Guild Wars 2: Progress doesn’t always mean better

On the whole, I think Guild Wars 2 is a smashing game from what I’ve seen.  That doesn’t mean it’s impervious to criticism or faults, of course.  Developing a game over five years now has to lend itself to a few mistakes in judgment.

The more I think about it, the more I agree with several bloggers out there who are expressing dissatisfaction with the skill system and hotbar setup.  It’s not impossible to figure out, but the game doesn’t go out of its way to explain what is pretty unique to the mechanic (different weapons/items radically change the skills on the hotbar).  I really, really disliked having to “unlock” skills every time I’d pick up a new weapon type.  This might be okay for the beginning game, when you’re slowly learning things, but when I’m level 12 and happen to pick up my first pair of pistols, I don’t want to be struggling through a couple dozen fights before I get all of the standard skills that I should be using.

Like my fellow bloggers, I totally didn’t understand the chain skills or combos, only picking up some of those after experimentation.  Oh, I don’t need to keep jamming on the 1 key so that my three-skill chain goes off?  The game just automatically does these once I hit the key a single time?  Thanks for letting me know!

I understand that this format is in response to the craziness that Guild Wars 1′s anything-can-go skill builds created, particularly after a couple campaigns were added and balancing became impossible.  But it feels like the pendulum swung too far to the other side, to the point where we’re not allowed to customize half of our hotbar.  Is this progress?  It looks like linebacking to me.

In 2007, maybe this was a good idea.  Today we have a bevy of MMOs that allow players so much flexibility when it comes to builds and attack rotations that it comes off as needlessly antagonistic toward the player.  I’m all in favor of a simple hotbar with 7 or 8 skills.  But in The Secret World, I can mix and match between a whole bunch of skills to make up my rotation, whereas Guild Wars 2 gives me four slots and tells me I should be happy.

It’s probably a moot point to complain about this now; there doesn’t seem to be any obvious way to change this system without a major overhaul.  I even kind of like the fact that there are weapon-specific skills, but I’d be a lot happier if these were limited to just one or two, giving us the rest of the hotbar for our own build.

Maybe it’s too early to pronounce judgment on this as well.  GW2 does give you different weapon slots so that you can swap between them, and that does give you some flexibility between the preset builds.  Changing weapons on the fly might be interesting and key to unlocking the fun here, but I didn’t get into that in the beta.

21 thoughts on “Guild Wars 2: Progress doesn’t always mean better

  1. I think you are right that the key is in the weapon swapping (or attunements/kits for ele/eng) and the different playstyles the different weapons provide. I can’t say whether I had as many options as I do in GW1, but I probably did have as many *good* options. What we lose are those times where someone puts together a completely insane build and comes up with something accidentally brilliant that even the developers didn’t see.

    I actually enjoyed unlocking the skills, but I understand where that can be annoying, especially if you don’t pick up a certain weapon type until you are in a more challenging area. Part of my completionist play was making sure I had all the weapons unlocked in the early areas and had at least some small grasp of how the skills worked together.

    Chains. Yes, that is something I hope they make clearer to the player. Not only is there confusion in how to use the chain skills, I had a hard time even telling what the 2nd, 3rd, etc skill in the chain was doing. Is there a way to see each part of the chain without happening to catch it in the split-second as it flips past? I do enjoy the discovery aspect of some things (hey, what happens if I fire this rifle through that mesmer’s temporal distortion?), but others should just be there on the tooltip.

    I did not really mind being locked into the first 5 skills based on weapons, and I do understand ANet’s goal of making sure new players can’t get themselves in too much of a bind, but I would like to see some expansion of the system in the future. They have said they will introduce new skills at some point, so maybe once the game is settled in and people have climbed a bit of the learning curve we can have “advanced” options that allow us to customize the weapons more. I’m not expecting to use rifle skills on a staff, but having new staff skills and being able to swap out some of the current ones would not be bad.

    At the end, I had a great time learning how to play the professions I tried in beta. There is room for improvement, but I think we are starting off from a good place.

  2. I also think it’s a change in how the “customization” is done. We’re used to customizing our skills and combos. Using the right spells at the right time and in the right order. I think that’s less of an issue in GW2 (but still important). The customization now comes in the gear customization with sigils for armor/weapons, but mainly in the trait system. The trait system is hard to see at low levels, but if you do SPvP and spend some time looking at the traits, that’s where the power of customization really comes in.

  3. A long time ago I thought traits would’ve modified weapons more the way they do in Team Fortress 2. The Brass Beast is still a chaingun for the Heavy, but now it does more damage with slower spinup. Some do to a really minor degree, but the weapon is definitely the controlling factor.

