12 diamonds. 12 chances to bring the pain. For a Thief, our ability to control and dispatch our enemies is tied to one thing, barring equipment or luck: Initiative. This mechanic sets us apart from every other profession in Guild Wars 2 – from the Elementalist to the Mesmer, everyone else is restricted by cool down timers.
As the second Beta Weekend Event leers at us from the far off realm of tomorrow, I thought I’d take the chance in this week’s column to start really picking apart one of the core mechanics of Thief. Understanding how to manage your stores of Initiative will not only help those new to the profession this weekend, but might even be useful to some veterans. So, read on and profit!
For the new and uninitiated Thieves, Initiative is one of the distinguishing class mechanics of the Thief profession. Every Thief starts with 12 initiative points. Each Weapon Skill (1-5) costs a certain number of initiative to use; if you don’t have the points, you’re out of luck. Skills in the 1-slot don’t cost initiative, but the other 4 skills can cost anywhere from 2 to 6 points. Luckily for us, Initiative regenerates over time, at a rate of 1 point every 1.67 seconds. I know, thank god for the .07. [A note: This could radically change, since Beta is Beta. Who knows, by release, it could be 1 point per 1.65 seconds...]
What this does is create a mini-game for Thieves inside the greater game of Guild Wars 2. In combat, a Thief must be worried about preserving enough Initiative for the moment to Unload (see what i did there?) everything into an enemy. Waste your Initiative too soon, and you might not be able to use that Bleed- or Vulnerability-causing attack at a critical moment. It is a game of resource management that we must play. Except instead of managing grain and lumber, we get to manage bullets and blades.
Now that you know what Initiative is, lets take a moment and squeeze some extra utility out of this mechanic. We’ll take a look at the two skills that we need to be concerned with, and then some of the traits that might be useful to the Initiative minded Thief.
When looking at the Thief Utility Skills that help with Initiative management, we’ve got two vastly different options:
Roll for Initiative give you a big boost of Initiative (6 whole points), as well as a roll backwards, and removes any conditions that you might happen to have on you at that time. To me, this seems like a great catch all skill, giving you Initiative restoration, a dodge of sorts, and a way to remove any conditions. Roll for Initiative does have a cool down of 1 minute, so you won’t be using it that often.
Infiltrator’s Signet, on the other hand, approaches the idea of Initiative regeneration from a different angle. This signet restores one Initiative to you every ten seconds. That isn’t much and that isn’t fast, but it is constant. Infiltrator’s signet also gives you a shadow step, which does give you a bit of flexibility. This ability has a cool down of 30 seconds.
So you’ve got two paths: a quick burst of Initiative, or a slow, steady replenishment. The choice is yours. Personally, over the first Beta Weekend Event, I found that Roll for Initiative was an incredibly useful skill, but we’ll see what this next weekend brings.
So, we have two skills that we can make use of, but what about our traits?
Frankly, there are a lot of traits that have an influence of Initiative mechanics. [More than I had a chance to play with, or look into in detail. Perhaps we'll have a Part 2 later on...] Even from the Adept stage, some of the trait lines available to the Thief give the concerned player a number of easy ways to keep their reserves of Initiative high. In the Trickery trait line, you have two very powerful ways of getting initiative back; the Minor Adept trait Kleptomaniac give you 3 Initiative points whenever you perform a steal, and the Minor Master trait Preparedness increases your max initiative by 3 points. These two skills are hugely important to Initiative mechanics, and by investing points in the Trickery trait line, you’ll get them automatically. Two of the trickery Major traits are also fairly useful to our consideration of Initiative management. Hastened Replenishment is fairly useful, giving you some initiative when you use a heal skill, and Trickster reduces the cool down time of all Trick skill, which includes Roll for Initiative. Put these four skills together and you’ve got a trait line that can easily be focused on Initiative management. There is also the trait Initial Strike, which means that 1-slot skills, which don’t cost you any initiative, have a chance to regain some Initiative, but I haven’t yet had a chance to play around with this trait.
It doesn’t stop there though. In the Acrobatics Trait Line, there are three skills that help restore some of our initiative. The most useful is Quick Recovery, which gives the Thief 2 Initiative every 10 seconds, which is a rather nice boost, and functions similarly to the passive ability of Infiltrator’s signet. Quick Pockets restores 2 Initiative when you weapon swap in combat, and Combined Tactics returns the initiative used by Dual-skills. As a fan of the Dual Pistols, Combined Tactics strikes me as the most useful of the bunch, especially if it ends up returning all initiative points used up by Unload, however current research seems to say that it returns only 2 points of initiative. I’m probably being greedy, but what do you expect from a Thief? While other trait lines have their own Major and Minor traits that help restore Initiative, Trickery and Acrobatics should certainly be your first stop when thinking about resource management.
So from this discussion, we see that there are actually a number of ways for a Thief to control their Initiative consumption, be it through skills or traits. However, there is one thing to be said, having considered all this.
As Theives, we have to strike a balance between dealing lots of damage and being able to put out damage. Sure, a constant stream of Initiative might be wonderful (keep your eyes open for a video of me testing this. It’ll be one of the first things I’m playing with over the second BWE), but it doesn’t mean squat if all the attacks you’re putting out can’t bring someone or something down.
I think the best way to approach Initiative management at this point is to know that it will be an issue you have to pay attention to. Have some plan in mind, whether it be through trait use, skills, or simply conservative use of weapon skills, allowing you to have those essential four or five initiative points available when the moment arises. Focusing all your skills and traits on regaining your used-up Initiative, and then being over-cautious, will only lead to less than spectacular performance on the battlefield. So make sure to approach your stash of Initiative with a plan when you play your Thief. Your allies will thank you and your enemies will hate you. And isn’t that all a thief needs in life?
Well, that and copious amount of stolen wealth?
Of course, all of this could change in the future, and we might even find some important changes have been made when we start up the Beta tomorrow afternoon. Make sure to make your opinion heard in the Discussion of Initiative Mechanics on the Thief Forum, and the BWE in general, and I hope that this helps those of you who are going to be playing thieves come tomorrow afternoon. If you are on Yak’s Bend, I hope to see you in the Mists .
May you blades be sharp, and your powder dry.