I started out the second half of the interview on a mistake, and it was Peters turn to run my fumble to the endzone. I brought up the three different types of skills: weapon, utility, and elite. Actually, Peters said, there is another skill type: healing skills. (Lots of headsmacking then on my end.) Don’t ignore healing skills, warned Peters, heal skills can make builds. He said “there are some very varying heal skills that really change what you are going to do with your character.”
As an example, Peters brought up two of the warrior heal skills shown in the demos. Healing Surge heals the warrior and gives him adrenaline. Healing Signet heals the warrior on use, but also provides extra health regeneration when the signet is not recharging. Healing Surge makes for a very aggressive warrior because he is ramping up adrenaline for the burst skill so much faster than other warriors. Conversely, Peters said that when warriors are using Healing Signet they basically ignore all the little plinks, and they can keep plowing through mobs or players until the warrior gets focus fired upon. The developers are finding that the one player-decided healing skill has a huge impact on style of play. Peters then asked Cartwright to talk about weapon skills.
“The design philosophy of weapon skills was to make a baseline build,” Cartwright began, “and the reason for the whole paradigm of Guild Wars 2 was we wanted to make sure that whatever you were holding with your weapons was a good build.” They wanted to make sure that players could pick up any number of combinations of weapons and to be able to actually play the game. In Guild Wars there are billions and billions of combinations, but if a player puts 8 shouts on a warrior bar, it would be a bad character. Most combinations of skills in Guild Wars didn’t work well, whereas the design goal of Guild Wars 2 was to make very few unusable builds.
Yet, the weapon skills in Guild Wars 2 could be compared to elite skills in Guild Wars because they made the character. Players built around the elite skills in Guild Wars, and in Guild Wars 2 players will be building around their weapon choices. Utility skills, then, are augmentations to the base build. They allow players to fill gaps in their builds, or add more area-of-effect damage, or give more support to other players.
Cartwright continued that there was one other part that people don’t really see yet in the system. Traits interact with skills in a really heavy way. He then gave the example of two identically skilled sword warriors. One warrior can take a trait that makes every sword attack cause the bleeding condition, and the other warrior takes a trait that causes Savage Leap to recharge twice as fast. The first warrior becomes a super pressure character, and the second warrior becomes a highly mobile melee attacker jumping around the map. So even though the warriors still have identical skills, traits can allow them to play in a completely different way. Even after traits, there are still items, Cartwright added, so the amount of builds a skilled player can create skyrockets well beyond the baseline. Peters and Kerstein echoed that the build making ability in Guild Wars 2 can be daunting to someone really delving into the systems.
The last skill type we discussed was elites. The main function of elites is to have an “ace-up-your-sleeve-type of play.” This type of skill, Cartwright said, really plays up the resource of time a lot more than other games. However, the core element of elites is not an insta-kill everything, but to create a moment of power. Peters said that elite skills are not traditional spells. “Every single elite is either a big shapeshift, or summoning some crazy weapon, or summon a bundle. There are no elites that don’t change how you play in a very drastic way.”
An example is the Tornado skill for the elementalist. Cartwright said one of his favorite stories to tell was when he was playing with lead designer Eric Flannum, and everybody was dying all around. So Flannum popped the Tornado skill to become a living tornado and start flinging enemies away while Cartwright used Vengeance to get up off the ground and start reviving people that were downed. “You almost get the sense that once someone throws out an elite,” Cartwright continued, “it changes up the battlefield. In PvE when things go bad, you’re going to use elites to turn the tide.” The elite skills are designed to create these kind of epic moments of return. Peters said the phrase he likes to use is “change of pace.”
“In PvP, it creates a mind duel. Who is going to throw it first?” Cartwright said he knew a lot of people were worried about the person using elites first wins, but that’s really not how it plays out. Surprisingly, it’s the opposite. “Whoever throws it first, loses.” If an opponent throws an elite first, and a player can trick the opponent in to using it improperly, it’s game over. If players get to an engagement, and three opponents pop their elites, the players now have power because they still have the aces up their sleeves. The player can now push the battle in ways where the opponents, who are recharging their elites, couldn’t.
“It becomes this yomi mind game.” The opponents are aware that the player still has the elite skill available, and if they misstep they could give a player a huge opportunity to use the elite skill to destroy them. Conversely, an ill-used elite, such as a guy becoming a tornado at the wrong time could easily spell death as players start shooting the far-away tornado with ranged attacks or the like. He continued to say that he has seen PvP games where elites are never used because the threat of using the elite is so powerful.
Elites really aren’t a good way to kill people, but more of a way to make them change up their playstyle and reaction. Using the Tornade elite skill example again, Peters said that a well-timed Tornado would cause the opponents to basically stop what they are doing, roll away, switch to ranged attacks, back up and spread out. Elite skills force a reaction when used, but they can also stop opponent tactics from being useful when held in a ready state.
I brought up the s-word, “spike,” in regards to elite skills. Spiking is basically an ultra-time-compressed focus fire, where if the opposing team can’t respond within that very short period of time, the opponent taking all the hits will die. Peters said that in Guild Wars 2 where there’s reviving other players on every character, downed states, and plenty of way to save yourself (instead of relying on another monk’s Infuse Health), the game balances more strongly against the spike.
Cartwright, went back to elite recharge times, and said he was really skeptical about the long recharge because they don’t work in so many other games, but ArenaNet has been really good about playing with the elite skills and working on them. Cartwright added that he has been very happy with how they are working out in every aspect of the Guild Wars 2 gameplay so far. They are going to keep iterating on elite skills, but they really want to play up the time element. The time element (recharge) is used to a lesser degree to focus player attention on available skill choices for weapon skills and utility skills, but the huge pace changing elites will be kept at a longer recharge.
With regards to elite skills and dungeons, the elite skills are usually used as more fall back skills, instead of skills to rely on. Peters said that with an elementalist, he isn’t going to pop a Tornado unless they really, really need it. Then all it might do is delay the inevitable. However, when the boss unexpectedly summons a bunch of other guys, popping a Tornado gives the group more time to react to the new change. Still, Cartwright said, they are still pushing around with elite skills in dungeons to make sure that using elites in those instances is fun.
As other people (perhaps Seattle zombies) were scratching at their conference room door, I asked my last question about the amount of skills they were shooting for per profession upon initial Guild Wars 2 release. Peters said that there will be about 200 utility skills altogether. Every profession will have about 20 utility skills in addition to the racial ones. There are 4-5 heals and 4-8 elites per profession. This is on top of all the weapon skills, and the skills that change upon use like the necromancer’s minion skills. They are ultimately still playing around with how many skills will be launched with the game, but they assured me it will be plenty.
At the closing words, Peters wanted me to pass on that both rangers and warriors with longbows were good. Kerstein then noted that all the designers read the forums.
Thanks again, to Isaiah Cartwright, Jon Peters, Martin Kerstein, and Regina Buenaobra for sitting down to talk about Guild Wars 2 with Kill Ten Rats. I know that it will not be fully clear until we can all play the game for ourselves, but I hope that this interview clarifies a lot on the design of energy and skills in Guild Wars 2.
everyone runs faster with a knife