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Tiered Utility Skill Unlocks: For or Against?

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June 21, 2012 - 6:03pm -- Sardu
The Last Whiskey Bar

The gloves come off this week for the latest round of The Last Whiskey Bar. While both Xerin and Sardu agree that the tiered trait system is a perfectly viable switch, apparently the same doesn't necessarily apply to other aspects of the game.

Both participants come out swinging this round as they attempt to address: Tiered Utility Skill Unlocks: For or Against?

Xerin is firmly in the 'against' camp, while Sardu is all for this major change to how utility skills are unlocked for players. Read on to witness both sides of the argument in our latest and greatest virtual bar brawl to the death!

Progressive Skill Unlocks - Against

By Xerin

GW2 Utility Skill Tiers

Progressive skill unlocks; what is this offering me as a player? What is implementing this system really achieving? I’ve thought about this since its reveal and long after playing with the system. Being unable to access certain skills for my profession, until I’ve spent points in skills I don’t want, doesn’t sound great to me.  In practice, I’m not sure it’s much better.

What I find frustrating in this system is that it’s purposefully restricting my choice for no specific reason.  Are ArenaNet acknowledging that some skills are more powerful than others? Are they wanting me to unnecessarily spend my skill points so I complete more skill challenges? Are they doing it to hold my hand and gently expose me to the power of Elites in a laborious fashion?

I just don’t know the answer, as I cannot see that there is one.  What I find most frustrating is that I now cannot obtain the skills I use so readily in structured PvP until I’ve unlocked ‘X’ amount of skills at my current level. As a result, I’m forced to use Skill Points I would have normally saved and spent on more ‘expensive’ skills.

"What I find frustrating in this system is that it’s purposefully restricting my choice for no specific reason."

I must stress and digressing a little, I’m all for tiered Traits.  I whole heartedly agree with their implementation and both Sardu and I would agree it is a much better system than what we had previously.  But when you also begin to tier skills while still tying them to your level doesn’t this only serve to prolong the inevitable?

By level 80 everyone will have all skills, so why prolong the agony along the way? With access to skill slots already tied to level, surely this was enough.  The higher skill point cost on certain skills more than made up for this and was a wonderful system as it gave users flexibility.

If I wanted to obtain Elixir B, because it was cheap (1 Skill Point), I could.  If I wanted to obtain Elixir Gun after saving my points (6 Skill Points), I could.  Instead, I now have to wait even longer for weapons or skills that compliment my play style.

Perhaps there is an element of impatience here on my part, but I just feel that this is an unnecessary step backwards that provides an obstacle for the player, that doesn’t need to be there. 

If anyone can provide me with a justifiable reason as to why progressive skill unlocks are a good thing, I will be more than willing to change my stance but I think even Sardu will struggle to justify this change.

Tiered Skill Unlocks – A Perfectly Sensible Switch

By Sardu

GW2 Ball of Confusion

When I first heard that a tiered component to utility skill unlocks had been added to the game, I squinted at the system, unsure of what to think. Heading into BWE2 I continued squinting, but have come to a very simple conclusion.

This is a good and necessary thing for the game.

Everything relating to character progression is gated in some way in GW2, and for good reasons. This applies to weapon skills, utility slots, the elite slot, trait tiers, and even the upgrades you place on gear. Why shouldn’t this same concept be applied to utility skills then?

Here are some of the core benefits this system clearly provides:

1. Learning through progression

"For the average player just getting into a game, you never want to present them with too many options, too quickly."

Players don’t start out with all utility slots unlocked. Requiring players to purchase 5 different tier 1 skills to use initially exposes them to a broader spectrum of skill types for their profession. For example, it is a massive learning tool to give players a chance to begin understanding the difference between things like wells, signets, or mantras, rather than throwing them in at the deep end before first teaching them how to swim.

From that basic understanding of various skill lines within a profession, you can then more wisely make decisions the further you progress. By the time you have your second utility slot unlocked you will also have enough skill points to progress past the first tier of skills. Again, this forms a very natural progression.

2.  Balancing Creature Complexity

Since creatures also become progressively more complex the further you advance through the PvE game, it makes sense to have a system in place to insure that combat abilities between creature and player are somewhat relative.

Think of it this way. Nobody complains that they can’t roll into a dynamic event at level 2 and decimate everything in the area by popping their elite skill. So why should you have access to the most powerful utility skills straight out of the gates?

But if you allow players to use the most powerful options immediately, you necessarily have to balance creature strength to account for it. Then what happens to the players who don’t want to save points to unlock the most expensive things first? They’re suddenly forced to play the game in a way they didn’t choose to keep up with the average strength of creatures. Not fun, or cool.

3. Too much, too soon

When we did our Ten Ton Hammer staff roundtable immediately following the first BWE, Xeri himself noted:

“I had a number of people this weekend directly ask me for help, knowing that I’ve played it before. They said they found the game incredibly confusing, and these are people that have played MMOGs for years.

