An Introduction to Traits in Guild Wars 2

Among the first combat details revealed for upcoming Guild Wars 2, the revamped skill system has sparked a lot of interest among fans. However, the ways in which profession, race and weapon selection would directly impact which skills a character could use in combat also raised many questions. With certain limitations in place such as the dedicated elite, healing or weapon skill slots, one such question was whether or not players would still enjoy the same depth to creating various builds as they currently do in the original Guild Wars.

This week, ArenaNet gave us the answer to that question which can ultimately be summed up with a single word: Traits.

But what are Traits, and how will they factor into creating meaningful builds? Will they be something similar to other alternative advancement systems found in current MMOGs, or something wholly unique to the genre?

Read on to find out what Traits are all about, and why I believe they have the potential to add a much needed layer of depth to character development that goes far beyond what other titles in the massively multiplayer world have had to offer over the years.

Traits Defined

In Game Designer Ben Miller's Traits Overview, he explains “At a basic level, traits make you better at what you choose to do. You slot traits in order to modify skills and attributes. Once you have mastered a handful of traits they become a key component in creating your overall build.”

So at their core, traits will indeed be a form of alternate advancement for your characters, at least in the sense that they will augment current skills or attributes. But rather than utilizing a point purchase system to obtain new traits ala the original EverQuest or the more streamlined versions found in titles such as EverQuest II or World of Warcraft, traits in Guild Wars 2 will be something that players will need to actively seek out and master during the course of gameplay. This concept should sound familiar to fans of the original Guild Wars titles, in which things like elite skills are primarily obtained in PvE by seeking out specific boss mobs and then using a Signet of Capture to add them to your list of unlocked skills.

Obtaining Traits

Unlike the elite skills from Guild Wars mentioned above, traits in Guild Wars 2 will be obtained through a series of challenges which are said to be “scattered throughout the world.” In other words, while certain profession challenges will likely be easier to access early on, in all likelihood the bulk of them will be found in harder to reach areas which will no doubt also encourage players to go out and explore the world.

As previously mentioned in our analysis of dynamic events and personal storylines, a lot of emphasis has also been placed on creating an MMOG experience with a high degree of replayability. While most titles could certainly claim a certain amount of interesting new content to consume through playing multiple class and race combinations, ArenaNet has taken that one step further with the way traits will factor into character advancement.

Not only will each profession have a unique set of traits to eventually master and use in builds, but the ways in which they're obtained will differ between professions as well. According to the official Traits Overview:

Each profession focuses on different activities to develop his or her traits. Warriors train physically, bash stuff, eat stuff, and drink stuff. Elementalists, on the other hand, seek ancient knowledge locked in tomes or particularly powerful elemental locations. The different trait challenges accentuate the unique feel of that profession and really bring the experience of playing that profession to life.

So for those of you keeping score at home, so far we know that each of the following items will play a role in not only helping you shape a highly individualized character, but will no doubt up the ante for the genre in terms of replay value:

  • Race - The choice between the five races - asura, charr, human, norn and sylvari - will help influence other aspects of gameplay, such as certain race-specific skills.

  • Profession - While only two professions have been officially announced so far, the Elementalist and this week's other major reveal of the Warrior, there will be a total of eight for players to choose from when GW2 first ships.

  • Weapon Sets - In the Warrior profession reveal, we gained some further insights into how weapon sets will work, not to mention that there will be a much more diverse variety of weapons to choose from this time around.

  • Biography - As discussed in the personal storyline overview, players will be given the option to answer a series of questions during character creation, some of which will be based on other choices you've made such as your character's race. By establishing a rich background for your characters up front, it helps give them an actual place in the world straight out of the gates rather than simply being one generic, carbon copy Warrior among thousands.

  • Dynamic Events - Each character you take through a specific area in the game may have the opportunity to experience completely different versions of events which will unfold based on decisions you make along the way.

  • Traits - Last but not least are the main topic of discussion here, the newly revealed traits. While every player will have the ability to master the traits for their chosen profession, traits will play a large role in distinguishing individual play styles.

You'll notice that one core gameplay component absent from the above list are the bread and butter of Guild Wars combat: builds. So how will traits influence builds in Guild Wars 2? Read on and find out!

Traits and Builds

Much like how the combination of skills from your primary and secondary profession in Guild Wars helps define your overall build, or what your role will ultimately be in combat, the combination of profession specific skills and traits will help determine your build in Guild Wars 2. However unlike skills which are primarily used to interact with different combat scenarios, traits will help augment how effectively you will be able to use those skills in combat.

Some of this will be achieved through trait lines which are unique to each profession. These trait lines are described as being similar to the "primary attribute" of each profession in Guild Wars. For those of you who may not be familiar with the way primary attributes factor into builds in GW, here are brief descriptions of the primaries for the Elementalist and Warrior profession in GW:

  • Energy Storage - This primary Elementalist attribute increases the maximum amount of energy your character has which is extremely important when creating builds using numerous skills with a high energy cost or those which cause exhaustion which temporarily decreases your maximum energy.

  • Strength - The primary attribute of Warriors, Strength adds armor penetration to all attack skills. As a melee class, armor penetration is extremely important when attempting to maximize the damage potential of skills in combat.

Guild Wars 2 will have trait lines which are associated with each profession in much the same ways as the primary attributes are in the original Guild Wars as described above. For example, Warriors will have two general lines called Power and Tactics as well as individual lines for each of the weapons they can wield. As you master new traits, they can be slotted into each of these lines which will have a direct impact on how you perform in combat.

So using the Warrior as our example here again, you may have a build centered around sword attack chains, in which case you'll likely want to slot traits into the Swordmastery trait line to help maximize the damage and crit chance of your sword-based attacks.

Traits In a Tyrian Nutshell

Overall, the trait system in Guild Wars 2 sounds as though it will greatly increase your options in terms of how you personally choose to approach a given profession in combat. Builds will no longer be wholly dependent on a combination of equipped skills, assigned attribute points, and weapon or armor augmentations. Now we'll also get to play around with weapon sets and traits as well which should make for some very interesting gameplay options.

While there are bound to be those players who attempt to min-max the system to come up with the optimal mathematical calculations for each profession (this was a huge thing in Guild Wars even before the game officially launched) we've also seen just how flexible the combat systems ArenaNet has designed can be. What may seem like the holy grail of warrior builds today will likely be countered or outright replaced by a wholly separate build tomorrow. Thanks to the introduction of traits into the mix, I have no doubts that they will help insure the same holds true in Guild Wars 2 combat. Personally, I couldn't be more pleased at the notion that cookie cutter builds might be as rare as black moas when the game launches.

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