Developer Diary – Update 37 Guardian Changes

by Allan “Orion” Maki

Update 37 brings the long-awaited update to the mainstay tank in The Lord of the Rings Online! Long overdue and I hope welcome to at least some of you.

We started with a solid base for the Defender of the Free. No major changes were needed to keep the Guardian as a relevant tank in most content available throughout the game. Some skills definitely needed a little polish but on the whole the Defender of the Free was in a pretty good spot. Though no longer the preferred tank for some of the endgame content; it was still relevant – and, when well played, was as good as the newer Brawler.

The Keen Blade trait tree was a pale comparison of a true damage class. It suffered from levels of inconsistency, an increased need of expertise to play because of a staggered rotation. It was streaky at best and weak at worst.

Fighter of Shadow suffered from being less of a traditional tank. The Fighter of Shadow brought a lot of utility that Defender of the Free used and added in some area support. More of a niche off-tank that was neither a damage dealer nor a tank. Most players were not truly specialized in the Fighter of Shadow.

When we started we had some goals:

1. Do nothing to jeopardize the Defender of the Free

a. Changes should make sense and improve the trait tree

2. Bring Keen Blade up to par with other damage tree classes

a. Allow players to play the Keen Blade as they choose: Sword & Board, or Two-handed

b. Provide more consistency and damage

c. Establish a group support that would be welcome

d. Try not to not overpower them

3. Revise Fighter of Shadow and make it into a true utility line

a. Keep the spirit of the Fighter of Shadow in the utility line

b. Provide choices that enhance both Keen Blade and Defender of the Free

c. Address the issues with permanent debuffs and some non-performant skills

Along the Way

There were some lessons that I took from the revisions that OnnMM most recently made with the Minstrel and Captain. As I started to peel back the layers of this proverbial onion, I discovered some pretty interesting choices from the past. When I started digging deeper it became apparent that we needed to make some changes to the mechanics in the way the Guardian pushes their debuffs to targets beyond the first.

I started with a good number of spreadsheets to determine what I wanted to do. When I started to paper-play through the scenarios I noticed that I was not doing anything to enhance the moment-to-moment choices, just push some numbers here and there. So I decided on a different approach; I created a new level 1 guardian and put the character through its paces until about 70 with no boosts or enhancements to figure out how it played, functioned, and, most importantly, how it felt. A little background and an aside, if I may, I know that I am a systems guy and that numbers are super important – but, honestly, even if the numbers are in perfect balance, if the feel is not fluid and flowing I feel personally that the most important element is missing, and that is the fun.
I discovered that while the class was functional, it was stilted. This gave me a good foundational understanding of where to go.

Defender of the Free

  • How did we end up with this new version?
  • Why did we end up with a new tree?
  • What comes next for this tree?

The How.

With the understanding that I wanted to do as little harm as possible, I also wanted to ensure that the utility tree would see use, so I started to pull the threads of DoF where I could. Your feedback in those initial threads that led to the refresh were taken seriously and looked at where possible in order to ascertain whether the ideas presented would fit into the larger overhauls that we have been planning.

Looking at when skills that are considered necessary for being a viable tank I laid out and organized the new version of the tree in a manner that made sense, while adding in new gameplay utility that is even more beneficial to Fellowship play.

The Why.

A lot of the changes were to ensure that the DoF Guardian maintained their stability as a main tank. In the end we have a new full tree that looks much like the old tree with some minor but impactful changes.

The biggest changes are set bonuses:

  • Adaptability loses the stacking bonus that, honestly, added more calculations than necessary to combat and became a flat reduction to damage. The Tracery, though untouched throughout most of the development, has been adjusted to improve that level by up to 2% more at the top end.
  • Shield Wall moved out of the trait set bonus and into a trainable skill. This made room for Protection by the Shield.
  • Protection by the Shield is a new toggle skill that provides damage reduction for you, your fellows, and your raid members by a base of 3%. This adds a little value to the Defender of Free when their allies get a little overzealous or are dealing with other threats in encounters.