    Anyway, weapon switching skill chaining is a huge skill to learn, but once you can do it… it’s pretty awesome. It feels clever…. like learning to do a hard super power in Street Fighter series.

    The chain skills on #1, I agree with though. During beta I had to tell my friends to go to the “H”ero menu to lookup weapon skills… because it’s not reasonable to read skill text in the middle of a skill chain in combat. I kind of liked how Aion did it where not only would the base skill icon change, but a new icon would pop up near your character. It was a bit garrish, yes, but you knew that it was a new skill. Hopefully ArenaNet can find a middle ground, or find a better way to tell player that the skill is actually changing.

  4. I played every class except guardian and thief in BWE3 and worked up all the weapon skills including those of the elementalist which has 4 different skill bars based on the currently attuned element (fire, air, water, earth). That’s a lot of skills to work up. But after playing in the first 2 betas I had a good idea how to go about skilling up and it really did not take long at all. I had most of the skills filled out for all weapons on a class (minus the underwater ones, I was slack there) by level 10. Now in BWE1 I was playing a necro and figuring things out and I ended up with maybe 2 weapons fully skilled up by the time that beta ended. But by BWE2 I had a plan. I played a guardian and before that weekend was over he had all his weapon skills filled in. I just carried that same method over into BWE3.

    Just run around and adventure and the starter weapon will skill up fairly quickly or at least it did for me. If you get lucky you will get new weapons as drops from mobs as you play. If not, then keep an eye out for basic weapon vendors. By the time I got to Shaemoor Garrison in Queensdale I had enough copper to buy all of the missing usable weapons for my class, which I did. These weapons are basic but fairly cheap. At that point I just rotated each weapon in until I had all 3 or 5 skills. Fighting groups of mobs in events makes skilling up go quickly if you are impatient and/or in a hurry, especially if you have and can use AOE. The centaurs around Shaemoor Garrison are plentiful and the events that run there are excellent for skill ups. The same can be said of the bandit attacks on the ranch NW of the Township of Claypool. Jump in with a group of other players and before long you have all your skills filled out. Each starter zone has areas like these.

    I like the system. It doesn’t take too long to skill up and it introduces me to each skill one at a time so I can get a good understanding of just what the skill does as I use it. I really hope ArenaNet leaves it as it is.

    As for combos, I am learning. I reference the official wiki a lot and that helps you understand combos more. Now reading about combos on the wiki and actually putting them into play are two different things. I knew that when I tossed up a wall of fire that the bow-users could take advantage of it. I did see some combos fire off as I played. I believe that if you were to play with a static group like TAGN does that the group could go out and experiment and really get good at using cross-class combos. Over time the players will learn the system and I’m fine with that. But yeah, I do see room for improvement in making the combo system more transparent.

    I picked up “Guild Wars: The Complete Collection” in May so that I could earn some Hall of Monuments points and to get some lore and background and to better understand what came before GW2. All I can say is that the amount of skills is just insane. Yes, you have a ton of flexibility but in reality it seems a lot of the skills are useless and/or redundant. On my ranger I naively ran with whatever skills I picked up as I just played the game and did missions. This lead to a lot of frustration (terrible builds) and wasted gold picking up “useless” skills. So I went to the official wiki and then discovered PVX Wiki. Now I have basically 2-3 builds that I load depending on the situation and that’s all I use. And in reality I run with one build 95% of the time based on Barrage which is an elite skill.

    Comparing GW1 with GW2, I much prefer the GW2 system. It really gives the player a lot of tools without making an unmanagable pile of skills, many of which mostly ignored by the players and a headache for the devs to track and balance.

  5. I’m a big advocate of less choice = more fun. Fewer hotbar slots the better in my book. Four is plenty.

    As for different weapon types, on my ranger I didn’t really bother for a long time. I did twenty levels just using a longbow. The only reason I started using a shortbow was that I kept getting better shortbows drop than longbows. I didn’t use a melee weapon until I was in the late 20s but once I did I started to use it a lot. One melee and one ranged weapon is plenty for me though.

    As for not wanting to unlock the schools on use, I love that mechanic. I just wish it took much, much longer. It’s such fun to watch the skill fade in but then it’s over so quickly.

    When it comes to combos, I’ve only the vaguest theoretical awareness of them. I never paid any attention to the mechanic in game. I fire the bow, mob falls over. Do I need any more information than that?

  6. I think it helps to remember that this isn’t only a game for people that like MMOs, but for people that don’t (and that’s been the case from day 1 of marketing.) They are striking a balance between customization and simplicity in the interest of more active game play that’s about more than “stacking your deck.”

