An Oasis in the Post-Convention Desert

It’s been a pretty quiet time in the GW2 scene since the conventions started. Convention season lasts several months, from August to, well, now. During that time ANet is very busy commuting around the world holding various open demos of the game we all know and love. It has to be exhausting to be in such high-intensity situations for months; setting up, hosting, tearing down and traveling all take their toll. Last year the post-convention wasteland of information lasted for quite awhile (~6 months) if I recall correctly.  We’ve had a few small articles, but they were mostly fluffy little tidbits that, while we all appreciate them, hardly sate our hunger for all things GW2. On a personal note this means that I have a lot less to talk and write about. Having been into the development the whole time, there just aren’t that many ideas to thrash around any more that haven’t already been talked to death on various forums by myself and many others. But fear not! Jon Peters has arrived to give us a nice little packet of information on the official blog.

His post addressed three of the issues that have been floating around on the forums for awhile: Toolbelts, Ranger Pets and Cross-Profession Combos. All three of these areas had been briefly touched upon or found somewhat wanting over the past year. Starting off with the Engineer and his toolbelt, it always kind of bothered me that as part of their unique mechanic it only worked with some skills, but not others. In its original inception the toolbelt provided context-sensitive skills based upon which kits you had on your skill bar. Not only are engineers fully able to go without any kits and thus no toolbelt skills, like say for a turret spammer, but some kits didn’t even have toolbelt skills either. I always felt that the feature felt kind of tacked on. Of the kits that had toolbelt skills, really only one of them interested me; the others would have most likely been left in limbo and I wouldn’t have used the toolbelt much, if at all. No longer! Seeing this inequity among their skill choices, ANet has decided to have a corresponding toolbelt skill for every utility and healing skill in the game! Now this feels like a unique class mechanic! I feel that it complements their mix-and-match nature very nicely. While they cannot swap weapons, they are able to swap their weapon skills with kits, and they have a full 4 more skills available at all times that they can use to combo with both their kits and their chosen weapon set. Making this move is simply elegant and I love it! While I don’t think that people will be choosing utility skills for their toolbelt skills, I do feel that the toolbelt will play a much more active role in an experienced Engineer’s arsenal.

Pets. I think I’ve made my stance clear on the issue. Both conceptually and from first-hand experience at the convention, the Ranger’s pets were really just an afterthought, much like the toolbelt except as the primary class mechanic of the Ranger. They lacked control options, died easily and didn’t offer much that the player could use. No longer! At least not in the ideal world. Jon Peters explained, as we all knew, that the problem with the pets wasn’t so much trying to figure out what was wrong as much as an elegant way to fix the problems. The F1-4 keys basically were used to toggle different “states” for your pet to be in; things like staying near you without fighting, actively fighting… honestly I don’t even remember because they were mostly useless. On of the nicest things they are revamping is that the F1-4 keys for the Ranger will now offer more direct forms of control over your pet. There will now be 2 states for the pet; active and passive. These states can be used to keep your pet around if you don’t want it getting in the fight until you order it to (passive) or to just basically set it on auto-attack (active). These states are now simply toggled by pressing F3. Before your pet kind of had a mind of its own and you couldn’t force it to attack a given target. That feature has now been assigned to F1, causing your pet to stop whatever they are doing and immediately go attack your selected target. This feature will in my eyes fix a lot of the problems with pets, assuming that it is responsive. As long as your pet quickly goes to attack whatever you have selected, it will be a nice way to apply more pressure/damage or to draw aggro in PvE.

The final bit of control and uniqueness they are adding is addressed by giving the pets unique abilities by both family (bears vs devourers) and species (polar bear vs brown bear). Before, the pets basically had some skills, and those skills would vary mostly cosmetically among the different species of the same family . Bears all basically were the same as each other. The player could not activate the skills for the pet, they just used them on their own. This created a feeling among many in the community that the pets would sort of just do their own thing and not be able to reliably use what you wanted them to. To solve this issue, they revamped the pet skill system. Now, species of one family  (bears) will have 3 skills that they all share. These skills are unique to their family , so bears have different skills than wolves. Now at the species level, each species has a unique skill that can be pretty different from other species in their family. The example they gave was that a polar bear would be able to chill an area whereas a brown bear would be able to cleanse conditions from allies in an area. One of those offers great control, the other offers great support, and those are both just different types of bears! Of course, that raises the question of the reliability of pet skills… aha! They mapped the unique pet skill to F2. Now you can choose how you want your pet to behave by forcing a target select and being directly in control of their special skills. Each family of pet has a combat specialty of sorts, or some form of niche. Bears are hard to kill, devourers use ranged attacks, drakes do AoE etc.

