The Curse of the Second Talent Row

Disclaimer: This discussion presupposes that a character has access to all of their talent rows.

I know talent trees have been discussed before, but this will be focused on just a single row of them.
I’ve been idly browsing through characters’ talents recently, and it dawned upon me that the 2nd row of each career has the same flaw. Let’s look at the other rows first:

  • The 1st row is usually a neat little boost to pick for your character. A good deal of characters has a meaningful choice to make here.
  • The 3rd row helps cement your career’s identity; it lets you influence your passive ability in interesting ways.
  • The 4th row is universal in that it governs the way you gain temporary HP, or gain powerful healshare instead.
  • The 5th row augments or alters your active ability. Though for a lot of people 30% CDR is the go-to when available, it still gives you a meaningful choice.

What common traits do these share? They’re universally useful; they’re with you at all times, involved in mechanics you’ll be actively using as a part of the gameplay loop, often very straightforward with their bonuses, most of them giving their respective career a stronger sense of identity.

Now we take a look at the 2nd talent row of each career. There are 1-2 talents (if that) which are universally useful and/or powerful vs. 1-3 talents that are alarmingly niche and/or redundant. This applies to every single career: at least 1 talent is always borderline useless.

To illustrate the point, we’ll look closer at each career’s 2nd talent row. To prevent any possible arguments along the lines of “It’s good for inexperienced/casual players learning the ropes”: I strongly believe talents were meant to be choices you can always make, not training wheels that are meant to be discarded once and for all in favor of better alternatives.

Markus Kruber

  • Mercenary

    • The More The Merrier! - Increases Power by 3% for every nearby enemy and stacks up to 5 times: 3-15% power at essentially no cost, as you will be fighting enemies, often in droves. Good.
    • Desperate Defiance - Reduces damage taken by 35% when below 50% health: a hefty boost to survivability due to how the trait kicks in. Try it if you don’t believe me!
    • Shrug it Off - Reduces the attack interruption time when taking damage by 35%: The purpose is unclear, even more so when you consider the alternative. Why not take a blatantly better, blunt boost to your damaging/surviving ability in favor of a very roundabout alternative? An aptly named talent.

A choice between solid damage/surivivability boost and a dud.

  • Huntsman

    • Scavenger - When Bosses are killed, Markus gains 100% of his maximum ammo: Ammo shortage is hardly ever an issue for Huntsman. He will not consume ammo in his ult which he will use on the boss, potentially even gaining ammo. He can get better, potentially infinite ammo sustain from the 3rd talent row that isn’t restricted to a condition that might not even occur on a level. A very niche talent, redundant even.
    • Make 'Em Bleed - Critical hits cause enemies to take 20% increased damage for a short time. Does not stack with similar effects: This is the “default” 2nd row talent. It’s consistently useful, it comes into play all the time, it’s extra damage. Compare it to the other 2 talents: you crit much more often than you fight a boss on a level or get grabbed/pounced.
    • Hands Off! - Enemies that grab or pounce Markus take double damage: A very odd, niche talent that won’t be useful very often, if at all. For it to come into play and be useful, you need to get disabled, something you’ll typically want to avoid. Even if you do get disabled, there is a multitude of ways your team can deal with it: free you with a push, an active ability, or just plain melee/ranged damage. More often than not, the priority is to free you, not kill the disabler. Even then, with how powerful characters get, the disabler will probably get one-shot without the talent. Now weigh this talent against the alternatives, and it loses what few points it had.

A weird line-up with one talent to “default” to.

  • Foot Knight

    • Regroup - Reviving party members grant them 50% damage reduction for 10 seconds: Niche. What situation does this talent cover where it can be useful? If the situation is so dire that the talent needs to come into play, it probably won’t be enough. For instance, getting surrounded by exorbitant numbers that will chew through HP regardless. If the situation is not so dire, the party member in question will safely arrive to a spot of healing, and the talent is a redundant safety net. There might be some very edge case situations, like maybe surviving a tornado/flame/SV overhead, but is it worth it over the (lackluster) alternatives?
    • Counter-Attack - Gain uninterruptible attacks for 5 seconds after block is broken - Niche. The only situation that comes to mind where this could be useful is getting surrounded/hyperdensified into block break, providing an alternative way to relieve pressure. With FK’s HP this could probably come in handy, but when was the last time this talent come into play meaningfully, let alone saved anyone’s life? A lot of block breaks come from elite attacks. Would uninterruptible attacks give you an advantage in a situation like that, especially if it’s just an ambient elite without much backup?
    • Build Momentum - Successful charged attacks grant 40% increased stamina regeneration for 2 seconds - Why? For extra push-stabbiness on a Sword&Shield? I struggle to find a good use for this talent, but it is at least the most universally applicable of FK’s talent, as you will do more charged attacks more times that getting your block broken or reviving your allies.

