Norrath to Tyria: Skills – It’s Not the Size That Counts, It’s How You Use it! (Part 2)

In the last post I covered the layout of the skill bar.  While this is a major part of the skill system, it is yet only a part of it.  Both systems are also distinguished by how you learn skills and how you use them, and even here they are significantly different.

EverQuest 2 has a skill system that is very much about multiple upgrade paths for skills, either upgrading the individual skill via upgrades or replacing it with a more powerful version as you level.  Guild Wars 2 skills, on the other hand, have only one version of each skill that automatically scales based on your level and build, relying on the versatility of the skills and builds to provide complexity.  That’s a significant difference, both in skill design and in-game feel as you use them.

There’s a good amount to cover here so let’s jump right in.

Upgraders Anonymous

In EQ2, most skills have are automatically learned at the Apprentice tier as you level.  The player can then upgrade those skills up to four times: Journeyman (crafted), Adept (drops), Expert (crafted with rare component), and Master (rare drops).  Certain skills have a Grandmaster level as well, which are chosen every 10 levels from a set of four recently gained skills.  Players can also research their skills to improve them from the crafted levels to the dropped version directly above it.  These upgrades do increase the power of the skills, but they’re small increments instead of massive boosts.

Note the relatively minor number changes.

Every 10-15 levels or so players receive full replacements to most skills, denoted by an incremented number after the name (i.e. Kick III becomes Kick IV).  This is a significant increase to their power, usually beating all but the highest tiers of the previous version.  These replacements can even add additional functionality to the skills.  These new versions are once again at the Apprentice tier, and can be improved again via the upgrades described above.  This provides for a significant amount of progression, as players have dozens of skills to upgrade and work on even at max level.

Guild Wars 2 focuses more on an unlocking skill system, and does not restrict skill access based on level.  Players work towards unlocking specific skills through leveling up and collecting skill points to “purchase” skills from those available.  The focus is instead on learning how to use them properly to reap the rewards of skillful play instead of a numbers game.  Skills are unlocked in two different ways, depending on whether they are weapon skills or “slot” skills (healing, utility, or elite, so named since you specifically choose to slot the skills rather than pick them by selecting a weapon).

Weapon Skills

Weapon skills are unlocked by equipping the desired weapon and using it in combat to defeat enemies.  You can actually see all of the skills available on your bar after you equip the weapon.  They just remain grayed out until they’re unlocked.  The first skill on the bar (hereafter referred to as S1) is always available.  As you kill mobs with the weapon, the skills slowly unlock left to right, with successive skills taking a little more kills to unlock each time.  For example, you must completely unlock Skill 3 to unlock Skill 4 regardless of the weapon or even if you’ve already started unlocking Skill 4 previously.   This must be done for each weapon (or for Elementalists, each weapon and attunement combination), but this process only has to be done once.

Left: Switching to a new mainhand doesn’t mean you lose unlocked offhand skills.
Right: You can see Skill 4 is slowly being unlocked now that the mainhand is done.

The purpose behind this is to get players used to the new skills as they unlock, similar to how EQ2 provides more/new skills as you level. When skill 4 unlocks, you begin incorporating that skill into your playing and getting used to it before skill 5 is unlocked.  After unlocking, the skills scale automatically based on the weapon, your stats, and your build.

Slot Skills

The remaining slot skills, i.e. your heal/utility/elite skills, are unlocked via skill points which are gained by leveling up and by completing “Skill Challenges” scattered across the world (the challenges will be your main source of points).  Instead of providing specific skills at predetermined levels, GW2 allows you to pick and choose which skills you want to unlock in whatever order you like as long as the slot is unlocked, you have the required amount of skill points, and you have satisfied the skill tier requirements.  All you have to do is open the skill window, select, and confirm the skill unlock for the desired skill, provided you have enough skill points.  This allows players to get the skills they want in a preferred order, rather than waiting until they reach a certain level.

FYI, there’s no link between the slot and which tier the skill is in…

Utility and Elite skills are split into tiers.  Players must learn skills from the lower tiers before they can learn skills from the higher tiers.  Skills on the lower tiers are generally less complex and are therefore cheaper than the higher tiers, which may take more player skill to fully utilize.  Eventually everything can be unlocked, giving the player full access to all skills.

Skill Challenges

Skill challenges are short events where the player must complete either a combat or some other challenge, with a reward of a skill point upon completion.  These challenges can range from a jumping puzzle to lore information to defeating specific enemies.  You do not need to complete all challenges in the game as there’s not enough skills to use up that many skill points.

ArenaNet tends to use skill challenges to teach the player various aspects of the game.  A skill challenge may utilize a certain combat situations, such as a mob that constantly uses abilities to flank you, or throws bombs that create fire fields for you to avoid.  The idea is for players to learn to play through the short challenges.

