I felt that my review of the career was based on solid ground, given the scope, and taking the setting and focus into consideration, and considering the fact that I had to grind the levels relatively quickly in order to stay on-time and deliver the column promptly. Despite my original intention to simply gain personal insight and experience with the class in an effort to have greater understanding of its hot-button issues, many of the Waging WAR readers who left comments were disappointed with my experiment, as I didn't have time or space to have a serious look at the skirmish and assault trees. So, throughout the last week, I felt obliged to play my shadow warrior, focusing all of my mastery points in either skirmish or assault (starting at rank 30, there are more than enough points available to explore an entire tree, and even a few inter-tree synergies).
Follow along after the break to find out how things went for me. Unshakeable Focus, the assault-specialized shadow warrior can prove to be exceedingly deadly in melee combat. I was particularly pleased with the selection of crowd-control abilities. With Opportunistic Strike (a four-second disarm) and Exploit Weakness (a three-second knockdown) I often felt confident to step outside to the fringes of the main force, standing alone in skirmish stance, where I would inevitably lure away at least one stray witch elf or choppa looking for an easy kill. I even took what I had previously learned from my scout build and used Steady Aim with Swift Strikes with results that were pleasing, to say the least (I'm pretty sure that marauder is still seeing stars).
The only real problem I had with the assault tree was the feeling I got when I was in any group situation (which was pretty much 100% of the time). I would often feel a certain uneasiness creeping over me as people watched me attack NPC keep defenders with blade rather than bow, or knock on the keep door hip-to-hip with the tanks and other melee-DPS. It was an uneasiness that spoke to me. I felt the scrutinizing, judgmental gaze of others in the warband. No matter where I went, I could feel the grumbling bewilderment of skeptical healers as I was often quick to move toe-to-toe, matching blow-for-blow with enemy melee careers. Simply put, the assault tree, for all of its strengths, felt tactically and strategically wrong for a career that is defined as a ranged DPS archetype. With devoted focus, and proper care and feeding of a very specific diet of gear and talismans, along with a group of teammates who don't care how often you die or require resurrection, an assault-specialized shadow warrior could indeed be very fun to play -- I had a great time, at least when I was able to set aside the awkward feeling of being a wolf in a sheep's maskhelm.
Charge Forth, Expert Skirmisher and Split Arrows -- enemy melee trains (when they weren't immediately turning on me) were exceptionally fun to shoot at. I felt like a pied piper paid to play a path for a pack of pests. The fast-shooting mobility of the tree was difficult to get used to at first. This tree was especially fun in scenarios, where I could run around the edges of the fray looking for easy marks that I could put the beat-down on with Flanking Shot. But after a while, that's all I found myself doing: spiral-fletched spam while constantly searching for the big flank. The short ranges required by this mastery path at times felt suicidal. I can't tell you how many times I sidestepped into a world of hurt from oncoming tanks or heavy-hitting choppas. Clearly, specializing in skirmish requires a player to invest a lot more time in practice (far more than I'm willing to give it), learning effective ranges by sight, finding flanking opportunities faster, moving with the ebb and tide of battle more fluidly, and kiting in general. I can imagine how a skirmish shadow warrior played by an expert could be especially deadly -- if all the kiting abilities worked as one expects them to. I can also see how someone devoted to this mastery path could feel frustrated. The skirmish tree needs work.
On the bright side, the developers have recently announced their proposal for some changes coming for shadow warriors in patch 1.3.6, especially for those skirmish devotees. You can find the specifics and discussion on the official developer's round-table forums.
So how do I feel after spending time with the assault and skirmish trees? Well, I still feel how I felt previously, except for my feelings on the skirmish tree (and by the looks of patch 1.3.6, even that will change), at least in terms of how fun the career is. But with all the information I have now, taking all three mastery paths into consideration in their current state (i.e., patch 1.3.5), along with the clumsiness of the stance mechanic -- my final verdict is this: The shadow warrior is half-baked and seems to have been thrown together at the last moment. The scout tree and assault tree are almost perfect yin and yang; neither can ever really complement the other except by virtue of being its direct opposite. And each is best-suited when paired with the skirmish tree (since a build that involves points in both scout and assault is absurd), which itself is plagued with issues, some of which are being addressed in patch 1.3.6, and the least of which include server lag and an extraordinarily long cooldown time placed on the most essential, class-defining skill, Vengeance of Nagarythe. The shadow warrior is, by definition, a confused class afflicted by the extremes of its own dichotomy.
In all likelihood, in my effort to appease my readers, I've gone and stepped on even more toes. To those infuriated, masked bowyers, fletchers, and bladesmen, all I can do is recommend patience, and that you continue to be vocal and constructive on the archetype forums (or even here, in the column's comments section). Don't give up on your beloved career. All good things come to those who wait. But, the show really must go on, and I can no longer spend time dialoguing the finer points of the shadow warrior class, regardless of the ineptitude I've been accused of by some (if not all) of my readers. My original intention was never to become an expert or professional with the career by any means, but rather to gain some personal insight into the issues that I had heard so many horror stories about. I feel that goal was accomplished -- even if my experience is light, it is certainly better than none at all.
This week, I want to reach out and ask for a special favor from my readers. As I worked on this final supplement to the Nagaryth Chronicles, an idea occurred to me. I want to challenge you, dear readers, to leave a comment with what you believe to be the most overpowered career that Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has to offer. I'll compile the votes and write a series about the selected class in an effort to determine why it appears to be so unbalanced. And this time I promise to explore all three trees as fully as I can.