Look over there! Was that a Rogue? An Assassin? No, it’s a Thief! It’s time to talk about the sneak of the shadows, the second Adventurer profession, the Thief. Thieves have one of the smallest list of equip-able weapons to date:
- Main Hand: Sword, Dagger, and Pistol
- Off Hand: Dagger and Pistol
- Two-Handed: Shortbow
Before getting into the types of skills each weapon provides for the Thief, I need to discuss one unique element for this profession that really can make things more interesting, but also more complicated. Normally, when a profession wields a weapon in the on hand, it provides the first 3 skills, and whatever is in the off-hand provides the last 2. The Thief however has a unique spin on that design: the on-hand provides the first two skills, the off-hand provides the last two, and the specific combination (and order) determines the third skill. When I say the order matters, I mean that the third skill when wielding Dagger x Pistol will be different than when wielding Pistol x Dagger; in fact all 5 skills will be different between those two. The third skill for the Thief is referred to as the Dual Skill.
When wielding a dagger in the primary hand, Twisting Fang deals damage and one of three conditions: bleed, weakness or vulnerability. Backstab deals damage, but deals more if you strike the enemy from behind. When a dagger is in the off-hand, it provides a ranged cripple attack and an attack that deals damage and then gives the thief stealth for 3 seconds. Overall, the dagger skills seem to be fairly condition based and Thieves have several options with traits to apply them more frequently or apply new ones.
Following the trends I have observed, the sword is a mobility and cripple based weapon for the Thief. The spam skill applies crippling every time you hit with it; that could be really strong in PvP for coordinated ganks/spikes. The second skill Dancing Blade lives up to its name by providing a lunging attack followed by a hop backwards. It is a strong darting maneuver for the low-hp Thief.
Pistols act as the medium ranged harassment weapon for the Thief. The on-hand spam skill makes the enemy more vulnerable to following attacks and the second provides another ranged cripple. When used in the off-hand, pistols give an attack with a back-jump attached (Retreating Shot) and an on-demand ranged daze attack (Head Shot) that comes with a fairly steep cost.
Thieves have another interesting ranged option in the short bow. Being a two handed weapon, the short bow doesn’t possess a Dual Skill per se because it simply provides 5 set skills like all other two handed weapons. The main focus of the short bow for the Thief appears to be a set of AoE skills- Timed Charge, Cluster Bomb and Choking Gas all lay down some form of AoE. Cluster bomb has some interesting depth because it has a secondary skill that opens up while the arrow is in mid-air which allows the Thief to prematurely detonate the cluster. The effect appears to be that it does damage over a more spread out area and is therefore less concentrated damage. The most interesting skill however is Infiltrator’s Arrow which is a ground targeted long range teleport (shadow step). It seems as though it can be used fairly frequently which has some pretty big implications in both PvP and as an escape/travel method in PvE.
Now for the Dual Skills:
- Dagger x Dagger: Leaping Death Blossom- The Thief does a jump flip over the foe’s head dealing damage and inflicting bleeds every hit.
- Dagger x Pistol: Shadow Shot- Shoot the enemy, then shadow step next to them.
- Sword x Dagger: Flanking Strike- Make an attack, then quickly move behind them for a backstab.
- Sword x Pistol: Pistol Whip- Attack the enemy and daze them, then strike multiple times with the sword.
- Pistol x Dagger: Shadow Strike- Slash with the dagger, then shadow step away and shoot the enemy.
- Pistol x Pistol: Unload- Shoot the target. A lot.
The unique mechanic(s)
Thieves actually have several mechanics that are unique to themselves, but their primary unique mechanics are Initiative and Stealing. Steal is a skill that can be activated by pressing (default) F1 when adjacent to an enemy. The Thief then “steals” an item from the enemy and has their skill bar replaced with context-sensitive options based on what they stole, just like when using environmental weapons or changing weapon sets. I put “steals” in quotes because when used, the Thief doesn’t actually gain an item in their inventory, nor does it remove loot/items from the foe (player or monster). The idea is that you are grabbing some small loose item and using it. As an example, Thieves are reportedly able to steal grog from pirates and drink it for a variety of buffs, or feathers from a moa bird that can be thrown as a blinding powder.
The other, and arguably most key unique mechanic of the Thief is Initiative. Represented by a series of ten diamonds to the left of the health orb (right above skills 1-5), each of the 5 weapon skills for Thieves cost different amounts of initiative, but have no cooldown. Generally speaking, the lower skills (1,2) are free or cheap and the later skills/Dual Skills are more expensive. Initiative regenerates at 1 pip per second, and the most expensive skills can cost up to 6 Initiative. The idea is that the Thief can use a specific skill more often if need be, but is unable to burst all of their skills in a short period of time.
