Hi! I'm Eric Flannum, the lead designer for Guild Wars 2. Over the next few months, we'll be telling you about the professions, races, lore, and game systems of Guild Wars 2, as well as talking about our design philosophy and thoughts about the game. First up: combat!
We've got a lot of amazing things planned for combat in Guild Wars 2, and I'll try to cover as many of them as possible before wearing out my welcome. Let's start with the basics.
One of our priorities in developing Guild Wars 2 has been to make the simple act of moving around and interacting with the world an enjoyable experience for our players. We often refer to this as introducing "joy of movement" into the game. This means being able to jump and swim freely, but it also translates directly into combat.
To reinforce the importance of movement in the game, we want your character's position in combat to really matter. You'll see a lot of attacks in Guild Wars 2 that encourage and reward tactical player movement and positioning.
To illustrate what I'm talking about, I was watching two of our game designers--Jon and Isaiah--play the other day. Jon is using his shield to deflect the fire breath of a drake, when Isaiah hits the drake from behind with a skill called Devastating Hammer, launching it into the air. The drake is sent flying over Jon's head, who immediately turns and uses a skill called Savage Leap to impale and finish the drake right as it hits the ground. This was a very cool looking (and effective!) sequence of events that flowed very naturally from how combat in Guild Wars 2 works.
We want combat in Guild Wars 2 to really be visually appealing. We want you to be able to identify the skills being used at a glance and also have a good idea of what that skill is doing. Does a skill have an area of effect? Is it doing damage? What type of damage? Our goal is to design skills that are visually unique and explain them without overly complex skill descriptions. This has resulted in a lot of distinct and impressive skill effects in the game. Even a simple skill like fireball explodes in such a way that you can clearly see the area that they will affect. Beyond your typical fireballs and lightning bolts, you'll see skills that create giant crushing stone hands, turn their users into massive tornadoes, and summon flocks of vicious birds of prey (a particular favorite skill of many people after they see it in action).
Much like in Guild Wars, the skill bar in Guild Wars 2 is limited to a set number of skills. Like a collectible card game, we provide the player with a wide variety of choices and allow them to pick and choose skills to create a build that best suits their particular play style. For example, one Guild Wars 2 warrior might decide to build his character around gradual damage which causes his opponents to bleed out, while another may choose to knock his opponents down, controlling their movement with slow, large attacks. Both warriors can choose to equip the skills that matter most to them. It is also very important to us that our skill system be simple to use, leaving the screen as clean and unintimidating as possible. All of this combines to give us a skill bar and skill system that's a bit different than what you'd typically find in an MMO.
The first five skills on the skill bar are not slotted directly by the player; instead they are determined by the player's choice of weapon and profession. Because of this, we can ensure that each weapon is balanced with a fun combination of skills. For example, a warrior wielding a mace and shield would get access to strong but slow damage skills like Obliterate, as well as powerful defensive skills such as Block and Shield Bash. A warrior wielding a greatsword would have access to a lot of movement-oriented skills like Rush, and area-of-effect skills like 100 Blades. In each case, the warrior's first five skills are determined by what he's holding in his hands. Weapon skills also take profession into account, so a warrior wielding a sword will have different skills than a different sword-wielding profession.
To provide additional variety to the mix, most professions can have two different weapon sets equipped and can very quickly and easily swap between the sets. For example, a warrior might keep a longbow or rifle for engaging foes at a distance, and then switch to a hammer when that enemy gets close.
We've talked about the first five skills being determined by weapon and profession. What about the second five? These skills are all chosen by the player from a pool of skills determined by both profession and race. To slot a skill, a player simply clicks on a skill slot and it will bring up a list of skills that can be put into that slot. One of these slots is dedicated to healing skills that replenish the health of the character and his allies, while another slot is dedicated to elite skills that trigger visually spectacular and powerful effects. No matter what type of skill is involved, it's important that we give the player a diverse set of tools to choose from so that he can create a build that he'll enjoy playing.
For example, a human elementalist can choose to bring Aura of Restoration, which is a buff that heals him every time he uses a skill, or he can choose to bring Glyph of Healing, which is a more straightforward heal. A warrior might take the Frenzy skill, which will fill his adrenaline gauge instantly; the shout skill Fear Me! which inflicts the weakness condition on surrounding foes; or the Banner of Courage skill, which inspires his allies and increases their melee damage.
Elite skills are designed to be infrequently-used, ultra-powerful skills that have a dramatic impact on the game. An elementalist can call upon the power of the wind to shapeshift into a tornado that knocks enemies around and inflicts heavy damage, while a warrior might choose to harness the power of Destruction, to make all of his blows inflict area-of-effect damage.