Later today ArenaNet will be revealing pretty extensive details about Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns' specializations. In addition to that and having had a preview of the blog post, we also managed to ask Jon Peters a few questions.


I'll freely admit that when I first read about these changes, I found it all a little confusing. When I finally saw the user interface, it all made sense. There’s some significant changes afoot when it comes to Traits and because of Specializations, attributes as well. Before we begin, it turns out that Specializations aren’t just applicable to your profession becoming something else but actually extend much deeper.

The main overview as to why ArenaNet are so excited about Specilizations is because of the following:

  • They separate stats from traits, opening up builds by trait choice rather than stat choice.     
  • You now get to select nine major traits instead of seven, including three grandmaster traits.    
  • Each trait offers more impact so choices are more meaningful    
  • The new unlock system is friendlier to new players and much less of a burden on alternative characters.    
  • This new system is one that ArenaNet can continue to expand on.

So what’s first? Well, in Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns there will be Core Specializations. Each profession will have five core specializations, corresponding to the old trait lines. It’s down to players to choose three of the five. These Core Specializations will determine the basis of your build choice and in the example that Jon Peters uses, an Elementalist may choose Fire, Earth and Water Magic. Players will be able to choose 1, 2 and 3 Core Specializations as they level up their profession.

In addition to that, each core specialization will have three minor traits associated with it and these are automatically equipped. It appears as though this process is designed to help promote a specific playstyle based on that specialization. Once a specialization is equipped, you’ll then be able to choose a single trait for each tier to help customize that specialization. Take a look at the image below.

Trait Changes

The biggest change is unquestionably the removal of attributes linked to trait-lines. Like most players, there’s nothing worse than being forced into a trait-line if you want to maximise your attributes. Obviously by removing attributes linked to trait-lines, players will need to be compensated. Player attributes will subsequently increase from 926 to 1000. On top of that, attribute points on equipment will be increased. As an extra change to attributes and trait-lines, each profession’s attributes will be updated so that half their functionality comes from specializing. ArenaNet examples how Elementalists currently have a base attunement recharge of 10 seconds, which will be  reduced to 8.7 seconds when the Arcane specialization is selected. Where PvP is concerned, players will automatically have all specializations as soon as you enter The Mists.

As one example of how Specializations look and how they’ve changed, Jon provided the current list of Elementalist traits for Water:

Minor Traits

1. Soothing Mist: You and nearby allies regenerate health while you are attuned to water.

2. Healing Ripple: Heal nearby allies when attuning to water.

3. Aquatic Benevolence: Healing done to allies is increased. (25%)

Major Traits


1. Soothing Ice: Gain regeneration and Frost Aura when you critically hit.

2. Piercing Shards: While attuned to water, your spells deal more damage to vulnerable foes. Vulnerability lasts longer.

3. Stop, Drop, and Roll: Dodge rolling removes burning and chilled.


1. Soothing Disruption: Cantrips grant you regeneration and vigor. Cantrip recharge is reduced.

2. Cleansing Wave: Remove a condition from you and your allies when attuning to water.

3. Aquamancer’s Training: Deal extra damage when your health is above the threshold. Reduces recharge on all water weapon skills.


1. Cleansing Water: Remove a condition when granting regeneration to yourself or an ally.

2. Powerful Aura: Auras you gain from weapon skills are also applied to nearby allies.

3. Bountiful Power: Deal more damage for each boon on you.

Fortunately for players and while some of these specific changes above might not make it to live, ArenaNet are going to try to preserve as many existing builds as possible.

Core Skills

Unsurprisingly there’s going to be a fair few changes to skills in Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns. Some skills will incorporate existing trait functionality, something many players have been wanting for a long time: Necromancers can expect Wells to become ground-targeted by default while the Engineer’s Mortar will become a Kit (hurrah!).

Profession Reward Tracks

To coincide with all the changes above and as previously mentioned by ArenaNet, there’s going to be a fair few changes to skill and trait acquisition. I don’t think they’ve ever been happy with the old system they implemented after the “new player experience.”  As a result, they’ve designed Profession Reward Tracks. Functioning similarly to reward tracks that are already in game, profession reward tracks are packages of skills, traits, specializations, and items that will make up the new unlock system. Rather than players undertaking specific content for specific unlocks, there’s a new complementary system called Hero Points.

Hero Points will be replacing Skill Points, and will be earned by leveling up or completing Skill Challenges (which will become known as Hero Challenges). The idea is that by the time you’ve reached level 80, you’ll have enough Hero Points to deck out your character with enough skills, specializations and traits to make a variety of builds. Single characters who have completed a large quantity of Hero Challenges will likely be able to unlock just about everything.

