Flameseeker Chronicles: Will combat in Guild Wars 2 be an improvement?

Last week was pretty huge for the Guild Wars community. ArenaNet released a flurry of new information: the first profession was confirmed as the Elementalist, followed by the unveiling of details on combat and profession mechanics.

Two items in particular raised quite a bit of discussion in the community: the lack of secondary professions in Guild Wars 2, and the design of the skill bar. As Guild Wars fans, we've grown accustomed to the extreme freedom that we currently have. Want to play E/Rt and run a full Rit bar? Great, no problem! It looks like we're not going to be able to do that in Guild Wars 2, for several reasons, and the immediate reaction was that of concern.

However, it's a trade-off. Will we gain in the end? That remains to be seen, as we can only speculate with the limited knowledge we have at the moment, but follow along after the jump to see what the possibilities are.
There has been some confusion about the way your skill bar will work in Guild Wars 2, so let's clear that up first. It's a very simple system that just needs a clear explanation to be understood. In short, you will have five slots that are completely predetermined according to the weapon you are wielding. The other five are up to you with a few restrictions: one slot for an elite, one for a self heal, and the last three can be whatever your heart desires. Guild Wars 2 Lead Designer Eric Flannum explained it perfectly in a forum post, but if you're more of a visual learner, Shaun at iloveGuildWars created a diagram that mapped it all out clearly.

So now that we all understand exactly what's happening here, what do you think? In one respect, it's a pretty limited setup. You're wielding a sword and shield? Okay, here are the five skills you get with that setup, the end. You have to use another slot for an elite and yet another for a self heal or a rez. That leaves only three that we can choose completely freely. We only get to choose 30% of our bar? That went over like a lead balloon at first, but upon taking a second look, it's not so bad.

Let's take a look at those first five skills, the ones determined by what you are wielding. There were a few concerns here, chiefly that the individuality was taken away. Will the Tyria of the future be filled with so many identical builds that heavily populated zones look like some sort of violent sync dance? Probably not, because there are so many other factors. Sure, you get a predetermined skill set depending on what weapon you are wielding, but that skill set will change depending on your race and class. Every character wielding a rifle in the game won't carry the same five rifle skills, for example.

This setup brings a lot more diversity on the battlefield as well. As the game stands now, you choose your attributes, build, and weapon before you leave town, and then that's it. You're stuck with what you have until you go back to town and change your build. With the setup planned for Guild Wars 2, you are able to use any weapon available to your race and profession, switching back and forth instantly as the situation around you changes. Each switch gives you a fully powered set of skills that are appropriate to the current weapon. The system that seems restrictive at first glance is actually much more open, allowing you to act and react according to your environment in a way that you couldn't before.

What about the last five skills, though? Two of those are predetermined too, but not very restrictive at all. One is reserved for your elite, and as elites stand now it's a debatable decision. There are viable builds that don't use an elite, and players are reluctant to give up the option of not carrying an elite. The slot reserved for a self heal or rez is looked at in the same way by many players who are unsure how they feel about it. The only thing we know for sure about these two slots at this point is that we'll have a "pool" of skills to choose from for each of these slots, allowing us to tailor them to the rest of our bar.
The last three skill slots are the wild cards, so to speak, open to whatever we want to add within the limits of our individual races and classes. This leads us into the next factor here, which is where it really gets interesting: the way our skills work within the context of a group. There have been pages and pages of forum discussion regarding the concept of synergy between teammates in Guild Wars 2. It can be done now to a point: a Curses Necro casting barbs on a foe as the Assassin attacks, for example. By all appearances so far, it's going to be much more prevalent in Guild Wars 2, to the point where your teammates can almost be considered your secondary profession.

When you combine this new ability with the preset skills that change with each weapon, profession and race as well as switch those skills on the fly and you've got the recipe for something pretty exciting. Is it a trade-off? Sure. We're giving up a completely open set of eight skills that allow us to use any profession in the game -- albeit only one at full strength. But when you think about what we're getting in return -- a set of ten skills that are more dynamic and changeable than anything we've seen up until this point, as well as the ability to interact with our teammates and our environment to an extreme degree -- it seems like we're definitely coming out on the winning end here.

Keep an eye on Massively this week -- now that the information floodgates have opened I'll be watching closely for all the latest Guild Wars 2 news and passing it on to you guys right away.

This article was originally published on Massively.