Pardon my obvious Colin reference, but I feel this new skill acquisition needs to be brought into further review even before the Gamescom demos begin. Allow me to further quote the man with the golden smile.
“We just don’t want players to grind in Guild Wars 2. Noone enjoys that, noone finds it fun; we want to change the way that people view combat.” – Colin Johanson, GW2 Manifesto
If this is the case, then why does this new skill system exist?
The old system
Using the old system, players had to talk to a skill trainer to learn all the available weapon skills for each different type of weapon. A new character had access to the first 2 skills available for each weapon and unlocked skills by leveling and talking to a skill trainer. Here’s where it gets complicated and might be a reason why ArenaNet changed the system. Each weapon had the same skill slots unlocked at different levels! For example, a Ranger got poison arrow (skill 3, Longbow) at level 2, but a Ranger who preferred Shortbow didn’t get Quick Shot (skill 3, Shortbow) until level 3. If you had previously decided before character creation you wanted to be a melee ranger, you’d be handicapped from the beginning. Ranger didn’t get Staggering Throw (skill 2, Axe) until level 3 and also didn’t get any offhand skills until level 5. Granted, this is the early game, so leveling comes quickly, making this drawback to the system almost negligible.
Now, let’s talk about the full bar. After earning the elite skill slot at level 30, a player essentially has maximized their potential with skills. The only barrier between the skills now is which skills (and which tiers of skills) the player purchased at the skills trainer. At any moment a player can swap from a damage weapon to a more support-heavy weapon, should the situation require the need. This calls for field awareness, reaction time, and assessment of the situation, all of which contribute to more skillful play.
The new system
This brings us into the new system. ArenaNet states their reason for the change as, “…it wasn’t helping teach people the game…” I find this statement completely arbitrary. Players can’t be taught the game because they’re only on it for 40 minutes at a time during conventions. A majority of people on these demos don’t care about the inner workings of skills and how to maximize their potential with cooldown timers, energy costs, and skill/trait choice; the players just want to squeeze every last minute of their demo to explore the world and experience the basic mechanics of the combat.
Semantics aside, the new system is quite similar to the old system in the early game. Instead of being restricted by levels or gold costs, the weapon skills are restricted by weapon proficiency. Use a weapon, get more effective with it, learn new skills. Sounds fun and intuitive right? Usually, the answer would be yes, but the design of Guild Wars 2 creates several kinks within this feature.
ArenaNet’s no grind philosophy
It’s pretty simple. If you have to use a weapon X number of times to learn a skill, it can be considered a grind. Nothing can be said on the severity of this yet without seeing the feature; either way it’s a direct slap in the face to the ArenaNet model.
The new system discourages early game experimentation
Experimentation is a key element of learning one’s class, one’s role, strengths as a player, and weaknesses as a player. The old system allowed a Warrior to be swinging an axe, but should he find a mace with more DPS than his axe, then he could immediately equip the mace and begin comparing the usefulness of its skills to his axe, provided he had trained the mace skills. Even if he hadn’t trained the mace skills, all he had to do was go to the trainer and buy the equivalent weapon skills for his mace. Both weapons ready, he could now compare which weapon he liked better.
Under the new system, the same Warrior has to swing his new epic mace X number of times (or something similar) before it can come even close to his axe’s ability, because the axe has more skills. This presents a barrier for the Warrior. Why should he bother training the mace when his axe is better, faster, and, with more skills, likely more fun?
The new system destroys the soft trinity of Damage, Support, & Control.
A player who was not diligent in training all his weapons will be immediately gimped for any kind of endgame content (dungeons and WvWvW). This player will not be able to swap in-combat to adapt to the current situation, and further won’t be able to swap multiple weapon sets outside of combat to prepare for future situations. The design of the new system actually encourages the player to stick with what’s familiar or fun. Imagine an Elementalist who used a staff throughout his entire game, and gets an epic scepter drop from a dungeon. Who cares how good the scepter is? The Elementalist remembers how long it took him to train his Staff, and now, he’s come to enjoy its style of gameplay, so why should he change? I can see the chat already…
“GLF Guardian for dungeon – must have Shield, Torch, Mace, Hammer, and Staff maxed.”
Essentially, the new system is a bad time sink in a B2P game that doesn’t need a time sink, especially one that divides the playerbase. There is no skill in swinging a sword X number of times; furthermore, there is no skill in swinging 5 different weapons X number of times just to be eligible for endgame content. Gold used in the old system can be obtained through events, marketing, and even guild members. Weapon proficiencies are a useless time sink designed for subscription-based MMOs to lengthen the content, forcing the player to waste time, and earn revenue for the company.
What should be done
The only flaw of the old system was its complexity. Newcomers to MMOs aren’t going to see the division of skills or even combat roles in the different weapons. That’s a fact, and there’s nothing ArenaNet can do about it. This is the one example where Time>Skill, because the more time the newcomers spend with Guild Wars 2 and MMOs in general, the more familiar they will become with the mechanics of the genre. On top of that, gold for skill tiers is a higher barrier for those who don’t know what to spend their gold on or those who squander their gold on other things. If anything, ArenaNet should take the skill tiers and just apply them automatically to levels, not gold. I don’t know what gold sinks are needed in the game, but surely one can be added that isn’t part of the natural progression of EVERY character. Gold sinks should be a choice for those who have too much gold, not be a requirement for progression.
To be honest, I doubt we will see how well the feature will function at Gamescom and PAX. ArenaNet will have likely lowered the weapon proficiencies significantly to account for the demo timer. I’m just hoping we can get enough information to prove the fallacy of this new system.
To the readers: What do you think about the changes? Love it or hate it? Do you agree with the points made here?
About the author: Malchior has been a part of the Guild Wars community for years and is best known for his role as podcast co-host for GuildMag. He’s an avid PvP player and is looking forward to the structured PvP in GW2. He can be found on twitter.