The original Guild Wars was a hack-and-slash action role-playing game that was notable for a lot of reasons, like its beautiful artwork, unique network technology that quickly streamed the game onto your computer from a tiny installer file, and kind-of-but-not-really massively multiplayer gameplay. It was also notable for its unusual profession system, which let you choose two different professions for your character, so that you could be an assassin with monastic healing powers or a bow-and-arrow-wielding ranger with an assassin's teleportation powers. It's already a matter of public record that Guild Wars 2 is removing the dual profession system in favor of one character, one profession. But as Arena Net game designer Jon Peters and systems design lead Isaiah Cartwright explain, this change in focus isn't a bad thing. It's a good thing that will let players take advantage of each profession's unique powers while being able to do a little bit of everything.
In fact, according to the two designers, the newly revealed guardian profession is a perfect example of how Guild Wars 2 will let players focus on a single profession while being able to take on multiple roles in battle. Guardians are intended to be among the most powerful support characters in the game, thanks to their wide array of magical powers that buff (strengthen) teammates and change the playing field with AOE abilities (area-of-effect abilities that change the properties of the surrounding area). These powers and abilities take the form of symbols--magical icons that appear on the ground beneath their feet to buff allies or hamper enemies, as well as wards, which are also placed on the ground but act as walls that prevent movement. The profession can also use an aegis ability to block an incoming attack, along with spirit weapons--ghostly weapons that, when summoned, deal a powerful blow in battle before disappearing. But despite these skills, guardians can also take the frontline and occupy their enemies' attention (also known as tanking in online game parlance) while less-armored allies cast magic spells or sling arrows from the back, wielding two-handed weapons, such as hammers, greatswords, and staves or one-handed weapons, such as maces, swords, or scepters. Guardians also possess three different virtue abilities, which can be toggled on or off to grant powerful bonuses either to the guardians themselves or to teammates. These include justice, which causes your weapons to deal additional burning damage; courage, which activates the aegis blocking ability; and resolve, which triggers health regeneration. For even more information, we sat down with Arena Net's designers.
GameSpot: Give us an overview of the guardian class. What are the profession's main features? What kind of player will find this class appealing?
Jon Peters: The guardian is one of our soldier professions--a heavy-armor profession. Some of his main features include going back and forth between magic and melee attacks. He's built to appeal to players who want to help other players, basically. He's a more support-oriented profession. His profession mechanic is virtues, a personal buff, which he can sacrifice to help his allies. We've boiled down what we think is the core of the healer profession in other games. We don't think it's really all about clicking on health bars and then clicking on "heal" buttons. We think it's more about being able to give something of yourself to help your allies.
Isaiah Cartwright: Some of the basics that we tried to root into this class, like with all of our classes, is versatility within the profession; being able to do different things. One thing that the guardian does is provide support, as John said, and help allies in a lot of different ways. Virtue is his core mechanic, but it's also built into a lot of his skills. He can build force fields and protect allies from projectiles and other types of protection. We really tried to mix in, throughout the guardian's entire list of skills, ways that he can affect his allies. A good example is the protector strike skill, which lets him perform a blocking move, similar to the warrior's block. But this one blocks for everyone in the area, so as soon as [any allies] in the area get hit, the guardian will perform a huge counterattack in the area that knocks back enemies. So this lets him run up to allies and block for them and knock a bunch of enemies back.
JP:And just to add some other examples…everyone has abilities along these lines. If you take a warrior and a guardian, and you need to defend a teammate who's being attacked, a guardian can place a ward on the ground, which is basically a line on the ground that prevents enemies from crossing. A warrior, on the other hand, might just walk up to the enemy, pull out his hammer and send the enemy flying or knock it down. So, the warrior's a much more brute-force class, while the guardian is more about tactically controlling the battlefield.
GS: Please explain the guardian's ward abilities. They're clearly positional, for instance. How can they be used with other characters' abilities? How can they be used with Guild Wars 2's interactive environments?
JP: One really great example is one of the guardian's ring-shaped wards, which lets you encircle a teammate to keep your ally safe. But this skill also has an offensive use; you can ring an enemy in with this ward and your allies can use their AOE spells to a much greater effect since this enemy is stuck and he can't move out of the ward as easily. So, the target of the ward is going to be forced to rely more on blocking than on dodging out of the way. It totally changes the dynamics of combat in a situation like that.
IC: And if you're trying to run away, especially from enemies shooting projectiles at you, the guardian can use a wall of deflection ability to make those projectiles bounce right back at the shooters. You can use this to shield yourself from enemy fire, or you can use it to press into your enemies offensively. There's a real duality to the guardian's skills that lets him focus either on defense or on offense, depending on what the situation calls for.
