One of the more unique design elements of Guild Wars 2 is the way skills are set up in the game. There have been countless blogs and articles describing the skill system and how it relates your Hotbar layout, but it also one of the biggest misconceptions about the game. So let’s clear it up now. People who’ve played games like Everquest 2, World of Warcraft, RIFT and Star Wars: The Old Republic are used to looking at multiple hotbars full of skills and abilities that do a large variety of things. In Guild Wars 2 this is greatly reduced and you don’t have to be a master pianist to manipulate your character.
If you want to know all about keybinds, weapon swapping and individual profession skills keep reading!
Key Binds and Hotbars
In GW2 the basic layout consists of five weapon skills, one heal skill, three utility skills, one elite skill. These slots are universal across all eight professions. Where things differ is how your profession skills are mapped to your Function Keys, F1 through F4. For example, a Mesmer has four “shatter” abilities tied to their F1 through F4 keys that manipulate their illusions. A Necromancer, on the other hand, uses only the F1 key to swap in and out of their Death Shroud.
When you factor in profession skills and your basic keys, you now possess 11 to 14 possible keybinds that you will have to manipulate. However, there is one more key you have to remember: Weapon Swapping! The ~ key operates as your weapon swap key. If you’re not familiar with how this works, every profession, except the Engineer and Elementalist, has the ability to equip two sets of weapons on their character sheet. When you swap your weapon sets, the weapon skills on your hotbar are instantly swapped out for your new set and places the weapon swap key on cooldown.
Special Note: The Elementalist’s profession skills gives them the ability to swap between all four attunements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Each attunement gives the Elementalist five separate abilities for the weapon set they are wielding. So in essence, the Elementalist gets twenty skills per weapon set. In the case of the Engineer, they also only can equip one weapon set. However, Engineers place “kits” in their utility skill slots. When these skills are slotted, it places special abilities in their F1-F4 class slots. When activating the utility skill slot, it replaces your weapons skill slots instantly (like swapping weapons) giving you access to five new weapon skills.
With all that being said, each player will only have to maintain 12 to 15 keybinds. This is an amazing reduction from many AAA MMORPG games where you end up key mapping 1-5 and ~, Alt/Ctrl/Shift 1-5 and ~, R, F, Z, C, Q, E F1-F14 etc. In a game that will have a huge focus on competitive PVP, the less keys that you have to memorize, the better. And unless you’re a hardcore, pro-player, the less keys you have to be aware of, the more you can keep your mind focused on the game at hand. This usually leads to a better play experience! Gone are the days of have five rows of hotbars cluttering up your screen.
Weapon Swapping and Skill Availability
Now that we’ve covered keybinds, let’s discuss what effect Weapon Swapping has on the skills classes have available at any given time. Before we get to class specific instances, lets take a look at the basic principals that rule every profession with the exception of the Engineer and Elementalist. We already know that everyone gets one elite skill, three utility skills and one heal skill. With Weapon Swapping, you will also have access to ten different weapon skills. So, ignoring for the moment profession skills, everyone has access to 15 different abilities at any given time. This gives the player a larger variety of skills to use at any given time. The one limiting factor is the cooldown of Weapon Swap. While it is short, it does prevent a player from switching weapons back and forth, so weapon swapping during combat will require decent timing in any combat scenario.
Now let’s take a brief look at each profession and see what they can do.
The Ranger’s profession skills are tied to their pets. Your F1 through F4 keys are tied to manipulating your companion and should be familiar to anyone who has played a pet class in any other MMORPG.
The Ranger makes use of all four keys:
- F1: Attack
- F2: Pet Specific Ability
- F3: Passive/Aggressive toggle
- F4: Pet Swap
The interesting factor here is that Rangers are able to swap pets just like they can swap weapons. Given this, the Ranger has to maintain the standard 15 skills, the F1-F4 Abilities, and due to pet swapping, the F2 ability has 2 potential abilities. This gives the Ranger 20 potential abilities they have access to, depending on pet/weapon swap cooldowns. One has to note however, the Ranger does have access to certain Utility Skills that have a secondary abilitiess (see: Spirits).
The Necromancer’s profession skill is the Death Shroud. Many of the Necromancer’s abilities leach Life Force which fills up a pool. At any point, you can activate your Death Shroud (F1 Key) and enter in a new form. This form then gives you access to four different abilities using the 1-4 Keys. The Death Shroud lasts as long as your Life Force pool which depletes over time and also acts as a second health pool. Once empty, or you leave Death Shroud by pressing F1 a second time, you are then reverted back to your original form and your Death Shroud key goes on cooldown.
The Necromancer makes use of only the F1 Key:
- F1: Toggle Death Shroud
Because of your new form the Necromancer has access to four new abilities, so when including your standard 15 skills, the Necromancer has access to 20 potential abilities. The Necromancer summons minions via Utility Skills. All minions have a abilities that you can access via the utility skill button.
The Thief is a much simpler profession, as it does not have as many abilities as the Necromancer or Ranger. The Thief’s profession skill is Steal. Steal teleports you to your target and “steals” an ability from them. This ability is not NPC specific, but comes from a list of abilities pre-prescribed for Steal. Once you Steal from a target, the F1 key becomes the key you use to activate that stolen ability. After using the ability, your Steal ability goes on cooldown.
