Updated Thu, Feb 14, 2013 by gunky
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.
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.
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.