The Fighter has always been the staple adventuring class in Dungeons & Dragons, the big dumb lug with the sword and heavy armor who gets right up in the enemy's face and hits it until one of them dies. Back in the weird old days of tabletop D&D, when classes had racial restrictions, there was no species that was ineligible to be a Fighter. The basic Fighter can take many forms, but in Neverwinter's first public beta weekend, the Guardian Fighter class is your straight-up sword-and-board melee tank. He is capable of dishing out the hurt, but even more capable of taking it and being the last man standing.
In addition to our hands-on experience with the class during the beta
weekend, we have a world-exclusive video montage of the Guardian Fighter
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a lot of subtlety to a class like the Guardian Fighter - he hurls himself at the enemy and batters them to bits with heavy metal implements and ground-shaking fury. But that's just the surface. Anybody can be a Guardian Fighter, but only the clever and informed ones will be any good at it.
Guardian Fighter Class Overview
As a Guardian Fighter, you are the wall that stands between the enemy and your allies. There are different paths the Guardian Fighter can take, but even the more damage-dealing specs still rely fairly heavily on stout defenses. Guardian Fighters wear the heaviest armor and carry big shields, which they use both defensively and offensively. Ideally, this class has a very large pool of Hit Points, and the means to keep those precious Hit Points safe.
Blocking & Defense
As a primary melee tank class, the Guardian Fighter believes that the best offense is a good defense. The Guard skill is mapped to the Shift key, allowing the character to move around and block most incoming damage with his raised shield. Movement while blocking is slower than usual, but the trade-off is that actively blocking enemy attacks is very effective. It doesn't just mitigate a percentage of damage, and it doesn't require a roll. If you are Guarding, you automatically block incoming blows, and when you block a blow, you take zero damage.
There are some kinds of attacks that simply can't be blocked - lingering damage-over-time effects from poison, for example, or ground-based area attacks like fire. But nearly everything else can be blocked - directed magic, ranged attacks, special melee attacks and even certain effects like knockbacks and stuns simply bounce harmlessly off the raised shield.
Blocking requires Stamina, and Stamina is sapped by each successful block. The Stamina meter is the blue crescents to the left of the character - as each blow is blocked, the crescents empty out until they turn red. Small, regular attacks drain a tiny bit of Stamina, and powerful boss attacks drain huge amounts. If the meter does turn red, the character is unable to block until the Stamina bar is completely refilled - that is, the character cannot block again until his Stamina meter has gone all the way from 0 to 100%. This is clearly less than ideal for a defense-based class, so the Guardian Fighter will need to strike a balance between constant, impenetrable defense and keeping his Stamina bar from totally depleting.
Refilling Stamina requires using the shield to attack, using the right-mouse-button shield attack or Encounter or Daily skills. It's possible to keep your guard up and keep attacking at later levels when the Guardian Fighter gets Shield Swipe, the right-button attack that replaces the starting shield attack (Tide of Iron) when actively defending. Each strike of Shield Swipe increases Stamina by a tiny bit, and this can theoretically be used indefinitely against strong mobs (provided they don't sap large amounts of Stamina with powerful special attacks, which, of course, most of them do).
Of course, blocking isn't the only option for damage mitigation. Nearly every enemy attack is announced beforehand - an animation buildup, a red area effect ground indicator or even twinkling lights. The ones that aren't announced in this manner are usually predictable anyway after a bit of observation - standard mobs will run through a simple attack rotation, with a strike coming at even time intervals. If your Stamina is low and blocking isn't an option, these blows can be avoided by fancy footwork, side-stepping and getting around the enemy's flanks. This is especially effective against large enemies like ogres, which have slow but powerful attacks.
Threat generation is the bread and butter of the melee tank. Every attack the Guardian Fighter makes generates some threat, but some generate more than others. In particular, area-effect Encounter and Daily attacks generate very large amounts of threat, but even Tide of Iron/Shield Swipe generate a fairly high amount (or at least more than Cleave or Stab, the basic left-click attacks). Group-spec Guardian Fighters will want to spend their Feat points on higher threat generation when available.
Additionally, there are a few Encounter skills that taunt enemies for forced attacks. Enforced Threat, for example, deals area damage and taunts all enemies within range, forcing them to attack the Guardian Fighter for the duration of the effect. Knight's Challenge is situationally useful - it is also a forced-attack taunt, but the taunted enemy deals significantly more damage while taunted, which can be quite painful during boss fights.
Another option is the Mark ability, mapped to the Tab key, which paints a big red X on the target. The marked creature suffers a mitigation debuff when attacking anyone but the Guardian Fighter who marked it. It's not quite the same thing as generating threat, but it's definitely a useful tanking skill.
Guardian Fighters use medium melee weapons, shields and plate armor. During the first beta weekend, medium melee weapons were largely limited to longswords. I did, however, manage to find a battleaxe, which I used for a while, so it feels safe to assume that the live game will feature weapons other than just the longsword.