    My understanding of TSW is that there’s a lot of choices, but only some will be the right choice for any given situation and *you* have to figure out what they are (that’s from their own trailer.) That’s fine for some people, but I’d find it annoying. Part of why MMOs frustrated me is because I couldn’t play the way that I wanted, and choice was largely an illusion – at least once the meta gamers theory crafted games into the ground. Why waste my time developing a character the way I want to play only to have choices stripped from me in order to progress?

    And after a certain point, I don’t want to mess with my hot bar anymore, I just want to play. I don’t necessarily care how I build my thief as a gunslinger or a dagger wielding martial artist, as long as I can play my thief as a gunslinger or dagger wielding martial artist. For some gamers, it’s more about capturing a particular flavor and immersing ourselves in the world, the exploration and the adventuring, not theory crafting. For us, our builds are a means to an end.

    I also appreciate how ANet has largely stuck to making the game they advertized rather than trying to make everyone happy and pleasing no one. Players who want one game to be more like another game will always go back to their favorite, and the people who bought into the original vision will be alienated. It’s okay for different games to do different things because people like different things. When I read up on TSW, I didn’t think “they are doing it wrong” or “bad idea” (well, except for the sub fee). I just thought “not for me.”

    I do agree that chains could be better presented, but combos should be discovered through game play – that’s part of the fun of combos.

  7. IMHO, GW2 is paying a price for not be a WoW-clone: players (mostly MMo players) will find it chaotic the first hours gaming, but eventually will learn.

    To have only 5 weapon keys is not a problem, it is a solution, it is a lot better than to have 30 keys… and use only 5…

    The combos are REALLY easy (if you try open your mind): ANY attack that creates a WHITE CIRCLE or a WHITE LINE on the ground will START a combo, ANY attack that CROSS the WHITE CIRCLE or WHITE LINE, normally a projectille (magical and non-magical), but too some attacks as jumping or throwing things (daggers and axes) or cone attacks, will FINISH the combo. WHEN A PLAYER SEE A WHITE CIRCLE OR A WHITE LINE ON THE GROUND SHE NEEDS ONLY CLICK A FINISH: ONE KEY BETWEEN ONLY 5 KEYS . Why it is so hard to learn it? If you see a white circle or a white line, click that dammed key!

    So, after 3 BW and 2 stress tests, I know very well how to autocombo with a guardian with a greatsword: press 2, then immediatly press 4 for a massive damage and autoregen. People just need time for learn it, because it is not a WoW-clone, but I am sure after the first week after launch everyone that can read a wiki page or can chat with a guild member will know how to make combos. If they don’t learn at one week is because they are completelly stupid…

    Sincerelly, people need be more open minded. What destroyed the MMO genre was not only WoW, but mostly the WoW-clones. That is a dead end. I am sure that GW2 will have a better future than SWTOR (WoW with lightsabers) or TSW (WoW with zombies) bacause GW2 is not set at that dead end.

    Players need learn to think out the box, a box was created by developers and players, including the current blogger, that closed themselves within WoW-clones.

  8. @João Carlos As Aly said in the post before yours, it is ok for different games to do different things. GW2 isn’t TSW isn’t SWTOR isn’t WoW. And that is fine. Using one game to bash another and/or insulting players has, in my experience, never been productive. Also, predicting the future doesn’t always go the way you think it will. :)

    Combos. I don’t think anyone here was saying combos are bad. Just that to a new player who hasn’t read any of the ArenaNet blog posts on them, it can be a little confusing. I agree that the discovery part of combos is great, but I also agree that there isn’t anything in-game leading a new player to know he or she should be making those discoveries. It would be great if, along with the other tutorial aspects, there was something pointing a player to the help file explaining what a combo is.

    The bigger issue seems to be the chains. Even if you know they are there, it can be difficult to see what exactly is happening with them in the middle of a big fight.

    I am glad you were able to figure things out so well. We are mostly talking about how to help those who may not be familiar with MMOs ot even gaming in general. Bringing new people into the fold is not a bad thing and I think GW2 could be a good start with its combination of simple (having basic builds via weapon skills) and complex (learning how to use all skills synergistically with other players, building out traits, etc).

  9. @syp
    ” I really, really disliked having to “unlock” skills every time I’d pick up a new weapon type.”

    I do like the “unlock skills with use system”. It adds a small interesting side mechanic and encourages you to learn each skill. It is such a trivial matter to simply go to one of the low level item vendors, check your skill/weapon list for your class, and simply by all of the necessary weapons you need well before you ever hit level 12. The added advantage of doing this is you have a ready reference point for upgrade weapons.

