Dec 16, 2011

Build making: Guild Wars vs. Guild Wars 2

One of the biggest points for fan complaints that I've seen is that the mechanic of having the first five skill slots based on your weapon limits build options and takes away from one of the aspects (making builds) that many people enjoyed in the first game.  Many fans are worried that we only get to pick 3 utility skills from a pool of ~30 and therefore the variety of builds that we saw in GW is forever gone.  The developers keep telling us not to worry, so I thought I'd compare the two games to see if we should believe them.

Your build is largely determined by one of the very first choices you make in the game -- your profession. GW had more flexibility here because it included the Secondary profession mechanic which would allow a single character to learn every skill in the game if they so desired.  In GW2, this is missing because the developers wanted players to play a profession with a unique feel that was different from the other professions -- so no more playing a Mesmer but actually being a Fire Elementalist.
From the point of view of choice, round one goes to Guild Wars.

It won't add a lot of skills to the mix (currently there are only 6 per race), but each race in GW2 will have a set of racial skills that only members of that race will have access to.  These skills are partially meant to make up for the missing secondary, allowing a character access to an ability that their profession wouldn't normally allow, but largely they are there for role-playing flavour. The original Guild Wars only allowed Humans, so Guild Wars 2 wins this round.

On the surface, GW would appear to win this one hands-down as it had many more skills than GW2 will have.  Also, as noted under professions, GW would allow you to mix-and-match all the skills from two professions at a time, making for thousands of possible combinations.  However, quantity doesn't always beat quality and I think that is something that needs to be considered here .  Of the 1000 or so skills available in GW, I'd hazard a guess that less than half were used on a regular basis.  There were too many skills that were too niche or just deemed underpowered when compared to the other skills available.  Also, a lot of combinations just don't make sense; for example, a Warrior with both sword and axe skills on her bar at the same time.
I'm sure that when they started development, one of the first things ArenaNet did was analyze skill usage statistics in GW to see what would make an optimal pool.  I could wind up being wrong, but I suspect the utility skills in GW2 will be a lot harder to choose between because there will be fewer obvious choices.  I'll give this category to Guild Wars because of the number of skills and the ability to combine two profession's skills, but I think when "usefulness" of skills and combinations is considered, it's actually a lot closer than most would imagine.

The Skillbar
This is another one that appears to be a "no brainer" in favor of GW.  The original game had 8 slots which you could use to slot anything you wanted.  In GW2, the bar now has 10 slots, but your choice for the first 5 is limited to choosing a weapon set which then determines your skills.  Of the remaining five, one is a healing skill (chosen from a very limited pool), three are utility skills and the final one is your elite skill (which again will be a very shallow pool).  From the point of view of choice, Guild Wars wins this hands-down.  However, that choice came at a price in the form of useless builds.  About two years into playing GW, I can recall grouping with people and asking them to ping their bars which often resulted in "WTF is that?!" type of reactions.  One of the main goals of the GW2 skillbar was to ensure that everyone always had a viable build and that they would be able to contribute without being a liability.  Although I haven't had a chance to experience it for myself yet, I feel sure that they've succeeded in this goal.  
I believe that the weapon-based skills are actually a good thing because they set the tone for the build.  If you're a Warrior who wants to go defence, you'll bring a mace and shield.  For all-out offense, there's dual-axes.  When you take the various combinations of main and offhand weapon sets into consideration, there are more than a dozen builds right there (for Warriors -- the available weapon sets vary by profession).  And the best part is that they're all different but also all viable.  Add in the ability to change between two weapon sets during combat and the number of viable builds increases yet again.
For these reason, I'm going to call this category a tie.

This is an interesting one.  In the original GW, the attributes actually acted to limit builds by limiting the skill branches from which somebody would pick skills to just two or three.  Sure, you could play an Elementalist/Mesmer and have one skill from each of Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Domination, Illusion, Inspiration and Energy Storage, but your attribute points would be spread so thin that all of the skills would be pretty much useless.
Last we saw for GW2, there were four common attributes split with two for offense and two for defence.  Regardless of your weapon and utility skills, your attributes will now decide if you pack a mighty punch but have a glass jaw, or you can take massive damage but couldn't hurt a flea, or if you land somewhere in between.  An axe wielding Warrior with high Might will play differently than an axe Warrior with pumped up Vitality.
Some skills may even synergize better with a certain attribute setup. Consider two (fictional) healing skills.  One heals for 200 and recharges in four seconds.  Another heals for 800, has a 20 second recharge but also removes a condition.  If you choose not to put enough points into Vitality and take the second skill, the twenty second recharge could become an issue where the almost-spammable heal would have worked better.
I think that attribute selection is going to have a bigger impact on a build in GW2 than it did in GW (where it really just limited skill selection instead of complementing it) and so this round goes to Guild Wars 2.