There have been some people complaining that the combat is too simple and button-mashy, but on the flipside you have people instantly hitting H, teleport to the Mists and complaining that it’s too complicated and that there are too many skills.

But ArenaNet’s system of going through and unlocking each weapon skill is all designed to gently expose you to those concepts and those skills.”

I consider this the heart of the matter, in a nutshell. Thanks for summing my argument up so nicely Xerin!

For the average player just getting into a game, you never want to present them with too many options, too quickly. It makes the game appear far more confusing and complex than it actually is, and creates a situation where a casual gamer suffers from deer-caught-in-headlights syndrome the first few times they play.

By having all utilities available from the word go, you’re forced to sit down and read every single tooltip to understand what they do, not knowing why one might be better than another. If you’re not a GW1 player, you probably have no idea what wells, sigils, or mantras are. And you certainly don’t know why one might be better than another.

What ArenaNet has done is implement a system that is still far better than visiting a skill trainer to learn one spell or skill every two levels, but retains a proper perspective on the learning curve for average players. Just because many of us spend countless hours obsessing over builds and skills between beta events, I guarantee that is not the case for the vast majority of gamers who will be playing GW2 at launch.

So for all of the reasons outlined above, the tiered utility skill unlock system is absolutely a worthy design decision. And just like the tiered traits, I suspect it will continue to be refined until it reaches a point where even Xerin will see its brilliance.

We've had our say, and now we'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter, and which of us should be declared the victor for the latest round of The Last Whiskey Bar. Do you believe Xerin makes a better argument against the tiered utility skill system, or side with Sardu in thinking this switch is good for the game? Let us know in the comments below!


Lewis B's picture
Submitted by Lewis B on

Haha :)

sylvinstar's picture
Submitted by sylvinstar on

Sardu pretty much touched on the main thoughts I had when I read the subject of this brawl.  For those who have played GW1, and are big time into the game, it will feel like they are being hampered by the restrictions of the tiered system, while the majority of players hitting Tyria for the first time this year will be better served with a more limited selection.

I pretty much see both sides, because I understand why ArenaNet has done this (and yes I think there are more reasons than just making things easier for first time playerswink), but I had felt the same way  felt when looking at my utility unlocks.  I hated spending points on utilities I knew I wasn't going to use, just to get to the ones I wanted.

I side with Sardu on this one, but I'm not 100% happy about it eitherbroken heart

innuendo's picture
Submitted by innuendo (not verified) on

I feel the biggest point in this whole discussion, and one sardu mentioned but didn't dwell on like I would have is that without this system a new player making their first skill point purchase is almost expected to read every single tool tip for every single utility skill, all at level 7.

Because yes, I could just buy the 1 points, but how do I know that 7 point skills aren't better and I should save for them? Well I better read them all so I know what I want to do.

This system limits the possible combinations players have to account for when they get their first skill unlock. It makes the process of shopping for that skill much easier since their options are funneled. And as pointed out, this is still vastly more open than systems seen in other games.

I disagree that the skill cost system was sufficient to create this effect. But nothing is worse for a new player than spending non refundable currency and then realizing in 4 levels "ooh, i should have not done that because I really want that banner skills." You create a situation in which a player who makes a bad choice is punished for it down the road. And worse, you openly invite them to make this poor choice because you give them access to the skill points right away! Alsmot begging them to spend the points and unlock a utility. Otherwise, they just have this empty slot on their bar staring at them, almost screaming how much they are wasting their potential. You don't want to create a system where you encourage players to make a choice that they may regret.

In the current tiered system you get the opposite, i'll admit. You are forced to purchase some skills you may not want to use. But an upfront restriction is *better* for the player than an "after the fact" disappointment. One gives them a clear goal to overcome (purchase 5 skills to get to the next tier), and the other gives them a sense of failure at the end (realize you spent your points on stuff you didn't really want).

I will say, there is one change I would make is lowering the cost of skills at higher tiers. The current tiers introduce a cost to higher tiers already, there is no reason to double ding players by making them purchase low level skills and then making them pay a premium for higher level skills. The premium is implied by the tier.

Laser's picture
Submitted by Laser (not verified) on

"But nothing is worse for a new player than spending non refundable currency and then realizing in 4 levels 'ooh, i should have not done that because I really want that banner skills.'"

Sure there's something worse - looking at the pittance of skills available to you, realizing you don't want any of them, and being forced to buy them anyways just to get to the ones you do want.  instead of realizing you might not have wanted a given skill four levels after you bought it, you get to make that same realization BEFORE YOU BUY IT - and yet you're forced to buy it anyways.  That would be an up-front punishment forced on you by the mechanics rather than a back-ended punishment you let yourself in for by being impatient. 

