PvE Levels 1-50, What Changes?
What of Guild Wars 2?
Well, I have not gotten to level 80 yeeeeeet, something I plan to remedy promptly if my daughter and my boss will let me. (Changes of that happening are slim to none)
However, here’s how I think the game changes in the first 50-ish levels…
Your skill bar: Often-used skills unlock early
First, the combat bar is fairly easy to unlock. If you get to a higher level and you forgot to unlock something (as was the case with me not having been underwater until level 10) the skills unlock faster. This, combined with your dodge and self-healing ability, is the bulk of what you do. Learn to use your weapon skills and to move around early, it is a big component of your combat effectiveness.
You get to unlock weapon swap at level 7, which is pretty early. This in my mind is an important game-changer, because it lets you bring and swap between two main playstyles. This can be ranged & melee, defensive & offensive, damage & support… Weapon swapping is important to let you swap role, or just to access more skills within a role.
You unlock your first optional skill slot at level 5 (and the other two at levels 10 and 20) and the elite at level 30. The optional skills and the elite skill, by comparison, are more icing than meat. These skills are often fairly specific and with longer recharges, you’ll be glad to have them, but for the most part you won’t use them that often. And they do not change your role as your weapon does. There are exceptions where optional skills and even the elite really changes how you play, like the necromancer’s minions and the engineer’s kits.
Since there is no energy, there is no change in how much energy management you need to do.
Specialization: More for the min-max crowd
I have not gotten far enough to notice if skills become better or worse, for the most part, they seem as effective now at level 50 than they were when I got them. Traits and equipment lets you specialize somewhat how your build works, but the effects feel more subtle. Or perhaps I am not that good at min-maxing. Still, I can equip any weapon combination without having to worry about whether I should change my traits, unless I specifically equipped traits that are weapon-specific or fit into a very specific role.
I get the feeling that even at endgame, traits will be more flavor and min-max rather than forcing you into a specialization. But I admit that I do not yet know. Different tiers of traits are unlocked at levels 11, 40, and 60.
Foes get stronger abilities
Foes however are somewhat less forgiving. An early foe might block attacks, so my attacks were wasted against it. A later foe however also adds fire damage when my hit gets blocked, or even bounces my attack back at me. And early foe might stun me, a later foe knocks me down. An early foe puts an AoE field I have to run out of, and a later foe actually fills that AoE field with a pretty damaging attack. You can still mow down foes without paying attention to this, but you will die more often and generally suffer more downtime if you don’t pay attention to this compared to if you do pay attention and react properly.
Vistas also get more complicated. Early vistas were fairly simple affairs, with an obvious path and fairly easy steps to jump. Later vistas become longer, more difficult, and some include foes or less obvious paths. Some points of interest require you to find an underwater entry point. Some vistas’s entry point are hidden behind bushes. Thankfully, most are designed so that if you fall, you don’t have to start from scratch.
Hearts and dynamic events also get more complicated. There are more and more hearts that require you to actually pay attention to what is asked of you, or you will have a really hard time completing it. Some examples include: (1) catching specific bugs and feeding them to specific cows, (2) using stealth to go through a legion undetected, being careful not to pass too near soldiers who patrol the area, (3) killing foes using a specific weapon provided by the heart person, or using a buff provided by the heart person that changes your skill bar, and (4) interacting with NPCs to motivate them or challenge them to duels. There is thankfully not too many of those, with most hearts and dynamic events being pretty intuitive and combat-oriented.
Some bosses become more complicated
I have so far fought two dragons, one at level 2, one at level 50 (shown above). Although neither really moved around, the latter was a more complex fight. First, there were more ways to attack it, as there were cannons and mortars you could use. Those could get broken, so you had to protect them as well. Second, the level 50 dragon seemed to have more ways to attack and defend itself. It sometimes flew into the air where you could not hit it. It spawned crystals you had to break before you could hit it again. It spawned smaller dragons that joined the fight. And it had its own attacks.
I may be missing some stuff with those dragon fights, I admit they felt pretty hectic (especially the level 50 one) despite that I assume you could stand in one spot and spam ranged attacks (and let others micro the crystals and spawns). Still, cinematically, it was a really cool fight.
There are also bosses that move around and use a variety of abilities, which makes the fights more interesting than “stand and spam attacks”.
Overall, the game seems to be offering content that gets more complex as the player learns to play better.