Friday, October 9, 2009

Class Review: The Seeker

This month's debut content from Player's Handbook 3 on DDI consists, again, on a new class: the Seeker. These days, it looks like we are getting some new class almost every month, which would eventually become hard to justify, if not for the fact that the designs look better each time. If last month's Assassin quickly became one of my all-time favourites, today's Seeker doesn't let me down, either.

Rather than a completely novel idea, Seekers consist on an interesting variant for a relatively untapped archetype: the Archer. This class' twist comes in the form of primal spirits that imbue your missiles with energy, granting special effects. If Archer Rangers were like Robin Hood or Legolas, Seekers play more like a Green Arrow or Hawkeye, almost every arrow coming with some kind of trick or surprise. Though this niche had partialy been covered by Artificers, as well as Prescient Bards, the emphasis on archery is greater here - while these other classes had the ranged weapon as one of many options for channeling attacks, the Seeker is one with his bow (or crossbow, or whatever). When you think of it, not even Rangers can claim such a devotion to archery, as only one of that class' builds is really focused in ranged combat.

None of the powers shown so far feature this kind of arrow trick, but there's still hope.

Rules-wise, the Seeker is a controller of the Primal power source, though its secondary roles seem to be way more predominant than in most classes. The one build that has been released, the Bloodbond Seeker, is suppossed to dabble as a Striker, but that hardly makes him justice. The class features of that build give them a level of maneuverability that most pure Strikers only dream of, and only the lack of a single-damage boost keeps you from wondering if we should actually think of them as strikers with a touch of controllers, instead of the other way around. I'm really intrigued for the Spiritbond build, which we won't see until PHB3 is released, as it is said to have a Defender splash. Defender archetypes don't mixed well with ranged attacks, so that won't be easy to pull off.

The class features are few, but very relevant. If there is one that will make players of most other classes green with envy, it's the ability of the Bloodbond build to shift as a minor action, every turn. We finally get to play kobolds! I'm really, really excited by this, and it's an ideal fit for an archer, as your greater concern is usually to get surrounded by enemies, unable to attack without taking opportunity attacks. This will never, ever happen to Seekers, though. If that wasn't enough, the build comes with Encaging Spirits, an encounter power that pushes and slows all enemies around you -no roll to hit required- useful for not only running away, but locking down opponents as well. Finally, the class-defining feature that will be available regardless of the build is called Inevitable Shot, and it allows you redirect missing arrows to attack elsewhere, once per encounter.

Seeker powers are notaby short on bursts and blasts, for a controller class. Instead, the most common method for damaging groups of enemies is the single target attack with splash damage around it. There is also plenty of zones and hindering conditions, typically originated from the target of a ranged attack. As the attacks deal weapon damage and Seekers are proficient with bows and crossbows, they are all but guaranteed to have the highest single-target damage of all controllers, which along with their extraordinary mobility and moderate area damage makes for a distinct combat style. However, this damage won't grow at the same rate as other weapon users, as encounter and daily powers tend to roll a few weapon damage die plus some other fixed amount of dice. That is, where a Fighter or Ranger would get 3[W] damage, the Seeker rolls [W]+2d6, or something like that. This reduces both their overall damage and the degree to which they depend on superior weapons, but also allows for greater variety in attack powers' damage and effects.

Regarding the power selection, I think that the reduced power list released as Debut Content (3 at-wills and a mere 2 options per level for the rest of slots) isn't very tolerant to the presence of mediocre options. For some slots, it seems you'd do better taking a lower level power than one of the available options: Levels 9 and 29 in particular come to mind. Not that I will be playing epic level Seekers anytime soon, but it is a letdown looking at the supposedly most powerful attacks available to the class, and find them bland and unexciting. Fortunately, the at-will selection is solid, and provides enough variation on the theme of single attacks with a splash effect. The default attack of choice is likely to be the amazing Stinging Swarm (a ranged attack that inflicts an attack penalty on the target and close enemies), but the other ones will be good alternatives whenever you want to clear minions or just deal area damage.

To conclude, I'll comment on a few powers that called my attention:

- Hunter's Instinct (level 2 Utility) Is a Stance that increases your crit range, but only when you shoot from 2 squares from the enemy. It's a risky strategy, but the reward is great, the class has enough mobility to pull it off, and it should be a blast to play. I wouldn't mind seeing more effects of this kind for the class, on PHB3.
- Escaping Shot (level 3 Encounter) honors its name. A ranged attack that doesn't provoke, dazes the target, and lets you shift a billion squares, it is probably overkill for a class with such a great mobility, but it's nevertheless cool.
- Blurring Stride (Utility 6) grants you the Warlock's Shadow Walk ability for one encounter per day. I always loved that feature.
- Wave of Sleep (Daily 15) is the Wizard's Sleep spell on steroids. Increased accuracy, no friendly fire, and a guaranteed daze, this improves on a classic.

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