That’s pretty much it for learning skills (Alternate Advancement and the GW2 counterpart will be covered in a later post).  Now let’s go over the fun part: using them!

Skills can be used whenever you want…

In EQ2, skills are generally split into Spells and Combat Arts (Bard songs tend to fall under the latter).  Spells require the caster to stand still for the duration of the cast and can be interrupted by being attacked whereas Combat Arts allow movement and are usually very quick and much harder to interrupt.  EQ2 also requires players to have a target for attack abilities, and will not use most offensive abilities without one, giving an error instead.

No attacks for you!

GW2 skills are more similar to Combat Arts than Spells, at least for the vast majority of them.  Most skills can be used on the move and have a quick activation time (1-2 seconds).  A few skills do require you to stand still (such as skills that have a kneeling animation), and will usually stop the player from moving once the skill is activated.  Players can also use any skill they want, whenever they want, even if they have no enemies targeted.  You can launch arrow shots at enemies without targeting them first and the attack will still do damage, or swing your greatsword at open air yet still hit nearby enemies within the swing radius.  You’re not guaranteed to hit in this way, but you will hit any enemy in range without needing to target anything first.

No Power?  No Problem!

Spells and Combat Arts in EQ2 are constrained by two resources: Cooldowns and Power.  These are a combination of a short term resource (cooldowns) and a more longish-term resource (power).  Both of these govern how often players can use their skills and for how long, and usually introduce mechanics to the game for increasing the rate of power return and giving something players have to watch out for (power drain) or they’ll be unable to do anything.

GW2, on the other hand, only has one resource to deal with: Cooldowns.  When working with skills, players only have to be concerned with managing cooldowns instead of also watching an energy bar.  This frees up the player to determine the best opportunity to use their skills, as it removes any concern about running out of power and hitting a roadblock in what they can do when the energy is eventually drained.

There is a downside of this system in that new players can feel encouraged to spam abilities as players learn to replace one limiting resource (power/energy/mana/etc) with a less obvious requirement to hold back on using important skills until they’re needed.

In the end, proper timing of skills is something players will simply need to learn as they play, similar to how players would need to learn rotations in other games.  Players will need to retrain themselves to avoid using a skill just because it’s not on cooldown, because maxing your DPS isn’t going to work very well when you’re down because you didn’t stop the enemy’s next powerful attack.  At low levels, this won’t be as much of a problem, but this is the time to start getting used to this change while you are not being massively punished for it as you will at higher levels.

No autoattack…or is there?

This concept is one of those things that tend to be confusing as as people say two different things about it.  Let’s take a look at what is going on here.

In EQ2, an auto-attack is an automatically repeated basic attack used by entering combat and turning it on.  There’s only a toggled command that repeatedly uses this basic attack based on your weapon delay, and the attack itself is straight damage.  Any variation is entirely based on each individual weapon’s stats itself  and any on-attack buffs you may have on.

In GW2, however, there is no auto-attack as known by players of EQ2.

All attacks in Guild Wars 2 are associated with specific skills, so you must use a skill anytime you wish to perform an attack.  This is similar to other MMOs like City of Heroes.  GW2 makes this easy to deal with, though.  The first skill (hereafter referred to as S1) on each weapon takes the place of this basic attack as it has no cooldown and can be repeatedly used.  Since each weapon provides different skills this means S1 is different depending on which weapon type you are wielding.

This border isn’t just for decoration!

Since it would be cruel to force everyone to hit a button every time they want to use a basic attack, Guild Wars 2 has a function that is sometimes referred to as “auto-use”.  Players can select one skill on their skill bar to be automatically used whenever it is up.  This is represented as an encircling arrow border around the selected skill, as shown in the image above.

By default, S1 is selected, in effect giving the player an auto-attack anytime they’re in combat and in range.  Players can select a different skill, or turn off the auto-use itself, by holding CTRL and right-clicking the desired skill (or the already selected skill if they want it off).  Only one skill can be selected at a time, so choosing a skill other than S1 will mean manually using S1.

Conclusion

Whew!  While this has been long, hopefully this has been enlightening for you to understand what is needed to know going into Guild Wars 2 from the standpoint of an EverQuest 2 player.  The skill system, limited skill bar and all, is one of the most complex and deep systems in GW2, and is one of the major contributors to GW2 being a very “player-skill”-based game.  Which skills you pick determine a very large amount of your build and how your character plays, although there are further customizations available in the game that will be covered later.

Do not worry about picking the wrong skills though.  It is impossible to mess up your character, as everything can eventually be unlocked and freely swapped around within their limits.

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