Flameseeker Chronicles Environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2
Environmental weapons were one of the early aspects of Guild Wars 2 that ArenaNet could talk up and players could get excited about. They were kind of the poster child for the interactive world that ArenaNet has been building, so we as fans heard about picking up rocks, boulders, and buckets of water many times.

However, rocks, boulders, and buckets of water won't nearly do for defining the scope of environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2. The team went kind of nutso in creating items, forms, and stationary weaponry to change how users interact with the world. Sometimes that interaction falls well short of the mark, but when it works, it's particularly beautiful.

Now, I'm defining environmental weapons pretty loosely for the purposes of this discussion. I'm counting anything that changes your skills to anything other than those that your profession's weapons and utilities provide. That means everything from sacks of cow feed to the pig form you take for truffle hunting in Kessex Hills to the trebuchets in the Battle of Kyhlo sPvP map. This excludes the Engineer's kits and skills like the Charr's charrzooka.

Flameseeker Chronicles Environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2
Starting small

Each race's starting zone is littered with hearts and events that can be completed as you interact with objects. That gets newbie players used to the idea of picking things up and getting new skills. The cattle prod event that's right outside the gates to the Black Citadel is a pretty good example of an engaging way to teach people whassup. Other activities are a lot more passive about it; for example, you can pick up the metal bars that are littered around the armory in Plains of Ashford, but I honestly don't think I've ever used one of the two available skills. The point is that you see that skills change.

Weapons

I've very rarely found environmental weapons in the open world to be tremendously useful. The more common place ones, like boulders, I very rarely pick up (and when I do, it's on my Elementalist so I can target a critter standing right next to a friend and send a meteor hurling down on his head). Some places have weapons that are a little cooler. While defending Steeleye Span in the Brand, I was able to use a flamethrower that was lying on the ground, and that was kind of cool. It's not that the skills were exceptionally great, but it was something different from what I was running around with, and since the event was fairly straightforward, I felt as if I could goof around with different skills.

I tend to really enjoy being given specific weapons for non-combat heart tasks. Some weapons, however, make combat a real pain. The Brisban Wildlands zone has a task to help Aetherbolt researchers, one way of doing which is to change the pigmentation of red-skinned Hylek. The pigment transmogrifier has one skill to change pigmentation and one skill to do damage. Since the Hylek are aggressive, the heart can go very slowly if you take the time to fight them off with the transmogrifier equipped -- so slowly that the last time I passed through there, my buddy and I took turns using the transmogrifier because it was actually quicker to kill twice as many while one of us had a full set of skills.

In specific instances, rather common environmental weapons can be super useful. If you haven't got knockdowns or pushbacks, for example, boulders are dead useful in the Ascalonian Catacombs dungeon. Warmaster Kaylar, a ghost from the very early Charr storyline, used to be much more manageable when players made use of skulls around the encounter area to Fear him into submission.

Flameseeker Chronicles Environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2Forms

Several activities and a couple of quests throughout the game involve full body transformations to go with skill replacement. These are almost always at a disadvantage in that the forms are rarely as responsive as players are used to -- most forms don't have a jump, and dodges (if the form has a dodge) and turning animations tend to be less fluid. That has the potential to put players off even before the question of skills comes up.

Flameseeker Chronicles Environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2
In his look at the game, the clever and handsome Matt Daniel made the point that "when a player is put into a situation where he's forced to give up his normal abilities temporarily, the replacements should be cooler and more powerful so that he feels as if he's gaining power rather than losing it." He then goes on to talk about one of my least favorite renown hearts, which involves taking on the form of a "keeper of nature" to help Arias with his garden. The problem is that the keeper of nature form feels slow, bulky, and super weak. While it's great for busting up thorns and communing with trees and looking fairly cool (while standing still), the form is rubbish when it comes to anything else. Matt also criticizes the sylvan hound form that players can take on, but I don't really see any viable way of filling that heart except by playing with puppies 100% of the time (same thing for the Snow Leopard Spirit heart in Wayfarer Foothills), so I think he's just doing it wrong.

One form that I thought was super well done was the form that players undergo during the Ghost Rite, a Durmand Priory quest. I was too surrounded by NPCs and poison clouds to really take in what my form was all about, but I felt like an undying deathbringer (which was kind of the point). My health pool was such that I could basically outlive anything on the map, my skills were effective, and it was super fun. If every transformation was that effective, I would be an extraordinarily happy lady and spend a lot more of my time seeking them out.

Flameseeker Chronicles Environmental weapons in Guild Wars 2Interactive objects

Stationary weaponry that players can interact with has the benefit of giving players the ability to do things they ordinarily wouldn't be able to conceive of. Firing a huge ball of flaming debris at a ship way out in the water is something my Warrior cannot ordinarily do. That has an advantage over forms and mobile weapons that grant more mundane skills. There's a tradeoff to staying rooted in one place and having only aiming and firing skills, but it's typically easier to see it as being worth your while.

Interactive objects make for pretty awesome tower defense in WvW (curse you, arrowcarts!). The trebuchet in the Battle of Kyhlo is important not only for points but for pretty rockin' air support if it's done right. Big kid events in mid- and late-game have a pretty high tendency of involving seige weapondry and standing guns, and they tend to make sense. My Elementalist is awesome, but I don't necessarily expect her to be able to stun Tequatl all on her own.
Environmental weapons: Good clean fun or more hassle than they're worth?
100% Awesome!98 (12.0%)
Pretty great, when done right.468 (57.5%)
I have no strong feelings about environmental weapons.93 (11.4%)
Not really a fan.131 (16.1%)
I have feelings which cannot be represented by the above choices.24 (2.9%)
And other stuff

Halloween shenanigans are just around the corner! ArenaNet's got a diorama contest coming down the pipe, and that announcement came with the promise of in-game madness. Colin Johanson recently talked about the different development and support teams that ArenaNet employees have been organized into, one of which is the Holidays and Events team. I'm hoping, of course, that the team has an impressive first holiday planned.

Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at elisabeth@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.