Immediately following the Future of Online Gaming panel at PAX East 2012, Jon Peters was awesome enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss some of the things he’s been working on since the last closed beta test (CBT3). Specifically, we talked about build concepts and some of the refinement being done to skills and traits. Given my obvious affinity for the necromancer profession, Jon also went over some of the changes made to the necro’s weapon and utility skills that were completed as recently as last week.
The following interview is packed with some great info for both hardcore build theorycrafters, as well as those of you who have only recently begun following the development of Guild Wars 2. It’s also a great primer for those of you eager to jump into the first beta weekend event following the pre-purchase for GW2 this Tuesday.
Sardu: Between the press closed beta (CBT2) and the more recent closed beta event (CBT3) I noted there were a lot of changes to traits. The overall system mechanics remained largely the same, but could you talk a bit about some of the specific changes to the traits themselves?
Jon Peters: In the first of those events we had enough placeholder traits to show the process of how you would click on certain slots and there would be choices. That’s basically what those were for. So for the second one (CBT3) it was more like this is how many choices you’re going to have and most of these are real, so all of those were actually built in that three week span in between tests.
And really that’s how a lot of this works. We know we like the idea of the trait system, but we don’t know what a good trait is until we have a bunch in. And then we start to realize that ones that do “this” have good play. For example, everyone has a trait that when you dodge roll you do X, because we found them to be really fun.
Another one would be when you take falling damage. There’s a warrior trait that when you take falling damage you do this stomp and send everyone flying, and that one was the first idea on those. We were like, this is awesome, so we kind of kept that up. And we’ve been playing with the ones that people were having fun with, and felt that’s really crucial.
So now we’ve kind of established that baseline. There’s still going to be a significant number of trait changes, but the new traits will start to be a lot more balanced. The traits we have in now are one of the most imbalanced parts of the game if you’ve paid much attention to them.
Sardu: Oh yeah, between the two events traits have been one of the most discussed aspects of the game with a lot of fans analyzing how they’ve changed, what they do, and whether they feel they fit with specific build concepts.
Jon: As soon as we got skills to a place where we were pretty happy and knew the areas where some were too strong or too weak, it gave us a good baseline. Then in two or three weeks we put all of the trait stuff in and it messed up all the skill stuff because now there are all of these extra interactions. So that got a little bit of the cleanup in this time, but even then traits are going to be all over the place as far as which ones are strong and weak until the next beta weekend or so.
Sardu: Has it been more of a challenge trying to keep the traits balanced and meaningful for both PvE and PvP without having to totally rework the system for one vs. the other? I guess I’m just thinking more in terms of the thought process of constructing a build that might be optimal for something like a dungeon might be completely different than in Conquest, even though the same trait line might make sense for both based on raising specific attributes.
Jon: We actually thought that this stuff was going to be so hard, and we’ve been saying all along that at some point we’re going to need to do a split. You know, we’re going to split skills, we’re going to split traits, we’re going to split soon…
But slowly, as the creatures have been evolving and as PvP has been evolving the games have been coming together. So we’ve actually found now that it’s like, well, we still haven’t done the split, and I’m not sure if we even need to now. We’re going to have to in certain instances where something just isn’t going to work.
Sardu: The racial skills seem to be a good example of that.
Jon: Yeah, the racial stuff we aren’t going to allow in PvP because then it creates this thing where you have to be a norn warrior or whatever. But then there’s also stuff like, should this skill even exist in PvP because it’s too strong, or does it work for PvE?
So doing a split seemed like a good idea at the time, but the creatures have been starting to use more of the player skill interactions. They’ve been throwing boomerangs that you have to dodge out of, they’re using more boons and conditions, and all of the sudden all of those skills are starting to make a lot more sense because the creatures have also been undergoing lots of changes. We’ve been iterating on them constantly for two years, so the creatures have come to this place where they play a lot more like players do. So it’s created less necessity for that split which is nice.
Sardu: It seems like ultimately that will be a good thing since it’s keeping the game from growing too complex for more casual players to really understand what’s going on between game types, and I know a lot of people from GW1 who always wished there was a better solution than doing a lot of PvE/PvP splits for skills even though it was obviously necessary in some cases.
Jon: And you played in the last beta event, and in that one we found that the damage formulas for creatures was way off, so we remapped the entire curve between that last beta weekend and the next open one. I’m sure you noticed things in that last one where it was like, “I’m level 10 and I’m fighting three level 17s”, so there’s no more of that. We tightened everything in so you feel like there’s some challenge there.
Now it’s like that guy is three levels above me, let me see what skill counters I’m going to use to get through him because he’s also got his different things with skills that he’s doing. You actually feel like you’re making those choices that we set out to have you make in the first place. So people who played in both events will be able to tell a difference with that stuff I think.
Sardu: Between those two events I definitely noticed that my necro felt a bit too powerful in most of the PvE stuff I played. Heading into the second event, I would be playing with a similar build that I’d used in the first one and it seemed like the creatures stayed roughly the same strength, but the mechanics of my necro’s build had changed enough that content was getting a bit too easy on the surface. At the same time, the ranger builds I was using between events seemed to shift slightly in the opposite direction.
