A word of warning: this is very long. However, I've conveniently bold-faced important points for you.
(That said, I would appreciate it if you also read through my reasoning in the bullet points... I did work on this quite a bit.)
I had initially thought, upon seeing early profession details, that I would play a Thief. However, when I finally decided to actually play one (I had been holding off so as to not spoil it), my opinion of the class quickly became... shall we say... ambivalent.
It's not an issue of profession balance - my biggest concern with it has to do with its feel as a profession when compared to others. ArenaNet has a lot of good ideas here, but the Thief lacks the mechanic solidity necessary to allow it to shine alongside the other professions.
So I thought, 'how would I change the class mechanics to fix this?'
What follows is what I came up with. My intent is to keep the feel of the current Thief, while making it easier to balance, more cohesive, and overall more enjoyable to play.
Some of this will be controversial. Please read through to the end before passing judgement.
Also, note that all numbers are given as reference only - balancing would be needed! Critique the numbers if you must, but remember this is more about mechanical concept.
1) I would make Thief skills have cooldowns like all the other professions, and no longer require Initiative to activate. (Keep reading please.)
- This would give Thieves the ability to sustain damage output in kind with the other professions.
- More importantly, it leads to point #2:
- In keeping with the fundamental idea behind Initiative in the first place, I would make it so that, if one re-activates a weapon skill during its cooldown, that cooldown may be reset at the cost of Initiative.
- The Initiative cost would depend on how much cooldown time was remaining, i.e. by waiting 10 seconds, one could reduce the cost of resetting the skill.
- A full Initiative bar would be able to either reset one powerful weapon skill or two lesser ones.
- You would have a maximum of 100 Initiative points.
- Resetting a cooldown would cost 30 points + 2 points per second reset. Therefore, a 30 second reset would cost 90 points (90%), while a 10 second reset would cost 50%.
- Initiative would regenerate at a rate of 5 points per second. The full Initiative bar would regenerate in 20 seconds.
- Instead of displaying cooldown time, skills would instead display the percentage of Initiative needed to reset their remaining time.
- On a cosmetic note, Initiative would become a meter/bar, like the Necromancer's Life Force and Warrior's Adrenaline. Extra cross-profession visual coherence is a bonus, right? Initiative even looks out of place right now.
- This would make using Initiative actually feel like a bonus (you get to reset a skill cooldown) instead of a restriction (I can't attack because I have no Initiative, aka "OOM").
- As a balancing measure, it would no longer be possible to attack out of Stealth, or within something like 1/2 second of exiting Stealth. Thus, Stealth would become a purely defensive/positioning tool.
- I think making Stealth purely defensive would be a lot more unique than all that Stealth-crit (Backstab) garbage that always exists for Rogue-type classes in other games. A little bland? Perhaps. But blowing stuff up ought to be the job of your weapon skills.
- Activating Stealth would use up Initiative at a rate of 10 points per second. A full Initiative bar would therefore give 10s straight of stealth. The "Revealed" debuff would remain intact to prevent stealth-hopping.
- Stealth must remain active for at least 2 seconds before being able to be shut back off. So, even though the actual activation costs nothing, you cannot enter Stealth with less than 20 Initiative. Using it for a simple target-break would therefore be possible, but impractical.
- As a further balancing measure between burst damage and defensive stealth, Initiative regeneration would cease while in Stealth. In 10 seconds of stealth would not only use all 100 of your Initiative points, but also net a further loss of 50 Initiative through the lack of regeneration.
- Besides which, from a sPvP standpoint, I really need to know just how much longer that Thief might be in Stealth. With the current system, I don't know how much Stealth capability he has until I've fought him for awhile, which is annoying.
- Shadow Arts traits will buff this mechanic. For example, a trait might allow some slight Initiative regeneration during stealth.
- In other words, you choose a trap type for each weapon set you have, which then becomes your F2 skill. Traps would no longer be available as "utility" skills, instead becoming a class mechanic.
- Placing the trap costs Initiative, but to compensate, the individual traps would be buffed considerably in terms of crowd control ability. The Initiative cost of traps would be more or less depending on the strength of the trap.
- Traps would affect an AoE area, and would last for a duration following their initial activation by an enemy.
- Traps would be able to be set to auto-activate, or activate upon pressing F2.
- So you can let it initiate on one guy running up to your capture point, or you can wait and trigger it manually on their entire team.
- Only one trap may be active at a time.
- All traps would have the same cooldown (30s?).
- The Trickery trait line would be primarily focused on buffing this mechanic.
- Having lost its RNG factor after the last stress test (or so I have heard), I see no reason to overhaul this mechanic. I feel that it has reached its maximum potential for usefulness. From here you're just looking at buffs and nerfs to the skills it grants.