    Even if you forget to buy a weapon in the early game you can still go back to earlier areas and complete some dynamic events to level the weapon. The travel point system makes this an easy solution.

    GW2 is not a game where you simply rush through to the end. It is full of little activities that flesh out your understanding of the combat and gameplay system. The sooner commentators realize this and stop comparing this game to other MMO’s the better.

  10. @Tanek

    Chains? Chains happens clicking the same number of the atack that start the chain. Normally, it is number 1, that too is the autoatack.

    For example, for guardian (I played 5 diferent toons, all guardians), with greatsword the chain start with clicking 1, that is autoatack, and it is Strike. Now, you can click 1 again for get Vengefull Strike and click 1 again for get Mightfull Strike, that apply might. So, chains happens clicking 1 repeatedly. What is the mystery?

    “A chain is a set of three skills that are used in sequence when focused on one target. The skills of a chain share one skill slot, effectively giving the user additional weapon skills.” http://wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Chain

    So, exactly why you thougt that chain was something complex, a mystery of the Universe? The first day I started to play, BW1, I learned to make chains with sowrds and and maces, I just saw the icon at numbe 1 slot change and clicked at it again and made a lot of more damage at target (with mace I get a heal each third click). Just click 1 each time the icon at slot 1 changes.

    Tanek, open your mind….

  11. The GW2 platform is a good game that is being rushed thru it seems. I seen several postings deleted about loading/game play issues. The game has a pretty good feel to it until you get in areas with lots of players then it starts to breakdown.. I am thinking adjusting down the graphics ect ect might help this I will find out in the early bird. Not being able to customize the attributes/skills will take sometime to get used to. I can not say it is a total disappointment because it is a new beginning for a old game. Unlike runescape who is actively testing beta with the same slot tabs as in many other games that beta is a total failure.. I am waiting for early bird to get here so I can redo all the missions and get used to the new feel of it.

  12. @Joao Carlos, you are making the incorrect assumption that every GW2 player is familiar with the wiki and interested in reading up on everything outside of the game. I have played in all beta events, I call myself moderately interested in the game, and yet I was totally unaware how chains work, even though I have participated in all three beta weekends. Does the icon change because it’s executing a secondary ability? What exactly is going on? A very quick tutorial popup would clarify this for everyone, the first time you start auto-attack.

    It’s just one example of insufficient tutorials. I don’t need to have everything spelled out, but it’s not a game that’s as easy to jump in than others. Including WoW. I am always saying that if ArenaNet hopes to snatch up disgruntled WoW players, and they clearly care about that market, then the polish needs to be perfect. Tutorials are part of that polish.

  13. @Kadomi

    “@Joao Carlos, you are making the incorrect assumption that every GW2 player is familiar with the wiki and interested in reading up on everything outside of the game. I have played in all beta events, I call myself moderately interested in the game, and yet I was totally unaware how chains work, even though I have participated in all three beta weekends.”

    Well lucky for you we have great blogs like this where awesome people like João Carlos can help you learn more about the game.

    Personally I don’t think disgruntled WoW players will have the patience to learn about the intricacies of GW2 combat. People have become way to used to smashing their face against the keyboard.

  14. @Kadomi

    I learnt to use chains first day I played BW1: spam 1. I don’t looked at wiki for learn how to use chains, I just started to spam 1 (well, it was the only skill slot open when I get a mace) and, “voilá”, each third 1 I clicked I was receiving a regen.

    With relation to combo, I knew the general mechanics, but only discovered a good auto combo last BW3. I had tryed to test an autocombo at BW2, but I was using a guardian mace+shield and that weapons combination aparently have no autocombo (no jump or whirlwind or projectile attack for finish it).

    Now, if we consider that we had 3 BW (3 days each) and 2 beta tests (half day each), I used only 10 days for learn how the combo mechanics works efficiently at one class. And I am average inteligence…

    I too am sure that some people too where looking for how to make autocombos and combos while the betas were runing. Certainly the most efficient PvPers were trying to learn how to use them (hey, why that guardian closing the gate to tower was invencible and need 5 players for get down? because chain and autocombo give regen…). But too I am sure that most players where not trying to find it, they were just happy exploring Tyria.

    Take note that after launch, that info I get will be disponible at general chat game, blogs, wiki, and to any guild mate that ask me. Other people too will make combo info disponible. So, I really don’t think people will need more than one week after launch for know how to use combos.

