Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bladesinger preview

The upcoming Neverwinter Campaign Setting supplement is including a brand new character class: the Bladesinger, the first level of which was previewed last week. In previous editions, Bladesingers had warriors of elven origin that mixed martial techniques and the arcane arts, usually fighting in light armor and channeling deadly spells through their swords. This comes off as a bit of a deja vu, since only a couple of years ago, we were introduced to a 4E sword-wielding fighter-wizard hybrid in the swordmage class, included in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting  (with the fact that Neverwinter is located in the Realms only contributing to the redundancy). Then again, whereas the swordmage performed the defender role, Bladesingers are labeled as controllers. More specifically, they are melee controllers with defender-like AC, and an extra damage mechanic not unlike that of an striker. Oh, and they actually count as a Wizard subclass. Confused yet? This is only the beginning.

A note of caution: like most of the material released in the last year, the Bladesinger is a post-Essentials design, meaning that the class deviates from the classic 4E structure of at-will, encounter, and daily powers, gains class features as you level up, shows a love for basic attacks, and tends to sacrifice build variety for flavor, simplicity, and focused mechanics. That said, I believe there are a lot of things to love. The core of the class is solid enough: they have striker hit points, are proficient with swords (both as weapons and implements, since they can use them as wands) and leather armor, use Intelligence as a primary ability and Dexterity as secondary (it is, after all, a class for elves-eladrins), have a good basic attack, and gain a shield bonus for free. That alone makes them competent melee fighters. On top of that, they count as a wizards, so they can benefit from plenty of great feats and utility powers, though access to actual wizard attacks (the strongest element of that class, by a mile) is far more tricky.

So far, what we have seen is interesting, but not all that original. It is in the attack power department where the Bladesinger shows the most innovative (some would say heretic) ideas. To sum it all up, they get at-wills that add damage and controlling effects to their melee basic attack, a fixed selection of encounter powers (of which the one that has been revealed is awesome at so many levels), and daily attacks that are actually wizard encounter powers (!).

The at-wills are my favourite part of the class, by a mile. Called Bladespells, they are ranged attacks that trigger when you hit with a melee basic attack, and hit automatically for a fixed amount of damage (based on your Dex score) and a control effect. The really nice part is that you can target different foes with the basic attack and the bladespell, opening up some strategies that are unavailable to most other characters. Notably, you can use your melee attack against whatever monster the party is focusing fire on, and use a bladespell to hinder the actions of a different enemy on the other side of the battlefield. Or kill a minion just about anywhere without sacrificing much damage. And, of course,something that most controllers are usually unable to do: unleash both attacks on the same target, weakening it and hitting for a total amount of damage not too far off that of the party striker. Add to that the fact that a bladesinger can choose three bladespells (out of a total of 6), with a wide variety of useful controlling effects and energy types, and we have a very versatile class, with a unique fighting style.

As for the encounter attacks, there is a selection of three fixed powers whose effect will scale across tiers. This means that the experience of building a bladesinger character won’t be as varied or interesting as with other classes, but it looks like, at least, the powers that you end up getting are well worth it. Only one of them is shown in the preview, but it is impressive on all fronts. Called Bladesong (though “God-Mode” would also be an accurate name), it provides a significant two-turn boost to the character’s stats: damage, accuracy and defenses. Damage-wise, it is easily equivalent to two Power Strikes or similar attacks, and of course the synergy with action points and daily powers (and perhaps other encounters) is nothing short of amazing. As for the remaining two encounter attacks, only the name is provided, but we can hazard a guess. The level 7 one is called Steely Retort, and it will likely consist in an immediate action attack dealing fixed damage and an extra effect to an enemy hitting you, much like the powers Hexblades get. At level 3 you get Arcane Strike, which sounds similar to Power Strike, so I expect some special trigger when you hit with a basic attack. Linking these effects to Bladespells (for example, by allowing additional uses of  Bladespell when you use them) is a potential design solution, and one that I’d enjoy very much.

Finally, we get to the most controversial point: the daily attack slot. The good news is, Bladesingers get to choose among a huge amount of powers with a variety of effects here. The bad news is that they achieve so by using the Wizard’s encounter attacks as their dailies. This kind of move is unprecedented in the game, so let’s try to make some sense out of it. To begin with, we have to be realistic: with a class so front-loaded on features and at-will powers, there was no way they could have been given access to regular wizard dailies without being grossly unbalanced. That said, how lackluster are wizard encounters for a daily, after all? In my opinion, not as much as you’d think. Keep in mind that most of them have received errata to have miss effects, so they will at least meet the minimum criteria for a daily: have an impact on the board whether or not you hit. The downside is that the second requirement usually asked for those powers (have effects lasting for several turns, if not the whole encounter) is pretty much out of the question. That said, this power list includes some fairly impressive area attacks (something that Bladesingers can’t have through their at-will or encounter slots), as well as strong controlling effects such as stuns, or area blinding and immobilizing. Add to that the fact that Spellsong will virtually always be active when you cast a daily, and you have, at the very least, the ability to unleash highly damaging Fireball effects and extremely accurate control. To be the weak point of the class, your dailies may not compete with those of a true Wizard, but they don’t have that much to envy those of non-controlling classes.


I like this class, and I think I would enjoy playing it. Although this is just a preview, we are actually two class features short (the level 3 and 7 encounter attacks) of having all of the essential information for playing it all the way through epic tier. I think this is the best implementation of the elusive arcane fighter archetype to date: the Swordmage is pretty decent (at least for the playable builds), but I don’t think the defender role is what most people have in mind when thinking about spellcasting swordsmen; as for Hexblades, they aren’t too bad, either, but they offer less variety in both build and combat options, and aside from the amazing Gloom Pact build they feel slightly underpowered. I am still growing accustomed to the idea that Bladesingers are a Wizard subclass, but this has the advantage of providing plenty of support for daily and utility powers, as well as paragon paths and feats. This kind of design works great for adding new classes to the game without requiring any additional support, and we can only wish they had thought of it when implementing stuff like Runepriests or Seekers.

1 comment:

  1. I was kind of surprised at all the negativity around the Bladesinger. It looks great to me. It looks capable, fun, and like a pretty perfect implementation of the 2e Bladesinger Fighter/Mage character.

    I dig the re-use of Wizard spells, too. It keeps down the power bloat pretty well, and again sticks to a Fighter/Mage archetype rather than just being its own thing.