somewhat similar.  These are just my opinion though, and I recommend experimentation to find out which you like the most.  (Note, I change up the gender pronouns in the below descriptions, but like other MMOs you can be either male or female)

Elementalist

The elementalist is master of the elements, having power over fire, air, water, and earth.  Even though she can only wear light armor, the elementalist is at home at long range or right up close.  What she lacks in toughness though, she more than makes up for it in power.  Whether it’s dropping a huge spike of ice on an enemy or throwing a protective dome of air around her allies, she has the tools available for whether situation is needed.  The elementalist also can conjure elemental weapons to give to allies, as well as summon elementals to aid her.

Versatility is her strength.  The elementalist’s unique mechanic is her attunements, allowing her to shift into the four elements at will.  Each element provides different skills and powers that change up her capabilities as needed.  Fire focuses on burning many enemies at once, Water controls the enemies movements by freezing them as well as supporting allies.  Earth allows her to defend herself by turning flesh to stone or upending enemies, and Air allows her to spike enemies with focused damage.

If defined in EQ2 terms, the elementalist would be a combination of the Wizard and Warlock (just not focused on disease and poison), but also the Conjurer.  Fans of the old EQ1 Bard class might also want to at least take a look, as the profession can be built with a little bit of twisting in mind.

Warrior

The warrior is the classical master of weapons, and brings up mental images of Conan and Gimli.  He wears heavy armor and has the largest pool of possible weapons to wield of any profession.  Each weapon brings with it a different style of fighting, from bleeding enemies with the sword to knocking them down with the hammer to blocking all attacks with the shield.  In addition, the warrior brings other capabilities, such as summoned banners to buff nearby allies, shouts to hurt nearby enemies, or physical effects such as Stomp to knock back all nearby enemies.

The warrior’s unique mechanic is Adrenaline and the Burst skill.  As the warrior fights, he builds up adrenaline to fuel a burst skill, and that skill becomes more and more powerful as adrenaline is gained.  The burst skill available is also based on the weapon being wielded (mainhand only, the offhand doesn’t affect it).  The skills have three levels of power, each either increasing damage/duration or gaining new aspects to the effect.  Once used, all adrenaline is lost..but it doesn’t take long before they’re able to use it again.

As should be obvious, the EQ2 classes most similar to the warrior are in fact the warriors.  Both the Berserker and Guardian can be found in the GW2 warrior.  Some may find aspects of the Monk and Bruiser in the Warrior as well, but it’s not as prevalent.

Ranger

The ranger is master of nature and beasts, usually described as a jack of all trades.  She wears medium armor, and has more ranged weapons than anyone else.  That doesn’t mean she can’t go into melee, employing a more acrobatic style of diving in and out of range to avoid being hit.  Nature is prevalent throughout the ranger’s abilities, various attacks being imbued with the essence of the animals that inspire them.  Enemies can catch glimpses of a falcon as a greatsword ranger leaps towards them, or a serpent as they flank them to poison them from behind.  Other skills available to the Ranger include a multitude of traps as well as nature spirits that provide benefits to nearby allies.

The ranger’s unique mechanic is their animal companion.  The ranger wields their pets like weapons and has more control and customization over it than any other profession’s pets.  Each pet has four skills: three are used by the pet themselves and one is activated by the ranger.  The ranger can swap between two pets on land, and a separate two pets underwater, and is able to pick between any pet they have tamed so far.

The relevant EQ2 classes are kinda tricky.  Obviously the Ranger and the Beastlord are very similar, but the Assassin is only somewhat similar since the GW2 ranger doesn’t utilize stealth very much at all.  There’s also thematic similarities to the EQ2 Druids, but the GW2 ranger is very much a martial profession that utilizes nature magic, not a caster.

Necromancer

The eponymous master of the dead, the necromancer utilizes poisons, curses, undead, and life itself as his tools.  With high health, ability to drain life, and a specialization in debuffs, the necromancer has very high survivability despite having only light armor.  In addition to curses and debuffs, the necromancer is known for a style called Minion Master, where he summons a veritable army of mindless undead minions that attack nearby enemies on their own.  The necromancer can then sacrifice each minion for special effects.  However, the necromancer is also fully capable of going without minions, utilizing marks and wells to create areas that corrupt enemies and provide benefits to allies.

The necromancer’s unique mechanic is Death Shroud.  When nearby enemies die, whether the necromancer had anything to do with it or not, the necromancer gains Life Force which fuels his Death Shroud ability.  When he has activated Death Shroud, the necromancer gains four special abilities, and all damage he takes only affects his Life Force rather than his actual health.  Death Shroud can be turned on at any time he has available Life Force, allowing the necromancer to survive being attacked far longer than he normally would be able to.

