I swung a sword, I swung a sword again, I gained a new skill!

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?

I got mad skills! No, really. I do.

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

Further reading:

This entry was posted in Gameplay, PvE, PvP and tagged , , by damagedself. Bookmark the permalink.

About damagedself

Hey guys hey! I'd like to think I have the personality of a quaggan even though my articles might suggest otherwise. Hehe. And the only straight I am is a straight up bitch and a geek. But I hardly unleash my inner little monster (get the Gaga reference?) on people unless severely provoked. Relax, I don't bite. Much. ^^ Currently, I'm playing LoL and DCUO and I spend the rest of my time watching television series and obsessing over pop culture. My absolute favourites are Castle and Grey's Anatomy. That is why I constantly fantasize about how happy I'd be if the hospitals were stocked full of gorgeous doctors. P.S. I love McDreamy. And Darren Criss. Oh, and you're more than welcome to talk TV shows with me!
  • http://twitter.com/Peter_Chan Peter Chan

    Ohh. I would definitely hate to see that kind of chat for sure. Also this being a separate grind would be horrible too, I was never a fan of Guild Wars 1 titles. While I kind of like the idea of getting better at doing something I do think it would be better if a skill trailer were still in place. 

    Who knows, maybe having both existing could be a nice idea. For example using your sword for just few hours eventually unlocks new skills at a pace that newbies can accept, but then completely stops once the skill slots are filled (or after it has been used in combination with every other weapon). While it’s not much unlocked, that should be enough to give the player a taste of what using that weapon means for their character. Afterwards they would have to seek out trainers to expand and experiment with other skills.

    If I’m not mistaken though. Guild Wars 2 already had something like this happening in previous demos. After using fireballs a few times, the fire magic or something improved. There was a notification popping up on the right.

    Anyway, this change in the skill acquisition is definitely sounding like an anti-Colin move! We’ll learn more very soon though. XD

  • GhostBoy

    Just wanted to adress this: *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.*

    Arenanet does not base their testing results on showing the game at demos, though they will of course bring back any feedback they get there. They have dedicated testers working at the office, who get consideriably more than 40 minutes / 6 months of playtime.

    I find the rest of the comments premature, especially since there is 2 days until we know how ti work in practice. If the barrier is low enough that a new weapon type can quickly become usable (even if not maxed), the grind isn’t really a grind. The situation is no different than if someone in the old system neglected to buy any Mace skills, and a mace drops. If anything the system encourages experimentation, simply to keep up to date on your skills.

    The soft trinity is a lot more than weapon swaps, so that’s a nice an alarmist headline. Consider the possibility that it may not take ages to go from unskilled to useful with any given weapon, and somewhat longer to max it. Your concerns are founded on weapon skills being a godawful grind, not simply a natural extension of whatever you are doing in the game.

  • http://twitter.com/DaPhoolz Rp TheFoolz

    You’ve got a good point there. but i think we’ll have to wait and see how the new system really works.

    Can’t wait to see the Demo! (it would be great if there’s a livestream like last year.)

  • Aonsao

    I don’t see how this is grind. It’s not like they make you attack the same mobs over and over. As long as you are playing the game you will be using your weapons, no matter where you are. You aren’t feeling any grind.

    • Aonsao

      Also, you are assuming that getting skills unlocked will take a long time. This probably isn’t the case.

  • Aonsao

    I don’t see how this is grind. It’s not like they make you attack the same mobs over and over. As long as you are playing the game you will be using your weapons, no matter where you are. You aren’t feeling any grind.

  • http://www.dan-e-gray.com Dan Gray

    “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.”

    They aren’t referring to demo play experience – which is obviously not a good basis for a decision like this. They are referring to the external groups they *already* have testing the game.

    That aside, whether this is a ‘grind’ or not depends entirely on how long it takes to unlock skills. Not that I feel particularly strongly either way, as skills are unlocked for PvP anyway.