Other changes include:

  • Defensive Expertise moves out of Defender of the Free and into Fighter of Shadow.
  • Guardian’s Ward Tactics moves up the tree to the beginning due to some utility for Keen Blade.
  • Bellow moves up the tree as it enhances the force taunt and should be available to Guards in earlier fellowship play.
  • Shield of Light is a new trait that does some heavy duty to support the Guardian’s tank role by increasing threat, shield taunt targets, and enhancing the skill Protection by the Shield providing up to an addition 3% reduction to incoming damage.
  • Disorientation gets reworked to reduce your target’s critical defence rating rather than BPE. This is to synergies more readily with classes that tend to capitalize on critical hits.
  • Shield Spikes we will talk about more in what’s next.
  • High-spirited migrates from the Fighter of Shadow and provides the Defender of the Free with its health boost a little deeper in the tree.
  • Warrior’s Fortitude affecting Warrior’s Heart, which was a skill that did way too much work, was reworked to now provide flat bonuses to mitigation, incoming healing, and block chance.

In general, there were minor tweaks to animation speeds that should make some of the shield skills play smoother, and we can cover that a little more in the “what’s next” section, too.

So, what’s next?

I wanted to get everything done for the refresh but there is only so much time and there is so much work, so we'll pick them up as time allows:

  • Shield Spikes is just too cumbersome to leave as a trained trait and we know that you use the ability to swap trait trees out to get its benefit and then change trees again. While it got a healthy boost allowing for higher crit chance and longer duration, our intent is to move it into the trait set bonus, likely taking the spot currently occupied by Challenge the Darkness.
  • Juggernaut was a hot topic of discussion and we looked at several ways to change the skill. It is still being looked at to determine its future state. For now it remains as it is.
  • Break Ranks, I simply ran out of time on this one. I am putting it into the backlog as an activated skill that on expiration provides a temporary boost to mitigations so that you can build back your fortification stacks.
  • We are looking at a more recent suggestion to adjust some of the block chain response for an easier and faster response.
  • Lastly, we have requested a few new icons and some adjustments to help with the longer shield attack animations. We want to help that flow a little better.

Keen Blade

This was the first of the larger changes to the class and honestly, the one with the most feedback.

The How.

The Keen Blade guard has not been an end-game viable damage dealing specialization for a long while and we wanted to fix that. It suffered from a stilted rotation that required a heap of less than ideal play mechanics to maintain its inconsistent damage.

The Why.

Guardians need a viable second role. The changes that were made to Keen Blade were done to provide that. And yes, there are some drawbacks that come along with this change, but ultimately, I think that the result will justify any of the drawbacks that are now incurred.

Let’s look at the highlights:

  • Self-healing skills are halved when you are in Keen Blade. The reason for this is simply because Keen Blade maintains a ton of survivability, and I want this to be the damage dealing specialization, not the damage tank specialization.
  • Force Opening is culled from Keen Blade and moved to Fighter of Shadow because the skill adds utility to both Keen Blade and Defender of the Free.
  • Whirling Retaliation and Retaliation are disabled when in Keen Blade, replaced by Breach and Whirling Breach. These two new skills open the parry and block chain response skills without the need of a parry or block. In effect, they are now the Keen Blade openers, giving you access to higher damage quicker while in Keen Blade.
  • Reactive Parry is removed.
  • Bleed Them Dry moves up closer to the start of the trait set bonus.
  • Protection by the Sword gets a smaller nerf/boost by now affecting all outgoing damage by 3% and transferring block and parry events to the guardian from fellowship and raid members.
  • Relentless Fury gets added granting bonus damage and critical damage at the press of a button. Additionally, this opens block and parry responses.
  • Brutal Charge’s bonus knockdown now only affects melee skills, slight reduction in efficacy.
  • Prey on the Weak now works on all damaging skills used on bleeding targets rather than just critical strikes – improving damage consistency.
  • Thrill of Battle no longer heals, instead it increases the chance that you will critically strike a target before it resets upon a successful critical attack – this improves the critical consistency of the trait tree.
  • Skilled Deflection moves into the Fighter of Shadow tree.
  • Heavy Weapons training now increases Two-handed Weapon damage and all Skill Damage, making it more appealing.
  • Thrust now requires using Breach or Whirling Breach to provide a second option for use after your opening skills – widening your rotation choices and easing the flow.
  • Invigourating Parry now becomes Invigourating Response, restoring power when using your block and parry response chain skills.
  • To the King loses the inconsistent fellowship maneuver opening knockdown for a shorter duration traditional knock down.
  • To the Rescue is renamed to Into the Fray to represent that you are engaging an enemy not really helping a friend, leave that to the Defender of the Free.
  • Warrior’s Fortitude becomes Warrior’s Advantage increasing Parry, Physical Mastery, and Melee Critical chance – removing the additive bonuses to Warrior’s Heart.
  • Honourable Combat becomes Rupture. Rupture removes all bleeds currently on a target and deals damage for each removed. Then a new bleed replaces the old bleeds that heavily damages the target for a short period. Lastly, the target takes more damage for a period of time that increases with each bleed that was removed. This turns Hammer Down into a boost for the fellowship and raid that is consistent and feels like a true capstone ability.

So, what’s next?

For Keen Blade, there is not a ton added to the backlog. If anything we need to be cautious that the damage output is exactly where we want it and need to adjust to ensure that it is not overly potent. We want to make certain that this remains a true damage option for the class that brings a modicum of additional utility and benefit to a fellowship or raid, so that it does not end up as a “feels bad” moment when a guard is taken as a damage role.

Fighter of Shadow

Last trait tree and a mass of changes!

We know that there were not a massive amount of players spending their time in Fighter of Shadow, but we also know that there were some, and our goal has been to keep the spirit of Fighter of Shadow and allow it to infuse Defender of the Free and Keen Blade Guardians.

The How.

This one requires a little explanation. I stripped out the entire tree, looked at all the skills and effects. Examined how they were applied and conferred with the team a lot. Fighter of Shadow was a beast of a tree that, in the presence of enough Guardians using the tree could actively affect client performance – no joke. A great deal of effort went into streamlining those performance elements to make them less, well, invasive.

Once all of those moment-to-moment items were removed or adjusted to be the better versions of themselves, I moved on to trying to recapture the feel of the specialization, looking at how it would interact with both the Defender of the Free and Keen Blade.

The Why?

We have been, as a team, looking at the various classes and their roles and determining where they fit in terms of niche. Fighter of Shadow was determined to really be an augmentative tree rather than a fully developed one, and after internal discussion and feedback from the community I built two functional variants of the tree and we internally decided that the utility version kept the edge that the Guardian needed to specialize their playstyle choice – damage or tank.

So let’s take a look at the major changes:

