Guild Wars 2: Traits and Attributes

A new post from Jon Peters over at the ArenaNet blog has got fans and followers in a tizzy, and understandably so. It seems there have been some quite substantial changes to the trait system since I last read anything about it, and many are voicing fears that the new, less open system will encourage just the kind of min-maxing and role specialisation that Guild Wars 2 has strived to discourage in the past.

Looking at the comments on the GW2 Facebook post (which represent a less informed and critical segment of the fan base than major blogs or Guild Wars 2 Guru), there seems to be some confusion over this rather complicated article today, so I thought I’d briefly sum up the system as I understand it here. In general, as with many aspects of the game, how well any of this works is something I don’t think we can pass comment on until we’ve played the game ourselves.

(Speaking of which, sign-ups for the closed beta have closed, with over a million volunteers in 48 hours. The next beta event will be at the end of March, so don’t wear out your refresh key just yet!)

So, Guild Wars 2 has just four major attributes: Power, Precision, Vitality and Toughness. These are the attributes that everyone has, and levelling up always provides points to spend in these areas. Two are offensive and two are defensive, with their effects as follows:

Power: increases damage done by attacks (yes, any attacks, physical or magical).

Precision: increases the chance of critical hits on attacks.

Vitality: increases maximum health (hit points).

Toughness: increases armour, thus decreasing incoming damage by some amount.

These line up nicely: power and vitality improve on absolutes, while precision and toughness increase/decrease the damage done/taken. That gives us two different ways to do more damage, and two different ways to protect against damage. It also gives us a very simple attribute system without any of the profession-based redundancies that attributes like Strength for melee or Intelligence for magic tend to produce.

Simple? Hah! This is where the simple ends. ArenaNet are keeping these as the core attributes, but a number of other attributes now exist. You don’t get to put points into these when you level-up – instead, you can increase them using traits. Traits have been heralded in the past as offering the complexity and flexibility that balances the rigidity of weapon skills deciding half your skill bar; they are what allows one sword-wielding warrior to be different from another. They have also undergone so many changes, re-vamps, and iterations that it’s getting confusing for those of us who have yet to get our hands on any actual gameplay.

With today’s news, each profession’s traits now come in five flavours, with five different ‘trait lines’ open to a character. Some of the names will sound familiar to loyal old Guild Wars players (necromancers, for examples, have Curses, Death Magic, Blood Magic and Soul Reaping, with only Spite to throw us off). At every level after 10, players receive one trait point to sink into one of their trait lines. Each trait line is associated with two attributes, drawn from both the universal core attributes and the special trait ones, and every point spent in a line also increases its associated two attributes. This encourages a play-style in line with one’s favoured traits, so Fire Magic increases an elementalist’s damage output and makes her conditions last longer (Power and Expertise), while Tactics gives a warrior more health and makes any buffs he gives last longer (Vitality and Concentration).

But wait, there’s more! As well as these attribute increases – including adding attributes we wouldn’t have at all without the traits – points spent in trait lines unlock new traits. For every five points in a line something new is unlocked, a minor trait or a major trait slot. Minor traits are fixed; every character of the profession who puts that many points into the trait line will get the same bonus. These are unlocked at 5, 15 and 25 points in any line. Major traits are flexible; at 10, 20 and 30 points (30 being the maximum) a slot opens up and the player can choose a relevant trait to add. Once upon a time such traits were gathered out in the world, but no longer – they seem to be automatically available once you’re eligible, but I’m not sure.

To sum up: a character has ten skills available at any given time. Five of these are determined by the weapon(s) she has equipped, and are the same for anyone of the same profession with the same weapon. The other five are up to her to choose, but fall into set categories (for example, one skill slot requires a healing skill). She also has points spread around her core attributes as she sees fit, and various stats improved by her choice of traits. On top of that, she has a few bonuses (shorter recharge times, effects automatically triggered under certain conditions, etc) from minor traits, and a number of traits she has specifically chosen for her character. The question for debate is, does this provide a huge amount of flexibility, or does it direct players too much towards a “right” combination?

This question means different things depending on if you’re a serious player looking to create the most effective character possible, or if you’re a casual player more interested in what looks cool at the time. For the serious types, it seems to some that trait lines encourage the idea that there is a right way to build a character for a certain role or profession, and any other combination isn’t good enough – a view that ArenaNet have actively tried to avoid in the past. There are murmurings that trait-based attributes are bringing back the Holy Trinity, and will lead to more dedicated healers, tanks, etc. Separating traits into lines with relatively linear progression seems counter to GW2’s original ideals of flexibility and free combination.

Then there’s the issue of re-speccing. Today’s article declares that the wiping and re-allocating of trait points is available “for a small fee” from an NPC, meaning it’s neither free nor available on the fly. Peters reports that this was intended to lend some weight to point-allocation decisions and help to give a sense of permanency to our characters, but Guild Wars fans are crying foul. The freedom to re-make a character’s build at any outpost was something that gave that game much of its particular feel, and even though Guild Wars 2 is only restricting it by a tiny step (compared to other games), resentment is understandable. Then again, without the outpost/explorable area division that GW had, this may not be much different in reality.

(As a side note, the consensus seems to be that major traits can be switched out at will, but points in a trait line require the reset. No confirmation on that though).

I don’t think this re-designed trait and attribute system is “bringing back the Trinity,” and here’s why. A lot of people get confused when they talk about GW2 being a game without the Holy Trinity, and think it claims to be a game without specialised tanks and healers. This is not true, nor have ArenaNet claimed it is to my knowledge – it makes sense to allows players to customise their characters for that role if they want. The difference is that GW2 does not have classes which are defined by the heal/tank/DPS roles. You could make a dedicated healer as a guardian, or an elementalist, or a ranger if you wanted to. Even if you do, the form of the skill bar forces some diversity, so you will have some small capability in other roles. Adventures in Guild Wars 2 should not leave you looking for one more person of the right profession, because anyone should be able to take up the empty role if they want to. It should also be possible not to plan the roles out in advance that way at all, if you’ve got experienced players who are able to respond to the situation at hand. That’s going to be key, from everything we’ve heard – don’t just decide “I’m the tank, I take aggro, nothing else is my responsibility.” Watch what happens to you and your allies, and use your skills to do what’s needed right now.

Trait lines encourage play-styles associated with them. Certain weapons will probably work better with certain traits, and certain professions will probably be considered more effective in certain roles than others. Before you complain about that, remember how much freedom you still have, how race and background don’t effect stats, and how traits can be changed as easily as selling loot to a merchant. And then, still before you complain, ask yourself: have you played this game yet? For how long? How long ago? Personally, I have yet to play so much as a demo, and so I’m not going to be saying what makes or breaks this game until I’ve seen how things work in context. Our friends at ArenaNet have played this game a lot. Trust ’em until you have evidence otherwise.

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