Guild Wars 2 is expanding with Heart of Thorns, taking the game's living world into the heart of the Maguuma Jungle. As our characters head into this new territory, one of the game's lore characters, Rytlock Brimstone, steps out of the Mists with a brand-new look and all-new abilities. The Revenant is Heart of Thorns new profession, an armor-wearing warrior that can call upon the powers of heroes from Guild Wars lore.
The Revenant fills in Guild Wars 2's list of professions, bringing the total number to nine. It's also the third profession that can wear Heavy Armor, completing the triumvirate that began with the Warrior and Guardian professions. The Revenant is the Death Metal of Guild Wars 2, all red and black armor full of spikes and pain, with a badass blindfold to cover their eyes. In the hands-on demo I'm playing, there's two weapon sets to choose from: the two-handed Hammer or dual-wielding a mace and axe. The Hammer is a mighty weapon that lets the Revenant operate from range, slamming the ground with heavy strikes to attack from a distance. The Mace and Axe combo is more mobile, giving the Revenant more positioning and movement options to get in your opponent's face.
The Revenant isn't like any other profession in Guild Wars 2 though. It operates under different rules. To understand the class I was playing in ArenaNet's hands-on demo, I'm talking with systems designer Jon Peters about the professions' genesis and overall concept.
"It was an idea in the beginning when we were making this game. It was a leading candidate when we shipped, this Mist Warrior-type thing," explains Peters. "It was actually called Mist Warrior at some point. We went through all these names and endless iterations. What's in the Mists? Our first thought was there's big moments in history. You can take power from those."
Calling on these powers allows the Revenant to switch between legends. Each legend is representative of one major figure in Guild Wars lore. In the demo, we were able to swap between the legends of the dwarven king Jalis Ironhammer and demon overlord Mallyx the Unyielding. Summoning each set of abilities changes your character in a way that's unique for Guild Wars 2. The right side of your abilities bar, where all your utility and support skills go? That shifts whenever you swap between legends. It's like weapon-swapping in reverse.
"We asked, 'What defines those moments?' It's the characters," says Peters. "You don't watch a show because of the plot, you watch it because of the characters. Those moments all had these great characters: Jalis, Mallyx, and others we're not talking about yet. That started to drive the concept: they're going to talk you and say stuff to you while you're playing. Once they became characters, like a MOBA game, it became a package of skills."
"As got into that, we asked, 'What have we not done before?' We've never done anything on the right side of your bar," he continues. "If you just pick a legend and it set the right side of your bar that's not super-exciting. If you change between multiple ones, then you realize 'Wait, I can use an elite skill, then switch and use the other elite skills? That must be broken!' That's how we want professions to feel. It's on us to make things fair.
Mallyx is your damage-dealer, built around collecting harmful conditions on your character in order to buff your damages. The more conditions you have, the more damage you can do. Jalis on the other hand is your tank stance, letting you wade into battle, soak up damage, and buff your allies.
The flexibility of legend swapping means that something has to give. That thing is the ability to switch between two weapon sets in combat. The Revenant equips a single weapon outside of combat and that's it. Peters admits that some players may feel like weapon-swapping was removed from the profession, but it was necessary.
"We definitely took it away, but not from live, so they can pretend they never had it," he tells me when I ask about the omission of weapon-swapping. "When we had energy, legend swapping, weapon swapping, and the cooldowns, you couldn't pay attention to all of it."
"All it ended up doing was making everything watered down" he says, laying out the design decisions. "When there was weapon swap, the weapon skills were much worse. There were so many choices that we couldn't let you make any bad choices. Now we've reduced the number of choices, but we've made them much more meaningful. Each weapon is really powerful. The Hammer has an AOE on a 2-second cooldown. We can do that because we know you don't have another weapon. This weapon has to carry itself in your moment-to-moment play. The Hammer drop skill did Weakness before, but when you have one weapon we can add Knockdown."
The Revenant's unique situation extends even further. You can't unlock support/utility skills and customize the right side of your action bar like you can in other professions. When you're Mallyx, you have one set of support skills; when you're Jalis, you have another. The trick is that you can use any of Jalis' or Mallyx abilities at any time because you can switch on the fly. You can use Jalis' straightforward heal, then switch and use Mallyx' weirder condition-based heal. The consistent skills also means ArenaNet is able to make some interesting choices.
"If you look the Mallyx skills, we would never have made a skill that takes the conditions on me and pulses them out," says Peters. "How you do have conditions? All the other skills give you conditions. You could never do that when you had a random set of skills. That's a big element. We get to do stuff we didn't do before because we know what tools you have. We get to make skills you wouldn't have otherwise."
It's a different kind of flexibility. Once I realize I can switch skills on the fly, my playstyle changes. I start looking for synergy between Jalis' and Mallyx' powers. Buffing myself and allies with Jalis' skills and then laying down the pain with Mallyx. The odd thing is the Revenant's skills don't have a cooldown either. Instead, the class is balanced through a pool of energy. This pool starts at 50 percent when you summon a legend and then slowly raises to 100 percent; it takes time to become attuned with that specific legend. That means your abilities aren't as effective if you swap too much. The Revenant skill UI has pips to let you know while direction your energy is going.
"[The legend swapping] drove us not have any cooldowns, because it's not going to matter anymore," Peters explains. "The way they're balanced is this pool of energy. If I swap legends then I'm not at full energy. I have to get in tune with that legend. It's Guild Wars legends and Guild Wars mechanics. Energy was how everything worked in Guild Wars 1; now this guy uses that, but he also uses this lore for Guild Wars 1. I'd love to say we planned it, but that organically came together, which is why it's really compelling. As each piece came together, it all made sense."
In the demo, we only have Jalis and Mallyx, but there's going to be more legends to choose from in the future. ArenaNet is still coming up with unique legends that brings together a figure from Guild Wars lore with a specific style of play. I speculate that means we'll probably be getting a healer and tricksy support legend, but Peters doesn't provide any confirmation on future plans. He does explains that the full spec for a Revenant is built on the two legends you choose.
"You pick two outside of combat and then in combat you can swap between them," he says. "Out of combat you can swap legends. There will be enough that it will feel like an actual choice. There will be combinations like Jalis and Malyx, Jalis and whatever else there is, Mallyx and whatever else there is, the other choices mixed with each other. How many we have is going to be based on what we think makes sense. We only want to build ones that feel like they matter. We don't want Jalis and the guy that feels like Jalis."
The profession is still in flux because ArenaNet doesn't know how players will handle it from level 1. In the demo, we were thrown into the mess with level 80 Revenants, forced to learn the class mechanics on our own. I didn't even realize I could use skills from both legends until the Wyvern boss fight later in the demo. I ask Peters if the Revenant is an easy class to understand.
"So far, probably not," he admits. "You folks are being thrown into level 80 Revenant. This is not Engineer, which I think is more complicated, but it's not Warrior. Revenant is somewhere into the middle. I don't think we know how people are going to react to it until people start at level 1. That'll inform things that we might change."
Overall, I had fun with the Revenant, compared to the Guardian and Elementalist I play in the live game. The heavy armor adds survivability, the red and black looks is swag, and the legend-swapping is interesting mechanic that takes some of the complexity out of choosing your support skills. I can appreciate that and the Revenant still retains some strategy when it comes to when you switch legends and how you manage your energy. Assuming there will be a healer legend at some point, I can see myself switching between Jalis and the healer to be a solid support tank. The class may even eclipse my current favorite, the Guardian. There's still a way to go before Heart of Thorns' release, but this first taste of the Revenant was pretty sweet.