FK’s entire 2nd tier is underwhelming, all gimmicky defensive-ish options.

Bardin Goreksson

  • Ranger Veteran

    • Last Resort: Bardin gains a 25% Power increase when out of ammunition - Niche, almost useless. Finding yourself out of ammo is a very unlikely prospect as a Ranger Veteran, and ammo drops are generous in general. Even if you did run out of ammo, you would do your best to find more ASAP. It’s not something you would go for intentionally, unless you’re using that one bug or a joke build. The trigger for the talent bonus is rare to nonexistent.
    • No Dawdling! - Increases movement speed by 5%: You’re moving around faster. Mobility is good in Vermintide. It’s for free and you always move around.
    • Curl Up - While grabbed or pounced all damage taken is reduced by 50%: Niche. For this talent to be useful, you need to get disabled and at low health/near high-damaging enemies for it to be meaningfully applied. Most of the time, if you get disabled in a huge crowd or near hard-hitting enemies, you’re instagibbed before rescue, and the talent will do little to mitigate that. Alternatively, you’re freed by your team in a relatively safe situation before any significant damage is done to you, if any (hi leeches), and the talent is wasted. A redundant safety net.

Overall lacking talents, the “best” alternative (No Dawdling) is… inoffensive.

  • Ironbreaker
    • Gazul’s Duty - Reviving an ally reduces their damage taken by 50% for 10 seconds: On paper, a fitting ability for what is, on paper, a survivable “tank” role. In practice, see Foot Knight’s Regroup. AND it’s exactly the same talent as Foot Knight. Lazy!
    • Irondrake - Reduces the overheat generated by Drakefire weapons by 30%: A part of IB’s identity is his exclusive access to Drakefire weapons. Augmenting his ability to use these weapons is useful, and should you roll with those weapons, active at all times. Arguably, the only talent worth using, provided you’re rolling a Drakefire weapon. You’re out of luck otherwise, as the last talent is…
    • Miner’s Rhythm - After landing a charged attack, Bardin recovers stamina 40% faster for 2 seconds: See Foot Knight’s Build Momentum. That’s not one, but two(!) niche(!!) talents pasted from another career(!!!). According to some users’ anecdotes, this talent “does nothing”.

Ironbreaker is already something of a “shunned” career, and this underwhelming line-up doesn’t help. 2/3 talents lifted from Foot Knight.

  • Slayer:
    • Oblivious to Pain - Damage taken from one attack is reduced to 10 damage or half of its original value - whichever is highest: For a lot of people, this is the default choice. Survivability that rivals Ironbreaker’s, with so many more benefits IB doesn’t have, and for free! Very good talent.
    • Stunty Saviour - Increases movement speed by 15% when Bardin is the last hero standing: Niche/redundant. For this talent to work, all your friends need to die, and all you get in return is being fast. You’ll eventually revive them and lose that boost. A temporary gain that shouldn’t come into play often. Another weird safety net. Now look at the alternatives, and you’ll be left scratching your head at Fatshark’s design decision here. Not sure if this is even good for true solo, seeing how good other alternatives are. Speedrunning?..
    • Crippling Wounds - Critical hits cause enemies to take 20% increased damage for a short duration. Does not stack with similar effects: This is the killing power to Oblivious to Pain’s survivability. Slayer is a melee powerhouse career by design, so this talent makes sense, and is universally useful and applicable! It’s for free AND it synergizes with a choice from the 1st row (Hack and Slash, extra 5% crit chance).

A choice between two strong contenders and a dud. Lucky!


