Heart of Thorns is shaping up to be a big step forward for Guild Wars 2 with a host of new features, new mechanics, and all around, more fun. What has the most potential to shake up the current game, in good ways, are the changes that are coming to the role of crowd control (CC) in the Player vs Enemy environment.
As things currently stand running anything other than Berserkers stats is, in most cases, sub optimal. If your goal in game is to be as efficient as possible then you'll want to be running the "holy trinity" of Power, Precision, and Ferocity. Other stat sets, and other play styles, have been left in the dust for the last two years because if you can kill something fast, then there is no need for CC, and conditions don't have time to be as effective. But the introduction of the mordrem creatures, and the changes to defiance could see the rise of other playstyles.
Recently ArenaNet gave some information about the changes to the Defiance mechanic. Right now champion, elite, and legendary mobs have a boon on them called "Unshakable" which prevents them from taking massive amounts of crowd control and effectively neutralizing anything they can do. It was a good idea in concept and it worked for about the first two days of the games release. The problem with this stat is that everytime a CC skill is used on the mob they gain three stacks of Defiance. So, when you are fighting that Champion Spider and you want to CC it so that you can get a little breathing room you only get the one shot, after that you'll need to cast three more CC skills before another one will be effective. This really becomes a problem with large groups of players with the boss will be hit by so many effects at one time that the Defiance stack can be in the fifty plus range, ensuring that no other CC effect will work for the rest of the fight. This is all going to change in Heart of Thorns.
Instead of mobs getting a stack of Defiance there will now be a Defiance Bar. This bar will be a set value, say fifty for the sake of argument, and each CC skill will take away a fixed amount of the bar. Once the bar is fully broken down then the mob can effectively be CC'd. Instead of having a massive stack that players would never be able to chew through the idea is to "spike" the boss with enough effects that they become vulnerable. We saw an excellent demonstration of this with the Wyvern fight. At one point during the fight the Wyvern begins to take off into the air for a bombing run. If the players can break the Defiance Bar before the Wyvern leaves the ground, then the bombing run is averted and players are given more time to damage the boss. If there is not enough CC and the Wyvern lifts off, then prepare for the worst.
With all that understanding the game is poised for a shift in the current meta as a means of dealing with these new threats. For example, right now the current meta weapon for Warriors is the Greatsword. It does a massive amount of damage and has some good utility as well. It's all around a great weapon, but it has zero CC effects. Currently the off-hand set is a little more free with what you'll pick, whether it be for running with a Warhorn, or a little more DPS with an Axe/Mace combo, but what if the Hammer is the go-to weapon when HoT launches. Right now the Hammer is seen as a PvP weapon because of the amount of control that it offers - it has knock down, knock back, and multiple stuns. With this new emphasis on spiking CC we could see the rise of the Hammer into a more prominent role in the Warriors PvE arsenal. That's just one example and every professions has something that has been largely ignored in favor of those weapons and skills which deal more raw damage.
The Heart of Thorns hype train is in full swing and with the upcoming demos even more information is headed our way. Now is the time to start thinking about how you'll want to play your profession in the expansion, the key is to not rule anything out and to experiment with combinations you may have forgot about in the past.
We'll see you in game!