In the original Guild Wars, the gear that you equipped played a relatively minor role in the overall build.  There were only a handful of well-known builds that absolutely required a specific gear setup (the "55 Monk" and "Perma-Sin" being the most well known).  For the most part, gear only made a build slightly more effective by occasionally recharging a skill early or boosting a stat by a point to cause an extra few points of damage.  Whether you equipped a +5 Defensive Staff head or a +30 Hale Staff Head really had little bearing on the overall build.
Guild wars 2 changes this completely.  The weapon(s) you choose to equip now set the first five skills, but, even more than that, it sets up your playstyle and thereby dictates the tone for the rest of your build.  A Ranger with the stationary longbow would be more likely to bring traps than one using the mobile Shortbow.  When it comes to armor, we know that you'll be able to apply crests to boost your attributes, and as it was already discussed, the attributes in GW2 are going to be more meaningful than they were in the original.  I know that the "weapon set dictates your first five skills" mechanic is seen as a detractor by many, but I'm only worried about making viable builds, so I think it will be a good thing.  Because gear will play an active role in the build and not just be an afterthought to tweak it, I'm giving the win for this category to Guild Wars 2.

These are new for Guild Wars 2 so we'll give the category win to the sequel right off the top.  We don't know a whole lot about traits except that they're currently undergoing some revisions.  In a recent IRC chat ArenaNet did give a few examples and hinted that they'd release more info in January.
So, what do we know?  Traits will modify skills or attributes.  In the demos we've seen basic traits that add to an attribute like "Increases your Might by 25".  The developers have also mentioned traits that would modify particular skills, for example, the Necromancer has a trait that increases the number of Bone Minions that get summoned when you activate the skill.  It's also been mentioned that skills can have affects like "sword skills apply bleeding when you score a critical hit".  In the IRC chat, they mentioned that the Thief now has a Venom trait which allows the Thief to grant allies a "next attack causes poison to the target" effect.  Slotting this instead of an "adds Might" trait would obviously change the role of the Thief from DPS to more Support.
Where the skills form the backbone of a build, I anticipate that the Traits will offer the fine-grain customization that GW lacked.

While it may take some getting used to having half of your bar determined as a set, I think that GW2 will offer more for those who like to experiment with builds.  The difference is that in GW2, the "build" is much more than just the skills on the bar, whereas in the original Guild Wars, the skills on the bar where pretty much it.
Build making in GW2 looks to be taking a much more layered approach.  The first decision is what weapons to use as the base for the build.  Then you can pick your heal, utility and elite to start differentiating your character.  Once you've done that, you'll have to determine how to split up your attribute points between offense and defense.  Then, there's a second round of fine-tuning via Trait selection.  And finally, you'll want to get armor and baubles that complement your choices.
Also, there's the whole area of cross-skill combos which some professions can arrange for themselves with the right choices that I didn't even mention.  For example, a Ranger with a Torch and then switching to Bow can make burning arrows on his own.
Scoring the categories as I did, I have GW2 taking a 4 to 2 victory with one tie.  Given the layered approach of skills + attributes + traits + gear, the GW2 build process looks much more interesting than the "pick eight skills from a massive pool" approach that the original Guild Wars employed.  I agree with the developers that once you accept a build as being more than just the skills on your bar, Guild Wars 2 will offer plenty of room for customization and tweaking.
Are you looking forward to playing around with builds in Guild Wars 2?  Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree with me.


  1. Disagree! =)

    GW1 choices seemed like fluff. Many skills were useless, repeats, or only had synergy with certain Attribute lines. Quantity does not create quality.

    Same for GW1's profession combining. Only certain Attributes made sense, and often would result in a "cookie cutter" build. Even if you thought it was unique, it basically boiled down to a variation of another build.

    Plus, the balance issues of GW1. Imagine I'm a Smiting Monk of a unique build. Then another Smiting Monk discovers the synergy with certain Attribute lines and creates an imbalanced overpowered Smiting Monk. Anet nerfs the entire Smiting line because of that synergy, bringing that guy into balance but destroying my build. I then end up creating a similar build as the other guy anyway... That is the story of GW1.

    GW2 looks like it has less choice, but within one profession, our choices on weapon sets are vast. It means that 5 Thieves can each have 5 different styles because they chose different weapons. They pick skills 1-5 in a different way, but they still pick.

    Balance issues are easier and instinctual, not taking any bystanders with it.

    The last 5 skills have truly unique choices, not repetitive fluff, and we must assume Anet is trying to keep that number down, so they can add more during expansions. The utility choices for an Engineer results in either having turrets, backbacks, or gadget tricks... resulting in a vast difference of playstyle because of 3 skills! =}

    GW1 may have had more options with sheer numbers, but GW2 has more options with actual unique flair. With that said, my opinion would have GW2 win in all categories, because it seems to expand on every gaming point more, learning from the... complexities... of GW1's past.

    I view "Guild Wars" as "Load Runner" and "Guild Wars 2" as "Metal Gear Solid 5"... one is a long lost past and the other is an epically complex future. No comparison.

  2. One thing to comment: Longbow rangers are now mobile as well. However, they do more damage the farther they are from their target. This keeps the movement aspect in play on a longbow ranger. And seeing as the only real cripple they have is barrage on a 30s cooldown, they cant just mega-kite things.

  3. @Bob - overall, I think we're actually in agreement. :) I'm looking forward to experimenting with builds in GW2 because I do think that the overall process will be much richer than GW1's.

    @Keegan - thanks for the comment/correction. I guess I missed the change to longbows whenever that was announced. The example may not be so good in light of that, but the point that different weapon sets may work better with different utilities is, I think, still valid. :)