  • You cannot specialize in this tree.
  • The following traits are removed entirely: Protection, Incapacitation, Mark of Permanence, and Manifested Ire.
  • Force Opening becomes a purchasable skill in the tree so that both Defender of the Free and Keen Blade Guardians can benefit.
  • Insult to Injury still renews debuffs on targets, just a little more consistently moving from 4 to 20% chance to renew those debuffs.
  • A new skill called Bastion of Light replaces Take to Heart and drops a hot spot that affects any enemies within. This hotspot applies the same miss chance debuff to all targets within the affected range. Additionally, there is a small chance that your applied debuffs will spread to others within the Bastion of Light effect.
  • Radiate, moves up in the tree and requires Bastion of Light to be traited. It increases the chance to spread debuffs on up to 3 targets within 10m that currently have the Bastion of Light effect on them. It also increases the range of your Bastion of Light effect.
  • Tenderize now increases your critical rating when you use parry or block chain response skills increasing your consistency to gain critical strikes.
    Warrior’s Guile, previously Warrior’s Fortitude, moves up the tree and no longer enhances Warrior’s Heart. Instead, the trait now enhances Tactical Mitigation, Critical Defence, and adds evade chance.
  • Flash of Light moves way up the tree and now requires you to have Bastion of Light trained. The trait adds a damage over time element to the Bastion of Light effect dealing Light damage. This is modified by anything that improves Light damage – as in the Ascendant Light tracery.
  • Defensive Expertise combines Skilled Deflection and Tireless Defender, providing bonuses to both Parry and Block chances.
  • Singular Focus moves up the tree and now affects the physical and tactical mitigation of targets receiving critical damage from your parry response skills.
  • Light-touched moves down the tree and increases melee damage, and incoming healing and allows you to block with two-handed weapons – it is half as potent as before, but when taken with other supplemental skills in their respective trees the benefits are an overall improvement.
  • Numbed Sense moves down the tree a tier.
  • War-chant, one of the most useful skills to the Guardian does move down the utility tree and sees a modest improvement to damage.
  • Thrill of Danger moves down the tree a tier.
  • Disabling Strikes now is at the 15+ tier of the tree and adds the ability to strengthen your disorientation debuff effect in addition to all the other enhancements it applies to your debuffs.
  • Demoralizing Anthem moves down the tree a tier and still requires you to purchase War-chant. It maintains its existing modifiers and gains the reduction on parry and block response skills without having to be using a protection effect.
  • Protected by the Light replaced Protection and adds an incoming healing boost to your Protection by the Shield skill and adds a damage reflection shield to your Protection by the Sword skill. The latter, has a small chance to reflect damage back to the attack.
  • Cataclysmic Shout becomes cataclysmic. Catalcysmic Shout now applies nearly all guardian debuffs and applies two of your potent class bleeds – regardless of your specialization tree.

I know, that is a lot to digest. This is a massive departure from what was here previously, but the spirit of Fighter of Shadow is there and you can apply some interesting augments to your specialization through the utility tree now.

So, what’s next?

There are likely some small clean-up efforts we need to look at and we need to determine if we keep Redirect where it is or swap it with Shield Spikes or something else.

Some other changes

There is another change that was made to the Guardian and that is the skill: Turn the Tables.

  • Turn the Tables no longer requires the Guardian to be in a negative combat state to execute. It was moved to a free skill to play that will remove negative combat states and stun up to 3 targets that it hits in a small cone in front of the Guardian.
  • We also made some of the more important skill effects to apply at skill play rather than skill execution to ensure that the benefit is gained and not lost because of untimely interrupts. While the skill may fail, the effect will apply.


Did we hit everything we wanted to in this refresh?

No, not completely. We will still be making some adjustments to Traceries as we move along. We have a small backlog of other changes that we want to make and we will adjust those as time allows. Just because, we are releasing this does not mean we forget it.

A few questions were asked about how the class stays relevant with the changes likely coming with the expansion, to that I can only say – trust the process. We are endeavoring to get all of the classes and statistics to a place of parity among player classes so that we can more easily adjust the dials that set them apart in the future. The first step along that road is getting every class to have a viable, non-shunned, or outright discounted damage specialization. We will be cautious to not undermine that work because, frankly, it is a lot of work.

Our efforts for the past several months with class refreshes has not been to slap a proverbial coat of paint on them and call them done. Rather, it has been to address as many of the underlying concerns and shortfalls that the classes may have to set them up for continued relevancy into the future. All of this, is also being done with the understanding that if you push the classes too far toward one another you run this risk of homogenizing them and we want to make certain that there is still a unique class feel for each of them.

At the end of this development cycle, I can say, with sincerest honesty, I cannot wait for you all to start playing the refreshed Guardian. I hope that you enjoy the refreshed Guardian as much as I will!