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  • http://twitter.com/MalchiorDeven Clint Oliver

    Even if it’s only use skill two 50 times to unlock skill three, it’s a useless time sink. I’m not talking about a boring grind of 1000 uses.  I just see no reason for a time sink within a character’s natural progression.  Continual usage of a skill isn’t going to contribute to a player playing more efficiently or effectively with that skill.  The barriers should be less, or even non-existant, so a player can experiment at will, learn what works for him/her as a player, and ultimately, improve in his/her gameplay.

  • http://twitter.com/MalchiorDeven Clint Oliver

    For example, you learn your second skill after killing ten foes which happens very quickly (usually before you exit the tutorial). The number
    required increases slightly as you learn skills but should never become
    grindy. Once you learn all the skills on a weapon you are done and don’t
    have to keep using a weapon to “skill it up”.-Eric Flannum

    This makes me feel a lot better, but it still begs the question…Why have the system anyway if the number is so low?  Why not unlock all the skills at level 1, or at least all the mainhand skills?

    • http://belzan.wordpress.com Belzan

      If indeed the tier system has become automatic and we gain higher tiers on our skills by leveling, then I’m sold. I didn’t like the old system of “buy a skill, buy the same higher tier of the skill later” approach. Based on the above Dev quotes, it looks like the new system isn’t that big of a time sink given you’re already going to use those weapons anyway. Sure, it handcuffs you for a few levels, but it helps you to quickly familiarize yourself with new weapons and works great for a tutorial approach without the tutorial. 

      They have lots of options for all kinds of skills. I don’t mind the new approach so much in part because I’m not spending my gold to learn skills. As for the non-weapon skills, I think a time vs gold situation would work best. You can go to skill trainers (sometimes in remote locations) to learn skills for gold (or karma) or you can track down a critter and learn it from them (like skill capping in GW1). It’s a good balance for everyone and encourages exploration. 

      • http://twitter.com/MalchiorDeven Clint Oliver

        Oh yeah, I love the acquisition of the utility skills!  Encouraging exploration in a world that already allows for so much exploration is a fantastic idea! I’ll be glad to search for the rare events just like skill capping in GW1.

    • Guildbattle

      Actually, you can unlock them all at level 1, though the fight system.  It exists only to give you a feel of learning the proffession, and a reason to get rid of the annoying skill buying window, which I have hated in every single MMO I’ve played.

  • http://www.crossingtyria.com Kaden

    I think that the unlocks through combat will make it easier for players to get familiar with new skills that they acquire.  When each skill unlocks they will be able to check them out one at a time and start using it.  By the time they get familiar with skill 3 they will have unlocked skill 4.  

    I think that the teaching factor outweighs the slight time constraint it enforces on veteran players.  By level 10 I expect anyone will be able to fully unlock their skills, and if they don’t use a weapon at all it still won’t take much time to learn it by killing some random mobs on the roadside.

  • http://www.dan-e-gray.com Dan Gray

    “People will be able to experience this at the demo but I thought I’d
    come in here and clarify the skill learning issue. Learning weapon
    skills is not intended to be a long arduous process. It is supposed to
    be a short process that helps players learn their weapons more
    effectively. For example, you learn your second skill after killing ten
    foes which happens very quickly (usually before you exit the tutorial).
    The number required increases slightly as you learn skills but should
    never become grindy. Once you learn all the skills on a weapon you are
    done and don’t have to keep using a weapon to “skill it up”.”

    http://www.guildwars2guru.com/forum/showpost.php?p=854692&postcount=364

    The benefits of waiting for clarification before getting worked up. 😀

    • Amannelle

      Well, as we’ve seen, Malchior isn’t exactly the best at waiting (not his strong point), but at least it gives him something to do. 😀 And it gives him some practice writing for Talk Tyria. 😀

  • Marco Amersfoort

    I do not think the game will become more of a grind, in the end you need to keep killing opponents or crafting stuff, regardless of the goal you are trying to achieve. So, you do not need to grind more, just differently.However, I do share Malchior’s other concerns, like the ones about discouraging experimentation and the destruction of the soft trinity (of damage, support and control). The new system only ends up in booting players from (dungeon) parties, because they have been playing with the ‘wrong’ skills.Something that’s not stated here, is the new system’s effect on PvP in particular. With the old system, you could make a fairly accurate guess on which weapon skills a player could have available based on his level. The new system destroys that.So, for example, if you meet a level 20 warrior opponent, you do not know what to expect and prepare for. The warrior could be an axe master or have unlocked just a few skills on every weapon. On the other hand, that same warrior has to gamble on the skills he will need to unlock to defeat you, and if he has friends, he might need other friends so his skills can be used to the fullest effect.In my opinion the new system has a few drawbacks.