Jon: And that balance is really just starting now with getting traits in, but we try to establish a solid baseline for that kind of thing. For really hardcore balancing, people talk about PvP balance, but I think PvE balance would be harder and more important because there’s a lot more to consider, like the in-game economy. It’s not that the PvP balance isn’t important or hard; it’s both. But with PvP balance you have certain shifts and counters, so the metagame can counter certain balance elements, but you can’t really do that in PvE.
Reworking Necro Weapon and Utility Skills
Sardu: We were talking about this a bit earlier, but would you mind going over some of the things you’ve been working on this week with necro weapon skills and builds? Maybe to even preface this a little bit, one of the major things I noticed in the last event was that the necro’s weapon sets seemed to be mostly detached from fitting any specific combat role, and more of an odd combination of skills that ultimately amounted to deciding what range you felt comfortable fighting at.
I think the phrase you used earlier was something to the effect of the necro’s weapon sets felt like they lacked any real identity, which I would agree with based on CBT3. Would you mind going over some of that stuff again so that I can share the info with the community?
Jon: I think that in order to really understand what a weapon did, you had to look at every skill to figure out how things interact, because it wasn’t really obvious. Off-hand dagger I think had two very disparate skills from each other. So it was like, yeah I have these two good tools, and it was a good weapon, but you couldn’t really feel like there was a good reason why you were using that weapon.
What we did is we went through and looked at things like what are the playstyles we want them to have, which weapons does the necro have, and where are we going to put those different tools based on what makes the most sense.
The off-hand focus is much more support oriented, so it now has Spinal Shivers for the chill, and a skill that used to be on the scepter – the swarm skill that blinds – that one moved to the off-hand dagger, because the dagger is going a bit more defensive. The main-hand dagger is already about getting into melee range, so the dagger/dagger set ended up going much more defensive, so now you’ll have both the enfeeble and the blind.
Another example is the warhorn that had the cone daze. We were like, that skill is cool, so let’s focus that weapon on being controlling. The other skill that had been on it was the swarm which was more of a life force gaining thing, and it didn’t really tie in with control, so that swarm now gives you swiftness and cripples enemies. So now you can just stick on a guy with it, and you have your movement control and your skill control both on that same weapon.
We kind of purified each of the main-hand weapons like that too. The axe now has retaliation on it which is a really cool boon that does damage when you’re getting struck. So now axe is kind of like your all-in offensive weapon that gives vulnerability, then big hits, and then AoE where for every guy you hit you get retaliation so you get a big, long stack of it. So now that weapon has a really good interaction there.
The scepter went back almost full circle to where it was before. So it now has the Feast of Corruption skill that does more damage per condition which had moved to the axe, but the axe didn’t really have that many conditions so we ended up changing that back. So it felt like, if the scepter is going to be the condition weapon, it should have that skill on it.
Then we did another thing where we started categorizing the utilities into groups like these are minions, and these are signets. We’ve been doing that more because it lets us build traits for things like signet cooldown, or all your signets don’t lose their passive, and we can get some cool play out of those.
We had this one kind of mishmash category of necro skills, and we worked them into what we called Corruptions, but we didn’t really know what that meant. We kind of figured out now that what they’re going to do is – and I just changed this Wednesday, so only two days ago – the Corruptions each give you a condition when you use them.
So Corruption is skills like Blood is Power where you’re bleeding someone, getting a bunch of life force, and bleeding yourself too. Another one is Poison Cloud which gives you weakness. So you have all of these things where all of the sudden things like Consume Conditions, as a heal, should now heal for more because you brought all of these Corruptions. Or we have skills like Well of Power which converts them into boons. That lets you do things like a Well of Power plus two Corruptions will give you two debuffs but turn them into buffs and use interactions like that.
It gives a lot more back-and-forth between skills, and it feels a lot more like a necromancer thing, especially since he transfers conditions. Like it also feels fun to put them on yourself and think about how am I going to use this, or how am I going to turn this on myself so that I can transfer it.
Sardu: It’s interesting that you mention those types of interactions, because when you first showed the necro there was a lot more of that stuff going on, and then it shifted away to the point where it wasn’t really clear why you’d want to use some of the utilities in your build.
Jon: Yeah, it shifted away completely. It was like, it was cool but it really needed to be more focused so now we put it in a specific place. Now you can decide that you’re going to go with a Corruption build, improve those with your traits, and then figure out which transfer skills to bring with that. So it’s very much a necro build now.
I think the important thing within our system is trying to introduce a number of builds, so that there are a good number of builds for everything. So now there are a couple of different support necros, a couple of damage necros, and a couple of good defensive necros.
Sardu: That seems like it helps make it a bit more clear how or why you’d structure certain builds the way you do, but also opens up a lot of doors for people who maybe aren’t as intricately familiar with theorycrafting builds which is really a huge part of both your games. Kind of like, Poison Cloud is really cool for cross profession combos, but why else would you want to work it into a specific type of build beyond the joys of hitting someone with poison? But being able to say, OK, I’m using this in a corruption build seems like a definite step in the right direction, and more players will be able to grasp the concept of what a corruption build even is in the grand scheme of things.
Stay tuned for the second half of my interview with Jon Peters where we discuss build theorycrafting in both GW1 and GW2, the differences between the two systems, and the core building blocks of what constitutes a specific build in Guild Wars 2.
In the meantime, many thanks to our friends at NCsoft for setting things up, and to Jon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk about the game!