Developing Essence Manipulation

by Clayton Kisko on November 13, 2019


I love Living World Masteries, but non-mount Masteries often offer only one progression track. Since multiple progression tracks give players more meaningful reasons to play together in a map—and more new things to do after putting in time playing their level-80 characters—I set out to develop a system that would give players a crystal-clear way to progress toward the endgame rewards in The Icebrood Saga . The result of the team’s hard work is Essence Manipulation, which is made up of three Masteries, each with two tiers. Combined with the two-tiered Raven Spirit Mastery, that’s eight tracks of player progression!

I started with ideas and inspiration from games that use the old “rock, paper, scissors” approach to their balance and progression systems. For example, players want to obtain “rock” and level it up so they can defeat powerful “scissor” creatures. Games like the Monster Hunter™ series even incorporate this into their gear and weapon progression.

Our goal was to make this type of system, in which the game mechanics are heavily interconnected, an important part of “Whisper in the Dark.” To satisfy that goal, it would need to be integral to fighting the enemies on the map, completing Strike Missions, and obtaining rewards. Communicating the system to the player is key, because it can be very complex, so you’ll discover information about it through achievements, icons, props, enhancements, open-world dialogue, and NPC conversations.

A lot of team members contributed feedback, and we spent months designing, implementing, playtesting, and iterating to bring Essence Manipulation to life. Essence Manipulation is divided into three separate Mastery tracks: Vigilance, Resilience, and Valor. Each is strong against another:

  • Vigilance is strong against Resilience.
  • Resilience is strong against Valor.
  • Valor is strong against Vigilance.

Different types of enemies on the map embody these essences, and share their weaknesses:

  • Svanir embody the essence of Vigilance.
  • Fallen embody the essence of Resilience.
  • Aberrant embody the essence of Valor.

How to Manipulate Essences


Unlocking the Essence Manipulation Mastery allows you to pick up essence orbs that drop from corresponding enemies. Picking up an orb immediately grants a temporary enhancement stack with benefits that improve with the Mastery’s second tier:


  • Gain 5 seconds of fury, 15% endurance regeneration, and 4 seconds of swiftness.


  • Gain 10 seconds of might, 400 health, and 4 seconds of swiftness.


  • Gain 3 seconds of quickness and 4 seconds of swiftness.

Obtaining 30 stacks will activate the Mastery’s passive benefits for fifteen minutes, making it easier to fight creatures weak against that essence. While active, you’ll also gain access to powerful offensive abilities through a special action skill. These abilities will be available for use in specific situations, like at certain enemy health thresholds or when defiance bars are exposed.

The percentage chance will increase with each tier unlocked, and the offensive abilities will become more powerful after unlocking the second tier.


  • Gain a 33% chance to steal life on critical hits to Fallen enemies. Gain the ability to use the Shattered Psyche special action skill. Gain a 1.5-second cooldown reduction when picking up an essence.
  • Shattered Psyche: This powerful blast deals immense damage and causes lesser creatures to float in the air. (Applies 15 seconds of fury at tier 2.)


  • Gain a 30% duration reduction from conditions from Aberrant creatures. Gain the ability to use the Spirit Nova special action skill. Gain a 1.5-second skill cooldown reduction when picking up an essence.
  • Spirit Nova: This powerful blast deals immense damage and launches lesser creatures. (Applies 10 stacks of might for 8 seconds at tier 2.)


  • Gain a 10% damage reduction from Svanir enemies. Gain the ability to use the Night Terror special action skill. Gain a 1.5-second skill cooldown reduction when picking up an essence.
  • Night Terror: This powerful blast deals immense damage and pulls lesser creatures into its destruction. (Applies 8 seconds of quickness at tier 2.)

Players will also find special chests in Strike Missions and the open world that can only be opened with the Essence Manipulation Mastery the chest is weak to. Bigger chests will need the second-tier Mastery to open, so you’ll want to upgrade your Essence Manipulation for maximum potential rewards!

Once you’ve trained an essence, you’ll have some fun decisions to make about how you build your character and play in the map. You might decide you have enough stacks of might from resilience and forego might-enhancing traits for something else. With Build and Equipment Templates, this exploration and experimentation is easier. Players who’ve fully trained Essence Manipulation should be able to take down tough enemies—including champions and Strike Mission bosses—with fewer than the recommended number of allies.

When roaming the map, you can choose to be as efficient as possible by farming up essence orbs in a creature-specific area, then head for events with creatures that are weak against that essence, farming up the next round of orbs and grabbing chests along the way.

Unlocking Essence Manipulation


You’ll first need to unlock the second tier of the Raven Attunement Mastery track. After that, choose an essence to start with and train it by gaining experience and Mastery points. You’ll find an NPC in the map named Researcher Yarixx who can give you a tutorial at any time, even if you don’t have the Mastery unlocked yet.

The next episode of The Icebrood Saga  will introduce another tier for each essence, for a total of three tiers each. Trust me—you’re going to need the extra power. We’re so excited for you to explore the many different facets of these new Masteries!

If you’re interested in learning more about how we developed and iterated on Essence Manipulation—including some of the challenges we faced—don’t miss the next episode of Guild Chat at noon Pacific Time (UTC-8) on Friday, November 15.