For as much as creating incentive for more diverse builds is a worthy cause, and something PvE desperately needs, the game is missing virtually everything to encourage players to actually change their build beyond quickly swapping some skills or weapons.
I’m going to highlight all the areas that build diversity could affect, and suggest what quality of life features to add to fill the support void.
Build Diversity Definition(s)
First up, what is build diversity? There’s several different definitions that could be applied, and to prevent confusion I’m stating mine here.
Build Diversity: Having the gameplay incentive (or requirement) to change from one build to another to better adapt to an encounter’s specific challenges. This is a catch-all for anything that deals with build, including gear, skills, traits, and nourishment.
“Lemme Get My Notepad”: Skills and Traits
There is no quick way to change your traits in Guild Wars 2. While skills might be a few simple weapon swaps and utility skill clicks away, it’s a bear to pull open the trait menu and reapportion things. Don’t even get me started on the number of confirmation dialogs while filling out trait lines from scratch.
(Actually, do get me started. Why do I have to confirm when I spend points when traits are free to change at any time I’m not in combat? If I screw up, I can click other buttons to subtract the points out. There is no need to confirm that I meant to press that trait slot.)
Worse still, there is no quick way to share builds. And those that do exist either require a fellow player to type out a bunch of numeric hieroglyphics, or for a player to stop paying attention to the game to reference a website or notepad.
When it takes at least five minutes to look up and transfer a new build to a character, there is no way the majority of the game population is going to take the time, even if it’s a functional requirement. They’ll just avoid the encounter that requires drastic changes to their trait setup*.
*Or attempt it anyway, die, and presume that the encounter isn’t worth doing in the future.
Solution: Build Templates
The solution is so not-new that Guild Wars 1 did an amazing job of it: build templates. A great mock-up by Aldorion hit reddit recently, and it would fully address the problem of quickly switching builds to properly address the encounter at hand.
Further, build templates would incentivize experimenting more with lesser-used traits and trying to come up with interesting combinations, because it doesn’t take a notepad, website, or really good memory to “go back” to a preferred build.
And if the mock-up is asking too much, simply being able to save the second half of the skill bar in conjunction with traits would be a “good enough start” toward making builds easily changed.
Clogging the Inventory: Gear Stats
One way of looking at the zerker meta is that it’s very efficient on inventory slots: zero extra armor taking up space. But if build diversity is a planned feature, then additional stats will become staples of many players.
Or, more properly, the additional storage space required will disincentivize players from bringing anything more than the bare minimums. Because for each stat set there needs to be a full set of armor, trinkets, and weapons to properly support it, 14-16 total slots (depending on one-hand/two-hand weapons).
That’s 10% of the maximum possible character storage (160 slots), for each stat set. Never mind wanting to bring more weapons, salvage kits, and other various PvE necessities.
Solution #1: Implementing Stat Swap on Gear
The first solution is to allow stat swaps on gear. Any given item (suggest restricting it to level 80 exotic and ascended for simplicity) can be “infused” with additional stats one at a time. For economic reasons, I suggest making the infusion cost the same general materials as would be required to make the gear originally, or its inscription/insignia (what I suggest for ascended weapons/armor).
For instance, if I have an exotic berserker’s sword and wish to infuse the soldier’s stat into it, I would have to provide the 42 orichalcum ore, 30 ancient wood logs, and a soldier’s inscription, with a skillpoint-costing item (maybe a few crystals?), and the Mystic Forge gives me back an item that when applied to the sword allows it to swap between berserker’s and soldier’s stats when out of combat.
This would mean that any given set of gear could be worn with a simple option to “swap stats.” If supported by a good build template system, the swappable nature of the gear could be noticed and automatically changed. If not, it’s a lot of clicking, but it’s not going to clog an inventory.
Solution #2: Gear Sets
Gear sets could be an account-based gem store addition, allowing a full character loadout to be stored within the Hero panel and swapped to when out of combat, at no additional cost to inventory. Perhaps two sets could be unlocked by default, and additional ones are provided by the gem store (like bag slots and the collection expander). This is very similar in idea to the bags that Guild Wars 1 added that would only accept equipment.
It’s not as extensible as stat swap additions, but it’s another option that prevents gear from being an additional load on the inventory.
Locked in Place: Runes and Sigils
Runes and sigils are great additional options for builds, allowing a player to either amplify their core “point”, or shore up his weaknesses. The only problem is that once applied, both runes and sigils are more or less “stuck” there. Changing them requires either a gemstore item not worth its cost, or outright overwriting the old one in favor of a new one.
Players end up locked into runes and sigils that may not fit the current situation, because it’s really expensive to change them (go ahead, replace that Force sigil, I dare you). Oftentimes it’s cheaper to get another set of gear entirely rather than overwrite existing runes and sigils.
Solution: Implementing Rune/Sigil Swap Slots
Overwriting should not be the go-to method to change runes and sigils, especially in a game that wants to increase the variety of situations a player has to handle. Rather, gear should “remember” its previously stored runes or sigils and offer the out-of-combat option to change among them.
This could be a gemstore option as well, with the second slot free and additional ones costing gems. Again, this prevents lock-in, or the counterintuitive situation of “delete your old runes, you don’t need them for this situation.”
“I forgot to double-click”: Nourishment
Nourishment holds an interesting niche in the game. PvP doesn’t have it, PvE builds get stronger with it, and WvW builds gain new ability with it*. That is, if a player remembers to double-click. Stacks of consumables can sit in inventory, and a player can just as easily forget they’re there, especially when a set expires.
*Anyone who’s ever run with Sharpening Stones up knows how un-tanky it can make tank-built frontline.
Other players just don’t bother, because it’s a pain figuring out what to use, getting it, then having to remember to click the items before whatever encounter made them advisable. Since most of the time they only give an additional edge, it’s not going to spell encounter failure if they forget.
Solution: Nourishment Slots
Combat forgetfulness! Add two nourishment slots that players can drag a stack of their consumables to, and whenever they enter combat and there aren’t active buffs, the slots consume one of each and activate the buffs.
If a slot is empty, nothing happens when a player enters combat. This way, if a player doesn’t want to burn their consumables, they pull them out of the slot and go about their merry way.
This isn’t as much of a requirement for build diversity as it is a nice thing to have that could add more mileage to a system most of the player base doesn’t use*.
*Short of someone plopping down a feast and saying “eat up!”, of course.
Combine all of these ways that changing builds are an outright pain, and I don’t think Guild Wars 2 is ready for encounters that not just incentivize different builds, but require them. I have laid out several quality of life changes that would take an inflexible build system and make it extremely flexible, even adding some additional gem store options in the process.
I am convinced that without these changes, or ones similar in spirit, any attempts to create diversity in the game will backfire. People dislike being pulled away from playing the game to change their builds, even if it means avoiding an encounter they would otherwise enjoy. Amplify the number of times that happens, and the likelihood of a player maintaining interest in changing builds, or adapting to situations as they come, drops dramatically, as does their interest in the game itself.