In the first half of our exclusive interview with Jon Peters during PAX East, we discussed the trait system, the likelihood that a skill split between PvE and PvP won’t be necessary based on creature iteration in PvE, and recent changes to the necromancer’s weapon set and utility skills. The second half of our discussion focuses on builds, including Jon’s breakdown of the core components of a given build in order of importance. The information provided is an excellent starting point for anyone first diving into the game, including those of you who eagerly jumped on the chance to pre-purchase Guild Wars 2 once sales went live earlier today.
Before we get started, I also have a brief anecdote from the Future of Online Gaming panel to share with you. Immediately following the panel, I wrestled my way upstream against legions of gamers who were eagerly filing out of the main hall to snag their GW2 beta keys, so that I could meet up with Jon for the interview.
By the time I reached the stage, Jon was surrounded by fans who had plenty of questions of their own, and a variety of GW and GW2 items of all shapes and sizes for him to sign. See the image to the right to see what I mean when I say it was one of those rock star moments for fans that I always enjoy witnessing when it comes to the ArenaNet development team’s convention appearances.
Eventually the PAX Enforcers began herding us towards the exit to prep the hall for the next panel of the evening. As we made our way to the door, I spotted one of the coolest GW2 fan creations I’ve seen so far. Outside of the hall I made sure to point it out to Jon, and we both made sure to snap some pictures before heading out to find a quiet place to sit down for our interview. Check out the awesome below:
Now that I’ve rambled out another of my trademark epic intros, let’s dive back into the interview, shall we?
Sardu: Going back to that concept of their being some specific build types for support, offense, and defense, is that part of how you plan on addressing the PvP metagame and keeping it from becoming a nightmare to balance for?
Jon Peters: It’s funny, people talk about the builds in GW1 and how there are so many, and now we’ve somehow limited them so much. But it’s so complex and it’s such a huge system. You really just need to play it more before you can really understand everything that’s in there.
And then after that, despite the fact that it’s easier to understand each piece, you still end up building this incredibly complex build. And then, just like in GW1, how you play them changes what the worth of the build is too. There are all of these positional elements and action elements that you have to take into account. It’s kind of like, I built this build like this but if I don’t get my flank right how am I going to counter that or how am I going to change my approach.
I think it was much easier to theorycraft a build in GW1 and find that it was either good or bad. There are a lot of builds in GW2 where it’s like this sounded really good on paper, but maybe it doesn’t play like you thought it was going to.
So you get a lot of people who say things like there’s no such thing as a support thief. We’ve actually developed so many different kinds of support thieves, because support isn’t always what you think it is. A support thief doesn’t sit around healing people, but we have all those skills that make you do double speed stuff. So there’s a haste on the thief, and Quickening Zephyr, or Frenzy, and we’ve consolidated all of those into a single buff called Quickness so that everyone knows that those skills grant quickness, and that’s what it does.
Everyone was using quickness to do damage and stuff, but then all of the sudden in PvP someone figured out that they could use quickness to stomp someone and do the finishing move. Then it was like you couldn’t rez through the stomps anymore because once they got you down they’d use quickness and do a double-speed stomp.
So then to counter that, people are haste-rezzing so that they can double their rez speed. Some of that stuff we hadn’t even considered, but it’s created these cool builds where thieves are really good at rezzing because they’ve got haste, and they can cloak. So they can cloak so you can’t see them, then hit haste so they’re rezzing super-fast but you don’t even know that they’re there.
And rezzing is super important in our game. There’s this mindset that when you go to the downed state, you’ve lost. But that’s not true at all. We want to send you to that state because it creates different tactical situations. But everyone just kind of ignores that part of the game, but it’s just as much a part of the combat and being alive.
There’s a reason why – in our code – there’s a distinction between “is alive” and “is dead” which means you’re actually dead, vs. alive means you’re either downed or up. People think, oh, that guy’s downed so he’s out, and you get a lot of people who say things like it seems dumb that you have to kill someone twice. But you don’t, because you haven’t actually killed them when they’re downed.
Sardu: I noticed that a lot in PvP during the last beta. You’d go down and your team would basically abandon you and follow the fight across the map as though you were already dead at that point. I don’t know if it’s because I spend so much time playing the necro, but to me, downed isn’t all that different from entering death shroud. It’s just another state where you have a group of four new skills to work with, and the additional obvious mobility change.
Jon: Exactly, downed just puts you in a different state. And it creates this nice slope where you’re winning and you push people into that state, but then you also get those dramatic comebacks based on when they somehow manage to rally from that rather than it just being some kind of back-and-forth health spike. That’s usually all you have in a lot of games, and especially in GW1 which has a lot of that. It’ll be like, spike them down, infuse, spike, infuse, block, block, block, spike, infuse…
Sardu: And that kind of stuff largely helped dictate how the metagame flowed a lot of the time.
Jon: And it’s a very cool game, but we didn’t want to make that game again because it’s already there. People that want GW1, we’re not taking that away from them. We’re going to keep supporting that game and it’s going to keep running. But for us, we wanted to make something new. We wanted to make a game that’s all about tactics, positioning, and awareness.
So that’s where things like the downed state comes in. Once a guy is downed, suddenly that becomes an objective in the game. It’s an objective for you to rez, or for enemies to finally get rid of in both PvP and in PvE which is really nice.