  • Waystalker
    • Ironfeather Flights - Returns 100% ammunition on monster death: Impressive redundancy. See Huntsman’s Scavenger. Add the fact that Waywatcher gets infinite ammo sustain almost for granted (3rd row, Vaul’s Quiver and/or 5th row, Kurnous’ Blessing).
    • Daughter of the Hunt - While above 45% health, Kerillian’s critical hits gain 30% additional power boost: Crits already deal enough damage to kill a lot of things. While crit boost is not as strong as you might think due to the way it’s calculated, that’s still extra damage for a somewhat neglible cost. Synergizes well with a 1st row talent Morai-Heg’s Scorn (5% extra crit chance) and innate crit on several elven melee weapons. Waystalker’s regen helps keep the talent up and running.
    • Arcane Bodkins - Increases headshot damage multiplier by 50%: This applies to both melee and ranged and it lets you reach some headshot breakpoints. Great.

A good choice, a great choice, and a dud. Lucky!

  • Handmaiden

    • Triumph of the Cadai - Clears any wounds and converts any temporary health to permanent health when monsters die: All talents that involve a boss death trigger will remain niche and abandoned because it’s so unreliable. The bonus in question is also questionable. Let’s consider the alternatives (one alternative, really).
    • Eldrazor’s Precision - Increases Power Level by 15% but reduces attack speed by 5%: Breakpoints galore for an easily offset malus? Sign me the heck up, say 9.9 Handmaidens out of 10.
    • Defiance - Reduce damage taken by 50% when Kerillian is the last hero standing: Again, the alternative outweighs this niche speedrunning/true solo talent so hard, it’s not even funny. No, don’t get me started with your “queen of the clutch” spiel.

A successful Handmaiden doesn’t get to choose.

  • Shade

    • Gladerunner - Increases movement speed by 5%: Mobility’s good, especially when you can get behind a back to stab faster, right? But it gets better later in the row…
    • Ellinill’s Venom - Increases damage taken by enemies disabling Kerillian by 100%: See Huntsman’s Hands Off! talent. Niche, useless, redundant, pick your venom (heh-heh).
    • Hekarti’s Bounty - Increases power by 15% when the party holds at least one Grimoire: Your team will most probably be carrying a grimoire. It’s not free, it’s not forever, but it’s essentially guaranteed extra power for most of your playtime.

Shade doesn’t get to choose much, either.

Victor Saltzpyre

  • Witch Hunter Captain
    • Abjured Temptation - Increase power by 15% when the party holds at least one Grimoire: Ring a bell, anyone? A free-ish 15% power boost. Nice.
    • Deathknell - Increases headshot damage bonus by 50%: It helps you with headshot breakpoints, and as WHC, headshots are a part of your identity. Amazing.
    • Suffer No Heresy - Reduce the damage taken when disabled by 50%: Same as Ranger Veteran’s Curl Up, only driven into redundancy by vastly superior alternatives. Don’t suffer this heresy.

WHC gets to choose between two great talents, but isn’t safe from a dud talent. Is anyone?..

  • Bounty Hunter
    • Leave None Behind - Increases revive speed by 30%: Obsolete. You’re a ranged powerhouse. This talent doesn’t boost your damage in any way and requires that a teammate die in a situation where those 30% will get him up fast enough to get him out of a jam of just the right deadliness. Situation too safe? Wasted talent. Situation too dangerous? Wasted talent. Competent teammates? Jokes aside, wasted talent. Leave this design abnormality behind.
    • Necessary Means - Gain 25% increased Power when out of ammunition: Niche/redundant. While not as good at ammo sustain as before, BH will probably only want to use this talent for a certain glitch, otherwise won’t run out of ammo very often. You don’t want to stay out of ammo for long, either.
    • Crippling Strike - Increases the power boost of critical hits by 25%: Helps hit a few breakpoints and helps with damage drop-off. It’s free extra crit damage, and it’s the default choice, considering weak alternatives.

BH doesn’t get to choose.

  • Zealot
    • No Surrender! - Increases Power by 3% for every nearby enemy and stacks up to 5 times: That’s 3 to 15 extra percent of power basically at all times. Sounds good, but it’s a straight copy from Mercenary’s The More The Merrier, and it gets better anyway…
    • Flagellant - Damage taken from one attack is reduced to 10 damage or half its original value - whichever is highest: It’s THE talent that makes Zealot so darn unkillable, enabling reckless play and safe gain of missing HP buffs. A no-brainer. Slayer has it, too.
    • Suppress Pain: Reduces damage taken by 35% while below 50% health - Effectively made redundant by Flagellant, plus it’s a carbon copy of Desperate Defiance. Lazy lazy lazy!