  • Guildbattle

    To be honest, I find looking through a list of skills and clicking on them for each weapon to be really stupid.  This is the kind of thing you’ll probably be done with before level 20, and lets not forget that skills now automatically tier up when you level up.  This is far better than the previous system, and really is not even comparable to grinding.  It makes me feel like I’m actually learning how to fight.

  • Asterai

    Quote from Eric Flannum:

    “People will be able to experience this at the demo but I thought I’d
    come in here and clarify the skill learning issue. Learning weapon
    skills is not intended to be a long arduous process. It is supposed to
    be a short process that helps players learn their weapons more
    effectively. For example, you learn your second skill after killing ten
    foes which happens very quickly (usually before you exit the tutorial).
    The number required increases slightly as you learn skills but should
    never become grindy. Once you learn all the skills on a weapon you are
    done and don’t have to keep using a weapon to “skill it up”.”

    Quote from Martin Kerstein:

    “[Weapon skill tiers] still do [exist], but you get higher tiers automatically while you level up once you unlocked the initial skill.”

    …This system sounds acceptably non-grindy to me, although the original description certainly was a little ambiguous.

    Source:
    http://www.guildwars2guru.com/forum/jon-peters-new-gamescom-demo-t20328.html?p=854692
    http://www.guildwars2guru.com/forum/jon-peters-new-gamescom-demo-t20328.html?p=854765

  • ArcherAvatar

    This article expresses most of what I was feeling after reading the blog post by Jon Peters.  The lack of clear information in Peters’ blog entry has had me on “fume” and I’m hoping for considerably more information in the VERY near future from ANet to alleviate that.

    I’ve read a lot of “speculative” comments on various blogs and forums about what the core mechanics are being changed “to” but, that is exactly the problem.  These comments are just speculation and assumptions (hopeful or otherwise) and are not concrete information from the DEVs themselves.

    You don’t make a post on an official website as a DEV stating that core mechanics are being scrapped, and then utterly fail to make it clear what the “new” mechanics are going to be unless
    A) you are intentionally trying to incite controversy and arguments within your community.
    B) you are a F***ing moron who honestly has no clue how that is going to be received, and really didn’t mean to cause a fuss.
    or C) you are just in a big damn hurry, and not taking the time to communicate clearly, resulting in widespread misunderstandings, confusion, and comments that are NOT helpful to the game’s image.

    Personally, I’d like to rule out “A” just because I don’t want to believe anything that malicious and intentional is going on. 

    Someone at ANet needs to make a “corrective” blog entry or post an interview, or something that clarifies exactly what the plan is.  You can NOT just tell folks you’re scrapping major game mechanics without telling them EXACTLY what is replacing them unless you actually want cries of “WTF?!?” and “Vaporware!” to be next things you hear people saying about your game… during a convention week when there really ought to be “positive” press coverage of your game instead of folks wondering what the hell is going on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hiram-David-Perez-Tamayo/1185641537 Hiram David Perez Tamayo

    i love the new system because add more realism to the game is like you are just training with that particular wep is like “o i understand now what master said if i use it this way something like this will append” or something like that xD 

  • http://twitter.com/EleriTMLH Eleri Hamilton

    >>A player who was not diligent in training all his weapons will be
    immediately gimped for any kind of endgame content (dungeons and WvWvW)<<

    I hate this in general. I shouldn't need a PhD in equipment and skills to get through endgame content. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to something major, and then finding out you'll never get through it because you're not able to pull together the narrow requirements for the team- if you don't have skill XYZ (that you can't get a hold of, because you don't have access to content LMN), you're screwed.

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