In my last GW2 post, I tried to give an overview of all skills. It ran a little longer than intended, but I still didn't get into specifics. So in my first attempt to get into said specifics, I'll try to talk about Weapon Skills today.
On the awesome bar at the bottom of your screen, you have 10 slots for abilities, conveniently separated by a big ball that contains your health. Can't let those skills touch too much. Anyway, the five on the left side of your Health Ball are based entirely on your weapon. Thus, they are referred to as Weapon Skills.
Each class is capable of using a limited selection of weapons. Not that limited, but no one can use them all.
When you equip a weapon (or dual weapons), your bar will display the abilities that are tied to that weapon. These abilities are different for every Profession who can use that weapon. A sword used by a warrior will have very different abilities than a sword used by a Thief, for instance. When you switch to a different weapon, the weapon skills will change again to the abilities of the new weapon.
At level 7, you gain the ability to swap between two weapon sets in combat. Well, most Professions do. The Elementalist and the Engineer cannot swap weapons in combat, but they have other options to make it more complicated. This gives you a great deal of flexibility as you explore the world and quest. The ability for a warrior to switch between two-handed sword and long bow allows them to start fighting from range and, if you don't manage to murder the enemy with bow skills before they close on you, you can switch to the two-hander and do lots of damage to them from melee. Even switching between two weapons that are similar will bring about a significant change in playstyle.
The Weapon Types
There are three types of weapons used in Guild Wars 2, and they each interact differently with the Weapon Skills bar.
Main Hand Weapons
These are one-handed weapons held in the main hand of the character. Examples are swords, axes, daggers and pistols. A main hand weapon equipped will give populate the first three buttons for your Weapon Skills.
These are, obviously, weapons held in the off hand, and populate the fourth and fifth Weapon Skills when wielded. These include shields, torches and foci.
Two Handed Weapons
This includes, obviously, two-handed swords, but also bows and staves. Basically this group consists of weapons that you cannot conceivably wield with a weapon in your off-hand. As such, these populate the full five Weapon Skill slots when equipped.
This is a special type of weapon, and they are all two-handers as far as skill slots go. When you go underwater, you will automatically switch out to an underwater weapon. There are currently only three underwater weapons: spear (melee), trident (caster) and harpoon gun (ranged). Like any other weapon, these have unique abilities for each class.
This is a more complicated classification, because they can be so varied and weird. Basically, you will come across items, machines and weapons as you adventure, and they will be useful in specific scenarios. When you activate them, be it picking up a rock or taking control of a trebuchet, your Weapon Skills will change to the skills appropriate for that "weapon." You can throw a rock, brain people with it or put it down. You can fire a trebuchet. We'll call those Environmental Weapons.
Also under this classification can be special abilities available to Professions or Races. An Engineer can activate their Elixir Gun and they are now equipping a whole new gun. It changes all five slots. A Charr can activate the Charrzooka and it does the same thing. A Norn can turn into a giant bear, and their skills will change to reflect this. And to add still more bizarre options to this, the Elementalist can summon elemental weapons, one appearing in their hand and one on the ground. If you're near them, you can pick up the Lightning Axe they just created and use those abilities.
Learning Weapon Skills
When you first equip a weapon, you have access to one skill. The skills you can use will be clear and bright while the others are darkened. You can still mouse over them and read what they do, but you won't be able to use them yet.
As you use the abilities of a weapon, you will slowly fill up the next slot, until you eventually unlock the next ability. (By "fill up" I mean that there is a visible meter inside the skill box that fills it from left to right as you progress. The "empty" parts are dark while the "filled" parts are bright and fully colored.) I say slowly to imply that you will not enter one fight immediately upon equipping an axe and learn the second ability in the process of that one fight. As of the last beta, my understanding is that it takes around seven fights. So not that long, but not immediate.
Once you've unlocked the second ability, the third will begin filling up, and then the fourth, etc. If you are using two weapons, you cannot unlock the off-hand abilities until the main hand abilities have all been learned.
Weapon Skill Miscellany
I mentioned earlier that Elementalists and Engineers cannot have two equipped weapon sets. I wanted to briefly go over how this does not weaken them, but it's specific to each Profession, so I'll set it apart here.
Engineers learn skills that give them access to other weapons. This includes the Elixir Gun, Flamethrower, Trap Kit, and others. As such, they will be able to switch between many more weapons in combat, if they're set up for it. having the right tools for the job is the Engineer's schtick, after all.
Elementalists have Attunements. At any given moment, an Elementalist is attuned to one of the four primary elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. They can switch attunements at will, though there is a short cooldown to prevent it happening too rapidly. Each elemental attunement has entirely different abilities for each weapon. So an Elementalist with a staff is not limited to only five abilities. They actually have twenty, five per element, and each element has very different flavor and abilities.
Thieves get their mention here because they have the ability to Steal. When they are in melee range of an enemy, the Thief can use their Steal ability to steal an item from that enemy. This changes their Weapon Skills as it would for any environmental weapon. and they can then use the new abilities based on that item. For example, I've seen a thief steel a big log from an Oakheart and be able to swing it around, or steal feathers from a Moa bird and use it to blind enemies. I don't know what the limitations are for that, like if there are certain types of enemies it won't work on, but I figured it deserved a mention here.
You might think to yourself that having only five abilities per weapon, even with eight weapons available, that seems like it could get boring quickly, especially when you'll likely unlock all the weapon's skills so quickly. Likely, you'll have all available weapon skills unlocked by level 20. Well, that's what those other five skill slots are for. They are referred to as Slot Skills, and function differently than Weapon Skills. I'll talk about them in my next GW2 article.