Guild Wars 2 – The Anatomy of a Skill Bar

Guild Wars - The Blank Slate

Guild Wars - The Blank Slate

In the original Guild Wars campaigns and Eye of the North expansion, players are essentially given a blank slate to create builds for their characters, provided they adhere to a few key rules:

  • Skills can only be from either your Primary or Secondary profession, in any combination
  • A maximum of 1 Elite skill can be used per build
  • A maximum of 3 Title Track skills can be used per build (PvE Only)
  • Skills can only be swapped out in Towns or Outposts

Of course actual build creation is a much more complex thing, but for the most part the sky is the limit in terms of exactly which of the hundreds of available skills can be placed into the 8 slots at any given time. For example, here is a Ritualist build that I use fairly often in PvE:

In the above example, the main focus of the build is on primary Ritualist skills, with 1 slot taken up by the Elite skill Signet of Spirits (slot 1) and 2 slots utilizing the PvE-only Title Track skills Vampirism and Feel No Pain (slots 2 and 8). The beauty of this system is that another player might decide to create a similar build, only in their version the PvE-only skills might be swapped out with something from their secondary profession to make the build function altogether differently while still having a heavy focus on spirit spamming.

While some might consider 8 slots to be fairly limiting when compared to other titles in the genre, once you begin to factor in that teams consist of 8 players you suddenly begin to realize just how complex a thing selecting a team build consisting of 64 skills out of hundreds spread across 10 different professions can be. In fact, the relative lack of restrictions to builds in Guild Wars is one of the major things that have been revisited in Guild Wars 2. According to Lead Designer Eric Flannum:

If you use the CCG paradigm to explain our skill system, we went from a system with almost no deck building restrictions in Guild Wars to one that has some necessary and sane deck building restrictions in Guild Wars 2. The new system is much friendlier to new players and to those players who either aren't interested in the deck building aspect (or are just not that good at it), but it still allows advanced players to come up with literally hundreds of combinations to trash their opponents with. One of our designers did the math and the possible number of combinations is in the millions. This system also allows us to more easily balance the game and maintain that balance.

Guild Wars 2 - The Structured Deck

Among the first details regarding combat to be revealed for Guild Wars 2 was an interesting look some of the changes that have been made to the original game's 8 slot skill bar design. The most obvious among them is of course the addition of 2 additional skill slots, for a total of 10 in GW2. But what are some of the other, potentially more significant changes, and how will they ultimately effect combat and build construction? Let's take a look at some of the main restrictions on builds and how they'll differ somewhat from the original game.

In the above image, I've color coded the 10 skill slots to make it easier to visualize what each of them can contain. Keep in mind that this is only an estimation of how a build might be structured based on available information so far, as it's entirely possible that the final layout will be very different than what I've mocked up here.

Based on the known info so far, builds in Guild Wars 2 will consist of the following:

  • 5 skills will be based on your current weapon set and profession - Players will be able to switch between two weapon sets at will depending on their profession, which is represented by Slots 1-5 above (green representing the first weapon set, and red the second set).

    While it's uncertain whether players can choose which 5 skills to use with their current weapon from a longer list or each set of skills will be static based on other criteria, this is still a very unique approach when you consider that in the original game only physical damage-dealing professions (Assassin, Warrior, Ranger, Dervish, Paragon) have access to weapon-based skills. In fact, that tends to be the norm for just about any fantasy-based RPG. In GW2, even casters like the Elementalist will have access to skills based solely on which weapon they choose to equip.

    Other variables yet to be revealed include whether or not a single type of weapon can have multiple forms of damage. For example, can you equip a Fiery Dragon Sword and gain access to 5 fire based sword attacks vs. an Icy Dragon Sword which would give access to 5 cold based sword attacks?

    As you can see, what first appears to cut available skill selection neatly in half will still potentially offer players a fairly broad spectrum of skills depending on weapon sets they choose to equip. This makes weapon selection infinitely more significant than merely providing base character stats and a damage range for auto attacks. The other bonus here is that you can freely switch between sets during combat, which should provide a much more fluid element to combat just based on these first 5 slots alone.

  • 3 Skill slots will be based on your profession and race - This is represented by the orange Slots 6-8 above.

    Not a whole lot has been revealed about these three slots thus far, though I would imagine they will be heavily geared towards things such as your character's race. For example, it's been said that Norn will have the ability to transform into a bear, with their skills switching to match their new form. While the alteration could occur among the weapon skills, it seems much more likely that this group of three skills will be the ones directly affected.

    Another interesting variable to consider is whether there will be something similar to the PvE-only Title Track skills in Guild Wars. If so, I would imagine those would be slotted here as well, though it's entirely possible they could fall into one of the other categories depending on what type of Title Track-style skills are available, if any.

  • 1 Skill slot is reserved for an Elite skill - This is represented by the gold Slot 9 above.

    As with the original game, Guild Wars 2 will have Elite skills which are said to be much more powerful this time around. However, a primary difference here is that the elite slot holds a set place in each build, whereas in Guild Wars players can opt to not use an elite skill at all if they so choose.

    It remains to be seen whether Signets of Capture will survive the 250 year period between games, or if elite skills will be obtained by an altogether different system. Personally I enjoy the exploration aspects of having to go out and capture elites, though I certainly wouldn't be surprised if this system has been completely redesigned for GW2.

    The last thing to note here is that available elite skills will still be based on your character's profession. Even with the removal of secondary professions from the mix, I'd imagine elite skills will still remain the cornerstone of most builds.

  • 1 Skill slot is reserved for a Healing skill - This is represented by the blue Slot 10 above. And yes, I realize that keyboards don't have a number 10 key, but what are you gonna do?

    The addition of a dedicated healing slot is something entirely new to the Guild Wars universe. Intended as a means of allowing anyone to solo effectively, it will be interesting to see specifically what types of skills can be slotted here. So far, it sounds as though a fairly diverse array of skills types will fall into this category, including more direct heals as well as group buff-type skills among others.

    As with the weapon skills, the available healing slot skills will depend on your profession. For example, a Warrior might have a skill like Frenzy slotted to instantly fill their adrenaline gauge, while an Elementalist could use Aura of Restoration which sounds as though it will function very similarly to the current GW skill of the same name.

    Another interesting thing to consider is the impact this could potentially have on PvP. While I'd imagine that the primary healing class(s?) will still have the biggest available heals, it will be incredibly useful for full teams to have at least some means of easing the pressure that most healers face when attempting to keep them alive in the thick of battle. Mind you, not all skills that can be slotted here will necessarily be associated with replenishing health, but this is still a very powerful tool to give to players either way and something that I've been wishing MMOGs would adopt for years.

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