The skill system in GW2 is one of the many features that breaks from typical MMO conventions. Having a reduced skill-set has many benefits, but one of the “challenges” is how to make the acquisition of said skills meet the balance between feeling like good progress/progression and not feeling like a grind. See, if there are a lot of skills and skill tiers, “progression” is easy because you can simply give access to one or two skills every level. As you work through the game, you just get new skills, usually via gold. Aside from whether the costs imply grind, this is a pretty easy balance. However, by removing the massive list of skills, it becomes a bit more challenging. Do you give the skills up front? If so, then you remove that feeling of progression that many players enjoy. On the other hand, if you space them out evenly among levels… you only have say 20 skills (barring weapon skills) for 60 levels. That could take quite a long time to get all your skills, and that just feels grindy. Even worse, most games require you to constantly upgrade your skills to just “the better version of the same skill”. Again, that feels pretty grindy just to keep up.
Originally, Guild Wars 2 required you to buy each skill. Weapon skills, elites, utilities and healing skills all needed to be purchased. They were by level, as in you can only buy your third weapon skill at level 5, your fourth at level 7 and so on. Further, they had multiple “tiers” of skills in the sense that say, when you get to level 11 you need to buy the better version of the same weapon skill you have. Now, lots of gamers thought this was pretty lame. Having to go back to the skill merchant over and over and over again just to keep up your limited skill bar is pretty unsatisfying. Apparently Arena Net agreed and as of the start of Convention Season this method had been totally revamped. At the start of the season they said that they were revamping the system in several ways. The first was that you no longer needed to buy the upgraded versions of skills. As you level, they level automatically. Great! This is what GW players are used to. The second way they were changing things up was that you no longer purchased them, they were earned. In the case of weapon skills they added a new system where you learned new skills by simply using the weapon more. In the case of the right-hand side of the bar you would earn them through “profession quests” that were tailored to each profession. Warriors might do drinking contests to gain Endure Pain whereas Necromancers might eat the hearts of powerful monsters to gain Feast of Corruption (just making these up).
Of course, the community (myself included) was a little miffed by the presentation of the first 5 skills being “use-based”. When I played the Guardian at PAX, I felt like my skills took way too long to get with just my mace. Sure, over the course of 60 levels it wouldn’t have been sooooo bad, but it sure didn’t feel fun. The first unlock wasn’t too bad, but then it started going pretty slow. Then I got a scepter, but I didn’t want to only have one skill since I hadn’t used it, so it was pretty discouraging. With the number of weapons available, many players felt like it was a negative introduction to skills. The concept was alright, but the pacing felt off because it felt too slow. After all, most players don’t need 30 minutes to learn to use one skill and an hour to learn the next. Still, profession quests sounded like a nice quirky way to gain other skills and losing the need to constantly upgrade skills was welcome news.
As we have constantly seen though, ArenaNet loves to iterate. Even after such a short time since the start of convention season they have changed things up even more. Now, of course we can’t assume things in the demo are final (obviously!), but I did notice some things in the G*Star demo. Namely, watching the level 1 Human area, I noticed that the Elementalist unlocked all 5 of her staff skills by the time that she was past the “defend the fort” event, which for those that haven’t seen it was about 7 minutes total. Going from over 30 minutes to unlock less than 5 skills down to 7 minutes to unlock 5 skills is absolutely fantastic. Now that is how I like to learn skills. Sure, you still have to learn them for a bit when you get a new weapon type, but 7-10 minutes is by no means a stretch of time to worry about. Further, they have still kept the feature that you don’t have to upgrade skills as you go, they just level up as you do. Perfection.
Utility, Healing and Elite skills have been revamped too. Instead of having to seek out specific challenges, you now unlock them with a generic skill point system (as illustrated at the top). Skills have slightly varying costs, but they look to be about the same among type (utility, elite, healing). I really like this aspect of the system because in all honesty, many people really only want to make one or two builds because of their personal styles. Being able to unlock them in any order will give you the freedom to get your ideal build quickly, and then take your time with the rest of the skills. Overall, I approve.
On the downside, there was one casualty with that system. Profession-specific challenges are now out. Some of them are probably gone altogether (like eating hearts; doesn’t fit well as a generic quest), while others are probably in if they are generic, like drinking. I feel like this is kind of a step backwards in tailoring your personal story. The profession-specific tasks really added some flavor to your profession as well as making alts feel somewhat different because you would be doing different events. Ravious over at KTR posted his thoughts, which somewhat echo my own. I recommend reading in case you haven’t yet. I agree with his assertion that the generic quests sound… well generic. I don’t worry too much about it feeling grindy as he does, but I do see his points. For competitive or challenging areas, it may be very important to have access to all skills, so how difficult it is to gain them all has some impact on how you feel the progression. Really though, overall I feel like the system is a lot less grindy than either having to constantly buy skills or having to travel around for each specific skill. Say you “need” to have Apply Poison for a certain dungeon. Before you may have needed to find some obscure dude in the middle of Maguma to do your profession-specific challenge. Now you just need to have some points saved up or go do the nearest skill-challenges. So in effect it is probably a lot easier overall to have what you want when you want it.
The last bit of information was that they are going to be revealing the revamped trait system soon. From the interface, it looks like it will also be on a point-buy system. Perhaps there will be profession-specific trait challenges, though I somewhat doubt that because of their reasoning for changing the skills system. They found that players would splinter off to do their own profession’s challenges instead of playing together. That same logic would apply to traits as well, so that seems unlikely.
Oh yeah, they talked about character customization.
Gee, it’s almost like I said just yesterday that they were going to show off a wide array of customization options. Okay, I’m gonna try to not be too smug here. There has been overwhelmingly positive support of the new video they released today. Somehow everyone sees this video and thinks “Just imagine when it’s done!” as opposed to just a few days ago when everyone was freaking out. Regardless, I think they have found a great middle ground. Having played Aion, I can tell you that I just don’t want to see the monsters you can make in the game appearing in GW2. It just doesn’t fit into the world. Likewise, I don’t want everyone to just be one of 10 faces like in GW1. Having added more sliders and more faces and more hair styles, the customization options look much nicer. And it isn’t just faces. Armor and skin tones have been cleaned up a lot:
Seriously. Just take a minute to blow those up and look at all the differences. Absolutely fantastic. This is exactly the kind of detailing that I love about this company and their artists. These look stylized without being too over the top, gorgeous without looking like bimbos, stylish without looking like nobody would ever wear them, armored without a chainmail bikini. I pretty much don’t have anything left to say other than I look forward to seeing what else they can accomplish.