One of those things is my fault; the other is the game's fault.  I would far rather that mistakes or punishments I suffer be my fault, and not unavoidable things the game shoves in my teeth for the sake of 'educating' me.  Because really, it takes someone maybe ten minutes to go over the...what?  Twenty-odd utilities available to them at level 5 and see which one sounds interesting?  This isn't GW1 - I don't see this massive, newbie-crippling overabundance of utilities here.  Matter of fact, I could stand to see maybe ten or so more in each profession, the current lot is rather limited.

Entombed's picture
Submitted by Entombed on

I'm actually for the tiered skill system, however I think they could tone down the grind a little bit.  For Xerin, I think one could, even before the tier system, have made a fair argument that ArenaNet was already acknowledging skill disparity.  I mean look at the previous cost structure, why were some skills expensive where others were cheaper? Some of that cost wasn't always about specialized/niche traits.  

And, I really like how the new system forces me to buy skills that I would probably never have tried.  It sounds so weird to say, especially considering my opinions on tiered traits, but this system encourages early experimentation, and I enjoyed it. 

Sardu's arguments were more compelling, and this week I'll have to place my vote in his camp.


Galen's picture
Submitted by Galen on

When you think of the skill unlocks in other games, they do it with the leveling of your character, and in WoW I remember those trait tree things.  They did the same thing of having to take 5 points on each level of your tier before moving to the next level.

I believe the way Anet is doing this is better, of course, though it can be a bit frustration.  On side is the fact that you will have to buy skills you may never play just so you can get to the next Tier, but then that also means that to Sardu's argument, you have to play with those skills, give them a try, see which you like.

You may read the skills and say, "Oh, I'll never use that skill", but since you can't get to the next tier yet anyway, you buy it to get to that tier.  For kicks and giggles you decided to give it a try and, perhaps, you discover that it does have some good uses.

I'm  not saying that will happen, but this does force you to actually give those other skills a try and, to be truthfull, I didn't really see any bad skills in that first tier.

If there are at least 5 skills you like, but may not use when you get to higher levels, why not just sit back and enjoy using those skills now.  You may even decide later that it was a lot fun using that skill and throw it back in just cause its fun to activate or something else you like about it.

With that said, I do still think perhaps the tiers could be used with less requirements, perhaps even adding in a few more tiers as a process.  I personally like the idea of only requireing 3 skills per tier, and maybe adding in another 2 tiers, but that is all a matter of balance the system.  The actually system itself is, I think, a good thing, and also a potential source of fun as you get to know a skill you would never have even thought of using before.

Anet has said that their official reason for the tiering is to make it less confusing for new players, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also have a benefit for more experienced players.  After all, even if you've been playing GW2 since closed beta, the game is constantly changing.  It can be hard to keep up with the change in things, especially small things like new skills.

Yes, there are many, new and old players alike, who will just jump into the mists and find themselves lost in all the millions of choices before them, but even so, the tiering of traits and skills still serves helpful in that it gives a way to structure things to look at them.  When deciding what Utility skill to choose, it is easier to attack one tier at a time of what? 6 skills?, than it is to attack a spam of 30 skills.




Rin Aki's picture
Submitted by Rin Aki on

Though I feel your frustration, I can see the necessity of this system and I side with Sardu on this one. Guiding new players through a controlled progression will help them to learn the skills in a better way, without overwhelming them, and keeps each player on par with creatures of their level. It also means that higher level players visiting lower level areas can be scaled down but retain the advantage of having more skill options.

I also agree with others points about trying out skills you thought you'd never use. I think for the most part you will use those skills (you have them, so it would be silly not to). And in doing so may find uses you hadn't thought of or skill combos you didn't know existed.

Order of the Ono & Semper Dius

c0c0c0's picture
Submitted by c0c0c0 on

I'm okay with the tiered system.  That said, if this is all about training, it would be nice if this was tiered at an account level.   That way, once you've learned your lesson, you don't have to learn it again.  Of course, as alluded to in the Sardu's post, it ain't all about training.

qeloqoo's picture
Submitted by qeloqoo (not verified) on

Tiered skill system is catering to lowest denominator... Which is usually bad. For the sake of people who don't have patience to read tooltips of 20ish skills the rest are restricted to buying utility skills they will never use cause it's out of their playing style.

I'm with Xerin on this. Tiered traits - yes. Tiered skills is just dumb.

Dreamofneverwas's picture
Submitted by Dreamofneverwas on

Heres something to think on though, right now we only have access to three races starting areas, with those three you can easily hit level 15 and travel to all three starting zones and gain 18 skill points, with all 5 you cold get 30.  Thats enough to unlock all tier 1 and 2 skills and one tier 3.  Bit of work and you can be done very quick right out the gate. 