JP: Another example is a focus skill called ray of judgment. You can target a group of enemies with this skill, which works a bit like a chain lightning type of effect that bounces between different targets. But this spell can also grant protective bonuses to any allies in the area, so you might even want to toss this skill into a fight where there are some allies in there too. Also, skills that are used with one single weapon are versatile for the guardian. While some other professions may have to swap out entire weapon sets to get the most out of their skills, the guardian can operate pretty smoothly without as much swapping.
GS: Can you comment on the abilities of the guardian as a solo class for players who either don't have time to meet up with friends or just happen to be logging in at odd hours? Is this one of the better soloing professions, or is there even such a thing in Guild Wars 2? Is the idea in the sequel to encourage players to group or to let them run solo with any profession?
JP: Because of the character's profession mechanics, he works really well in groups, but he can also summon weapons for battle and use virtues in combat. So, that gives him options to do battle even if no other group members are around. Also, there are a lot of other non-player characters to interact with throughout the game, so even outside of a group, the guardian can interact with a lot of characters. I'd say whether he's going solo or grouped really just changes what he fights. Specifically, the guardian is really good at fighting slow-hitting, powerful bad guys since his aegis ability periodically absorbs an incoming hit; this lets him do really well when he takes on an enemy with a slower rate of attack. If he's by himself, he can take on these more-powerful, slower foes, like Guild Wars 2's ettins. So in a solo situation, that's more what you'd do. But in a group, you can take on some bigger enemies and support your party instead. So, as is the case with a lot of Guild Wars 2's classes, you can solo and you can group--you'd just be changing up exactly what kind of enemies you'd be fighting at any given time. For example, with a more-fragile elementalist, you probably won't want to take on an ettin since he can survive some of your magical powers and strike back. With that class, you'd probably want to take on groups of smaller enemies that you can blow up with your area-based spells. But when it comes to that kind of thing, it really just comes down to changing your tactics.
Guardians are, like pretty much all of Guild Wars 2's professions, balanced to be good when played solo and good to have in a group but not needed in a group. We're trying to remove the traditional tank, healer, damage-per-second roles you see in most massively multiplayer online games and let players have more versatility in what they can do…differentiating themselves not by their profession's roles but by their own personal playing styles. As a result, no individual profession in Guild Wars 2 is "necessary." Everyone has their own way of doing things, but every profession can resurrect fallen comrades. Every profession has healing skills, and those healing skills are the most efficient way to keep them alive. Every profession has the ability to swap between different sets of abilities.
IC: And I think what really differentiates the classes from each other is the way characters have certain specialties in the types of enemies they're most effective against. Again, the guardian specializes in taking on slow, powerful enemies, while other classes can deal better with other types of enemies. Warriors are a bit more versatile and can equip bows to start dealing ranged damage or use a melee weapon to damage a single target, whereas a guardian may have trouble with a horde of small enemies. That's really one of the things this class brings to the table, though if you don't have one in the party, that'll still be OK since there are other ways to deal with big, slow enemies.
GS: What does the profession mean for Guild Wars 2's grouping in general? The basis of group play in Guild Wars 2 no longer seems built around the traditional roles of tanking, healing, and damage per second. Instead, the game is going to be more about individual playing style and preference?
JP: That's absolutely true. One of the things that bugs us a lot about games like this is, for instance, if Isaiah, three of our friends, and I all like playing warriors, we shouldn't have to stop and have one of us create a different character because we needed that role in the party. I want to play--and I think other players want to play--with other people not because they chose the monk or priest or whatever profession I need, but because those people happen to be fun to interact with. So, combat is built around that idea.
IC: We designed an entire combat system around the idea that you can just grab your friends and go out and play. You get together, and yes, you're going to need someone dealing with the monsters beating on you, and you're going to need someone to deal damage, and you can have someone supporting you, but the idea is that every single profession can do any of those things. There are going to be professions that are better at support; some that are better at doing damage, some at taking beatings from monsters. And the guardian is pretty good at taking the beating or providing support for the group. Those are the two areas where he can really contribute, though he's not necessarily the best damage dealer. He is, however, one of our top-tier support characters. He's very good at taking or mitigating damage using his aegis abilities. But the idea with Guild Wars 2 is that players should be able to change up their roles. If a party's frontline fighter dies, someone else can come in and take on that role. We're trying to change combat and make it more dynamic than what you may have seen in other games.
JP: Let's say we actually all do have different professions, and I happen to be playing a guardian and I'm using my defensive abilities. In a way, this situation dictates that if other party members want to stay alive, they need to stay near me. But when I go down, the warrior might have to take over, or the elementalist, or whoever. And what ends up happening with is that that other profession might provide a very different kind of support, and that changes how other party members will have to carry themselves in battle. This is where the combat becomes more dynamic.
