Introducing Guild Wars 2's new profession: the revenant

When Guild Wars 2 developer ArenaNet announced its first expansion to the popular MMO last month, it revealed a few key pieces to get fans excited. One of those was a new class (or "profession," in Guild Wars 2 terminology): the revenant.

This initial reveal came with limited details. ArenaNet announced that one of Guild Wars 2's main characters, Rytlock Brimstone, would be the first revenant in the game, and that the class would channel powers of heroes from the game world's past, but that was about it.

Now ArenaNet has shared a ton more details to Polygon, including new mechanics the revenant will employ, the weapons they'll carry into battle and the identities of some of the well-known Guild Wars 1 heroes they'll be channeling.

Professions and Mechanics

As ArenaNet first set out to design Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, it went through a long process of figuring out what new profession should be added to the game.

"We talked a lot about where we'd been going with Guild Wars 2's professions," says ArenaNet game design lead Jon Peters. "We were moving further and further away from Guild Wars 1. We looked at our whole set of eight professions and tried to figure out what archetype was missing. It took us back into our past. We started looking backward at the first game."

Peters means that very literally in a sense. The revenant is not only inspired by professions in the first Guild Wars mechanically, but it's also narratively built around the idea of channeling powers of historic figures in the game world, many of whom will be characters who played a part in the first game.

"We looked at our whole set of eight professions and tried to figure out what archetype was missing. It took us back into our past."

Peters describes the revenant's ability to channel different legends as "sort of like a weapon for the right half of your skill bar." For the benefit of those who haven't played Guild Wars 2 before, the skill bar generally only ever shows ten skills at once — five weapon skills on the left half and five skills on the right side that can be rotated through. Those right-side skills include a single healing skill, several utility skills and an extra-powerful elite skill.

While most classes in Guild Wars 2 can swap out a weapon at any point, thereby changing the makeup of the left side of their skill bar, revenant will be able to swap between two equipped legends. As with other healing, utility and elite skills, new legends will be unlocked via skill points. This will make for a complex class, but one that has some incredible strategic options at its disposal.

For example, Peters says the revenant will be able to use its currently-selected healing skill, then swap to its other equipped legend and use that legend's healing skill immediately. Situations like this will provide a different dynamic from other classes.

"Legends were designed as packages of skills for very specific playstyles," says ArenaNet game designer Roy Cronacher. "One legend might be focused being tanky, while another is focused around conditions. The idea is that you bring this package of skills that has a themed playstyle. You make that choice of whether you want to be an offensive-style character or do you want to use conditions or do you want to be a tank or do you want to do support. By having two legends equipped, it allows you to mix and match these playstyles and build a hybrid role."

The idea of legends as a special package for the player extends beyond skills and into the user interface itself. Cronacher says that each legend will morph the UI to its own color set and style. The idea is that this will push the sensation that a player is channeling this ancient power even when they're not using a legend's skills.

Legend: Jalis Ironhammer, king of the dwarves

If you only just got into Guild Wars via its sequel, you'd be forgiven for missing that dwarves exist in Tyria. The classic fantasy race is near-extinct and generally well-hidden at the time the sequel takes place. But in the first game, which takes place several hundred years earlier, dwarves are a big deal, and they're led by Jalis Ironhammer.

"We brought a lot of the lore from Guild Wars 1, connecting it back to the past," Cronacher says. "Some Guild Wars 2 players may not have heard of this stuff or seen it before, but it will excite a lot of our long-term fans who have been playing our games for a while."

When a revenant calls on the power of Jalis, they'll be transforming into what Cronacher calls a "dwarf brawler kind of playstyle." They'll be a tank in the massively multiplayer sense of being able to take a lot of damage, but they'll also be incredibly aggressive.

"We brought a lot of the lore from Guild Wars 1, connecting it back to the past."

This ability to do damage is best seen in the Vengeful Hammers skill. When a revenant activates this skill, a bunch of hammers will float around the character, damaging any enemies who get close.

"They actually work like projectiles in the game," Peters says, praising the new tech ArenaNet created specifically for skills like this. "They can collide with stuff. All the stuff we can do with an arrow, we can now do with something that spins around you."

