While the original Guild Wars' unique combination of action role-playing and strategy was first introduced some years ago, developer ArenaNet has quietly been working on the sequel. Now, the studio has finally begun to take the wraps off Guild Wars 2. Lead designer Eric Flannum sits down with GameSpot to discuss the nitty-gritty details on the sequel's improved combat system, its changed profession system, and one of the game's returning professions, the elementalist.
GameSpot: We understand that Guild Wars 2's combat is being enhanced beyond the strategic skill choices of the original game. For instance, tactics such as careful positioning and combination attacks from different professions will play a stronger role. Can you elaborate?
Eric Flannum: When we say we want positioning to matter, what we really mean is that we want tactical awareness to matter. If, for example, you are using a skill that hits all targets in a straight line, you'll want to line your targets up for maximum effect. A spell that affects a cone-shaped area may need to be aimed in such a way that the middle of the cone is between two targets in order to hit them both. Some skills encourage positioning by providing bonuses if you attack an opponent from the side or rear, so flanking your opponents will matter. A character built to inflict damage at medium range needs skills that will keep opponents from closing the distance as well as those that let him close with long-ranged foes. We want to reward players who are able to maintain good tactical awareness of a situation and can maneuver to take advantage of it.
Combination attacks definitely play a role in this. For example, when an elementalist uses the static field ability, it will create a circle of electrical energy that will damage and stun anyone entering or exiting it. A warrior who uses his rifle to shoot through this circle will charge up his shots, dealing additional damage. If the warrior is to take advantage of the situation, he'll need to position himself to shoot through the static field.
GS: We also understand that weapon selection will greatly change the way different characters perform in the game--certain weapons will affect not only the speed, damage, and types of attacks characters can use, but also half of their 10-slot skill bar. How will choice of weapons affect gameplay?
EF: The first five skills on a player's bar are tied directly to what they're holding in their hands. If I am an elementalist and I equip a staff, my first five skills tend to be skills that are effective at long range. If I equip a scepter or focus [item], then my skills will change to shorter ranged skills. A different profession wielding a staff will have a completely different set of skills to play with. Most professions can equip two weapon sets and switch between them for greater versatility.
GS: And will your characters also gain situational abilities depending on their environments? What are some of the environmental skills and combat powers players will pick up in the right place at the right time?
EF: I've talked about how your weapon affects your first five skills. Well, that system extends to anything that you hold in your hands. For example, picking up a boulder will let you throw it, while grabbing the controls to a catapult will let you aim and fire the catapult.
There are a ton of cool environmental weapons already in the game, and we're adding more of them on a regular basis. We've got an enemy called the Jotun, who wield these massive swords in one hand. They will sometimes throw these huge swords at players, and if they miss, players can grab the sword out of the ground and use it themselves (of course, it's a two-handed sword to a player). One event requires you to protect some beehives from a ravenous bear; if you succeed, you might be able to acquire a jar full of angry bees that you can throw at a target. An elementalist can summon a fiery sword from the heavens that others in their party can use. Each profession is also capable of doing different things with some environmental weapons. An elementalist who picks up a boulder can not only throw it, but can also launch it into the air to have it come crashing down as a meteor.
GS: We're sad to hear that the secondary profession system from the original Guild Wars will not appear in the sequel--instead, players will choose only a single profession. Why go in this direction?
EF: We did have secondary professions in Guild Wars 2 for a time before we decided to remove them. We found that they complicated the game a bit too much and also restricted how unique we could make each profession. For example, elementalists can attune [themselves] to the different elements, which will change their skill bar. This gives them an added layer of complexity that wasn't meshing well with how we wanted the warrior to play. With the addition of racial skills, we found that we just weren't getting enough out of secondary professions to justify the complication and balance issues they add to the game.
GS: However, we understand that Guild Wars 2 will now have multiple playable races that will bring with them various racial abilities, which, along with your character's profession-specific skills, can be used to fill up the other half of your 10-slot skill bar. What races will be in the game and what abilities will they have?
