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Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: ArenaNet
Release Date: Oct. 23, 2015

About Rainier

PC gamer, WorthPlaying EIC, globe-trotting couch potato, patriot, '80s headbanger, movie watcher, music lover, foodie and man in black -- squirrel!


'Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns' Details Specializations System - Screens

by Rainier on April 23, 2015 @ 3:39 p.m. PDT

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns is founded on the same gameplay philosophy as the core game and represents a re-envisioning of progression in an MMO with all-new features, profession, systems and more.

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns continues the storyline that has the game world of Tyria facing off against the Elder Dragon Mordremoth. As the storyline unfolded through the game’s Living World updates, players had speculated about one possible casualty in the war with Mordremoth. In one cliffhanger, Tyria’s iconic hero Rytlock disappeared into a mysterious void as he chased the weapon to end the curse of the Foefire and drive the ghosts of Ascalon away for good.

In Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, Rytlock not only makes a triumphant return from the mysterious Mists, he comes back with an all-new set of abilities. His return sets the stage for one of the expansion’s most exciting additions, the introduction of an all-new profession called the Revenant that channels powers from some of the Guild Wars universe’s most legendary heroes.

In addition to these features, ArenaNet showcased every key new feature the expansion brings to the core game, covering additions to both PvE and competitive PvP and World vs. World modes.  The trailer showcases each feature set, and set the stage for an ongoing series of updates now through launch that would delve much deeper into what each will bring to the expansion.

Specializations are our way of giving existing professions new skills and traits. Specializations are actually a much bigger addition that will have an impact on both new and existing skills and traits. Here are some of the big reasons why we’re excited about specializations:

  • They separate stats from traits, opening up builds by trait choice rather than stat choice.
  • More power! You now get to select nine major traits instead of seven, including three grandmaster traits.
  • Each trait is more impactful, so choices are more build defining and meaningful.
  • The new, more streamlined unlock system is friendlier to new players and much less of a burden on players with multiple characters.
  • This new system is one that we can continue to expand while maintaining a strong sense of balance.

The original goal of the Trait system was to create a way to customize your character beyond their skills. What we’re trying to do with specialization is take everything that was positive about the Trait system and boil it down while removing or modifying the parts we felt held it back. This new system provides a solid foundation for our plans to expand the number of available traits and skills in the future. So how do specializations work?

Core Specializations

Each profession will have five core specializations corresponding to the old trait lines. The first step in customization will be to select three of the five core specializations. These determine the basis for your other build choices. For example, an elementalist may choose to specialize in Fire Magic, Earth Magic, and Water Magic. The ability to select one, two, and finally three core specializations will unlock as you level your character from 1 to 80.


Each core specialization will have three minor traits associated with it. These are automatically equipped along with the specialization itself and help define the playstyle of that particular specialization.

In addition, there will be nine major traits tied to each specialization. There are three different tiers of traits: adept, master, and grandmaster. Once a specialization has been equipped, a character will be able to select a single trait for each tier to help customize that specialization. By locking traits to tiers and reducing the overall number of traits, we’ve made each choice much more compelling.

Where Did My Trait-Line Stats Go?

We feel that separating build choices from stat decisions provides greater build flexibility, so you’ll no longer gain attribute points through a given line. Where will these stats go? Here’s a quick summary:

  • Base player stats will be increased from 926 to 1000.
  • Base attribute points on equipment will be increased so that all the gear in the game will give higher stats than it did before. This should account for most of the missing points.
  • Each profession’s attributes will be updated to have half of their functionality be part of a specialization and half of their functionality will be a baseline for that profession. For example, elementalists now have a base attunement recharge of 10 seconds, which is reduced to 8.7 seconds when the arcane specialization is equipped.

These changes should keep the total stat numbers roughly the same as they were before, even though you’ll get them from different places. In addition to these changes, the need to unlock skills and traits will be removed from Player vs. Player entirely, and you’ll automatically have all the specializations available to you whenever you’re in PvP.

What Does a Specialization Look Like?

To help clarify, I’m going to take an example line, Water Magic, and show you the exact changes we’ve made. Keep in mind that, as with all things currently in development, there may be differences between the updates I’m showing here and the traits that make it to the live game.

Minor Traits

Soothing Mist: You and nearby allies regenerate health while you are attuned to water.

Healing Ripple: Heal nearby allies when attuning to water.

Aquatic Benevolence: Healing done to allies is increased. (25%)

Major Traits


  1. Soothing Ice: Gain regeneration and Frost Aura when you are struck by a critical hit.
  2. Piercing Shards: While attuned to water, your spells deal more damage to vulnerable foes. Vulnerability lasts longer.
  3. Stop, Drop, and Roll: Dodge rolling removes burning and chilled.


  1. Soothing Disruption: Cantrips grant you regeneration and vigor. Cantrip recharge is reduced.
  2. Cleansing Wave: Remove a condition from you and your allies when attuning to water.
  3. Aquamancer’s Training: Deal extra damage when your health is above the threshold. Reduces recharge on all water weapon skills.


  1. Cleansing Water: Remove a condition when granting regeneration to yourself or an ally.
  2. Powerful Aura: Auras you gain from weapon skills are also applied to nearby allies.
  3. Bountiful Power: Deal more damage for each boon on you.

If much of this seems familiar to you, that’s good; specializations take many of the aspects of the existing system and break them down into a similar system that is clearer and easier to use.

As you can see, traits have been merged, moved, and culled, and new ones have been created, but it lets us introduce more skillful traits and more meaningful trait choices that are going to really change how you play. Although some traits are being removed, we’re doing our best to preserve as many of the current builds as we can.

