Specializations, Part One: A Primer

by Jon Peters on April 23, 2015


In our reveal of Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns™, we told you that specializations are our way of giving existing professions new skills and traits. Specializations are actually a much bigger addition that will have an impact on both new and existing skills and traits. Here are some of the big reasons why we’re excited about specializations:

  • They separate stats from traits, opening up builds by trait choice rather than stat choice.
  • More power! You now get to select nine major traits instead of seven, including three grandmaster traits.
  • Each trait is more impactful, so choices are more build defining and meaningful.
  • The new, more streamlined unlock system is friendlier to new players and much less of a burden on players with multiple characters.
  • This new system is one that we can continue to expand while maintaining a strong sense of balance.

The original goal of the Trait system was to create a way to customize your character beyond their skills. What we’re trying to do with specialization is take everything that was positive about the Trait system and boil it down while removing or modifying the parts we felt held it back. This new system provides a solid foundation for our plans to expand the number of available traits and skills in the future. So how do specializations work?

Core Specializations

Each profession will have five core specializations corresponding to the old trait lines. The first step in customization will be to select three of the five core specializations. These determine the basis for your other build choices. For example, an elementalist may choose to specialize in Fire Magic, Earth Magic, and Water Magic. The ability to select one, two, and finally three core specializations will unlock as you level your character from 1 to 80.



Each core specialization will have three minor traits associated with it. These are automatically equipped along with the specialization itself and help define the playstyle of that particular specialization.

In addition, there will be nine major traits tied to each specialization. There are three different tiers of traits: adept, master, and grandmaster. Once a specialization has been equipped, a character will be able to select a single trait for each tier to help customize that specialization. By locking traits to tiers and reducing the overall number of traits, we’ve made each choice much more compelling.

Where Did My Trait-Line Stats Go?

We feel that separating build choices from stat decisions provides greater build flexibility, so you’ll no longer gain attribute points through a given line. Where will these stats go? Here’s a quick summary:

  • Base player stats will be increased from 926 to 1000.
  • Base attribute points on equipment will be increased so that all the gear in the game will give higher stats than it did before. This should account for most of the missing points.
  • Each profession’s attributes will be updated to have half of their functionality be part of a specialization and half of their functionality will be a baseline for that profession. For example, elementalists now have a base attunement recharge of 10 seconds, which is reduced to 8.7 seconds when the arcane specialization is equipped.

These changes should keep the total stat numbers roughly the same as they were before, even though you’ll get them from different places. In addition to these changes, the need to unlock skills and traits will be removed from Player vs. Player entirely, and you’ll automatically have all the specializations available to you whenever you’re in PvP.

What Does a Specialization Look Like?

To help clarify, I’m going to take an example line, Water Magic, and show you the exact changes we’ve made. Keep in mind that, as with all things currently in development, there may be differences between the updates I’m showing here and the traits that make it to the live game.


Minor Traits

Soothing Mist: You and nearby allies regenerate health while you are attuned to water.

Healing Ripple: Heal nearby allies when attuning to water.

Aquatic Benevolence: Healing done to allies is increased. (25%)

Major Traits


  1. Soothing Ice: Gain regeneration and Frost Aura when you are struck by a critical hit.
  2. Piercing Shards: While attuned to water, your spells deal more damage to vulnerable foes. Vulnerability lasts longer.
  3. Stop, Drop, and Roll: Dodge rolling removes burning and chilled.


  1. Soothing Disruption: Cantrips grant you regeneration and vigor. Cantrip recharge is reduced.
  2. Cleansing Wave: Remove a condition from you and your allies when attuning to water.
  3. Aquamancer’s Training: Deal extra damage when your health is above the threshold. Reduces recharge on all water weapon skills.


  1. Cleansing Water: Remove a condition when granting regeneration to yourself or an ally.
  2. Powerful Aura: Auras you gain from weapon skills are also applied to nearby allies.
  3. Bountiful Power: Deal more damage for each boon on you.

If much of this seems familiar to you, that’s good; specializations take many of the aspects of the existing system and break them down into a similar system that is clearer and easier to use.

As you can see, traits have been merged, moved, and culled, and new ones have been created, but it lets us introduce more skillful traits and more meaningful trait choices that are going to really change how you play. Although some traits are being removed, we’re doing our best to preserve as many of the current builds as we can.

Core Skills

In addition to core specializations, we’re making some changes to skills. Some skills’ base functionalities will change to incorporate lost behaviors from the removed traits. For example, the necromancer’s wells will all become ground targeted and the trait allowing ground targeting will be removed. All legacy skills will be assigned a category if they don’t already have one; for example, the engineer’s Mortar elite skill will become a kit. This means that traits and potential rune sets that affect kits can be triggered by this skill.

Core skills and core specializations set us up for our new skill and trait unlocking system, which you can find out more about in the companion piece to this blog post. We’re looking forward to letting you get your hands on specializations so you can try them out for yourself!