State of the Game: Ranger
I want to preface this by saying this is a fairly lengthy discussion of rangers and the issues that I feel face rangers post-specializations. It’s a mixture of information based on opinions and judgement approximately three weeks into the patch, discussions with other players and statistics and facts. Playing ranger as a main class seems like a pointless endeavor, as the class has been among the weakest two classes for a long time. To discuss why this is I’m going to look at each “common” build before and after the specializations patch, their strengths and weaknesses, and mainly why they aren’t in common use in competitive play.
Pre-specializations, I would argue that the strongest ranger build was the standard survival-condition build. It had high 1v1 capability due to good survivability and strong condition damage, as well as some potential for team fight play, mainly with AOE skills like entangle and bonfire. It certainly wasn’t a top tier build, however, as it was bested by both point holder and team fight builds. An elementalist or engineer would beat it in a 1v1 on point, and a shoutbow warrior would render it pointless in a team fight. Condi ranger then certainly wasn’t in the meta. Now, with specializations and the changes to conditions it seems as though there is potential for condi ranger to have a larger place within tPvP. While the damage has been buffed slightly, with traits such as “hidden barbs” allowing for incredibly high damage bleed stacks, it’s hard to feel as though condi ranger hasn’t been overall, slightly nerfed. The damage was only a fraction of the use of a condi ranger, and the survivability was arguably more important, and it feels as though it has been nerfed in this aspect. The addition of emphatic bond to wilderness survival has removed about half of the builds condition cleanse, and while it still has a good amount through survival skills, it is a blow to survivability. In addition to this, the loss of stats from traits has lead to a large loss of health (approximately 3000). This health drop comes in a patch where most classes damage appears to be increased and all this comes together to create what feels like a nerf to condition ranger.
A variation of condition ranger that saw some play pre-specialization, although still not in competitive play, was spirit ranger. Spirit ranger offered good condition damage along with strong team support through aoe cc and healing. Post-specialization, spirit ranger is all but gone, as spirits have been nerfed out of viability. “Unbound Spirits”, a trait that allowed spirits to move has been removed, making spirit ranger a ridiculously slow build which can easily be rotated around. Spirits now also die when their active effect is used, making their crowd control uses a much higher investment. Spirits had the potential to make ranger a great team support class, but have unfortunately been nerfed into uselessness. A fix for this, however, would be easy, making spirits moving traitable or even baseline, would make the build have a presence in more fights around the map, make it harder to rotate around, and give a chance of seeing some consistent and maybe even high tier play.
The final variation on the condi ranger that saw some play in unranked and ranked queues, was trap ranger. Pre-specializations, traps were a strong source of condition application, on a low cooldown that could be thrown from range. Post-specialization traps have been changed slightly. Spike trap has been given a knockdown effect, which can make hitting the rest of the traps easier. However, traps can no longer be thrown, which is a major issue for the build as a whole. Traps are now harder to hit, and require enemies to either walk on them inadvertently (which I do understand is thematically the point of traps), or require some form of crowd-control (cc) to place the traps on disabled enemies, a knockback to force an enemy on the traps, or kiting an enemy onto them in a fight, forcing them to take the damage. This brings the issue of making team fights harder with traps, as you have to be in the fight, and the lack of survivability (as I mentioned when discussing standard condition ranger, and from having no survivability skills due to traps), means you can die fairly fast, which is generally against the idea of a condition build. Trap builds are still fairly strong in 1v1s, however, standard condition is significantly better. Increasing condition cleanse from other sources, and making traps throwable once again could bring this build into more frequent use.
The fourth and final common ranger build, once again not really played in competitive, is power ranger. Power ranger has incredibly strong ranged damage and can hold its own in 1v1s with both longbow and greatsword. Survival skills and signet of stone give it good survivability, a strong source of fury and decent condition cleanse. The issue with power ranger, however, is similar to other ranger builds, namely condition ranger, in that if you what want a power ranger gives; you’ll use a different class. The “ranged” part of ranged damage, is nowhere near as important as the “damage” part. Most high damage builds have close range or melee damage (although mesmer also has incredibly strong ranged damage), but some form of escape or survivability. Shatter mesmer, which is currently incredibly strong, has higher damage, blink, invisibility and invulnerability to escape. The greatsword and hammer warrior build has great damage, stances and high mobility skills for escape. Thieves have high burst and more invisibility and mobility than any class. Yes, power ranger has signet of stone, swoop and hunters shot to escape, but it’s damage doesn’t match up to the three builds mentioned, and it’s survivability and escape ability doesn’t either, especially the mesmer and thief. Power ranger, played correctly, can be a strong tool for team fight damage, but with the current strength of other damage builds, mainly the mesmer and thief (and their large amounts of lockdown and higher mobility). Power ranger is outclassed in everything it does by other classes, and is a fourth and final weak build for the ranger.