EF: We have five playable races in Guild Wars 2. They are:
Humans: Most of the human abilities in the game call upon the power of their six gods. These abilities can ask for a small favor such as the "prayer to Dwayna," which heals the player. Some of the human abilities ask for major intervention from the gods, such as the one that summons the two fiery hounds of Balthazar to come to the player's aid.
Asura: The abilities of the asura have a lot to do with golems and magic. An asura player might use a simple "arcane blast" or create a deadly "radiation field." If they are really in a bind, they can summon a magical "golem battlesuit" that they can climb into and use to devastate their foes.
Charr: The charr use technology, explosives, and sheer ferocity in battle. Whether laying down a "shrapnel mine" or using a mighty "battle roar," the charr are a force to be reckoned with. Charr also use advanced tactics, such as calling upon warband support to overwhelm their foes with numbers.
Norn: The norn rely on individual feats of strength and their faith in the spirits of the wild. Their link to nature allows them to "call upon bear" to increase their health or "call upon raven" to attack their foes. When the situation calls for it, they can assume snow leopard form to wreak havoc on the field of battle.
Sylvari: The empathic nature of the sylvari allows them to call upon both other sylvari and all green and growing things. They can use the "blessing of the pale tree" to protect themselves or cause an enemy to "take root," immobilizing them. In times of great need, they can call upon the "strength of the dream" to heal themselves from critical damage.
GS: We're pleased to be able to help share the first details on the elementalist class, which uses the power of fire, air, water, and earth. Tell us about each of these four elemental powers and the roles they play.
EF: Elementalists can attune themselves to any of the four elements. While they are attuned, they can then wield that element, which will change their first five skills. They also gain a passive boon while they are attuned. Fire damages anyone who strikes elementalists, water heals nearby allies, earth shields elementalists from harm by increasing their armor, and air causes bolts of lightning to strike nearby enemies.
GS: The elementalist possesses various classes of spells. Tell us about how the glyph spells work, for instance. How can they be used in interesting combinations with other players?
EF: Glyphs are skills that modify elementalists' other skills. For example, "glyph of elemental storage" lets elementalists store a skill for later use. "Glyph of elemental power" gives elementalists the "might boon," which makes all skills do more damage. Elementalists might use the "glyph of elemental storage" to store a skill called "static field." This skill creates an area that will stun anyone entering or exiting it. Elementalists can then use the skill on demand, regardless of what attunement they're using, and use the skill to stun an opponent that is chasing down one of their allies.
GS: Tell us about the profession's signets--how will they differ from glyphs?
EF: Signets are skills that have a passive, ongoing effect whenever they are equipped. The skill then can be used for different active effects, but the player will be without the signet's passive benefit while the skill recharges. "Signet of fire," for example, provides players with an increased chance to inflict critical hits passively. When activated, it will burn elementalists' targets.
GS: What kinds of effects do the profession's conjuring spells have?
EF: Conjures create an environmental weapon that can be picked up and used by either the elementalist or his allies. For instance, "conjure frost" creates a bow of frost that can be used to shoot an icy arrow that freezes the target.
GS: Can you give us some examples of the elementalist's area spells?
EF: The elementalist specializes in area-of-effect spells, so there are many to choose from. One of my favorites is "dragon's breath," which pretty much turns your scepter into a flamethrower. Spewing out a giant cone of flame is never boring. Another would be "frozen ground," which creates an area of icy ground that freezes anyone passing through it; the tactical possibilities of that one are great.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about Guild Wars 2's combat, the elementalist profession, or the game itself?
EF: In the coming weeks we'll be revealing a lot more about Guild Wars 2, and I think people will be pleasantly surprised by some of the new and interesting directions we're taking [online] gaming. I also wanted to thank all of the people who have been there to support ArenaNet and the Guild Wars franchise. Seeing people react positively to all our hard work is really one of the great pleasures of creating a game.
GS: Thanks, Eric.