With that in mind, to try and limit the amount of player confusion throughout, especially for players new to MMOs, ArenaNet forces you to unlock the skills on each weapon type. So if you’re playing a Warrior and equip a one-handed sword, you’ll only have one skill to use initially. It won’t be long until a second opens up, then a third, and while you’re waiting for the unlock you’re practicing with the skills already available, so by the time everything’s open, it’s all familiar. “We want you to learn them one at a time, build your knowledge up and then you get to another weapon, build your knowledge and be able to get comfortable. We don’t want to overwhelm you like they do in other games where they just throw everything at you and it’s just option shock. So we tried to meter out how much stuff we give them and how fast we give it to you.”
So how does ArenaNet actually design the skills for a system like that? “It’s a very long process,” said Sharp, “and it involves a lot of calculators and spreadsheets and stopwatches and things like that as you can imagine, but the biggest thing is basically setting down what a typical skill can do. So for instance, what is the average melee skill? What is the average range skill? So we have different ranges. So you have like a six hundred, nine hundred, twelve hundred, fifteen hundred range and this is in-game inches and units. So then it’s just a question of how hard should a melee hit across the board for all classes? And then maybe the Warrior’s like five percent higher than that but he doesn’t have a defense that a Guardian might, so the Guardian gets five percent less but he has a lot of defense to go with that.”
It seems like juggling all those numbers might make it easy to get overwhelmed, but according to Sharp, “mathematically those things are actually pretty easy to do.” It’s really the finer, situational details that create challenges for making sure everything feels right, taking into account dazes, heals, blinds and knockdowns. Movement is also a huge factor, since dodging away from attacks has a huge impact on combat effectiveness while fighting computer-controlled enemies and in player-versus-player situations. Dodging is tied to an endurance bar that refills slowly once used, which can fuel two dodges back-to-back without a need to wait for it to regenerate.