Thursday, May 3, 2012

An Argument For Small Skill Bars

I was listening to the wonderful daily that WoodenPotatoes does for Guild Wars 2, because I love listening to his views and encyclopedic knowledge of Tyrian lore. One of his viewers mentioned in this daily that the number of skills available was small and might become boring to use after a while. I will admit I had considered this in my early exposure to the game, but I've had some time to think about that, and I now disagree with the idea.

In case you're walking into this blog with no prior GW2 knowledge, let me explain the skill bar. In Guild Wars 2, you have 10 slots on your bar for skills. The abilities you put in those slots can be interchanged, some by changing weapons, others by actively replacing them. It's part of creating a build for your character to select these skills to maximize synergy between them.

The argument was that you end up only using the 5 skills from your weapon, which you unlock fairly early, and just using those same skills over and over, with no option to discover new attack skills, will become dull quickly. The fear is reasonable, especially when you take into account that a player can fairly easily unlock all available weapon skills for their profession by level 10.

I have a couple of arguments here, one being specific to Guild Wars 2 and the other being more general to all MMOs.

Those Other Skills
First, a build is not just your weapon skills. Certainly, they will be the bread and butter of your combat repertoire and you will use them a ton. But you will have several other skills, the utility skills, that can interact in fascinating and exciting ways with these weapon skills.

I discovered that feeling of synergy in my build during the beta when I got the fire circle skill for the Guardian and then realized that the great sword let me pull lots of enemies into my flaming circle and then kill them all with a now combo'd whirlwind attack. It was fun before, but suddenly it gave me this awesome attack rotation I could use to murder lots of enemies really fast. Other weapons had attacks that combo'd through my circle to add a burning effect to their attack. It was like magic. And I hadn't even really made a proper build, with Traits set up to maximize it. I just got a Utility Skill that maximized the effect of one of my weapons.

On top of that, you have many other weapon options to choose from. Some will appeal to you and some won't If you get bored with one, try another. Switch it up. I learned firsthand just how different the whole playstyle becomes when you change weapons.

But that isn't actually the core argument I had.

More Is Not Necessarily Better
I played Lord of the Rings Online for a while with my sister and her husband. We had a great deal of fun with it, but something came up and we stopped playing for a time. Our characters were level 38, so not really that close to max level. I came back after a while to see if I could pick up my Hunter again and solo for a bit. And I couldn't. I was terrible. There were just too many skills, and I could no longer recall how to use them properly. I tried questing for a bit but kept dying, and eventually gave up one the character.

LotRO has been, to me, the worst offender, but most games have this issue. The game is designed to appease just this kind of player, the one for whom the acquisition of new and interesting abilities is a core part of the game. The lack of foreseeable shiny ability removes a core part of their fun, and they see clearly how "boring and repetitive" the same combat abilities is.

To them I would ask, how many of those abilities do you use? I've played World of Warcraft for a long, long time. I have several characters a max level. I have 4 action bars full of abilities to use, and a few other action bars with extra abilities that I do not need to hotkey. But when I go into a fight of any kind, what I really use is the 1-5 keys, and even then I don't necessarily use them all. Every other ability is situational. Some will get used repeatedly during a raid boss fight, while others will go entirely ignored. When I return to the game after a break, I have to study the bars to remember what these abilities even do.

Certainly, WoW gave me lots of options to choose from in a fight, but I still only use the core 4 or 5 abilities to accomplish my goals. So why is 5 weapon skills too few? WoW made some marvelous headway in Cataclysm giving me those 4 or 5 skills to regularly use in a fight. In earlier editions, there weren't even that any to choose from. But I fail to see the advantage of having 30 abilities available when I won't use anywhere near all of them.

By maximum level in WoW, or LotRO, or other games, you will have access to all of the abilities of your class and spec, and you will fill up your action bars with all of them. But in GW2, it's certainly not the same. First, you won't necessarily have unlocked all of your Utility Skills. You have to work for those, as you won't get enough skill points to buy them all just by leveling. Second, the utility skills are designed and balanced for a character to only have 3 at a time, which makes them all more significant on their own. To maximize your own effectiveness, you'll be using all of them. And if they're not working out, or you're not using them, slot new skills. Switch it up.

I've reached a point where I think having over 20 skills on your screen at all times seems excessive and unnecessary. No matter which game you play, you will likely only be using the same 4 or 5 abilities, and everything else will be situational. Why is having all of the situational abilities available at all times vital to the enjoyment of the game?

While this post has become more of an endorsement for Guild Wars 2 and its skill paradigm, what I really wanted to get across is how excessive the skill selections have become for other games. Maybe it's time to reign it in a bit.


  1. I don't have much more to say about this than, "I agree strongly and wish more games worked this way."

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