Professions have layers. The farther you progress with a given character, the more layers get added and the more you can do to specialize and fine-tune your style of play.
The most basic element is, of course, choosing a profession. This defines a style of play more than anything. Are you a magic-user or not so much into that? Do you want to be pet-sitting, or are you more of a lone wolf? Not all professions are created equal; they cover a wide range of complexity. Guild Wars 2 designer Jon Peters explained that this difference between professions allows players to choose a level of complexity that suits them:
Elementalists, for example, are relatively easy to master -- or rather, they're easy to learn -- but there is a lot of depth to them as well.
We said the Engineer is very complex because his complexity limit is very high, but you could run an Engineer with simpler utility skills and fewer kits which would make it a relatively straightforward class. There would still be a lot of decision making, but it is true that some classes are intended to be a little more straightforward.
The Warrior is intended to be a profession that you can look at and understand, whereas with the Guardian you're actively managing when you can be in and out of battle in a much more complex way, because you actually have to make decisions to keep yourself safe. The Warrior's decisions are more damage and control and less support, so he is making fewer survivability decisions. That's one of the key elements to what makes a profession easy to play; how survivable it is.
A player that doesn't know what they are doing - who is only hitting random skills - as long as that profession can keep them alive long enough to kill the creature they are fighting, that is naturally an easier profession. For example, the Thief can't really use random skills as much as the Warrior, but in some respects has more survivability than the warrior once you know what you're doing.
Not every profession can wield every weapon, which is already another point of distinction. Moreover, the weapons you choose to wield will make a huge difference in how you play your profession. Since the first five skills on your skillbar are decided by what weapons you have equipped, weapons have much greater significance than a few stats and an aesthetic effect (unlike, say, in Guild Wars 2's predecessor). A Guardian with a two-handed hammer equipped is a very different beast compared to a Guardian with a mace and shield.
Most professions (everyone but the Elementalist and Engineer) can swap between two weapon sets in combat, allowing them to adjust to situations by pulling out different weapons. The Elementalist and Engineer have their own ways of being adaptable, which brings us to...
Each profession has a unique mechanic (occasionally referred to as the F1 mechanic, as the keys F1-F4 are used to trigger the abilities) that helps further define its abilities. These mechanics are gradually introduced over the first handful of levels bit by bit so that players can adjust to them and incorporate them into their gameplay.
For the Elementalist, this means access to four elements and five new skills per weapon. For the Thief, it means a shadowstep and the ability to acquire one-off weapons to use against enemies. For Mesmers, it means more ways to utilize clones. Each profession benefits from its mechanic differently, and each mechanic emphasizes ArenaNet's core idea for the profession.
After the weapon skills and F1 mechanics come utility skills. While a handful of these are based on what race you play, the majority of them are profession-based and help to augment your playstyle. A Necromancer, for example, could choose to run a minion master type of build by filling her utility skills full of abilities to summon creatures and undead servants. She could just as easily, however, use a well skill, a signet with AoE life steal, and a skill to build life force (part of the Necromancer's F1) and come out with perhaps less pet-damage but much higher survivability and flexibility. Utility skills come with a lot of flavors, so they can help reinforce whatever style of play you prefer.
At level 11, after you're well on your way with unlocking weapon skills, and after you've made yourself at home in your profession mechanic and started filling in utility skills, you'll get your very first trait point. Each profession has five trait lines, and each trait line affects two stats. For example, the Ranger's Marksmanship trait line will increase a character's Power and Expertise for every trait point channeled into that line. At 5, 15, and 25 points, a minor trait is unlocked, which grants a small benefit to players. At 10, 20, and 30 points, players choose a major trait benefit, which can be anything from a shortened cooldown on a specific weapon's skills to additional benefits on a critical strike to special modifications to the Downed state. So if you know that you're in love with the daggers on your Elementalist, you have ways to augment that playstyle. If you're a big fan of making the most of your illusions as a Mesmer, you can play up that strength a little bit.
With all of those other decisions, gear also helps to define your character. Most gear comes with inherent bonuses (+5 Vitality, +9 Condition damage), and many pieces can be upgraded with special add-ons. These come in the form of stand-alone upgrades or set-based runes, which grant additional bonuses for depending on how many of a set you have equipped. These are purely stat-based increases, as opposed to abilities. They reinforce playstyles rather than form them.
And there you have it! There's a lot that goes into making your character the most you can be, and there are many choices along the way. Most of the systems set in place are unchallenging and easy to grasp, so it never feels like woah, I'm making a whole passel of decisions on the path to shaping my character, but you can ultimately end up with very distinct strengths and benefits. A nice thing about the way that all these layers are introduced is that the most important elements are introduced first -- all the systems that come later just help refine a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more.
And other stuff
Happy beta weekend event number two, everybody! Here's hoping that you enjoyed your time (if you had it) in the world of Tyria over the weekend. I had a marvelous time in Gendarran Fields and in and about other places. It almost -- almost -- felt like this wasn't so super unusual; I feel that I will adjust very well to having the game on-hand whenever I want it, once we get around to that launch thing.
I'm hoping that more people got into the Catacombs this weekend. What did you think?
I've noticed two specific concerns cropping up again and again, and they can both be answered by the same thing. These concerns are "Is [date] the real release date?" and "Why is my key being rejected?" -- and the answer to both is "If you didn't get it from ArenaNet, don't trust it." In the case of the second question, "ArenaNet" can be expansively interpreted to mean "places that ArenaNet listed as an approved retailer." Be wary on both fronts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.