There are other builds that can be used post-specializations, like beast master bunker builds which have incredibly high boon uptime, can easily have permanent regen, and similar builds with more of an offensive focus, for example: shout power builds. While these builds have proven to be fairly strong 1v1 (albeit while tested against a power ranger, which is not a 1v1 build), it’s hard to see their use within a structured team environment, or how they would replace currently strong builds. As for the builds discussed above, apart from the traps and spirits, they have no easy or obvious fix or buff. A lot of the issues are purely that everything they do is done better by someone else, and a buff to ranger may only be seen as a nerf to other classes, and this comes down to general issues with ranger.
One such issue is that most every build outside of trap and spirit ranger has something in common; survival skills. I’ve seen most classes say that they’ve been forced into narrow build customization, needing certain skills to be viable. However with most of those classes, if you were to switch from say a power to a condi build, you would change skills, you may not be as strong or viable, but your build would be significantly different. With ranger, I currently run a survival power build. If I were to change my build into a condition build, my utilities would be the same, other than possibly my elite (from strength of the pack to entangle, although entangle is often used for power builds too). Survival skills being strong isn’t an issue here, it’s the fact that almost all other skills are weak and unviable. Spirits and traps have been discussed earlier, signets have a place within builds, but cannot suffice on their own, and shouts, while having strong effects, lead to a lack of condi cleanses (and rune of the soldier doesn’t match up to survival skills due to the amount of conditions cleansed). Survival skills give stun breaks, the most reliable source of condition cleanse, and fury. There are possible ways to fix this, like moving “emphatic bond” into beastmastery, preferably as a major trait and changing it to 2 conditions not 3 (possibly merging natural healing into invigoration bond to free the space in beastmastery), buffing “invigorating bond” to remove conditions, letting spirits move to make them viable again or maybe even buffing rune of the soldier to remove 2 conditions (although this may be too strong for warrior and guardian) to mention a few.
A second general issue that a lot of rangers would say is holding the class down is pets. Currently, the lack of possible variety in pets is irritating, with certain pets being significantly stronger than others (canines and birds specifically), and that their path finding, survivability and ability to attack moving targets could use some minor improvements, as I’ll discuss shortly, in my opinion pets have seen improvements in this patch. That being said, pets are an obvious place that ranger could get some fairly simple buffs (although changing path finding and hitting moving targets is probably hard, I don’t know I don’t make games), through those changes, the addition of condition damage, more control other what skills the pet uses when and where or even a rework of all pet skills and stats the ranger could see some significant improvements.
This article, I’m aware, seems very doom and gloom. Rangers are not in a fatal place, and got some positives in the June 23rd patch. Quick draw is a strong grand master trait and can be used very effectively in tandem with skills such as bonfire, maul and rapid fire. As I mentioned earlier I personally feel that pets have seen improvements, which comes down to the beastmastery trait line becoming much stronger. Taunt is one of the most useful tools the ranger right now, and with a wolf, point blank shot and hilt smash can lead to lengthy and strong lockdown on a target, which is powerful for both coordinated team burst and 1v1s. The taunt also helps pets hit targets, and the weakness from “wilting strikes” helps with survivability, on top of the toughness and blind from “go for the eyes”. These traits are an improvement to the use of pets, however, I can see why some people would say this limits build customization, as these buffs require the beastmastery trait line.
As I said that the start, everything here is based on opinions and judgements approximately three weeks into the patch, as well as facts, statistics and discussions with other ranger players. Ranger, as a class, is not strong right now, but the specialization patch has given them some positive improvements that give me hope for the future. Maybe we have to wait until Heart of Thorns, and druid to have our moment in the sun, or maybe balance changes in between now and then will buff us sufficiently, but I don’t believe that ANet hates us, nor that we are doomed to be out of the meta forever.
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