    For reference:

    guardian greatsword: 2, 5, 5
    2, 3 (good for eliminate DoT from players close)
    2, 4 (this last one makes massive retaliation damage)
    my attack rotation with greatsowrd guardian is: 5, 5, 1, 2, 4, 3, spam 1 until 2, 3, and 4 cd

    guardian hammer: 1, 1, 1, 2 or 5, 2 (both make retaliation damage)

    ranger longbow or shortbow: projectiles attacks that finish combos, ever try position yourself BEHIND a guardian or CLOSE to an elementalist or an necromancer, ever time you see a white circle or white line, click 3 or 4, I think 1 and 2 have only 20% chance to finish combo.

    ranger axe + torch; I know it is possible an autocombo, it is 5 for create a ward and start combo, but I am not sure if the following attack is 1, 2 or 3 for finish it. Other combination of melee weapons for ranger aparently don’t make autocombos.

    warrior: played it only at BW1, so I don’t tested how to combo with warrior, but certainly longbow and rifle (projectiles) have finishers, so same position as rangers (behind guardian, close elementalist or necromancer) when trying ranged attacks;

    warrior melee: well, we know that warriors will normally be melee, greataxe or greatsword (well, almost everyone want be Conan, the Barbarian…), so everytime you see a white circle or white line (from guardians, elementalist and necromancers), use jumping attacks. I am not sure if it is possible autocombo with warrior greataxe or greatsword, I think not because I think warriors don’t have wards and symbols. However, I played warrior only BW1, so I can be completelly wrong.

    thief and engineer: never played them, but I think same rules apply to rifles, pistols and shortbow, they are projectiles and finish combos. I don’t know if engineers can create wards or symbols.

    mesmers: too never played them, I have no clues.

    elementalist and necromancers; when using staves, these two classes create wards (white circles and white lines) that start combos; I think that staff elementalist maybe can autocombo, ward + click 1 (I think that it is a projectile attack, but not sure), but i don’t tested it because I was having a wonderfull time clicking 5 and meteor swarm every mob I saw. So, I can be wrong. I too have no idea if other weapon combinations (two daggers, scepter, etc) can combo or autocombo.

  15. @João Carlos
    “with greatsword the chain start with clicking 1, that is autoatack, and it is Strike. Now, you can click 1 again for get Vengefull Strike and click 1 again for get Mightfull Strike, that apply might. So, chains happens clicking 1 repeatedly. What is the mystery?”

    As Syp notes in his post, you don’t actually have to click repeatedly:
    “Oh, I don’t need to keep jamming on the 1 key so that my three-skill chain goes off? The game just automatically does these once I hit the key a single time? Thanks for letting me know!”

    I’m sure you would have found this out with more time to play, and I don’t think anyone here is saying Chains are some great mystery that no one can decipher. Just that a pointer in the right direction can help a new player get more comfortable with the mechanics of GW2 in the first couple levels of the game, leading to a player who is more likely to stick with the game. :)

  16. Yeah the traits system and armor/weapon upgrades will provide most of the flavor methinks. The traits especially is largely dependent on direct player interaction; …like every 20 secs your dodge-roll grants party haste, …or boons recharge ‘x’ amount faster during ‘y’ conditions… etc. These kinds of things rely heavily on what, where and when a player decides to attack, heal, dodge, charge, run, etc. In a way it sorta takes the “skill” out of the skillbar and puts in more in the players hands.

    What would be a really nice addition in the future would be the introduction of a few new weapons for everyone. Weapon choice is rather low, but for obvious skillbar reasons. Giving each of the professions a couple of new weapons to toy around with (1 for Elementalist!) would really increase customization and flavor. As long as they can balance it of course. Thoughts?

  17. I didn’t play too much in the last 2 betas, but I played for about 20 hours in the first open beta weekend, and this post is the first time I heard about chain skills. What’s that all about?

    Not that it would have mattered if I had figured it out. My frame rate was so low I couldn’t make decisions more elaborate than fire-weapon-at-something. We’ll see.

  18. Pingback: The Daily Grind: How many skill options do you really need? » RunicPortal

  19. hmm, I had no problem picking up the game, and I’ve never played GW1 either.

    Seemed incredibly intuitive to me and a really good way of doing it. Btw I had all weps skilled up by level 5 so not sure what you were doing.
    also, the skils matter, each is distinct, each is useful, each requires thought to use property.
    I like having 10 (15+really) abilities that matter rahter than 30 I dont care about.

  20. Pingback: The Daily Grind: How many skill options do you really need? | Massively

  21. Pingback: The Daily Grind: How many skill options do you really need? | Guild Wars 2 News & Media!

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