Finally to address the squishiness of pets they have modified how pet swapping works. Before you had up to three pets “stabled”, meaning that you had three options during combat for what type of pet you wanted. One possible problem with this is that you could have easily made all land-based pets on accident and not been able to use a pet under water at all. What they have done is now you have 4 slots for pets at once, 2 for terrestrial, 2 for aquatic. Amphibious pets can go in any slot. This way it is guaranteed that you will always have 2 pets available no matter where you are fighting. How does that address the pets being frail? I’ll tell you! Now when you swap a pet in, it comes in with full health. You can swap out pets even when they are downed and when they come back in they are at full health. There is a cooldown associated with pet switching, and that cooldown is longer if the pet was downed, but in this way they have made it so that you can effectively fully heal your pet by swapping on the fly. Swapping pets can be done with F4. Overall, all of these changes are extremely positive in how the Ranger’s pet compliments the profession. I’m really excited to see how much better it feels with these new tuning measures.

The third and final bit of information was some more detail on cross-profession combinations. This has been a pretty interesting feature that we learned about long before we had most of the professions revealed. Basically, they told us that you can do things like shoot arrows through fire and the arrows will light up on fire. Ditto for lightning damage, etc. They promised that there would be more combinations in the future, but we didn’t have all the professions (still don’t) and the system wasn’t fully fleshed out. As 7/8 professions have been revealed and the last is due out before the year ends, it seems the perfect time to expand upon their system. Certain skills will now be classified as “Initiators” and others as “Finishers”. Initiators are typically area of effect spells that have durations; fire walls, magical symbols, frozen ground and the like. Finishers are a wide variety of abilities that can interact with these initiators. Jumping, dashing, spinning, shooting and all other manner of abilities qualify as Finishers. Some examples are if you have a frozen ground spell going off, a Warrior using stomp will grant allies in the area frozen armor. Similarly, stomping in a smoke cloud will cloak all nearby allies. It seems to me that perhaps each Finisher will likely have a common theme. Stomp may grant a bonus to allies in the area whereas whirlwind attack may cause extra AoE damage if combined with an Initiator. Overall, none of this is really a surprise to me; they had already said a long time ago that there was going to be a specific set of skills that behaved as these Initiators and Finishers, they just didn’t have names for them yet. Without having a full list of the skills, the Initiators, Finishers and combos it’s a bit hard to say anything other than “That’s cool.”  And it is cool.

Overall, this was a really information-packed article. I love all of Jon Peters’s articles. They speak to my kinds of interests in game development. If I were to work in the game industry I know that I would most likely gravitate towards where his and Izzy’s jobs are- in skill/system design and balancing. I love reading about their opinions and insights into the system and seeing how they go about solving the inevitable issues that arise. Anyway, I’m still around and kicking, just waiting for more news that I feel is worthy of commenting on. I’m eagerly awaiting the Mesmer reveal, I have full confidence it will be full of win.

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4 Responses to An Oasis in the Post-Convention Desert

  1. I will now probably play another class, was thinking about going Ranger.

    Why? I definitely like to swap pets out of combat, but when my pet is down I can immediately call the replacement pet with full health?

    What happens when the second pet goes down as well, do I call pet one again?

    I don’t like it. It’s like pulling the second pet out of you know where. xD

  2. Cuth says:

    Totally agree on the Toolbelt. Originally it was a very lackluster mechanic that seemed tacked on just to detonate turrets and mines. Now it’s got some fun to it and brings the number of skills available to the Engineer up, keeping it more in line with the “versatile” label the Engineer has been given.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing everything in Jon’s post in action, especially the new pets. I personally don’t like to use pets, but I know for a ton of fantasy MMO’ers, it’s a must.

    When I see a pet design fail, I think of the White Lion from WAR. On paper it was the best pet to ever grace us with its presence, but in-game, the bugginess and lack of control killed it.

    btw, I wrote up a post specifically on the toolbelt on my engie blog. It’s a pretty exciting news day.

  3. zeeZ says:

    Your comment on the lack of direct pet control isn’t very accurate. I’d say before those changes you had way more control over your pet than you do have now.

    In this year’s gamescom demo I could tell my pet to attack my target, to return to me and to stay wherever it was right then. This has been reduced to the attack command and two of the three stances. What’s new is the ability to hot swap a pet and trigger one of its skills.

    The amount of control was great and I felt like the pet responded instantly. The main problem may be that nobody seemed to care for the little icons above their pet’s health bar, and that those who knew those commands existed never tried to use them or, like me, simply forgot to in the heat of battle.

    Now all you can do is order your pet to attack and, hopefully, to return by toggling its stance.

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