Skills, Traits, and Builds - An Exclusive Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview

Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview

For anyone who has been following the development of Guild Wars 2, it’s been readily apparent that ArenaNet isn’t simply content to create yet another formulaic MMOG based on a decade old template. Every aspect of gameplay has been given close attention with the end goal of creating the best, and more importantly, most fun experience possible. While certain things may contain an aspect of familiarity for veteran players of the original Guild Wars such as the names of various skills, by and large the combat in Guild Wars 2 is an altogether fresh experience.

To get some more details on what sets combat apart in Guild Wars 2, Ten Ton Hammer spent some time speaking with Game Designer Isaiah “Izzy” Cartwright who is heavily involved in that aspect of the game’s development. In fact, our near hour-long interview with Izzy proved to be so packed full of great gameplay details for Guild Wars 2 that we’ll be presenting additional installments throughout the next week.

So if you’re interested in learning more about personal stories, core gameplay mechanics or even how the Hall of Monuments will be represented in Guild Wars 2, we’ll have plenty of fresh details to share with you soon including some excellent answers to many questions which were submitted by Ten Ton Hammer members right here on our Guild Wars 2 forums.

In the meantime, let’s kick things off with our combat interview that covers skills, traits, builds, and just about everything in between.



Ten Ton Hammer: How will the various forms of crowd control factor into Guild Wars 2 without being too prevalent in PvP as a general thing? Are there multiple conditions similar to fear that can take your character out of combat?

Game Designer Isaiah “Izzy” Cartwright: We definitely have more crowd control than we did in Guild Wars 1. We have fear, stuns, knockdowns, chill, cripple… so there’s more of them this time. Because there’s less healing in the game, one of the ways that you support your allies is by doing some of those things.

That stuff is just going to have to be toned and balanced for PvP and we’re setting up an infrastructure for that. On the inverse, in order for our system to work we’re going to have to have abilities that allow you to break out of conditions as well.

An example would be the warrior’s “Shake it Off!” ability. You’re going to have to be able to use that while in Fear so that you can break out of it. Or the necro’s Plague Signet that sends a condition away, you’re going to have to be able to use that while under Fear to send to someone else.

So the caveat to having more of these things is that we’re going to have to have the counters to them in place. I mean, we had a lot of things like this in Guild Wars 1, right? We had a lot of Hexes that locked you out from doing certain things, or made you miss with attacks, or controlled your movement. So those things have really just been transitioned into other places. And in order for those to work we had to have a lot of counters to them in Guild Wars 1 as well. We had shouts that would shut you down, wards that would shut you down, wells that shut you down, and spirits that would do different things to you – and we had to counter those in all sorts of different ways.

So the same thing is true in Guild Wars 2. We’re going to have to make sure that they’re balanced properly in every game type, and we’re going to have to make sure they’re used right positioning-wise in all of the aspects of our game. It’s just something that we’re very committed to doing and Fear exists in those game types, and will be balanced in each of those game types.

Not only is Fear a condition that can be removed in so many different ways, but it’s also very short in PvP. We’re not looking to add long shutdowns, and we’re not looking to take a character out of play. We’re looking for something that has a lot of interaction and has a lot of interesting mechanics. So more like, “You feared me, well I just sent it back to you” and that’s the kind of play that we’re having, that interaction. Or even, “Oh, I feared you off a cliff and you took falling damage.” So it’s about what kind of interesting interaction we can get. That kind of back and forth mind-game play – that’s what we want in the game.


Ten Ton Hammer: So with the conditions, will those mainly be applied through the weapon set skills with the various counters or removal skills being part of your utility skills that you slot for your build?

Izzy: We put conditions all over. Weapon skills have lower recharges because you use them more often. But weapon skills almost feel more like your elite skill from Guild Wars 1 in that they define your role a lot more. If you’re a longbow-wielding warrior, you’re a ranged character that has a lot of AoE. It’s almost like a Searing Flames elementalist in that you’re this type of character and so you’re going to do a lot of burning damage. So that defines a lot of who you are.

That doesn’t mean that character doesn’t have a lot of conditions that are in his utility skills and other interesting things there. But because those weapon skills define who you are a lot more it does mean a lot of conditions come from there, although it’s very possible that conditions come from all aspects of your skills.

Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview

Ten Ton Hammer: Speaking of the elite skills, will there be a wholly new system for obtaining them in Guild Wars 2?

Izzy: It’s definitely very different than Guild Wars 1. You obtain them in a lot of different ways. We really haven’t worked out an exact path for all of them, but here’s all the ways you can obtain them: You can obtain skills every way that you can obtain items in our game. We can give them from a vendor, as drops, as quests rewards, at events, and off of Karma vendors – we can give them in all of those different ways.

Now, we’re still working on exactly the path that we do give them, but we have a lot of available options. We’re still working through what is the best possible way to give them out;  we don’t want you to have to go grind some monster a thousand times to get an elite, because that’s not cool. But there are fun, cool, interesting ways that we can do a lot of stuff so we will give out elites in interesting ways because we find them to be fun.


Ten Ton Hammer: Do you think you’ll keep some of the exploration aspects to the process though? I know for some players it was a lot of fun in GW1 figuring out which boss mobs you could track down for a specific elite for your profession.

Izzy: Another big system with skills is Traits, and traits have taken on that aspect. Every trait is given out in a very unique way. Like a sword mastery trait gives you plus bonus damage, you have to go defeat five sword masters around the world, and you’ll have to find rumors from different NPCs that tell you where they are. Killing a random sword master will give you an update to the progress to all of that.

So every trait becomes an interesting little task for you to go find or interact with. One of the traits in the game is to do more damage with environmental weapons, and that could involve killing different people with environmental weapons and stuff like that. There’s lots of interesting ways that we can give out these traits that kind of become a whole other type of content that you can do, and find some of that exploration thing that we did have with our Guild Wars 1 elites within the trait system.

And the trait system is a way to really interact with the skill system. A lot of people have been asking about character customization, and the traits system is a really big way to do that. Two characters with the exact same skill bar but different traits are two very different characters. A mace warrior that sets himself up to do a whole bunch of spike damage will do a lot more damage in a short period of time than a guy who sets himself up to apply Weakness every time he criticals. Those are two very different characters yet they can have the same skills. So traits interact with skills in a very different way.

Ten Ton Hammer: It sounds as though Traits interact quite a bit more, and in a much more detailed way than something like the Guild Wars 1 attributes do.

Izzy: Very much so. Attributes affected the overall power of things, where traits are almost like giving you the ability to add different bonuses to your skills. So you can reduce recharge to skills, or make a skill shoot fireballs out of it, or shoot two fireballs, or have bigger AoE ranges. You can take the skills that you really love and make them better. You can make all your signets recharge faster so that now you can have a strong signet build. It allows you to really manipulate your character in a lot of different ways, and you get that kind of “buildy” focused aspect of the game really through the trait system.

So I think the traits system brings out the character customization in a lot of ways. It’s something that you don’t immediately see, and it’s hard to see immediately in the demo but it’s a really deep system that allows for a lot of customization.


Ten Ton Hammer: So say you love the idea of playing something similar to the classic Minion Master as a necromancer – will traits have the ability to give you that option in Guild Wars 2?

Izzy: There are a ton of traits for that. You can make your minions do all sorts of different things. You can make them so they regenerate health where they normally didn’t. Instead of summoning 3 Bone Minions you can summon 5 Bone Minions. You can make it so that when your Bone Fiend blows up it gives you health, or even every time one blows up you could get some life force out of it. There are all sorts of different ways you can stack your traits up to make your character the best minion master that you can come up with.

Another thing you can do as a necromancer with traits is to make your Death Shroud ability way more interesting. We allow you to manipulate Death Shroud a lot of different ways through traits. For example, you could make it so it causes an explosion when you enter Death Shroud, so that when you enter it and exit it you do damage. We can make it so that you can’t be stunned or knocked down or pushed back in it, which is really awesome in PvP. So there are a lot of things like that that can make being in Death Shroud really cool in different ways.

The trait system really changes up the way a character plays. So in PvP you might come up against a minion master who can’t be crowd controlled while in Death Shroud, and then there are a lot of things to think about in terms of how you’re going to kill him. There are a lot of those kinds of things you have to think about when out on the field.