GS: Even though Guild Wars 2 is dropping the first game's secondary profession system, we can see that the guardian has a ton of different skills and assume that the other classes will also have a good variety of different abilities.
JP: Well, we have done some compartmentalization [of character development] with our weapon system, but we do still have a lot of that whole "Let's work on a character build" approach in Guild Wars 2. It's true, we don't have the secondary profession system anymore, but you can still have millions and millions of different combinations of different characters. More importantly, we've made it really hard for you to have a bad build. In the first game, for instance, you could create a warrior with eight shout abilities on your hotkey bar and not actually have the ability to kill anything. So you'd just die in a really bad way. But there are still tons of combinations you can make, a la Magic: The Gathering, especially considering all the different weapon types and healing skills and utility skills you use. Admittedly, yes, there are fewer combinations this time around since there's no secondary profession anymore or the breadth of skills we had in the first game, but there are two levels of depth in Guild Wars 2. First, what kind of characters are in your party; then, there's what type of character you yourself are. A guardian wielding a staff is vastly different from a guardian wielding a hammer. The idea was to really change up the way professions play based on the weapons they're holding. The way that elite skills in the first game--the way they changed up their entire characters--is the way weapons will change things for characters in Guild Wars 2. A sword-wielding warrior is a totally different character from an axe-wielding warrior, to say nothing of which skills you've decided to equip. They're going to be fundamentally different characters. A staff-wielding guardian is going to be more of a support character who hangs out in the back, while a hammer-wielding guardian is going to be in the front, dealing damage.
JP: I'll say that taking out secondary professions made everything a little more sane. In the first game, if you have a profession like the assassin that can teleport and a profession like the mesmer that can manage its energy levels, all of a sudden, everyone can do those things since you can just pick one as a secondary profession. So, by taking that away, we're able to focus on these single professions and ask ourselves what the playing style for this character is really going to be. What's going to differentiate this playing style so we can still give this character options in battle without taking away from its ability to feel like a unique profession? We know people like to feel like they're doing something unique when they choose their profession--it's a big choice to make. We don't want to take away that choice. We just want to make it a different choice. How do I want to play, rather than what do I want to play.
GS: Tell us about how you're designing the game's adventure areas and battles so that players using totally different parties with totally different classes (and possibly different specializations?) experience encounters, quests, and exploration that are equally rewarding.
JP: In the first game, something I felt was a limitation in certain ways was that enemy creatures all used player skills. That's not the case anymore at all. In fact, every creature in Guild Wars 2 has been redesigned from the ground up to answer the question: What does this creature really do? How can we make this creature interesting on its own? Again, going back to ettins--they have this big, overhead smashing attack that knocks down everyone in the area. Other monsters will have their own unique abilities, so as a player, you're tasked with figuring out which tools you have to deal with this next enemy's specific powers. That's how the encounters are set up…to be different and interesting challenges on their own. We give you the tools. You don't have to go back to town or anything. As long as you're not currently in combat, you can open up your inventory and try some other utility skill or some other healing skill. While you're out in the world, you have the opportunity to change what you're using. So really, are areas being built for specific professions? No. We're really just trying to build different, interesting challenges, and every profession will have different ways of dealing with them.
IC: And because of the way our content is set up, you might find some crazy challenge when you're out playing the game, and this will totally change the way you play. You might be out beating on some ettins, and the next thing you know, some event starts up and you have to deal with a completely unexpected new threat. So, we're really trying to push players to the limits of what they might be used to and encourage players to explore all the aspects of their characters.
GS: Could you give us a general update on the game's development? What part (or parts) of the game is the team focusing on now?
JP: We're working on professions, and everyone else is working on finishing the game. That's basically all we can say. We're working on everything and trying to make it all as good as it can be.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Guild Wars 2?
IC: I'd say that the guardian is one of the professions we've really tried to focus on as a support profession. I know a lot of people are concerned that we've made a character that's going to be required for a successful adventuring party, but from the ground up, we've been making sure that isn't the case. You don't need to have this character in every group, but it's still an amazing, fun character. And there are plenty of people here at the office who love playing it.
JP: Yeah. You look at this character with heavy armor and glowing blue light around him, and you might think that Arena Net just completely went back on what it said about no specific healer roles, no specific tank roles, and so on. But it's just not true. The combat system is where that assumption breaks down since the way the guardian plays is really going to come down to player preference. This character, like all of Guild Wars 2's other characters, can do a little bit of everything. He may appeal to a certain type of player, but ultimately, the game is all about finding the players you want to play with--not the professions you want to play with.