Laser's picture
Submitted by Laser (not verified) on

Which implies that you know what you're doing and have a premeditated plan to acquire your skills quickly.  Which, itself, implies that you know what you're shooting for and have done your research on the game.  Which implies that you already know what the utility skills are and do, which means that it's still a needless hurdle.

Really, this system bothers me to no end because it has no point.  Trait tiering has a point - it allows for a deeper and more versatile trait system without sacrificing balance, ArenaNet just needs to actually figure out what it's doing insofar as tiered traits go - but anyone who knows enough about Guild Wars 2 to have a set playstyle they're trying to shoot for is going to find themselves being blocked by this tiering system to no real purpose, and anyone so fresh and new to gaming as to be confused or overwhelmed by a measly twentyish utilities is also going to be overwhelmed by seven.  because it's not the skills that are doing the overwhelming, it's the entirety of this very large, very complex game, and this whole controlled progression thing isn't going to do them a damn bit of good.

Either the player is smart/well-read/savvy enough to deal with the game as it comes to him, or he's deficient in one of those areas and this game is going to kick his ass for a while regardless of how much it tries not to.  Telling me I have to buy three skills out of a tier that do jack-all nada for what I'm trying to accomplish with my character because it'll magically fix all of Player X's newbie blues doesn't fly.  The system does nothing to diminish newbie shock and needlessly punishes anyone else who actually has a clue what they're doing until they get to the point where they've farmed enough points to ignore the tiering entirely.

Siding with on this one.  The system is nothing but a useless, purposeless grind, and it depresses me greatly to see it in Guild Wars 2.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

Sardu, I agree with your first and third point about using tiers as a way to teach and not overwhelming players with too many options.

I disagree with your second point about creature complexity.  All of the content should be designed with every utility skill in mind because anyone can downscale.  Those that do should still be able to enjoy balanced content where ever they go and those that don't should not have their experience diminished by someone using skills not designed for the area.


The problem is players are different.  Some enjoy being flooded with multiple options, some know exactly what they want right off the bat, some get scared when they have too many options and just want a guided, streamlined experience.

There are two ways I would try to solve this.  

1.  At character selection there can be an option that says "I am new to this game/class" and "I am experienced/know exactly I want".  Picking the first will present the player with the tiered progression we have now that introduces the options slowly.  In addition, these players will be given a stat increase to aid the player up to a certain level (does not apply in WvW).  Players who pick the second option will be able to buy any skill right out of the gate, and each skill will cost the same.  They will not benefit from the same temporary stat boost.

2.  Buying a skill not only earns it for the character, but also unlocks it for the account and any future characters of that class.  This is basically the GW1 system - if I buy an Ele skill that can only be bought at Ember Light Camp, then any future Ele can buy it from any skill trainer including the very first one (after the pre-searing tutorial area).  This isn't as useful to experienced players as the first option, but might be a better compromise.

worldbro's picture
Submitted by worldbro (not verified) on

I believe the cost is too high for higher tiers. I don't need 5 - 1pt skills. I'll use 2, possibly 3. Then I have to get 5 more at the next level. Now I have 10 and I always look over my choices (regardless of what they are) as waste. 

However, a player can go into all starting zones and acquire skill points. The only logic behind the decision to implement skills as they have is with that in mind. Get the player to spend time acquiring skill points. Really no other argument for it.



Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

This is the first "brawl" where I'm with Xerin: I can perfectly understand tiering traits, but why skills? They're considered equals for the same spot, why do I have to learn this to unlock that?

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on

I'm coming very late to this party, but I feel strongly about the topic so I still want to speak.  

I absolutely hate being forced to buy skills that I don't want to be able to get skills that I do want.  I don't mind that the skills are tiered, and I wouldn't hate it if they limited the skill acquisition in some way other than "you must purchase 6 of these before you can purchase one of those.  Seriously, that is a completely sucky way to go about this.

Guild Wars One had tiered skills, too.  In Prophecies you could buy some skills in Ascalon City, more complex or powerful skills in Lions Arch, and the very best ones were saved for Ember Light Camp.  That process didn't piss me off, and I was always happy to get to the next level of story so that I could get new skills.  This process pisses me off.  Everytime I am forced to buy a skill that I don't want, and can see no use for in the way that I personally play, I have a little bit of a rant and a whole lot of resentment build up.  I spend time wondering if I'm going to have enough skill points to buy an elite skill by the time I hit  30th level.  I don't want to play all of the racial starting areas with my human -- I want to save those experiences for the alts I will be playing later.  

If the devs want to enforce tiered utility skills with something more than just the skill points required to unlock them, then they need to come up with something besides what is in the game right now.  Because right now it is like a tease -- you can see 'em, but you can't have 'em.  "Buy some of that stuff that you don't want and we'll talk about these over here later..."  It sucks, and more than just sucking it gives me very negative feelings toward the game makers.  It's never in the developers best interest for players to get a snarl when they hear the company name.