I’ve only played the thief for a few hours during my time in Guild Wars 2 (a recording session over one of the Beta weekends) and didn’t really invest enough time in the profession to form any sense of opinion on it.
What I did last night was create all my alts with one of those being a Sylvari Thief, based on the fact the Tier 2 and 3 medium cultural armour is too nice to neglect.
The most surprising thing I found was how the feeling of combat changes as a result of initiative and the removal of single skill cooldowns. Combat feels drastically different; quicker and certainly more action orientated. For that reason alone, it isn’t unsurprising to see a reasonably high proportion of thief players (though ArenaNet statistics put them level with many others).
While it could be argued that initiative displaces one cooldown for another, it’s the form of control it affords you and the ability to front-load or spread your damage that generates the nuances of the profession.
As someone heavily invested in the mesmer it was frightening to see how little damage I deal in the short term in comparison to the thief. Many mesmer players have argued for some time that we lack the farming ability of other professions due to this, that our damage is over a longer period of time; it couldn’t be more true. A single cycle on my mesmer to defeat an enemy of equal level will see me change through two weapon sets (using all skills) coupled with several Shatters and likely a return to skills that were on cooldown. In contrast, my thief is capable of despatching enemies in a heartbeat based on the unique initiative mechanic without necessarily having to change weapons.
It’s also strange to suddenly realise how little mobility your preferred profession has when you explore another and though I can appreciate the thief requires its mobility for survival (both in its use of stealth and shadow step) the mesmer and specifically those of us who have high power and precision builds, require similar principals in the form of leaps and cloak skills. The difference here however is that once again initiative shines and allows for repeated darting attacks, with use of the shortbow only strengthening this position. All this serves to highlight the sluggish nature of the mesmer and its use of Blink or Focus as a crutch, that simply isn’t a viable option to many offensive builds.
That isn’t to say that the mesmer doesn’t have it’s strengths (it is wonderful) but it’s interesting from my perspective to compare it directly to another after playing just one profession for over 500 hours. Many of the professions in Guild Wars 2 are comparable, with the thief and ranger sharing many principals of design, or the mesmer and thief overlapping in some elements such as stealth/cloak, blink/shadowstep. But where a mesmer can shine in group play with its use of Portals, Time Warp, Null Field or Chaos Storm (should you choose a staff) it can also suffer heavily in dungeons or world versus world as you struggle to keep up through a lack of mobility while having your illusions and limited melee playstyle become redundant entirely redundant during keep sieges.
The thief certainly isn’t perfect as the vulnerabilities of the profession as a result of initiative are already abundantly clear (especially the inability to scale your damage once your initiative pool is spent) or the fact that you bring little area of effect options to the table with the exception of Dagger Storm but what is clear is that the profession actually feels cohesive and well thought out for the role it is trying to fill.
If I were to choose where to categorise a mesmer, it would fall into a profession designed to support others rather than one designed to always be alone. It cannot be denied that in 1 on 1 scenarios a mesmer is formidable and is capable of dealing huge damage (should Phantasms be allowed to deal it) but the time in which it takes to deal this poses its own risks especially when you are likely in structured PvP to be quickly joined by another enemy or team member and in World versus World the game moves too quickly for it to materialise.
I’ve wondered for some time as to why mesmer players have drifted to the thief and its abundantly clear as to why they would. What a shame it is however to see so many thief players descend the profession into single skill spam when the options initiative affords is a luxury just waiting to be truly explored.
If only ArenaNet had implemented initiative for all professions and removed cooldowns completely, I think they would have then been on to something truly original.