Zealot kinda sorta has a choice, but we all know what the “right” choice is. 2/3 talents are lifted from Mercenary, the remaining one is shared with Slayer.

Sienna Fuegonasus

  • Battle Wizard
    • World Aflame - Every nearby enemy increases power by 5%, this effect can stack up to 5 times: A buff that’s similar to Mercenary’s and Zealot’s, only Sienna gets up to 25% power instead of 15% for some reason. Woo! More power on commonly occurring conditions is good.
    • Molten Skin - Reduces damage taken by 50% when Sienna is the last hero standing: Handmaiden has that in Defiance. It’s just as niche here, to the point of redundancy.
    • Lingering Flames - Sienna’s burning effects now last until the effected enemy dies. Burning effects do not stack: It’s a gimmick that some find fun. As Sienna, you burn a lot of enemies, so this comes in play all the time. Cool, if suboptimal.

Blazing Wizard enjoys a fairly unique choice, but the one dud curse is still strong.

  • Pyromancer
    • Ashen Form - Reduces damage taken when disabled by 50%: Niche/Redundant. We’ve been there before: see Ranger’s Curl Up, Witch Hunter’s Suffer No Heresy. Better alternatives, yada yada.
    • Dissipate - Increases overcharge decay speed when affected by a Grimoire by 100%: A weird cousin of BW’s Tranquility passive. This is still pretty effective: heat is easy to gain for free, venting it comes at a price. This talent alleviates the price somewhat.
    • Quickening - Increases spell charge speed by 25% while below 50% health: A weird bonus at a weird trigger. Gain Bright Wizard’s passive, but at <50% HP. Why? Niche.

Pyro’s choices are weird, with something of a default (Dissipate) and, you guessed it, a dud.

  • Unchained
    • Feuerbach’s Fury - Successful charged melee attacks grant 40% increased stamina regeneration for 2 seconds: Activates often, at least. Dubious, maybe getting pushstabby with Sienna’s Mace for crowd control? I don’t know why it’s there.
    • Essence Syphon - Clears any wounds and converts temporary health to permanent health when bosses die: It’s not unique AND it’s a weird niche. See Handmaiden’s Triumph of the Cadai.
    • Seared Nerves - Revived allies take 50% less damage for 10 seconds: Not one, but two generic niche talents! This is the same talent as Foot Knight’s Regroup and Ironbreaker’s Gazul’s Duty. See those.

Unchained’s got a weak line-up for her second row with 2.5 duds and 0 unique offerings.

In conclusion: Many 2nd row talents feel like weird design decisions and/or afterthoughts, a lot of them aren’t unique between careers. Most of these rightfully tossed to the wayside by the playerbase. How do we solve this? A few ideas would be to rework them, replace entirely, or replace them entirely and implement the old talents as innate career passives, possibly with reduced effects. Tell me what you think!


I agree with you, frankly I would like to see a lot of talents reworked, not just second row, I feel like the classes in general aren’t diverse enough as is. I think with recently builds a few careers can do everything well or “really” well, while others feel like more generic counterparts, or just general less impactful. I think the most glaring example of this is Shade who has tools to handle armor, 1 shot most specials from ranged, kill CWs and Bosses with ease, and a get out of jail free card, mixed with things like her -0 mobility modifier and 20% increased dodge and weapon sets with high base crit, attack speed, and cleave/stagger. Why play Handmaiden for example? While shade is obvious choice here, its a prevalent issue in other careers as well, Merc for example is kind of a melee dps / support, but his kit is mostly centered around improving his wave clear / cleave, unfortunately this pairs will with weapons like exe sword, but with how push/ dodge combat works, using a 2h puts you at a disadvantage in terms of stamina regen and dodge distance, couple that with the fact your wave clear even when playing optimally is considerably worse than just a sienna or a drakegun IB (heck I think Shade can outkill you even in melee just from pure attack speed + dmg) so why wouldn’t you play Huntsman? The melee capability of huntsman might be slightly worse but insignificantly so with how easily waves are delt with, but huntsman has high ranged damage and the ability to deal with high priority targets. That said, now we run into another dilemma, why huntsman when you could just shade? Both are supposed to be specialized in taking out high priority targets shade just does it 10x better.

TL;DR: The talent system doesn’t offer enough variety or specialization for classes, what most classes are supposedly “good” at in most circumstance is either not overly useful in this kind of game or is done better by a few “meta” careers / weapon options.

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