What about old Skill Points? It looks as though they are going to be converted in crafting materials that can be used in the Mystic Forge with previously repeatable content that offered a Skill Point also providing crafting materials. There’s no word as to what those materials will actually be.

Going back to the elementalist and specialization reward tracks, there will be three categories covering skills, core specializations and elite specializations (it starts to get a bit confusing now). Core specializations are your bread and butter as they provide all your professions minor and major traits, with five per profession. The elementalists Water Magic reward track provides:

  • Soothing Mist (adept minor)    
  • Healing Ripple (master minor trait)    
  • Aquatic Benevolence (grandmaster minor trait)    
  • Soothing Ice (adept major)
  • Piercing Shards (adept major)
  • Stop, Drop, and Roll (adept major)
  • Soothing Disruption (master major trait)
  • Cleansing Wave (master major trait)
  • Aquamancer’s Training (master major trait)
  • Cleansing Water (grandmaster major trait)
  • Powerful Aura (grandmaster major trait)
  • Bountiful Power (grandmaster major trait)   

There’s then Core skill reward tracks which unlock all skills within a specific skill category. If you were to choose the Warrior Signet reward track you would receive:

  • Healing Signet
  • Signet of Might
  • Signet of Fury
  • Signet of Stamina
  • Dolyak Signet
  • Signet of Rage

Elite Specializations

Finally and what everyone has been waiting for: Elite Specializations. This is when your existing profession transitions from a Ranger to a Druid. As we already know, Elite Specializations will provide new weapons, skills and traits for your profession. Each, as we know, will receive one additional weapon set that they can use with the idea being that it should open up new playstyles. To obtain these new weapon sets players will have to equip the appropriate Elite Specialization. Although there’s no new details as to what certain specializations are or what skills they’ll have, it is teased that each profession Elite Specialization receives:

  • 1 Heal
  • 4 Utility Skills
  • 1 Elite Skill

Revenants will gain an Elite, a heal and a set of utilities of the same type. There’s also news that one specialization will have access to traps (Thief?!), while one profession’s elite specialization will be a full set of six shouts (Guardian?!!). ArenaNet will also be reusing old types of skills such as Shouts and Traps to create greater synergy with Runes.

With the introduction of new skills, there’s also new traits for each Elite Specialization with professions gaining access to three minor and nine major traits. Are there going to be any cool ones? Definitely. A grandmaster trait that gives you a Defiance bar is on the cards, so is a trait that removes conditions when you evade an attack (yes please!).

Finally and as part of the Elite Specialization Reward Tracks, players will gain access to new runes and sigils, a weapon and armor skin for a single matching piece of armor. You’ll automatically gain all this in PvP if you’ve purchased Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns.

Is there anything else? Just one last thing. It sounds as though ArenaNet are wanting players to change the way in which they refer to their own builds, with players referencing how they’ve specialized in their three trait lines (as a core profession) and then with their two trait lines (as an elite specialization). You would say:

1. "I am a ranger specializing in Marksmanship, Wilderness Survival, and Beastmastery."

2. "I am a druid specializing in Nature Magic and Skirmishing."

Now that we’ve finally got all that out the way (phew!) here’s the questions I asked Jon.

Jon Peters Interview

Ten Ton Hammer: Why did you decide to approach Specializations and Trait changes in this way? What impact do you think it will have on new and existing players and their play experience?     

Jon: Last year we implemented a new trait acquisition system to try and provide both a system of progression and growth as characters level up, as well as a way to make acquiring new traits exciting when we added new traits to the game. In retrospect seeing it in the wild, we felt like the system wasn’t in the game’s best interest. Our new system allows players to more easily understand how to unlock skills and traits. It provides clear paths on how to make builds. It makes it easier to get more options at lower levels. Even if an existing player is playing an alt, it also allows them to customize their characters in specific ways at an earlier level so they can define their characters more, even in the early phases.

Looking at it more fundamentally, we’ve been trying to add new skills to the game for two and a half years, and we weren’t happy with the system we had for doing it. We can’t add them in a way that has any impact for players when we’re adding them in a system that already has a lot of choices. It’s multiplicative complexity – the more we added, the more complex it got. The harder it would become to balance, and also the harder it would be for players to understand good build choices. It also meant whenever we added a skill it wasn’t necessarily a meaningful addition because we could add skills that don’t fit at all with anything going on, or they don’t override the existing meta because they had to fit in combos of stuff that existed whereas adding a new specialization is a truly meaningful addition.

