Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Are Thieves in Trouble?

"Currently there is little reason to bring a Thief in comparison to other professions, simply because anything a Thief can bring to the table, other professions can do it better as far as we have seen. While the Thief has a bit of everything in his arsenal, it simply doesn't excel enough at any of those things enough to make it worthwhile. It is a very “squishy” profession with a strong roaming capability. The problem is that an Elementalist fits that role just fine as well and can perform much better in most cases."  -Team Paradigm Interview at Guild Wars 2 Hub
That is a damning quote coming from one of the top guilds in structured PvP in a recent interview.  If you plan to play a thief in any form, this is something you simply do not want to hear. So, are we in trouble?

The short answer is most likely not. You have to remember that is a guild that is almost entirely focused in structured PvP. Thus, their quote really doesn't hold as much weight in WvW and PvE. However, there can be some justifiable concern with sPvP.  There are some pretty major reasons for the position we are in now, but remember we are still in beta, and we will see some quality of life improvements before launch.

While most people are in agreement that the two defining characteristics of thieves is mobility and burst, there are definitely some complaints growing in the community, specifically about initiative, steal, and squishiness.

I'll start out by saying, I actually enjoy the initiative system. I believe it adds a sense of what the profession is about through a unique mechanic. We are now capable of repeating a skill more than once, and that can be extremely powerful, if used right. That being said, it is extremely hard to balance. Changing a skill by a single initiative can change something that was godly, to something that is almost never used.

It's a system that enhances one of the biggest characteristics of the profession, burst. However, that burst comes at a cost, and in this case our sustainability. Almost all thieves will need to spec into initiative traits to give themselves longer endurance. Specing into these traits however sacrifices vital trait points for other areas. While an interesting choice for theorycrafters and fledgling thief's alike, it can lead to our downfall.

Secondly, steal. The skills granted by steal are extremely powerful, and ArenaNet has done some work to reduce the number of "items" that we can steal. While that is nice, there are still some problems. Having more than one option per profession adds RNG into the mix. While ArenaNet has been clear, that they believe RNG has a place in e-sports, I respectfully disagree. I don't want to guess in the heat of the moment, and lose because of RNG. The second problem with steal is some of the skills, in particular the warrior's axe. We lose control of our character for several seconds, and begin to spin wildly. Losing control of my character, specifically a very squishy character, in the middle of several enemies with a big sign over my head saying "look at me spin" is a very poor item choice.

However, I also disagree with those arguing that steal is useless without traits. That's just not true. One skill provides substantial healing and nearly full initiative replenishment, that alone is huge. Another provides invulnerability, another provides stealth and blinds a nearby foe, another grants us all buffs in the game. Add to these skills the instant shadowstep, and these skills are not what comes to mind, when I think of "useless." The traits that accompany this mechanic are interesting, and grant a respectable amount of choice and diversity among thieves. Something, which I believe is good, and something that we can all agree on.

Finally, we are downright squishy. There's really nothing more to be said, our base toughness or vitality needs to be increased. Although the real reason behind this, I think is more subtle than just numbers, and lies in the fact that ArenaNet chose to define thieves by making them highly mobile. By making us highly mobile, developers assumed that we would be able to avoid damage with skillful play, and thus balanced us around that. In many cases this is true. In WvW, as a acrobatic-traited shortbow thief, I could outrun every single profession in the game. Including dagger/dagger elementalists. I could enter combat, and escape just as easily as I entered it. There's even rumor of a signet change that grants 25% increased movement speed for the next beta.

And that, if true, I think, defines what may be wrong with the profession. Grant us more speed and mobility, and that works well in many situations. In many open PvE encounters and WvW, the more speed the better, but currently I don't believe we are weak in those areas. However, in structured PvP, I'm not sure mobility is as useful as other defining characteristics of professions. We can't defend points because we are often too squishy. Thus we are usually forced to roam, and while extremely fast, that mobility grants very little use outside of out-of-combat travel-time. When we hit a point under enemy control, that mobility is no longer nearly as viable. We are restricted to fight in very small areas, and can be even confined to the extremely limiting control point if we are trying to capture/neutralize it.

When you start breaking down this observation with combat mechanics, some startling problems arise:
Many professions burst combo's include some sort of stun/immobilize (effectively neutralizing any effect mobility has), and we are forced to take the hit. Unless of course, you include a stun-breaker in your arsenal of utilities. At this moment, we are so squishy, that we are essentially forced to take one of those skills, and I don't like being forced to take anything. I understand though, that several professions are also in this position, and this fact by itself does not solely identify the problem.

Furthermore, mobility (with skill and proper utilities) can work extremely powerfully on melee opponents in open areas. However, if we are confined to a circle, for instance to a control point, we are going to have some problems. We are forced to run out or waste all of our dodges. Furthermore, mobility does nothing to mitigate damage from ranged. If you are a melee thief, than yes, it increases your up-time substantially on the target. However, we can do nothing to avoid damage from ranged, except dodging, and when you combine that with our inherent squishiness, we can die rapidly.

