Head to Head: Thief vs Ranger
When the thief was announced, people originally thought it was a very similar profession to the ranger. Their combat styles do show similarities, but do not be mistaken, these are very different professions. In my opinion, the ranger is more similar to the necromancer, and the thief is more similar to the mesmer. Nevertheless, many of you are probably deciding between the two, and I hope the current column can help make your choice clearer.
Pets vs Stealth
The main difference between the two is that rangers rely on pets, and thieves rely on stealth and evasion.
As I said before, the ranger is weaker without its pet, so it is unlikely that you’ll see a pet-less ranger. A petless ranger would be very similar to a thief.
The pet acts both as a damage-dealer and as a meat shield for the ranger. The pet also has abilities he can use, but so far we do not have much details on this. Rangers do have some tools in F1-F4 to control pets, so, likely, they will develop an inter-dependence and connection with their pet friend(s). This does reduce the need for rangers to get personal in the fight, as they can more easily let the pet get the aggro while they rain attacks from far. Even if they do decide to go in with melee attacks, the pet can still serve as a welcome distraction to take some of the heat off. Either way, the ranger has his own personal frontline. It is clear however that optimal ranger play requires the ranger to make good use of his pet.
Thief Stealth & Evasion
Although the ranger does have some stealth and evasion, the thief is the master of stealth and evasion. But to understand how the thief’s stealth and evasion fits in Guild Wars 2, it is first important to understand the thief’s initiative. Thieves have initiative as a resource for attacks, which recharges fairly quickly (10s) and can be spent pretty quickly too (some skills use half the bar at once, so using it twice empties the initiative bar). This means that the thief can choose to do his damage in bursts rather than continuously. The resource for attacking (initiative) is also mostly unlinked to that of most stealth or movement skills. This means that thieves can do burst attacks in between dodging, so that their optimal gameplay probably includes a lot of movement. Dodging is thus likely an important survival tactic for the thief.
Compare that to Guild Wars 1 assassins for a moment. Assassins used a common resource for attacking and for shadowstepping: mana. So they could move or attack, not both. Furthermore, burst attacks did not convey and real advantage over continuous attacks, and so many assassins would refrain from hit & run tactics.
The thief thus is encouraged to move around and to attack in bursts. Stealth is thus another way that thieves can avoid damage. By becoming invisible, they can stay close to their foe for the next burst attack, without worrying too much about getting damaged.
Both professions offer many options for melee and ranged damage, and this is where thieves and rangers are most alike. Subtle differences exist. First, the ranger has access to the longbow, whereas the thief does not have access to long-range weapons. The thief is thus required to stay closer to his pray to be effective.
Second, the thief has a unique skill based on his weapon combination. Nevertheless, he only has access to 4 weapons: 3 can be used in the main hand, 2 in the offhand, and 1 is two-handed, for a total of 7 possible combinations, only 3 are fully unique. Compare that to ranger’s 8 weapons: 2 can be used in the main hand, 4 in the offhand, and 3 are two-handed, for a total of 11 possible combinations, of which 5 are fully unique.
It is clear that ranger has more tools to do damage, in addition to his pet. Although I am sure that the thief will be just as good at doing damage, he nevertheless has fewer ways of doing the damage… the gameplay emphasis is clearly more on avoiding damage.
Control & Support
Both professions offer ways to control foes and support allies. Thieves rely more on shutdown via blinds and cripples, whereas rangers probably have more options for direct support via spirits. However, while control and support are possible with these two professions, little is know about this (aside from Izzy running a support thief).
What about stealing?
Perhaps stealing works much like a compensation to having fewer weapon choices. Thieves can steal items from foes… not literally though, they actually generate a random item based on the foe type he steals from. This item becomes an environmental weapon, that is a weapon he can use with its own unique skills. It is unclear how effective these items will be, but it’s clear that stealing will bring a lot of variety into combat gameplay.
I still wish we could play petless ranger, but not enough to make a thief instead. Ranger is in my lineup because I do love my summons… also because I see the thief as redundant with my mesmer. However, I do wish that I could try the stealth hit & run gameplay that the thief is best for… maybe I will, some day.
What about you?