The new specialization system lets us basically continually add stuff and make you care about all of it because it’s going to be a package, and with elite specializations specifically you can only have one of them at a time. It also gives us space to work in that we didn’t have before. For instance, when we’re adding more ranger skills, ranger’s already defined and so we’re like, “It’s another trap kind of thing.” When I say, ok if we’re rangers we’re adding a bunch of druid skills and druid traits, now we know druid is part of ranger, ranger now has very heavy magic and nature magic things and these are the skills we’re going to build. It keeps the skills we’re adding from feeling random and feel like we’re actually doing something new for the class.

Also, the more stuff you add to an existing profession, the harder it is when you see that profession to know what it is they do. We haven’t revealed this yet, but with elite specializations, each one is going to have its own unique profession icon and to help call it out as different from the existing profession. We really are treating them as something different. So when you make your ranger a druid, you are a druid, you have a druid profession icon and players can know that’s a druid and they have a good idea of what a druid does and what the druid profession mechanics are. That means as we continually add more and more of these elite specs, there’s a sense of when you see them in the world, you have a pretty good idea of what they do.

Ten Ton Hammer: Where Elite Specializations are concerned, it seems slightly unfair that some only get an off-hand when some get a two handed or main hand weapon (thus more skills). How are you making this appealing for professions who only get an off-hand?

Jon: Fair doesn’t always mean equal. It’s fair because we’re trying to make sure that they all get a lot of really cool things and they get a new way to define their profession. Like we did with the original professions, it doesn’t mean that one-to-one trying to make an equal number of skills one-to-one. To give an example with engineer, we made what felt like it would be like to be an engineer.

The other thing too is that the weapon is just one component of what makes a spec what it is. Weapon skills don’t define the spec. Just like the new healing skills, the new elite skills and the new traits, they complement it and altogether build the spec out. Because of that we feel it’s fine if it’s an offhand, a main hand, or a two-handed weapon, it’s just part of what defines what that spec is.

Ten Ton Hammer: You've hinted at what some Specializations will get, but it sounds as though it's going to take a fair amount of time to change from, say, Ranger to Druid and re-setup your profession. Is this the case or are we getting build saving?

It takes about three seconds to switch from ranger to druid. It takes less time than it currently takes to switch trait lines – in fact, much less. It’s as hard as it is to switch from Nature Magic to Wilderness Survival.

Ten Ton Hammer: How much of a revision are existing skills getting for each profession? Are any and all up for improvement or revision and if so, to what degree do you think you've done this?

Jon: It depends on the profession and it depends on the skill. We talked about some examples for instance where Mortar is turning into a kit. There are other examples like where Heal as One is becoming a shout. We’re also rebalancing some skills based on the way traits are changing. The goal of this is to make more viable builds and give more definition to professions.

Ten Ton Hammer: Of the existing Traits in Guild Wars 2, there are dozens for each that are rarely used - if ever - because they are out of the Meta or just poor. Is this inevitable or are you trying to ensure every trait, regardless of whether it's Adept or Grandmaster is viable?

The new system, where every time you make a choice between traits you only have three to choose from, means that we have to work a lot harder to make sure that they are viable. That means that the likelihood that more traits are viable will increase greatly. That doesn’t mean when we ship them that every single one is going to be equal. There’s no guarantee that every trait based on every game mode is going to be viable – there are going to be certain traits that are maybe a little better in PvP or WvW or PvE.

If you look at the Water Magic line, every single one of those choices of three makes me question which one I’m going to take, and it depends on what sort of character I’m making. Our goal is to make it a hard choice. When you look at those three options you really have to stop and think ‘I want all three of these things, which one makes more sense with my build’. This is one of the reasons we felt comfortable making this change because there is a giant pile of traits that weren’t used and don’t give meaningful choice.

Twitch Preview

Jon and fellow designers from the expansion team will join host Josh Davis to answer fan questions and give a first look at how the new traits system works in the game. The AMA livestream is scheduled to start at 12 p.m. PT on Friday, April 24, on the official Guild Wars 2 Twitch channel.

Ten Ton Hammer would like to thank ArenaNet for allowing us to preview such an awesome blog post and thank Jon Peters for his time. You can read more about Guild Wars 2: Heart Of Thorns by visiting the official website. 

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Guild Wars 2 Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 15, 2016

About The Author

Lewis is a long standing journalist, who freelances to a variety of outlets.