Some might bring up dagger/dagger elementalists as a case study, and argue they have many of the same characteristics as us, but with substantially more success. They are extremely mobile, very squishy, and can have substantial burst. The first observation is that they are not as limited in sustainability, and can balance initial burst with 4 sets of attunements. Secondly, they can provide a large amount of support for their team. Most of their skills come from their weapon sets, and thus they have baseline defense, sustainability, offense, support, and mobility without even touching their traits. We are forced to fill in our weaknesses with traits, and simply can't cover them all up. While a very interesting and fun choice, when other professions are using traits to establish strengths, we are left removing our weaknesses. And if left standing, thieves would be very much restricted from competitive structured PvP.

However, not all is lost, this is still beta after all. And there are some possible solutions to be found. Increasing baseline vitality and toughness would be a great place to start. I think granting more skills "evasive actions" and reducing some of the "clunkiness" attached to moves like "cluster bomb" and "pistol whip" might also be effective. Eliminating our initiative system may provide better balancing, but I would argue at this point, it is too extreme and takes away from the "unique-ness" of the profession. Increasing our innate initiative regeneration rate might also prove beneficial. I hope I convinced you that while yes, currently we aren't in a very optimal situation (and that's saying that lightly), by launch we can expect some (hopefully substantial) improvements. Only time will tell.


  1. I am not sure how I feel about your post. Imo, the paradigm post said the thief class brings nothing unique to spvp. Which I do not totally agree with. The basallisk venom is one of the strongest elites in the game, and it has one of the lowest cds for elites. It can be used offensively to stun lock an enemy, and it can be used defensively to stun an enemy to get away or to prevent a stomp or damage. Most elites do something similar, but they are on a much longer cd.

    I think the theifs biggest benefit is its ability to rabidly move and switch targets. Due to the initiative system, essentially a theif can do whatever they want for a short amount of time, whether that is kite or unload damage. Every other profession is limited by skill recharges. So in team fights in a spvp setting, the benefit of bringing a theif is that they can rapidly move around the field of combat and switch targets as needed. Most classes can only unload everything once, and then wait a while for CDs. The elementalist kind of has more options with its four attunements, but its big attacks can essentially be blown rapidly and then they are on cd. The initiative is what makes the class unique, and also its biggest strength. Imo, that is true in both spvp and pve.

    But eh, that is just my opinion. Looking in from a mesmer and engie pov.

    1. Basilisk Venom is decent, and is substantially strengthened with traits. However, by itself its just a 1 second stun (that has the added benefit of being immune to any stun breakers.) Think of any other profession's non-elite skills, that effectively doing the same thing for longer, knockdowns especially. (Yes they may be breakable, but you essentially have to spec for them.)

      When the guardian can pop their elite, and use it to heal themselves to full, a tornado that can neutralize entire enemy capture points easily,and a 10 second soft cc on an enemy by turning them into a moa, I don't find ours to be the strongest elite in the game.

      We can't really rapidly switch between targets in a short duration fight, because we just don't have the initiative for it. Some of our moves take up to 1/2 of our initiative. We have to trait to gain decent sustainability, we have to trait to gain even sub-par defense, we have to trait to have even decent burst, and we have to trait for "eh" support. While we can be exceptional in one category with skills and traits, we fail to impress because we can simply not cover up all of our weaknesses.

    2. I agree with Finit on this one. Although I agree with you Entombed on popping questions about the thief in its current state. Now of course I do bring my noob gw2 opinion on this so I'm sure I wont have a few things correct, but I'll do my best to say what I think.

      No one wants to be not viable, and you being a long standing player of the thief archtype probably makes you wary of its flaws. But in my experience, the more familiar you are with a class the more aware of their weaknesses you become. And that can be said for every profession (unless something is glaringly OP).

      Now with that I don't mean to say their is no problem, but Team Paradigm being the leaders in today's meta and min and maxing to maintain that status may call the thief out based on their current thoughts, but meta always changes. Perhaps the thief true potential hasn't truly been realized.

      And what I mean by that is that they offer mobility and the ability to stick to a target like no other. So if the current meta is say run d/d ele as a roamer, what if teams run a thief just to counter the ele powerhouse? Now I know running counters are somewhat of a double edged sword, but just because a class does not seem to bring anything radically different to a team or do anything better than another profession (such as roaming), put in the proper situation it could out perform another.

  2. Definitely agree about thieves having to trait against weaknesses. Many mesmers complain about our profession mechanic but like other professions' mechanics, the illusions and shatters provide another level of complexity and choice, and don't necessarily make or break us. Then there's the thief: a fun novelty mechanic (steal) and initiative that has to be augmented through skill and/or trait selection. Also, I felt like my mesmer was more stealthy than my thief but I have substantially more experience on it. I enjoy the thief, but it feels less versatile and more limited than other professions.

    It also seems strange that thieves are lacking in stuns when developers usually take similar arch types to the other extreme with excessive stun-locking capability. It's almost like they tried too hard to please the anti-thief arch type crowd. Then again, I appreciate/prefer less button mashing. I just think they took it a little too far in the opposite direction.

    Unfortunately (or unfortunately depending on your perspective), profession balance is the sort of thing that's always a work in progress in MMOs. FOTM will change from one build to the next. If you know to expect certain build types in PvP, you can start to develop counters. Going the obvious route may be effective against unskilled teams but more ingenuity will be needed to rise above the pack.

    Also, the value of shadow step and poisons are not to be overlooked, and steal has likely been underrated (something that thieves who master it can use to their advantage against unsuspecting opponents.)