There must be a law somewhere that says every fantasy game which contains elves must offer an elven archer class. Maybe there’s an elvish trade union out there which refuses to allow their pale delicate brethren out into the ‘wild’ unless someone is hanging around languidly posing with a bow. Or maybe it’s because ELF and BOW both have three letters? You can’t blame Legolas alone for all of this, it’s a lot of guilt to heap on the shoulders of one little fantasy character. We have a strong tradition even prior to Tolkien of guys who live in woods, with bows. I mean, Robin Hood wasn’t an elf …. or was he? If he was, he’d definitely have been a Shadow Warrior.
The first thing you’ll notice from the screenshot is that unlike the other High Elf careers, the Shadow Warrior doesn’t wear a full skirt. Instead, she has waders. ie. yes, High Elves do have legs. This is just my open beta version and I didn’t pick up the mask and cloak. But at better gear levels, they are one of the best looking classes in the game.
I played mine to level 9 so was mostly questing and running scenarios and world RvR in tier 1. It’s long enough to get an idea of the class mechanics and the general feel for how it plays. But not long enough to comment on endgame or what skills will be more important later on. Anyhow: High Elf Shadow Warrior — she’s an elf with a bow! Also a lightly armoured ranged dps who is better at melee than a Bright Wizard (note: this is like saying that fake cheese is better on a pizza than unripe apples), has more utility, and can actually spec for melee if melee hunter is your bag.
The Shadow Warrior is a stance based class. Switching into a stance gives a stance-specific buff which hints at what that stance is intended for. Although some skills can be used in any stance, most of the abilities and skills that you learn on a Shadow Warrior are restricted to one or two stances. Switching stances gives you access to a stance-specific hotbar, so you will have to set up three different hotbars. Part of the skill of playing the SW is knowing when to switch stances and how to get the best out of each stance. In that sense, it’s similar to the WoW Warrior which I do also play so I’m used to this kind of mechanic.
However, it’s different in that the SW stances are strongly themed and make sense. (I say this in a caring way, I like my warrior but Arms stance is dumb.) There’s a long range stance (Scout), a melee stance (Assault), and a kiting stance (Skirmish). Scout Stance gives you extra range and ballistics skill. Assault gives double your armour (don’t knock this, it means the SW can be much tougher in melee than opponents expect) and increases your melee stats. Skirmish increases your toughness and chances to crit with the bow, but that is not the most interesting thing about it. Every single ability that you can use in Skirmish can be used on the run. It has a mix of ranged and melee attacks, but the reason I call it kiting stance is because you can snare an opponent and circle strafe around him/her/it using a mixture of DoTs and mobile attacks to kill them without ever being hit. If you’re good.
It can feel confusing at first until you’ve mapped your stances onto some convenint keybinds. But you can mostly ignore skirmish at the start and just focus on scout stance when you are able to plink plink plink away at people from a distance, switching to assault when you land up in melee. My best SW stories from beta hinge around sensible stance switching. So for example, I was in a scenario and shooting a marauder. He ran up to me so I thought ‘Oh well, might as well go out swinging’ and swapped to assault stance, then started to whack at him with my sword. It was close, but I won. I suspect that a SW who specced and geared for melee would be a pretty tough cookie, it would be an odd choice for a ranged specialist but probably something interesting to try out.
As of the moment, the smart money says to spec for Scout Stance, since ranged dps should be good at range. And that doesn’t lock out the other playstyles, the stances are still available. But I could see it being fun to experiment.
What I love about the Shadow Warrior is the sense of playing an agile skirmisher who can adapt to different situations. They do later get a variety of buffs and debuffs, including a neat group buff which improves AP recharge rate for a short amount of time and the inevitable healing reduction debuff. It felt fun. It felt as though there was some depth to the play. It felt as though it would be very powerful in the hands of a good player, and I expect to hear complaints about them in 1vs1. It felt like a ‘proper’ ninja-style elf archer, not needing to rely on a pet to tank.
As a ranged dps, how does it stack up against the other Order classes? Bright Wizards do more damage and are easier to play, there’s no real question about that. Engineers are a great ranged class for holding fixed positions, and I’ve seen them doing very well in Scenarios when they played to their strengths. The Shadow Warrior is very fun and has a lot of finesse but may not at the moment be able to put out the numbers of the other ranged classes. So some people do see it as weak. I thought it was a lot of fun.