Cronacher says they'll be using that technique for other new skills moving forward, presumably including skills on older classes. Likewise, Vengeful Hammers represents a new type of skill for Guild Wars 2, something ArenaNet is calling "upkeep abilities."

"It's a skill that you can toggle to keep on as long as you want, as long as you have enough energy to upkeep it," Cronacher explains. He compares it to maintained abilities in the first Guild Wars, something that had no equivalent in the more recent game until now.

Cronacher describes one of Jalis' utility skills. Revenants using this legend will be able to call down a rune from the sky that damages and weakens enemies as it descends. Once it actually hits the ground, it will push enemies away in order to form a safe space for allies.

He also reveals Jalis' elite skill: Rite of the Great Dwarf. Long-time players may recognize the significance of that skill name from original Guild Wars expansion Eye of the North. When activated, the revenant will turn themselves and their party members into stone, presumably boosting defense and power.

Legend: Mallyx, demon overlord

"Not all the legend characters are humanoid," Cronacher warns before introducing the second character that can be channeled: Mallyx the Unyielding, a demonic powerhouse that players actually fought in the first Guild Wars.

"This ties in to bring Rytlock back as the first revenant," Peters says. "He has a very ‘whatever it takes' attitude. If he can get powers from Mallyx, he will use them. He'll do whatever he needs to in order to be more powerful. Revenants are a little bit darker in that way."

Peters stops short of calling revenants actually evil — "we don't do that for player professions" — but compares them to playing as a necromancer. He says revenants will be more of an anti-hero profession.

Guild Wars 2

In gameplay terms, Mallyx will be focused on condition manipulation, which is something ArenaNet hasn't tried in Guild Wars 2. Conditions are what might be known as "debuffs" in other MMOs — any status effect that is detrimental to a player character. Examples range from bleeding, which does damage over time, to crippled, which decreases movement speed.

Normally these are things you wouldn't want on your character. However, a revenant channeling Mallyx will actually thrive on them.

"You want to keep conditions on yourself, because they empower the skills on your bar," Cronacher says. "Each skill puts a condition on yourself, and it's all about managing how many conditions you can have on yourself while keeping yourself heathy and alive."

Mallyx-equipped revenants will have to do a careful balancing act, but it can pay off. Mallyx's elite skill, titled Embrace the Darkness, will actually push all of the character's current conditions off onto nearby enemies. Meanwhile, the character will actually transform into a more demonic pose, gaining Mallyx's strength more directly.

Guild Wars 2

Peters also mentions a Mallyx skill called Unyielding Anguish. When used, players will be able to target an area on the ground. Then they'll leap at that area, displacing all enemies from it. It's another example of how ArenaNet is trying to provide more options for moving enemies around in Heart of Thorns, and it's also another nod to the past.

"Unyielding Anguish was actually the name of one of Mallyx's skills when you fought him in Guild Wars 1," Peters says. "And it had a similar effect!"

Introducing the energy system

Along with swapping between legends, the revenant profession will employ a second new mechanic that distances it from any other profession currently in the game: energy. In yet another callback to the first Guild Wars, all of the revenant's skills — both weapon and legend skills — will use a portion of the character's energy bar. While other classes only need to wait for a cooldown to reuse skills, revenants will need to wait for their energy bar to refill over time.

But here's where things get extra-complicated: When a revenant swaps to a different legend in battle, it will reset their energy bar to around half full. This means you could completely drain your energy on one legend, swap to a secondary legend and be good to keep fighting.

"Energy is basically the representation of power for your current legend," Cronacher says. "You have this push and pull of gaining power with the legend that allows you to perform these powerful attacks. As you expend them, you lose connection with the legend, so you can't use those powers until you regain that energy."

This also explains the aforementioned upkeep skills, like Jalis' Vengeful Hammers. Turning on an upkeep skill will cause players to steadily drain their energy, but the skill will remain active until the energy is gone completely.

"You make the choice to toggle it on, and while it's up it lowers your base energy regeneration," Cronacher says. "If your base regen is five energy per second and a skill costs seven in upkeep, it'll put you to negative two energy per second. So you're actually losing energy over time while the skill is active. You have the choice of leaving it active and running out of energy, or you can toggle into a new legend at any time. It offers a lot of freedom to players."