Sardu: And that kind of interaction also helps promote more of the social aspects of the game which are obviously very important in GW2.
I played in the beta weekends before the Prophecies release, and now I’ve been able to play in the beta events for GW2 as well. What’s interesting is that we’re currently right back in that stage where people are deeply theorycrafting builds, deciding what the cornerstones of X build should be based on Y.
So we’re seeing that exact same cycle repeat itself now, and I expect that will be even more the case when the next beta event hits. At that point, a lot of theorycrafted builds will be put into action and people will begin to discover why they may or may not work the way they expected.
Jon: I think we’re even seeing that more so now. To me, that’s my favorite thing about the game. I won’t take credit for it – I think Colin said it at some point – but the most important thing in GW2 is how well you play a build, not the build itself.
We didn’t want to eliminate the build making – we still have it and there’s a ton of it. But we wanted it to feel like part of what your build is comes down to mastering that build, not just making it. I feel like that part of the game has worked almost more than anything else. It really feels like you have to master a build which is really satisfying when you do.
There’s a reason why so many people enjoy playing things like League of Legends, because you have these builds you’re trying to master or perfect. People will really aim to learn a specific character and master it. So there’s just as much longevity in that side of things as there is in the build-making which is nice.
Sardu: And the beauty of that kind of play – to me, anyway – is that you’ll hit that point where you feel as though you’ve mastered a specific character, but you’ll also discover that there are other characters that can counter you or shut you down. At that point you’ll really want to learn what those characters or builds are that can counter you, and begin figuring out how to overcome them in combat. So you may start out with the goal of mastering a build, but then quickly realize part of that mastery is awareness of the builds other people are out there attempting to master that can counter yours.
Jon: Yep, and it’s not always a matter of changing your build. Sometimes it will come down to changing the way you play it. For example, there’s a warrior build that’s sword / shield and greatsword; so just this crazy mobility warrior that I use a lot. I was like, this guy is awesome because I can get out of anything that I want to.
That felt so satisfying, but then I ran into someone who totally shut down my mobility and it created this moment where I was like, should I completely change my build? No, I really like it, and like how I can do these things to most people, but what should I be doing when I run into someone who can shut this mobility down? So it caused me to come up with different strategies.
The thing about a mobility character for me was that it lets you create mismatches in games, and to me, that’s the fun part right now in PvP. Looking for those mismatches and deciding that I didn’t really build this character to get into one-on-ones, but I can get around the map really quickly. Then you’ll have things like your team will be fighting 2 on 2 over at the Clocktower, and I’ll be able to say alright, I’ll be there in four seconds because I have all of these mobility skills.
When I get there, even though I’ve burned all of my recharges and I’m not that strong, it’s still 3 on 2 now, and that’s all that matters. It’s not really, but it helps turn that tide in my team’s favor. You sacrifice a lot because if someone corners you in you just can’t do anything, but it’s also a fun choice to make.
Sardu: I did have one final question for you geared a bit more towards those fans who have been following the game, but maybe haven’t jumped completely down the build theorycrafting hole quite yet.
In GW2 there’s obviously a certain amount of complexity to what constitutes an entire build. Between weapons, traits, healing, utility, and elites, there’s a lot to factor in and account for. Then you also have things like the armor bonuses, or weapon sigils on top of all that stuff.
Maybe there isn’t necessarily one thing, but if you were to say there’s a cornerstone or key component to creating a build that new players will want to focus on first, what suggestions would you have for first time players in that regard?
Jon: We actually built the game so that it goes from that central point, to the next point, and so on. So if you play through PvE, we teach you those points in that order of importance.
First, we give you weapons so that you can learn your weapon skills. Weapons are really the cornerstone of your build. From there we start giving you access to utilities, followed by traits, and then we start giving you those item bonuses to factor in. We give them to you in that order, because that’s the order we think they’re important to a build. So it’s weapons, skills, traits, and finally items.
So that’s why we built the whole thing around the weapons, and each set gives you that set of 5 core skills which is really where your build comes from. The weapons and skills are easy to switch in between every fight, and sometimes you can swap the weapons in combat, so even that stuff follows that same progression.
Weapons you can switch in combat, skills can be switched out of combat, traits you have to go back to town to switch, and then for items you have to actively work to get the items. So even there it’s meant to give the sense that how important a piece is to the build determines how much permanence we want in the choice. So for items, since their role isn’t super crucial we can put more permanence there because it doesn’t have as much impact on the build.
So as a new player, the way we introduce these things to you is the most important thing to pay attention to. That’s why even things like the weapon skills tend to have lower cooldowns, because you’ll be doing more with them all the time. So we built the system so it adds those different layers of depth to a build so that you can get a sense, while naturally playing the PvE game, which things are more important to a given build.
Once again, I wanted to thank Jon for taking the time out of his busy schedule to sit down and discuss the game with me.
For those of you who haven’t already done so, don’t forget that you can now pre-purchase Guild Wars 2 through the official store, or through various retailers. Pre-purchasing the game gives you access to all of the upcoming beta events so that you can dive into the game and get a feel for the builds you’ve been theorycrafting for your chosen profession. Or if you haven’t gone down the theorycrafting road just yet, you’ll want to take note of the progression Jon discussed above in terms of PvE unlocks largely helping guide you through the process of figuring out a build you want to use, and ultimately master.