There are a few different enchantment types that can really benefit the Guardian Fighter. Power is useful to enhance the class's relatively low damage output, and armor penetration helps to bypass some enemy damage mitigation to make hits count for slightly more. One of the most useful enchants is life stealing, which returns a small portion of damage dealt as healing. At very small numbers, this enchantment is nearly meaningless, but stacking life stealing allows the Guardian Fighter to attack a little more aggressively without worrying about his health dropping.
The most important stat for the Guardian Fighter is CON, which contributes to Hit Point total and to physical resistance saving throws. STR is second, as it contributes to damage output. All other stats have more or less equal value to the Guardian Fighter, since they all contribute to defenses in some way. Welcome to the homogenous mush of 4th Edition rules.
Tips & Tricks
There are a few ways to get the most out of the Guardian Fighter, depending on your preferred style of play. Because there is very limited space on the skill toolbar (three Encounter Powers mapped to Q, E and R, two Daily Powers mapped to 1 and 2, the Tab power and the basic right and left mouse button attacks), solo players will want to use a slightly different skill setup than group players.
Solo players will want to maximize their damage output, slotting more offensive skills on their toolbar. Villain's Menace, for example, is a very useful Daily Power for soloing - a big, strong area effect attack. Enforced Threat is a good Encounter Power for either solo or group - again, a strong area-effect attack. Griffon's Wrath and Knee Breaker make excellent single-target choices, particularly useful during boss fights.
Fighter's Recovery is incredibly handy to have, regardless of spec - for 10 seconds, the Guardian Fighter heals himself with every point of damage he deals, and is immune to damage and status effects for the duration. This is an incredibly useful recovery skill to help with a tough boss fight - hit Fighter's Recovery, hurl yourself at a group of mobs and start spamming Cleave and other area-effect attacks.
For group-oriented players, a slightly different setup will work better. Lunging Strike is more useful in a group setting, allowing the tank to be the first one into the fight, or to dash quickly across the melee to intercept an ally's attacker. Knight's Challenge is really only useful in a group setting, since threat generation and taunting is essentially a null issue when soloing.
When approaching a single tough mob, whether it be a dungeon boss or a solitary ogre roaming around in a pubic zone, the Guardian Fighter will want to strike first and then defend immediately to brace against a heavy retaliation. Tough mobs and bosses tend to have hard-hitting attacks that chew through Stamina very quickly, so it is essential to balance blocking with other defensive moves.
A good opener is:
Lunging Strike to close in quickly and strike first > Guard and/or sidestep to avoid the first retaliatory attack> Knee Breaker to slow movement and apply a damage-over-time effect > run around flank to avoid big attacks > Guard and Stab/Shield Swipe from the flank
Boss enemies often have big frontal area-effect attacks that take a long time to complete. There is usually time to run around behind the enemy and get a few quick basic attacks if the player moves as soon as the big red indicator shows up. It is important to note, however, that the Guardian Fighter will need to temporarily drop his Guard while attempting this - if he keeps his shield up, he will not move fast enough and will end up blocking the attack instead of avoiding it, potentially wiping out a large amount of Stamina in the process. Drop the shield and run sideways - never backwards - and the boss enemy will usually miss the attack.
The Guardian Fighter has plenty of area-effect attacks, starting right away at level 1 with the basic left-click attack, Cleave. This makes the class uniquely suited to dealing with large groups of mobs right out of the gate. At later levels, when big, powerful area attacks are added to the repertoire, big group battles get even better.
As a general rule, the best strategy when dealing with a large group of enemies is to take out the weaker targets first and save the toughest ones for last. Focusing on the strong enemies first means the weak ones are attacking for much longer, doing more damage than they need to. Take them out first and you can focus your entire attention on the stronger monsters later.
For a typical landscape encounter with a few weak mobs and one tough
leader, a strong opening salvo is:
Enforced Threat to soften all the normal mobs > Knee Breaker on the tough mob > Cleave (or Stab) until all the weaker mobs are dead > Griffon's Wrath on the leader
This combo should pretty much wipe out most standard landscape groups before they have a chance to deal any serious damage.
There are a couple of options for the Guardian Fighter's first companion. The obvious choice is the Cleric Disciple, who will toss out a few light heals during fights and add a bit of survivability. This makes the tank even tankier, able to absorb more punishment than normal. But the heals are quite small and infrequent, Fighter's Recovery and cheap potions can be used to make them redundant, and the cleric companion is a squishy aggro magnet. Some players will find that a DPS companion will contribute slightly more to the fights, enhancing the Guardian Fighter's relatively-low damage output and making the fights shorter overall.
At level 30, you will need to choose a Paragon path. Essentially, what you will be choosing is whether you want to focus more on defense or offense. There are three options available. The Conqueror tree will likely be better for solo players, giving them more firepower rather than defense. The Guardian tree is not so much about defense as it is about soaking more damage, a good choice for group-spec tank types. The Tactician tree is for those players who prefer to fight smarter rather than harder, exercising more control over the battlefield and keeping enemies positioned and facing where they want them. Again, this one is better for a group spec - threat management is essentially meaningless for solo players.
Did you learn any Guardian Fighter tips or tricks you would like to share? Let us know in our comments!