Currently ArenaNet plans for each of the revenant's legends to have at least one upkeep skill.

Wielding more traditional weapons

Despite the revenant's deep well of power from summoning legends, they will use regular weapons as well. While ArenaNet hasn't settled on every weapon type that will be available to the new profession, it revealed three to Polygon: the hammer, mace and axe.

Of course, even with traditional weapons, the revenant seems to be all about overcoming expectations. In the case of the hammer — normally a heavy, slow weapon — revenants will actually use it as a ranged weapon.

The hammer will focus on cascade attacks such as Coalescence of Ruin. When used, the revenant will slam the ground with their hammer, creating a series of cracks that extend out from their position. As the attack spreads out from its starting position, it will do more and more damage to any enemies in the way.

"That skill specifically does more damage the further out it goes," Cronacher says. "The hammer is really all about keeping people at range and edging out your range so that your character can maximize their damage."

That focus on range is also seen in Field of Mists, an upkeep skill that's exclusive to hammer-wielding revenants. When active, this skill will place a wall in front of the character that blocks incoming projectiles and moves with them.

On the mace side, Cronacher points to Manifest Toxin, the third part of the revenant's auto-attack with this weapon type. While the first two mace auto-attacks will bash at an enemy as expected, Manifest Toxin will check if additional enemies are behind the one being attacked. If so, it will chain the third and most powerful hit to those subsequent enemies.

According to Cronacher, this is pushing another new element of Heart of Thorns, which is playing with enemy placement. In this case, revenants will specifically benefit from getting enemies lined up for directional attacks.

But how can they accomplish that? The axe's Temporal Rift skill provides one method. With this powerful ability, a revenant will cut a tear in the fabric of the world and into the Mists, the alternate dimension from which this profession draws its powers. A few moments after that rift has been created, it will implode, pulling enemies into it.

Cronacher says this is the perfect way to get enemies positioned into a line in order to maximize the impact of other attacks. However, it won't help with the aforementioned mace skill; since revenants can swap legends at any time, they will not be able to swap between two weapon types on the fly.

A legendary future

While the weapon skills sound fun, channeling legends is obviously the big draw of the revenant. Both Mallyx and Jalis sound fascinating, and ArenaNet promises more legends are coming — though it isn't sure how many yet.

"More than two, less than a million," Peters jokes. "If you look at the number of utility skills and heal skills and elite skills on other professions, you'll get a ballpark idea of the number of legends.

"We aren't sure yet, because we're shipping the ones that we're happy with. We're announcing these ones right now because we're super happy with them. There's a bunch that we worked on and threw out. There's some that we worked on, threw out and now we've come back to them. It's hard to say the exact number right now."

"One of the things we learned in the original Guild Wars 2 release is that when we gave people a bunch of story paths to go down, they only played one of them."

Peters also confirms that the revenant will have a specialization, one of the other new features of Heart of Thorns revealed in the expansion's announcement. However, the studio is still nailing down precisely how specializations will work, which means it isn't ready to reveal how that will interact with legends if at all.

While the revenant is very story-driven compared to other professions in the game, ArenaNet says it will not make class-specific story content for them.

"We want professions to have more story to them about why they exist and why they've come about," Peters says. "But one of the things we learned in the original Guild Wars 2 release is that when we gave people a bunch of story paths to go down, they only played one of them. It's better for us to give players choices along the way but not have those choices make them go in a different direction and not play a thing we spent a lot of time building."

While we don't yet know when the expansion will actually be released, eager Guild Wars fans will be able to start playing the stuff ArenaNet has spent a lot of time building very soon. Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns' revenant class, including all the skills and legends discussed here, will be playable to the public at the PAX East event in Boston taking place March 6 through 8. It will also be at the Rezzed event in London from March 12 through 14.

If you can't make it to one of those or can't wait, Peters and Cronacher will be showing off the revenant in action live on the Guild Wars 2 Twitch channel this Friday, Feb. 20, at 12 p.m. PST.

Images: ArenaNet