For the vast majority of players stepping into Tyria, Guild Wars 2 isn’t their first MMO. Many will come from a background of playing other titles where things like static ability rotations are necessary evils. These MMOs often have what I call skill bloat, or the illusion of complexity created by crowding your user interface with dozens of seemingly unique abilities. I say the “illusion” of complexity because for most of the time spent in those games, only a fraction of your abilities are used a majority of the time. Many are completely situational, only coming into play once or twice over an entire gaming session. Others are specifically designed to be part of a rigid sequence, or rotation. They may have their own button and hotkey, but they aren’t really an independent ability in practice. Some skills become completely obsolete, and are replaced by new ones meant to take their place while essentially doing the same thing. To manage all of this clutter, players often resort to macros and addons.
In Guild Wars 2, ArenaNet has scaled all of this down into something far more manageable and far more meaningful. Several professions have chain abilities where a single ability slot performs three successive attacks, with each one hitting harder or being more powerful than the one before. You hit the button three times in a row, and each of the abilities fires off in sequence. There’s no need to have each of these split out into three different ability slots, when they’re clearly designed to be used in order.
By tying abilities to weapons, and limiting the number of utility skills you can have at the ready at any given time, ArenaNet offers us a chance at real customization while still providing us depth and complexity. In your travels you may encounter five different warriors who are playing five different ways, and each of them just as viable based on their style of play. By giving most professions the ability to hot swap between two weapon sets, and giving elementalists and engineers the ability to change between attunements and kits respectively, this depth and complexity increases exponentially, all while maintaining a streamlined user interface.
Because of the ways abilities are designed and executed, the concept of static ability rotations isn’t something that rears its ugly head in Tyria. Sure, you may have abilities that are best used in conjunction with others. A Guardian using Whirling Wrath to spin and hit enemies around him will obviously benefit by using Binding Blade to first pull those enemies close. A Warrior leveling his rifle to fire off a Kill Shot will do considerably more damage to his target if he first shoots them with Brutal Shot and lowers their defenses. However, there is a world of difference between those examples and memorizing 1,2,1,2,1,2,3,1 the way many players do in other MMOs. That’s not skill. That’s a post-it note on the side of your monitor, or a macro programmed into your keyboard.
In Guild Wars 2, the focus is on adaptive gameplay, not rotational play. During the early levels in PvE, where enemies don’t use their full arsenal of crowd control and conditions against you, you may get away with spamming buttons or hitting abilities on cooldown. At higher levels, however, this kind of play will only get you a one-way ticket to death and the nearest waypoint. Just as in PvP, you’ll need to look at your list of weapon abilities and utility skills carefully and use them at the right time. Knowing when to cripple your enemy and close with him, when to dodge, when to create space or blind him all become extremely important to your success. The leveling experience gets increasingly complex, not because you’re confronted with a never-ending string of new abilities to master, but because you need to use the abilities you have more intelligently.
Paying attention to your enemy is of vital importance as well, and in Guild Wars 2, you must do so actively. There are no cast bars, no addons to flash or tell you when an opponent is about to fire off an ability. There’s nothing that’s going to play the game for you. Instead you must pay close attention to your opponent’s animations and the audio cues within the game itself. You must learn from experience, read and adapt. This goes for players in PvP and for enemy NPCs in dungeons and higher level zones.
You need to think. You need to react. You need to have a plan. When you factor in other players and professions and the potential for cross-class combinations, this only gets more important.
That’s called skill, and that’s what Guild Wars 2 is all about.
This video from Anonymous Defender provides perfect examples of what I’m talking about!