It should be plainly obvious the closest EQ2 class is the Necromancer, however one can easily find parts of the Warlock, Mystic, and Defiler in the necromancer as well with their focus on debuffs and poison/decay.

Guardian

The guardian is a master of tactics who uses magic to supplement his martial abilities.  While he wears heavy armor like the warrior, the guardian does not have the high health to survive like the warrior, and instead uses his abilities to prevent damage in the first place.  Unlike other casters, the guardian gets his power from his faith, whether that faith is in the gods, their confidence in their legion, the spirits, their philosophy, or their place in the grand scheme of things.  Guardians are very much about controlling areas, being able to place symbols on the ground that hurt enemies and support allies, as well as creating temporary domes and walls to block/reflect projectiles and push back enemies.  In addition, the guardian can summon spirit weapons to help him that cannot be attacked.

The unique mechanic of the guardian are the Virtues: Courage, Resolve, and Justice.  These three abilities are passive effects that are always available, but the guardian can choose to sacrifice them for a short time to give their benefits to nearby allies.  Courage provides the guardian with Aegis, allowing him to block a single attack no matter how large, and can sacrifice it to give Aegis to all around him.  Resolve increases his health regen, and can sacrifice to provide that healing to those near him.  Finally, Justice causes every 5th attack to set the enemy on fire, and can sacrifice this to cause all nearby allies’ next attack to do the same.

While the EQ2 Crusaders are very similar (namely the Paladin), there are also similarities with the Clerics as the guardian can take on a mid-ranged caster role as well.  There are also a few similarities with the Shaman, but not as strong.  I should probably be clear, the guardian definitely does not have the main healer aspects of the Clerics (or Priests in general), but he can provide various methods of support to help allies.

Thief

The thief is the highly mobile and evasive master of shadows.  With medium armor, the thief must use his mobility to literally avoid attacks as much as possible.  Even more so than the ranger, the thief can move around with surprising ease, using teleports (shadowsteps), stealth, and skills that flank, leap, and roll away from enemies.  Unlike other professions, when the thief dual wields two one-handed weapons he gets a special dual skill that utilizes both in a special attack, and he gains new abilities when he goes into stealth.  In addition, among the thief’s tricks are traps, tools such as scorpion wire to pull enemies to him, and venoms that provide benefits to his next few attacks.

The thief has a dual unique mechanic: Initiative and Steal.  The thief does not use cooldowns for his weapon skills, but instead utilizes a single pool of energy called Initiative, allowing him to use the same skill multiple times to either keep an enemy under pressure or spam high damage abilities to spike them down.  The thief can also use Steal to gain a random item from their enemy (specifically from a pre-assigned pool of items).  Nothing is actually stolen, but these two mechanics give the thief a strong playstyle based on flexibility and adaptability more than any other profession.

It’s pretty obvious the thief is similar to EQ2 Assassins, Swashbucklers, and Brigands, but there’s also a small similarity with Brawlers.  The thief is very much an avoidance profession, except instead of just getting your avoidance stat high and evading the attack rolls, the thief must literally dodge and evade attacks to stay alive.

Engineer

The engineer is a master of mechanical and alchemical mayhem, and a relatively unique profession to MMOs in general.  While he also has medium armor, he does not have nearly the acrobatic or evasive abilities of the ranger and thief, requiring him to reach into his tool bag of tricks and plan ahead to survive.  The engineer is a technology-based profession, and eschews magic to the point where he doesn’t even employ magical signets like the other professions.  Instead, the engineer uses tools like alchemical elixirs to provide semi-random benefits and turrets that automatically fire on enemies or provide benefits to nearby allies.  He also has the shortest weapon list, utilizing only rifles, pistols, and a shield, but can supplement this with weapon and device kit skill that allow him to equip unique weapons like grenades, a flamethrower, and an elixir guns that provide new skills to use.

The engineer’s unique mechanic is the toolbelt.  This provides four special skills based on which utility skills are being used.  For example, using a Flamethrower kit gives the Incendiary Ammo skill in the toolbelt, allowing the engineer’s next few attacks to set enemies on fire.  Using an elixir gives the “Throw Elixir” skill, allowing the engineer to create an area where allies can receive similar effects that the engineer would get.  Every utility skill has an associated toolbelt skill (on its own cooldown, even).  This means that, combined with the kits that replace your weapon skills, the engineer has a huge amount of versatility available, and causes the engineer to have a very strong “plan ahead” playstyle to make sure he has the proper tools for the job.

