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The Evolution of Attributes

By Michael Bitton on March 21, 2011 | Columns | Comments

The Evolution of Attributes

On the run up to this year’s PAX East ArenaNet’s Isaiah Cartwright updated the official ANET blog with an article on the evolution of Guild Wars 2’s attribute design. With game design being an iterative process, things are constantly changing, and ArenaNet seems pretty focused on getting things right and making sure they are fun so the article turned out to be a fairly insightful look at the internal thought processes of the studio’s approach to the game mixed with some new details on what we can actually expect as far as attributes in Guild Wars 2 goes.

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The original Guild Wars didn’t really have a strong attribute system as “Izzy” admits, noting that items were are often sought out for their skins as opposed to their statistics. If you’ve been following my articles for a while now you’d know that I’m fairly vain when it comes to my MMOs and so that sort of approach doesn’t bother me too much, but even I can appreciate picking something up that not only looks cool but improves my character. This is an RPG after all, right?

To that end, ArenaNet decided to create a more meaningful attributes system for Guild Wars 2 and they went through a number of iterations, most of which turned out to be either simply confusing or overcomplicated. The team eventually settled on the breakdown outlined below:

  • Power—increased attack damage.
  • Precision—increased critical strike chance.
  • Vitality—increased health.
  • Toughness—increased defense/armor.

If you’ve read the original article, this latest iteration is a great deal more streamlined (though still evolving), going from six attributes (strength, agility, intelligence, vitality, perception, and willpower) which was the design featured in the gamescom and PAX Prime demos from last year, to a four attribute system that is much easier to figure out. Us diehard gamers are quick to jump on designs that are simplified as we appreciate the complexity in games and frankly a lot of us are paranoid (often for good reason) that things are getting “dumbed down” these days, but I honestly don’t see this as such a bad thing for Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2 gives players a ton of freedom in the way they play their class at any given moment and Izzy explained that while the previous system of attributes worked pretty well, it didn’t really allow for plays to truly embrace the spirit of Guild Wars 2. For example, Warriors can choose to wield a sword and bow in their two weapon slots, however, if you split your stats between Strength and Agility in order to be capable with both, you’d be worse off than someone who dumped all their stats into either Strength or Agility and chose to focus on the associated weapon type. I’m sure some of you are saying, “So, what?” as this is often a meaningful choice for players, to either have to specialize or be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, and I think you’ll find that while the new system is simpler at face value, it sounds like you’ll still have to make choices when picking up gear focused on single attributes vs gear that focuses on multiple attributes.

Ultimately, ArenaNet wants you to be able to pick up a weapon you can use and experiment with it, no matter what it is (as long as your class can use it, of course), and  they found that the restrictive attribute design made it much less enticing to do that. After all, would you really be interested in messing around with some sweet new bow if you’d dumped your points into Strength? One could argue that since the game lets you basically respec anywhere you could possibly just redo your points to mess around with it. I suppose that’s a fair argument if they allow for that as they did in the original Guild Wars, but with more meaningful itemization as far as attributes go you probably wouldn’t have the gear to go with it.

The choice between Power and Toughness seems about as straightforward as you would expect in a simplified system, it’s a choice between damage and mitigation, and at least going by the blog update, it seems as simple as that. The choice between Power and Precision, however, which are both damage attributes (DPS vs. Crit) outlined the depth that is still preserved even after their decision to go with a simpler array of attributes:

“For example, a guardian could favor raw power so his Orb of Light does more damage, or he could go higher in precision and use a trait that causes burning with every critical hit. Going this second route, the guardian could also wield a weapon that caused a short cripple with critical strikes. Now, with a high enough chance for critical hits, his Orb of Light will often snare his target, setting up a following attack, and apply burning, making up for the lower raw damage. Precision ends up the trickier but more combo-friendly attribute, earning you more reliable effects and conditional damage.”

ArenaNet doesn’t seem to be making any bones about the fact that part of the decision to go with a simpler attribute system has to do with making the system “easier to understand” and you can read into that however you want, but ultimately I think it will end up a wise choice as there have been many games that claimed to offer players freedom in their style of play but it so often turned out that restrictive attributes got in the way of that freedom. If this new system is easier to balance and allows me to enjoy the flexibility the game allows, so be it.

Looking at the way they are handling classes and the variety of interesting abilities I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to find some deep and interesting combinations, how about you? Are you disappointed with the new attribute design? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager.
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