For a long time now, I've stood on the sidelines and listened to horror stories regarding the shadow warrior. It has been clear that many players are (or have been) dissatisfied with the career, but I've never fully understood why. It isn't so difficult for me to peruse the SW forums or read one of the many blogs out there that explain things quite clearly, and understand the theory of it, but as far as first-hand experience goes, I've been lacking a direct understanding of the career and how it works. With that in mind, I've decided to educate myself; over the next few weeks, I'll be leveling a shadow warrior so I can analyze the career from the inside.
Technically, there are a few issues right off the bat with this mechanic. First of all, should a player mistakenly select the same stance the character is already in, the stance will be toggled off, and the character is left stance-less. In the heat of battle, this is all too easy to do when a player is learning the ropes of the mechanic, and being stance-less can very quickly lead to one's demise in the fast-paced PvP of WAR. The second issue, although not immediately obvious, is the use of hidden hot-bars which swap in and out for each stance. If a player puts a valuable skill or ability on the scout bar, and then switches to assault stance, the key binding disappears -- replaced by an entirely new hot-bar. Finally, most abilities for the shadow warrior are stance-dependent and can only be used while in one stance or another. In fact, most abilities can be used in one of two stances of the three, further compounding what is already a confusing mechanic for a player starting out with the career. The level of micro-management at this early stage is overwhelming and unnecessary.
"Again, a squig herder player was number one, but his 40,000 damage put my measly 12,000 to shame."
Another technical issue for new shadow warriors to overcome is the unforgiving nature of firing arcs or cones. The career is most effective at range and is capable of very long-range attacks; but, when forced into mid or melee range, the shadow warrior is left with few options. Either the player can switch to skirmish stance and attempt to kite the opponent, or shift to assault stance and attempt to fight the enemy with cold hard steel. The cone issue arises when the player chooses to attempt to kite his opponent and use swift, mobile bow attacks in combination with snares and roots. It is quite easy for a new player to get turned just out of cone reach while attempting to kite and be met with frustrating error messages. It isn't that the cone angle is too acute or obtuse. The obscure strafing angle is something that has to be practiced and mastered before a new shadow warrior can consider kiting as a viable option. Proposing a solution for this issue is not as easy as with stances, though. The new shadow warrior is left to master the nuances of kiting on his own.
The other situation that stood out was a game in which I finished at number two (again) in terms of total damage done throughout the scenario. That was all fine and good, until I looked at the number one damage dealer. Again, a squig herder player was number one, but his 40,000 damage put my measly 12,000 to shame. At least that time, the squig herder and I were both 11th level. I can't speak to what gear that squig herder had, but I know that I had the most advanced gear available to the shadow warrior in tier one, including both weapons (bow and blade) and the armor set (decimator) obtained through PvP tokens. I also had a full set of +12 or better ballistics talismans and a full renown spec (10 points) in improving my ballistics skill.
Despite those glaring issues, the shadow warrior is very fun to play through tier one. With its assortment of long-range attacks with decent damage, the career was a riot to play in open-field RvR or outdoor-themed scenarios. Although I felt far less effective in closed-quarter situations, having to resort to spamming one of three melee abilities, the situations in which I was able to bring my long range to bear on unsuspecting targets left me with a fuzzy, giddy feeling inside. Most times, my targets -- not knowing where exactly the damage was coming from -- would run away rather than risk scanning the battlefield in order to defend, detaunt, or retaliate.
Overall, levels 1 through 11 presented unnecessary and often confusing technical challenges balanced by a great fun-factor. Next week we'll talk about shadow warrior progression and some key abilities through tier two as I level from 12 to 20. Leave a comment if you have some insight on issues faced by shadow warriors in the early stages, but keep in mind that my shadow warrior hasn't reached endgame yet: I'll be exploring those issues when I get there. Also, if there are any well-known career bugs that I haven't mentioned, post them as well, and I'll keep a lookout for them as I progress.