Thieves are also the only profession (at least thus far) that have access to stealth and shadow stepping through some of their skills. Stealth is, as ANet has assured us, a mechanic that is for very short intervals to give the Thief misdirection rather than a permanent stealth ability. When hit in stealth, a “flickering” effect happens giving temporary visibility to foes. Basically, if you have played Team Fortress 2, think of how spies flicker when hit. Shadow stepping is a mechanic that was associated with Assassins in GW1 and was much maligned for its balance implications. Fortunately, with the removal of secondary professions and collision detection, balance issues should be much narrower with only one profession having access to such a powerful mechanic.
I don’t want to sound too down on ANet here, but I have a lot of issues with the current incarnations of the Thief we have seen. I’ve heard that they are re-working Initiative which could go a long ways for me, but I’m going to comment on what we saw at conventions. I don’t feel a lot of cohesion within the Thieves’ abilities. If you have a sword and pistol equipped, you have a ton of ways to get in and out of the fight… but not a whole lot to do other than that. Most of the weapon sets feel that way really.
Speaking of the weapon sets not feeling cohesive, one of the problems with having some of these skills be based on initiative is that for the most part, you get maybe 2 skills other than your spam skill to use, and then you have to spam for 2-6 seconds, then you can kind of do something else. The Dual Skills that just do damage cost a lot of Initiative, but they don’t actually seem to do enough damage to warrant their cost both in immediate Initiative, and in how long it takes to replenish the Initiative. It’s hard to describe why I don’t like this when other professions have cooldowns that are up to 20-30 seconds, but I think the main point is that they are divorced from one another. You can do your big cool attack on a Warrior, but you still have other options while its recharging. If you blow your load with a Thief, you’re kind of stuck in boring 111111111 land for 10 seconds.
Also, they are so squishy. I mean, seriously, they look like the most fragile class in the game that we have seen thus far. They have few heals, and the ones they do have eat through their energy pool way faster than I feel is acceptable given how soft they are. They do have a lot of evades, but the problem is that for every evade they have, it is one less strong damage skill, and the evades frequently cost a lot of initiative. That doesn’t even take into account the myriad of ways that other melee enemies can close distances like the Warrior’s Savage Leap, or the Guardian’s Flashing Blade (which teleports and blinds). If the enemy is a ranged character, then those distance creators help even less because both longbows and rifles, as well as lots of spells it seems are greater than the range of the pistols, and at least as far as the short bows. If they outrange the Thief, the Thief is in trouble. If neither is in range of the other, then its kind of a stalemate, and the ranged characters won’t be out-ranged by the Thief. So basically, they seem like they have really low HP and defense, are good at kiting melee enemies assuming the melee enemies don’t have distance closers… and are even worse against ranged enemies.
Speaking of range issues- it might not be so bad to be squishy and short-medium range if the Thief could do damage. Sadly, it sure seemed to me like the Thief was consistently being out-damaged by just about every other profession, and every other profession was more durable. That’s just… really hard to swallow. They look like they are built to be skirmishers with all of their closers and escapes, but without having much damage, it isn’t so much skirmishing as it is being annoying. I’m just really having a hard time seeing them as a competent class compared to all the others. I see potential, but way too many traps.
Which leads me to my last point- Factions Assassin Syndrome or WoW Rogue Expectations. Both are different, but will lead to the same thing. Factions Assassin Syndrome is how I describe the release of GW:Factions- lots of people went “Ooooo sweet, NINJA ASSASSINS!!11!ELEVEN”, made an assassin, and then got completely destroyed over and over and over again because ‘sins didn’t spike hard enough to warrant their squishiness. This lead to a widespread boycott of 99% of assassins in groups because people didn’t want a handicap (whether fair or not), and to an exodus of lots of assassins rage-quitting that profession or using it in gimmickey ways (crit barrage, crit scythe, perma SF). WoW Rogue Expectations would be more based on non-GW players expecting the Thief to be a perma-invisible gank machine. It is not. I’m fine with that personally, but it will probably cause some confusion and flame wars.
Why this profession is for you
Players who want to have a combat style that is all about poking enemies to death and staying at arms’ length should feel at home with the Thief. It isn’t about being an instant ganker like in some other MMOs, it is about an enormous amount of tactical positioning and being the most annoying person to kill. If you like to use the Dead Ringer in TF2 this class is for you ;)