Guild Wars 2 Combat Interview

Ten Ton Hammer: So builds will really encompass quite a bit more in Guild Wars 2.

Izzy: There are a lot of pieces to it – there are attributes, traits, weapons, weapon swaps, utility skills, elites – so there’s a lot to it.

Ten Ton Hammer: Will there be any kind of equivalent to runes that you can apply to armor or even your weapons that will factor into that build aspect of your character?

Izzy: Runes in Guild Wars 1 kind of went hand in hand with your attribute choices. Traits are way more in depth – they’re more about manipulating the skills themselves. You almost kind of get to be a skill balancer and decide things like, “it would be really cool if this skill had less recharge” or “what if that skill did this” and you get to kind of manipulate things in that way and make things really cool. Of course it makes my job insane, but that’s what I love.

Ten Ton Hammer: With the weapon sets, say I have the ability to swap between an axe, dagger or scepter. Will I be able to keep obtaining new skills for each of those weapons as I progress throughout the game that I can then decide which skills I want to pair with each weapon from a larger pool? Or are weapon skills somewhat “locked in” so that no matter what level I am, if I have a dagger equipped I’ll always be using those same core dagger skills?

Izzy: Basically dagger skills are dagger skills, so they’ll always be the same. So once you’ve filled out the 3 core skills, you’re done obtaining them. No matter what dagger you equip, they’re always the same. Keep in mind that you can equip a dagger in the main hand or as an offhand, and those are different skills. But they’re always the same in that regard.

The things you can do with those skills do change with traits. So say the base dagger skill is a melee attack, you can equip a trait that will make it a ranged attack instead. But the way Guild Wars 2 is the dagger skills have a certain purpose, so all dagger skills will be those same three.


Ten Ton Hammer: So in terms of how that fits into your overall build, you won’t constantly be learning new weapon skills or relearning how your build will function when using those weapons, correct?

Izzy: Well, you do a little bit. Skills do get more powerful as you level up so you do have to learn the different tiers of those skills. So say with conditions, the skill will get better but it’s still causing the same condition. And that’s just a way that we can fluidly do leveling with our skills. It’s kind of the same with how we did attributes in the game. Instead of you doing things, your skills just naturally get better as you go out and experience more of the game.

Ten Ton Hammer: How soon do you expect you’ll be able to talk more about the PvP aspects of the game? Are there parts of that system you’d be able to share with our readers now?

Izzy: It’s something that we’re definitely very focused on. This demo was really more about giving everyone their very first experience, and we decided not to make that first experience about PvP because this way it’s a lot easier to show things.

But we’re dedicated to making PvP a very strong aspect of Guild Wars 2. We have teams working on it, and I’m definitely involved in every aspect of PvP, and it is something that we are focusing a lot of energy on. It’s not an afterthought, and it’s not something that we’re going to throw in piecemeal. From the very second of Guild Wars 2’s creation PvP has been on the books and thought about.

When we’re going to talk about it though? I don’t know. There are a lot of decisions behind that, and it comes down to when we can have it all visually together and ready to put out there. But I play it every day – it’s a lot of fun and it just keeps getting better and better.


Ten Ton Hammer: We’ve talked quite a bit about the traits system and weapon sets. What would you consider to be the other important or key aspects of combat that our readers would want to know about?

Izzy: I think one of the cool things is just that Guild Wars 2 is just a very different game. There’s a lot of action, and the combat has a lot of different pacing to it. You’ve seen a lot of videos around, but there’s a lot more to it. In the demos here are really keyed down to allow people to get into the game, to play it and get used to it. But there is a lot to this game.

This demo has got a lot more to it than even what you were able to get around to see. And we’re working on PvP and all sorts of different aspects of the game. But I really want people to know that there are hard things in the game, there is PvP in the game, and that there are a lot of different aspects to it.

The thing that’s amazing about this company and this game and the combat system, is that there’s so much potential, so many fun things, so many activities. The combat system is very fluid. It’s a lot of fun to roll around, there’s positional-based combat, and there’s a lot of interesting, fun activities. I’m just very excited about it, and I think it’s all going to lead to something that’s going to be very fun. I can’t wait until everybody gets to play it.

Guild Wars 2 at Ten Ton Hammer

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