Updated Mon, Jun 06, 2011 by Sardu
There is something infinitely satisfying about the combat in Guild Wars 2 that I couldn’t quite put a finger on in my previous demo experiences. I kept that thought tucked neatly in my brain pocket this time around, and came to some initial conclusions as to why the combat in GW2 has so far proven to be more engaging than the dozens of MMOGs I’ve played over the years.
Having logged countless hours into the original EverQuest and Guild Wars, I think ArenaNet made the right decision to stick with a set number of active skill slots. While the scope of what ultimately constitutes a build in GW2 is staggering and offers more depth than any game in recent memory, the streamlined active skill set keeps you focused on how to use a given build to achieve victory without necessarily having to have mastered hundreds of skills and mentally prioritizing them in case they might be useful in random situations.
Another benefit of the skill bar is that the dedicated slots give you a base understanding of how or when to use your 10 active skills. For example, without ever looking at tooltip descriptions I know that my 1-5 skills are based on weapon attacks, and that skill 6 is going to be my main healing skill. This is a huge leap forward for MMOG combat accessibility, and all without gimping the min/maxer fun of theorycrafting the zaniest builds you can dream up. I consider that a major checkmark in the “win” column for GW2.
Ever since the idea of “active combat” first crept into MMO gameplay, it has been taken in so many different directions that the concept no longer carries the same meaning it once might have. We’ve seen everything from Age of Conan’s whack-a-mole melee button mashing, to upcoming TERA’s more FPS targeting style approach, and everything in between at this point.
But what does “active combat” mean in Guild Wars 2? It means that positioning matters. It means that the better you are at communicating with teammates to take advantage of cross-profession combos, the more interesting combat becomes. It means that, while you have the option to set a weapon skill as your “auto attack” there is nothing about GW2 combat that leaves you feeling like you’re triggering the phases of a wholly scripted encounter while you go make a sandwich.
To go a step further, ArenaNet has done an excellent job of making combat animations fit not only the base concept of each profession, but those animations also create a deeper connection to the actions you’re making your character preform on-screen.
For example, while my guardian was wielding a hammer and shield, his attacks felt powerful and direct, and the combat animations suitably showed my character swinging his weapon in wide, slow arcs. In contrast, the thief was quick footed and agile, making lots of fast strikes that could fell an opponent by filling them with lots of small holes instead of bashing their heads in with brute force.
Likewise, switching the guardian’s main hand weapon to a scepter immediately gave me a tangible sense that my overall combat style had changed, while still being unique when compared to scholar professions like the necro or elementalist.
All of the above said, there were a few aspects of combat that didn't quite hit their mark for me this time around...