Waging WAR: Chaotic zeal, part one

Continuing in the tradition of the Nagarythe Chronicles, Waging WAR moves forward this week with the first issue of another multipart career spotlight for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. This time, however, Greg has defected to the velvet darkness of Chaos. Brandishing a skull in one hand and a twisted dagger in the other, Greg rolls a zealot and starts down a road of uncertainty, where the only constant is Change by the will of Tzeentch.

It has been a long time since I've played the game on the side of Destruction. Actually, truth be told, I've never really been serious about any Destruction character I've ever rolled at all, with my highest level being somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 or so on a blackguard when the class was first released. It has also been quite a while since I've done any career spotlights for the column. With those facts in mind, I've decided to do a multipart series for the zealot and to take a look at how they play and what makes them tick through the various tiers of growth up into Tier 4. The reasons I chose the zealot for the series are simple and few. First of all, the last time I had my hands on the zealot career was long before the new Harbinger mechanic was released, and I want to try it out for myself. Second, I have a considerable amount of experience healing (and DPSing) with my archmage, so I have a baseline for comparison. Finally, I thought a defection would be fun as I level and discover new areas, quests and storylines that I never gave myself a chance to become familiar with.

Follow along after the break as I take a look at the zealot through levels 1-11 in Tier 1.

Right from the start, the new zealot character is introduced to the Harbinger mechanic that went live with patch 1.3.6. The idea of it is actually very simple -- on par with understanding a light switch. When it is turned on, the zealot is filled with the destructive power of Chaos, receiving 50% of her healing power, healing critical rate, and willpower from items as magic power, magic critical rate, and intelligence respectively. This effect is known as the Harbinger of Doom. When the ability is turned off, the zealot embraces the essence of Tzeentch and is considered to be under the effects of the Harbinger of Change. In this state, the zealot receives 50% of her magical power, magic critical rate, and intelligence from items as boosts to healing power, healing critical rate, and willpower, respectively.

To clarify, let's assume the zealot has base intelligence and willpower scores of 10 and wears a belt providing 10 intelligence. When the Harbinger is "on" (i.e., DPS mode is active), the zealot's total scores are 20 intelligence and 10 willpower. Otherwise, the zealot has 15 intelligence and 15 willpower. This simple and elegant toggle mechanic provides a gear-friendly means for the character to fill whatever role he/she chooses, with only a 20-second cooldown to make the switch from being an effective healer to effective DPS. If that's not all, when the Harbinger of Doom is active, the zealot's hands glow with an eerie, swirling chaotic effect, thus signifying the zealot's intent to all nearby players, removing any confusion regarding his/her effectiveness or role at any given time. So, as I level and gear my new zealot, I don't have to worry about quest, RvR, or influence rewards along the way -- I can select new armor and weapons with little concern for my ability to solo DPS or heal in warbands. Already, my archmage memories are fading like the renown/mastery/gear respec nightmare they were. The things I would sever from my body to have this sort of hybrid fluidity on my archmage are unspeakable and almost certainly on my left side.

While the zealot seems to be deficient in terms of offensive tools so far, the DPS that she is able to produce is palpable and satisfying. The early-acquired offensive buff, Mark of Daemonic Fury, also grants an instant, direct damage nuke with a 30-second cooldown while the buff is active. An aggressive zealot can deliver some serious pain using Rite of Agony in combination with Warp Reality, Tzeentch's Cry and her mark. However, doing so means the zealot must get within 30 feet of her target to really start bringing down the dagger. As far as support DPS goes though, the zealot can maintain a nice distance (up to 100 feet) and still rain vilified hatred on her foes. I've never really been a fan of the graphic effect for Scourge, but the damage is still fair when attacking from long range. Which is just as well, because the zealot's mark-granted ability also has a range of 100 feet.

What the zealot lacks offensively is more than made up for in terms of defensive skill selection and diversity. This is where the class design and intent really starts to shine. At first level, the zealot starts her career with an instant-cast, direct-heal spell called Flash of Chaos. Only a few short levels later, the zealot is armed with another powerful healing spell in the form of Tzeentch's Cordial -- a high-powered, long-duration heal-over-time. Between only these two spells, I was already feeling quite capable as a healer at only level 3 in scenarios and RvR. By level 10 I had gained an additional four healing spells, and there was virtually nothing I couldn't keep alive except when faced with the most gratuitous of assist trains. Although Elixir of Dark Blessings was unwieldy and generally unreliable simply due to the long cast-time of the spell, Veil of Chaos, Divine Favor and Dark Medicine were amazing additions to my healing repertoire.

While the group-wide resistance buff, Mark of the Vortex, grants an AoE DoT to anyone bearing the mark, the protection it grants the group from all forms of magical damage is nothing to scoff at. One particular ability did catch me slightly off-guard though. The description for the zealot's detaunt, Chaotic Blur, is totally unclear and leaves quite a bit to misinterpretation. The tooltip says, "Detaunts target's attack power by 50% for 15 seconds." There is no statistic called "attack power," and I can only assume that the detaunt will reduce the power of any attack by half, regardless of the mode of delivery, be it ranged, magic or melee. Even still, the wording on the tooltip had me confused as to the exact intent of the spell.

So far I'm very happy with my baby zealot. Every time she acknowledges her fetish, I wonder what sorts of things it is whispering to her. The weapon and armor design is aesthetically pleasing as is the casting animation. I feel "in-tune" with the character and server response time when casting in combat. She's showing great promise for Tiers 2 and 3.

As always, your comments, suggestions and questions are welcome and encouraged.
Every Saturday afternoon, Waging WAR hits the cover of Massively with the latest and greatest in all things Warhammer Online. From patch news to career reviews, Greg Waller writes about it all. Email comments and questions to greg@massively.com.
This article was originally published on Massively.