The Thief makes use of only the F1 Key:
- F1: Steal
Because of the Thief’s profession skill, the Thief has access to only 16 potential abilities if you combine the double function of the F1 key with it’s Steal and Ability.
The Mesmer is an interesting profession where you have abilities that create illusions of yourself to fight against your foes. The Mesmer makes use of all four Function keys. Each of the F1 through F4 keys “shatters” your illusions creating various effects and destroying those illusions in the process.
The Mesmer makes use of the F1 through F4 Keys:
- F1: Shatter Illusions, causing damage
- F2: Shatter Illusions, causing confusion
- F3: Shatter Illusions, dazing opponents
- F4: Shatter Illusions, gain distortion (Mesmer specific defensive boon)
With the inclusion of the 15 standard standard abilities, the Mesmer has up to 19 abilities at any given moment. Each individual shatter has it’s own cooldown.
The Guardian has a professions specific abilities called Virtues. These Virtues fill up the F1 through F3 keys. Each Virtue has a passive effect and an active effect. When you activate a Virtue it goes on cooldown and the passive benefit is removed for that short duration.
The Guardian makes use of the F1 through F3 keys:
- F1: Burn foes with your every fifth attack. Activate: Nearby allies set foes on fire with their next attacks
- F2: Regenerate health. Activate: Remove conditions and regenerate nearby allies
- F3: Every 30 seconds you gain an aegis that blocks the next attack. Activate: Grant Aegis to nearby allies
With your standard 15 skills, the Guardian has a total of 18 different abilities to use at any given point. The Guardian also has access to utility skills that operate much like the Necromancer’s minions where they have secondary functions.
The Warrior has a series of skills called “Burst Skills” which take up the F1 key. Each attack a Warrior executes builds up adrenaline and fills up a pool. Your burst skill will vary depending on the weapon you are wielding at the time. The burst skills will become more powerful doing additional damage or conditions depending on the level of your adrenaline.
The Warrior makes use of the F1 key:
- F1: Burst Skill
Because the burst skill is weapon-dependent, this means that the Warrior has access to two burst skills because of weapon swapping. With this, the warrior has a total of 17 different abilities to use dependent on weapon swap cooldown at any given point.
As you already know, the Engineer is a very unique profession in Guild Wars 2. The F1 through F4 keys will vary depending on your healing and utility skill layout. The engineer utility and healing skills will vary between kits, turrets and elixirs along with other gadgets. When an engineer equips a kit in their utility slot (flamethrower, grenades, mines, bombs, elixir gun, healing and tool kits) they will alter their Function keys along with their weapon skill loadout.
For example: If an Engineer equips the bomb kit in their first utility slot two things happen. First, their F2 button becomes a special ability; in this case Big Ole Bomb. Second, their weapon skill loadout changes to five new abilities. Pressing the utility skill again switch your bomb kit back to your original weapon loadout.
In the case of your Healing Skill, your healing skill slot activates the skill, and also puts it’s affect in the F1 slot.
Turrets are also deployed in similar fashion. Equipping a turret in the second utility slot, now allows you to activate the turret with the F3 Key. All turrets have an “overload” feature; once deployed, the turret’s utility skill slot becomes a secondary ability for your turret. In the example of the Healing Turret, it deploys a large spray of healing to all nearby allies. In addition, once deployed, your F3 key changes to a secondary function that will allow you to explode your turret.
Engineers make use of all four Function Keys:
- F1: Healing Skill special function
- F2: Turrets, Kit special function, etc.
- F3: Turrets, Kit special function, etc.
- F4: Turrets, Kit special function, etc.
Engineer maximum abilities will vary with builds. For example, an Engineer that uses up to three Kits has access to 5 Weapon Skills (not 10 due to only one weapon set), and then 5 for each Kit which gives you a total of 20 Weapon Skills, 1 Healing, 3 Utility, 1 Eliete and F1-F4 for a grand total of 29. This can vary sharply if you use other utility skills or turrets.
Summation: Turrets offer 3 functions, Deployment, Explosion and Overload. Kits offer 7 functions each, Equip/Unequip, 5 Weapon Skills, Function-Key Ability.
The Elementalist probably has the most abilities (with the exception of a heavy kit Engineer build) in it’s arsenal out of all the professions. Though it has the most abilities, it’s mechanism are not as confusion on the surface as the Engineer’s. The Elementalist can only equip one weapon set, and does not have access to the weapon swap feature. Instead the Elementalist’s Function Keys, F1-F4, allow the player to swap between all four attunements, each one having it’s own separate cooldown. What this means is that an Elementalist has four separate weapon loadouts per weapon.
The Elementalist makes use of the F1 through F4 keys.
- F1: Fire
- F2: Water
- F3: Air
- F4: Earth
Each Elementalist has access to 20 Weapon Skills, 1 Healing, 1 Elite and 3 Utility skills, for a grand total of 25 abilities. We do not count attunement swapping as an ability to be counted towards this total.
As you can see, the majority of the professions do not require you to have a specialized user interface just to house all of your abilities. In comparison, if GW2 were to have hotbars like you find in other games, you would only be filling up two of them instead for 4 or 5. Often enough, many of GW2′s utility skills are passive and don’t require constant monitoring. Many weapon skills and utility skills often have 30 seconds or longer cooldowns that make them situational rather that abilities you would work into a standard rotation.