During the Guild Wars 2 Press Beta weekend, Gazimoff had the chance to scratch the surface on character mechanics. Read on to find out what he discovered…
During the Press Beta Weekend, Guild Wars 2 revealed itself as a complex game made up of several simple systems all working together. From the wholesale change to the way skills and abilities are gained and used, to the overlaid Trait system and augmentations brought through Crafting, there's a whole lot going on under the surface.
One of the most radical MMO innovations brought by Guild Wars 2 is in the area of character skills and abilities. Instead of opening up a sea of action bars that cover most of the screen, ArenaNet has focused on limiting players to ten active skills during combat. The great news is that there's a whole range of choice and complexity lurking under the hood just waiting to be tapped.
The ten active skills are split evenly between Weapon Skills and Slot Skills. Weapon skills are a Profession's core abilities - how they deal damage, heal and so on. The important thing to note here is that those abilities can vary substantially depending on which weapons are equipped. While this is expected from melee classes such as Warriors and Thieves, it also applies to spellcasters such as Elementalists and Mesmers.
Crucially, Weapon Skills require no resources such as mana, fury or energy to use. Instead there's a focus on skill, ensuring cooldowns are used appropriately and the correct Weapon and Slot Skills are used to defeat the different types of creatures and characters encountered.
Different Professions also use different weapon and weapon combinations. As an example, a Mesmer can use a greatsword to produce a long range attack that deals a substantial damage, while switching to a staff opens up several clone and control abilities. An Elementalist is unable to use greatswords, instead using a staff for the long-range attacks.
Weapon skills gradually unlock. When starting a new character only the first weapon skill can be used, with further skills unlocking the more the weapon is used. This also includes offhand weapons - switching from a dagger to focus item would change the last two weapon skills available, but also require practice to unlock. It stops new players from getting bombarded with buttons to press.
As well as being able to deal direct damage and healing, buffs and debuffs are also introduced through a set of Boons and Conditions. Boons can be heal over time bonuses, haste modifiers or attack speed boosts. Conditions can be damage over time effects, stuns, confusions, slowing and snaring effects. Some Professions focus more on the direct damage side of things with perhaps one or two Boons and Conditions. Other Professions and Weapon Skills like the Staff wielding Mesmer generate many more Conditions in order to lock down opponents.
Beyond the weapon skills, the final five slots are based around supplementary Slot Skills. There's a dedicated spot for a self-heal which means that every player now has to take at least some responsibility for his/her own health pool. Following that there are three utility slots, all designed to supplement core abilities in some way. The final slot is used for an Elite skill, an impressive (and expensive) skill that can turn the tide of battle if used well.
All Healing, Utility and Elite skills are obtained through spending Skill Points, although new characters do start with a healing ability at no points cost. Characters earn a skill point per level, from Level 5, which can be spent on any of the skills available, although Elite skills become available to purchase from level 30. Utility and healing skills range from costing a single point for some of the simpler ones to four or six points for more powerful skills. Elite skills cost much more - usually fifteen to 25 points.
One of the things you notice from looking at the Slot Skills tab is the sheer number of skills available to purchase. An Elementalist currently has three Healing skills, nineteen Utility skills and three Elite skills available. There simply aren't enough points available through levelling to buy all the skills available, but there is an extra way to buy points. Skill Challenges are dotted throughout Tyria, providing the opportunity to earn those extra points needed through a bit of legwork.
Sitting on top of the Weapon and Slot Skills are Traits. This additional layer of character customization in Guild Wars 2 is a revamp of the talent tree model from older MMOs, becoming available to characters from level 11. For each level after that, characters earn a Trait Point that can be spent on increasing their core attributes, improving damage output or damage mitigation. Trait points can also improve Healing, as well as Boon and Condition effectiveness. There are five Traits available for each Profession, each offering to improve one key area of a Profession.
Traits are separated into three tiers - Adept, Master and Grandmaster, with each tier being unlocked though purchasing a book from the Profession trainer at the appropriate level. This stops players being able to sink all their Trait Points into a single Trait early on, instead encouraging more rounded and balanced characters.
Traits also unlock further modifiers for every five points spent in them. At five, 15 and 25 points a minor bonus is unlocked, while at 10, 20 and 30 points players can choose from a selection of bonuses unique to that Trait at that level. This allows a further level of focus on particular play styles.
The complexity of character skill customization in Guild Wars 2 doesn't come from any one system, but in how those systems work with each other. An Elementalist can focus tightly on dealing Fire damage, but has a choice between improving direct damage or boosting the Burning Condition inflicted on enemies. Players can even work together by stacking certain combo abilities together, such as one throwing down a cloud of mist to confuse while another shoots arrows through the mist to blind.
There's even more refinement available through character gear, with most carrying upgrade slots that can be used to further tailor them to your individual needs. A substantial amount of this is available through crafting in Guild Wars 2, although you'll have to put a fair amount of effort into discovering it.
Crafting is a careful and involved process in Guild Wars 2. Although almost anyone can gather the raw materials required, investing in a Crafting Skill takes dedication. A visit to a crafting trainer will teach you the basics and sell you supplies, but beyond that you're on your own. Most of the new recipes, patterns and plans you obtain will be through discovery - putting raw materials into a crafting station and trying your luck.
Each character can only learn two Crafting Skills, with most Professions favouring particular types of armour and weapon creation. There are also Crafting Skills dedicated to providing permanent boosts through rings and other worn items, or temporary Boons through food.
Combining all the choice offered though Weapon Skills, Slot Skills, Crafting Skills and Traits means that there's likely to be a character choice and direction that's suitable for almost any play style. With specializations like the Earth-attuned Elementalist tank being able to go against the norm and still be viable, there's a lot of different play to be had. Only one choice remains - which way will you go?
Gareth "Gazimoff" Harmer, Staff Writer