Today we're pleased to bring you the first part of our exclusive Guild Wars 2 interview series on the state of the game as ArenaNet prepares for launch, and for the upcoming beta weekend later this month. This week we have a great two part interview with Jon Peters on the trait system and profession balancing.
GW2Hub: The original reaction to the tiered trait system wasn’t particularly positive. Having had an opportunity to comb through GW2 forum feedback since the second beta event, how has the reaction changed? Do you think people now realize what your intentions behind it were?
Jon Peters: Not every change is going to make everyone happy, and every change comes with benefits and drawbacks. We believe this change drastically improves a number of aspects of the game with a fairly limited set of drawbacks. Anytime we can make that kind of change we tend to do so. I think that having experienced it, players are at least now able to form their own opinions on the subject, rather than theory crafting how it might impact them. Remember as well that this game is not finished yet and changes are still coming to specific traits and trait lines that will continue to improve this system.
GW2Hub: Why do you think there is resistance to your changes to traits and the tiering of them?
Jon: Anytime you change something that you have already shown, there will be people who liked what they had and resist that change. This is just a universal truth. There is also currently a misconception that Guild Wars 2 lacks character customization compared to the original Guild Wars. This is expected as we intentionally reduced the number of options for each choice in order to make each system easier to understand; however, we countered this by creating more choices and more interaction between those choices.
This creates more depth, but less complexity. As players dig deeper, they will find a system with more choice—one that still takes time to master, but one that will actually help more people reach that level of mastery. Of course it may frustrate people who are coming from a game they already have mastered, namely the original Guild Wars, but this is a new game after all.
GW2Hub: There were originally all manner of suggestions that traits would bring about a “soft trinity” with several proposed builds suggesting primarily healer elementalists or healer guardians. Though sound in theory, and whilst more support builds are possible, I found that the games mechanics and playstyle still override any such builds (you can’t just sit and heal others, for example). What are your opinions on these builds and their wider impact on Guild Wars 2? Do you think people, now that they’ve got their hands on it, haven’t necessarily gravitated toward such heavily focused builds?
Jon: I don’t think this system is ever going to allow a full-on “soft trinity” because we made a number of decisions that directly counter it—from the small set of boons and conditions to everyone having a self heal. That being said, the point of the builds is to help define areas where your character can feel they have a sense of specialization, which I do believe is accomplished within the limits of the system.
There is a massive difference between the Bull’s Charge, Frenzy, Hundred Blades warrior we saw a lot of people using this last beta weekend and a Tactics warrior with healing shouts; however, we still build a system where the purity of purpose in professions lies more in their playstyle than in their roles.
GW2Hub: Some of the builds I’ve experimented with felt very niche and at times a little like a trash build from the original Guild Wars. One particular ranger build saw me deal massive damage, but die in one hit from a thief, as I’d focused entirely into power and precision. Is it intended that every build has a place? Is this all just subjective?
Jon: We are still working out what the upper and lower limits for builds need to be. By the next beta weekend, you will see a lot of balance changes to all of the professions as we work toward establishing those limits. There are still going to be builds that fall into the glass-cannon category, support category, etc. We just need to determine where to draw the line.
GW2Hub: Moving to professions directly, one of my biggest concerns with Guild Wars 2 at the moment is the AI, notably ranger pet AI, the responsiveness of engineer turrets, and necromancer minions. Are you able to shed a little light on how you’re approaching AI? Is it still even a priority? My biggest concern is that if it isn’t just right, at least one class out of the eight could be crippled…
Jon: We have handled a few bugs on the AI side, but we haven’t really tackled it full on yet. This is really a matter of resource management. The programmers who handle this stuff also work on other critical systems, such as performance. The short answer is that pets need to be 100% responsive in combat, always attacking when they can and obeying any commands you give them. That has to happen in order for us to release the game.
GW2Hub: Where are you in terms of professions overall? Are you happy with where they currently are? Can we expect any major changes for the third beta weekend?
Jon: I am currently working hard to make improvements to each and every profession, particularly fixing skills that were either not useful or too weak. Expect to see significant changes for almost every profession for the next BWE.
GW2Hub: I was enjoying the engineer over the last few phases as it’s so fun to play, but have developed a list of concerns or issues, especially around kits, the tool belt, and trait line synergy. I think out of all the professions in the game it needs some tweaks at the moment. Can we expect any changes or significant improvements over the next few patches? I noticed their traits have had a tidy up…
Jon: The engineer is the first profession we have addressed since the last BWE. Changes have been made to many skills and to the trait lines as well. The previous list of traits contained many holdovers from the old trait system that did not fit into the new tier paradigm.
GW2Hub: There were several moments with the engineer where the random component of Elixirs gave me what I didn’t want (and caused my death), which happened much more than I would have liked. Elixir B and S having guaranteed effects are wonderful skills. Is it too late to replicate this and remove all random elements from Elixirs? In its current form, I worry for the competitiveness of the profession…
Jon: I guess people read somewhere on the Internet that random effects cannot be in competitive games. Like everything on the Internet, that is at most a half truth. The truth is that random effects are what create moments of opportunity for players to react to. There is a threshold of randomness that is not acceptable, but if you are given outcomes that have clear, non-game breaking implications, those are the moments that expert players should be using to press advantages. Without randomness, all you have is masked complexity, which is hard for new players to understand, and creates false choices.
GW2Hub: Still with the engineer, what is your overall opinion on their kits? Are you happy with them? With the exception of Bomb Kit (that many feel happy with), I found the Tool Kit, Mine Kit, Flamethrower, and Elixir Gun all feel a little lacklustre in various areas. Are you hoping to address any concerns raised?
Jon: Every single one of the kits has been updated and improved in the last few days. We will gather feedback on those improvements in the next BWE and continue to work from there. I’ll give you an example, because I am feeling generous. :-)
Mine Kit is no longer a kit. It is a single mine that works as the elements of the kit did, but now, when you detonate that mine, it knocks enemies back and removes boons. This means that you can throw it at your feet and then blast people away from you, or you can throw it past a fleeing enemy and detonate it to blast them back toward you. The tool belt has been replaced with a “drop mine field around my location” skill, which toggles to “detonate mine field.”
We'd like to thank Jon for his insightful answers, as well as our friends over at ArenaNet and NCsoft for their help in lining up our exclusive interview series. Don't forget to check back tomorrow for the second half of our exclusive interview with Jon as the series continues!