- That said, Steal would need to be tied to Initiative. It might be able to cost Initiative in order to gain a specific advantage against another profession in a 1v1 fight. Or, conversely, it might present an opportunity to regain some Initiative. We're going for overall class solidity, after all... these mechanics need to interact!
- Trickery traits would also buff this mechanic, as at present, though not in as great a quantity as at present. Trickery is mostly for traps now, after all.
- Since the Thief's skills can now be balanced around cooldowns, I see no reason why one could not consolidate venoms into the actual weapon skills. This would have a few benefits:
- Utility skills that wear off after X number of hits are annoying anyway since you wind up wasting them against a single opponent, when they could be more effectively applied one hit at a time via weapon skills.
- Opens up more utility skill slots for actual utility skills.
- Would help balance Initiative burst damage, since stacking, for example, Poison or Chilled would be less burst-y and more of a long-term advantage.
- Makes the individual skills more interesting and situationally useful.
- With venoms being attached to weapon skills, and the skills being balanced accordingly, it would cause the Thief to become a more sustained, condition-damage type than previously, but with the opportunity to burst via Initiative. However, the 2nd skill use would, in many cases, automatically become a case of diminishing returns.
- What I mean by this last bit is that if a skill has a 30s cooldown because it applies a nasty Poison, a second use of this skill won't be as directly powerful because it simply extends the duration of what is already there. (Conditions such as Bleed being exceptions, of course.)
- Stacking venom hits and/or rapidly envenoming multiple targets could only be done with Initiative, giving another potential reason to use it that way instead of on CC/Stealth.
- Venomous Aura is a terrible trait anyway because it requires all of the venoms to be nerfed according to their power when used by five people at once. Venoms will be a single-target, class-specific mechanic instead.
- Venom effects on weapon skills could be directly benefited by the Deadly Arts trait line.
- The Thief could use Stealth for surprise and defense tactics. (Shadow Arts trait line.)
- The Thief could use Traps for some reliable AoE CC/debuff. (Trickery trait line.)
- The Thief could reset cooldowns for burst damage and/or single-target debuff stacking. (Critical Strikes / Deadly Arts lines.)
- The Thief could Steal to gain an advantage in a 1v1 fight. (Trickery trait line.)
- The Thief could use a combination of the four, allowing him to be very adaptable, even when only focused on two trait lines.
1) More cohesive profession mechanics.
- It would make the Thief feel far more solid by tying the current 5 splintered mechanics together into one with multiple branches.
- It would make using Initiative feel like an actual bonus, like all the other professions' mechanics, rather than a necessity and limitation.
- It would provide a very engaging opportunity cost scenario in which a Thief must always decide what to focus on before engaging in a fight.
- Expounding on the idea of opportunity cost, you might want that Initiative later when enemy reinforcements arrive and you suddenly have to flee or become a kebab. Whoops, wait. You had to go and waste your Initiative on extra damage, and now you're stuck being visible for awhile, and can't even use a trap. That sucks. I hope you didn't waste your dodge rolls.
- Instead of being worried so much about a single skill being spammed, and hence nerfed, one just balances them in the same way as with all the other professions, though keeping the potential to reset in mind.
- As mentioned before, attaching venoms to the weapon skills will make the Thief much more of a sustained condition-damage profession than a burst profession, which would balance nicely with their ability to reset skills.
- Skill abuse, such as with the entire Backstab build thing from early BWEs, would be less of an issue just so long as the opportunity cost is balanced. See bullet 3 of my previous point.
- With the current system, and skill which stands out above the rest is going to get used more often than the rest, and quite possibly to the exclusion of others. That's no good... we want variety, not "this is the only viable skill on my bar right now." Besides which, overused skills tend to get nerfed. Just look at Leaping Death Blossom.
- This tweaked Initiative system would make it so that you could only, with a full bar of Initiative, reset 1 strong skill or 2 weaker ones at full recharge cost. That's basically about the limit of the current Initiative system anyway, but now you'd also have to balance that against your desire to Stealth / Trap / Steal. And even then, you're not prevented from attacking just because you chose to use Cloak and Dagger instead of Heartseeker.
- Just because you don't spam doesn't mean the impulse isn't there for other people.
- The new system wouldn't get rid of this urge entirely, but the give-and-take would probably help mitigate it early on, since it would be very tangibly presented to the player that they had hurt their effectiveness by giving in to it.
- With Traps being moved to F2, Venoms being combined with weapon skills, and Stealth being consolidated into F1, the Thief has basically lost 80% of its current "utility" set. New ones would need to be created, which would of course be a great deal of work, but... CONDITION REMOVAL. REAL SWIFTNESS. Enough said.