Core Skills

In addition to core specializations, we’re making some changes to skills. Some skills’ base functionalities will change to incorporate lost behaviors from the removed traits. For example, the necromancer’s wells will all become ground targeted and the trait allowing ground targeting will be removed. All legacy skills will be assigned a category if they don’t already have one; for example, the engineer’s Mortar elite skill will become a kit. This means that traits and potential rune sets that affect kits can be triggered by this skill.

Core skills and core specializations set us up for our new skill and trait unlocking system, which you can find out more about in the companion piece to this blog post.

Profession Reward Tracks

Skill and trait unlocking is transitioning into a new system. Profession reward tracks are packages of skills, traits, specializations, and items that will make up the new unlock system. Rather than completing specific content for specific unlocks, everything will be unlocked by spending Hero Points on these new reward tracks.

Hero Points will be limited, and they’ll be earned strictly through what are currently called skill challenges (these will become known as hero challenges) and leveling up. A level 80 character that’s done none of the hero challenges should be able to unlock more than enough skills, specializations, and traits to make several unique full builds. A single character who’s done a fair amount of the hero challenges should be able to unlock all of the core specializations, skills, and traits. PvP players won’t have to worry about unlocking anything, as all skills and traits will be automatically unlocked upon entering the Heart of the Mists.

Old skill points in excess of those earned by leveling and skill challenges will be converted into crafting materials for the Mystic Forge. Items and activities that were previously repeatable sources of skill points will now also provide that same crafting material.
There will be three categories of profession reward tracks, covering core specializations, core skills, and elite specializations.

Core Specialization Reward Tracks

These will unlock the specialization itself and all of its minor and major traits. There will be one for each core specialization for a total of five per profession. For example, an elementalist’s Water Magic reward track will unlock the following:

  • Soothing Mist (adept minor)
  • Healing Ripple (master minor trait)
  • Aquatic Benevolence (grandmaster minor trait)
  • Soothing Ice (adept major)
  • Piercing Shards (adept major)
  • Stop, Drop, and Roll (adept major)
  • Soothing Disruption (master major trait)
  • Cleansing Wave (master major trait)
  • Aquamancer’s Training (master major trait)
  • Cleansing Water (grandmaster major trait)
  • Powerful Aura (grandmaster major trait)
  • Bountiful Power (grandmaster major trait)

As with all things currently in development, there may be differences between the updates I'm showing here and the traits that make it to the live game.

Core Skill Reward Tracks

These will unlock all skills within a skill category. For example, a warrior signet track will unlock Healing Signet, Signet of Might, Signet of Fury, Signet of Stamina, Dolyak Signet, and Signet of Rage.

Elite Specializations

Finally, we’re here. When we talked about rangers becoming druids and necromancers with greatswords, those were examples of what we call elite specializations. These are the brand-new level-80 specializations that will begin to introduce new weapons, mechanics, skills, and traits to existing professions in Heart of Thorns.

New Weapons

Elite specializations will always introduce a single new weapon type for your character. The ranger’s druid specialization will allow the ranger access to the staff weapon, while some other lucky profession will finally get access to a hammer. This means players of every profession will have a new moment-to-moment combat style to master. Some professions will be getting a single main-hand or off-hand weapon, but each weapon should really open up some new playstyles for a given profession. In order to equip this new weapon, you’ll have to both unlock and equip the appropriate elite specialization.

New Skills

Almost every elite specialization will gain access to a complete set of new skills: a single heal, four utility skills, and one elite skill. Revenants will gain a healing skill, an elite skill, and a set of utilities of the same type. One specialization will have access to traps, while at least one profession’s elite specialization will be a full set of six shouts. In order to equip any of these new skills, you’ll have to train and equip the corresponding elite specialization. We’ll also be reusing old types of skills like shouts and traps to create more synergy with the Rune system.

New Mechanics

But wait, there’s more! We’re also making some core changes to each profession that are dependent on the elite specialization equipped. Have you ever wanted a different way to take advantage of all that life force? How about a new way to shatter illusions? These are some of the changes you can expect to see for your favorite profession.

New Traits

Last but not least, elite specializations will come with a full new set of traits, similar to what a core specialization provides. Equipping an elite specialization takes up one of your three specialization slots and grants you three minor traits and nine major traits for use. How does a trait that removes a condition every time you evade an attack sound? I’m personally excited about a grandmaster trait that has the power to grant my character a defiance bar!

Will There Be More?

When Heart of Thorns goes live, each profession will receive one elite specialization to supplement its five core specializations. We like to describe builds using the new system in two ways:

  1. I am a(n) {profession name} specializing in {Spec #1}, {Spec #2}, and {Spec #3}. i.e., I am a ranger specializing in Marksmanship, Wilderness Survival, and Beastmastery.
  2. I am a(n) {elite spec} specializing in {Spec #2}, and {Spec #3}. i.e., I am a druid specializing in Nature Magic and Skirmishing.

For now, characters will only be able to equip a single elite specialization. Doing so will be as easy as it currently is to swap trait points; simply exit combat and select your new elite specialization, or do it in Heart of the Mists for PvP. We made this system to build upon it, so let the speculation about future specializations begin before we’ve even revealed the first full set!

Elite Specialization Reward Tracks

Finally, these reward tracks unlock everything for an elite specialization: weapon, unique mechanics, skills, and traits. They’ll also reward items, including new runes and sigils, a fancy weapon skin for your new weapon type, and an armor skin for a single matching piece of armor (usually headgear or shoulders). As long as you’ve purchased Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, you’ll automatically unlock access to all elite specializations in PvP.

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