It’s difficult to find an EQ2 class that matches up with this profession, to be honest.  The engineer plays like nothing available in EQ2, even discounting the technology theme, so I can’t make a comparison.  It’s far easier to compare the engineer to Team Fortress 2, where he’s similar to 6 of the 9 classes there.

Mesmer

The mesmer is the master of confusion and deception.  Our last light armored profession, the mesmer utilizes illusions and trickery to keep her enemies off balance.  The mesmer is an arcane duelist, at home whether up close or at a distance, capable of summoning multiple illusions that act like swarm or dumbfire pets to attack, debuff, and distract enemies while the mesmer capitalizes on their presence to hurt or cause other effects to help allies or destroy her foes.  Two types of illusions can be created: Clones and Phantasms.  Clones are throwaway copies physically indistinguishable from the real mesmer used for distraction and fodder, but are fragile.  Phantasms are ghostly copies of the mesmer that are tougher and cause very specific effects.  In addition, the mesmer can use their abilities to perform various tricks such as a portal that will instantly teleport allies to wherever the exit is placed, mantras that require preparation but can be fired off instantly, and a veil that will stealth any ally that travels through it.

The mesmer’s unique mechanic are her Shatter skills.  These are four special skills that will instantly shatter any illusions currently in existence, causing a special effect that gets more powerful as there are more illusions (a mesmer can have 3 illusions up at once).  These shatters can directly damage an enemy, cause them to take damage every time they attack, prevent them from using abilities for a few seconds, or allow the mesmer to avoid attacks.  Since all illusions shatter (normally without effect) when their target dies and cannot switch targets, proper timing and use of the Shatter abilities is crucial to playing a mesmer well.

The closest EQ2 class to the Mesmer is of course the Illusionist and the Coercer, but the mesmer definitely plays significantly different from normal EQ2 classes.  There are no mesmerize or charm spells, instead the mesmer skills would be similar to focusing heavily on the swarm and personae spells along with heavy debuff and buffing abilities.

Conclusion

As you can see the GW2 professions are both largely familiar yet unique in their design.  When picking a profession, go more for what style of gameplay you want, or what theme you like.  It may take trying out a few different ones in order to determine which is your favorite, but please don’t shy away from experimentation.

There is a freely accessible PvP lobby in the game where, in preparation for Structured PvP, any player can enter even right after the tutorial.  You are automatically leveled to 80 and all skills are unlocked while you are in this area.  You can also find practice dummies available to have an enemy.  This gives all players the ability to go and test out how the profession plays and work out builds.  If one profession doesn’t feel right, simply try another.  No matter which you pick, the design is that any profession will work, just in different ways.  Experience with balancing in EQ2 may make players cynical on how well this will work out, but I invite you to give the concept a chance and see what else in the game encourages this new setup.

Now, one thing you may have noticed throughout this post is the periodic mentions of special skills, weapon skills, and builds.  What specifically is meant by this?  The next post I am setting up will go over the difference in how skills are set up and what players can do, and how this is differentiated from EQ2.  Hopefully this will not take as long as this post did.

Related links:

Official Guild Wars 2 Profession page: http://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/professions/
Note that these pages were set up when they were revealed and, due to subsequent development, may not be 100% accurate.  The website is planned to be updated with proper information on launch.

Official Guild Wars 2 Wiki Profession page: http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Profession
This is the community-updated wiki site.  With the exception of forums, this is likely the most updated site regarding professions.

(Aside: This was probably the hardest thing I’ve written in a long time, I’ve probably re-written this post 8-9 times.  So much within this post can only be 100% fully understood if you also know about the other systems involved, so finding a way to explain what the professions are without launching into 2 separate posts at the same time was difficult.  However, knowing this will make things a lot easier for future posts).

Images are © 2012 ArenaNet, Inc. All rights reserved. NCsoft, ArenaNet, Arena.net, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks or registered trademarks of NCsoft Corporation. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

EverQuest 2 is © 2004-2012 Sony Online Entertainment LLC. EverQuest is a registered trademark of Sony Online Entertainment LLC in the United States and/or other countries. All other trademarks are properties of their respective owners. All rights reserved.

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One response to “Norrath to Tyria: Professions – Classes on Steroids

  1. What I like about the professions of GW2, is that different ones seem to -really- resonate with certain people. I think it’s a design success when classes have such clear ‘vibes’ to them that they really feel distinct yet equally cool. And on top of that specs and weapon sets can customize the playstyle of each of them even more.

    The only drawback is it’s SO hard to decide which one to main!

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