I'm getting properly excited about Guild Wars 2. I had the pleasure of interviewing three of the key designers behind it about a week ago, and their ideas for turning the fun multiplayer RPG into a new kind of ever-changing MMO are ingenious. On top of which, remarkably: no monthly fee. Among the things that lead designer Eric Flannum told me about are the Warrior class and their Traits system for customising your character, so here are some juicy quotes.
The Warrior builds up Adrenaline as he fights - a familiar mechanic. Eric says they even tried having the Warrior spend Adrenaline the way he does in Guild Wars 1 and other games. "We just found that with the pacing of our combat, it just wasn't a very fun mechanic to have you blocked out from using a bunch of your abilities at the beginning of the fight." Instead, built Adrenaline boosts the damage of all his attacks until he performs a 'Burst' skill.
"He basically has three stages of Adrenaline, and as he does damage and attacks in combat he builds up those stages. When he fills each, he gets a damage bonus that's just a passive bonus to all of his skills. He also has several skills that will use Adrenaline... when he uses them, he will lose all of his Adrenaline and then the skill will be better depending what stage he was at."
Five of your skills in Guild Wars 2 are determined by the weapon currently in your hands. Among the five that aren't, the Warrior can have skills that place banners to buff his team-mates. They're not just abstract flags, both the Warrior and his friends can actually pick them up and carry them around. That stops you from attacking with your normal abilities, but opens up other skills.
"One of things that's really important about our environment weapons, and our whole skill system in general, is anything that you've got in your hands has the potential to change the skills that you have. So for example we have an early event in the game that has you picking up rabbits. You're holding this rabbit and it actually changes your skills. So we've come up with a whole different array of things that you can do and so it's our intention that we never want you stuck holding like, a flag or holding something and being like “Wow I don't actually get to play anymore, I'm just holding a banner." So we put different skills on it."
There's an unwritten rule in games journalism that when a developer tells you that holding a rabbit gives you new abilities, nothing more awesome is going to be said and you should move on. To their Traits system.
Traits are a little like World of Warcraft's talents: modifiers and boosts to certain skills that let you specialise. But there are over a hundred for each of the eight classes, and you can swap them around freely.
"We wanted the ability to let your character customise himself," says Eric, "and distinguish himself from other characters who are wielding the same weapon and have chosen similar utility skills. So traits are kind of this further, deeper customisation level."
"So for example a major Sword trait is Swordsmanship, which causes all of your sword attacks to cause bleeding. A character who takes that is going to be a little bit different than another character, because they're really going to be able to stack the bleed condition on the characters that they're fighting against."
Actually, the main reason the Traits system interests me has nothing to do with their effects, it's how you get them.
"The way you earn Sword Mastery" says Eric, "is that there are a number of NPCs that are designated as 'Sword Masters' scattered around the world, and you need to find each of the Sword Masters and defeat them."
Every trait has its own challenges scattered around the world - you have to find out what they are and what they'll grant you, then go about completing them one by one. And the types of things you get up to depends on your class: "Warriors do a lot of defeating other Warriors in duels, completing physical challenges, you can gain an increased vitality trait if you eat some really, really gnarly food - all that sort of thing."
This, and a bunch of other stuff I'll be able to tell you about in the coming months, makes me think you're actually going to feel like your own character in Guild Wars 2. Rather than a generic favour-gibbon for NPCs who have a grudge against the local wildlife.
See their surprisingly good official site for some clips of Warrior skills in action.