In Part 1 I focused on Traits and the importance of character concept and play style. I believe those elements are the foundation of any good character build. What you equip your character with also plays a vital role in bringing the other elements up to their potential. I’ll also be going over how to actually put all those mechanics together. I’ll include a few suggestions on how to filter your way through the countless potentials to find the traits and equipment that will allow you to create the character you want to play.
Acquiring gear for your first level 80 can be crushingly difficult. If you are poor, then aim at a complete set of green Masterwork gear at first. At the very least update your weapons because increased damage will help you survive. Aim for a full set of Exotic gear as soon as you can; this will set you back around 15 gold at the very least. If you’ve been doing WvW then you can spend your Badges of Honor on gear. If you’ve been crafting, you might be able to make your own. If you have at least a half million Karma, you might be able to buy Temple gear. There are many ways to equip yourself, but it will take time.
The actual attributes on your equipment should reflect your concept and support the traits you have chosen. For example: If you have a lot of traits that function when you get a critical, you will need Precision bonuses in order to get the most from those traits. This wiki entry shows what sorts of armour, weapons and trinkets supply which bonuses. Damage is caused primarily by Power and/or Condition Damage. Power based damage is increased with Precision and Ferocity gear. For the mathematically minded, this article gives some indications on how to balance Precision and Ferocity with Power.
Survival is supported with Toughness, Vitality and Healing Power. If you expect to take a lot of direct physical damage then Toughness is the better attribute, but if you expect to suffer a lot of conditions then Vitality is the better investment. Healing Power alone will not keep you alive for long, but it is a good companion to the other attributes, especially if your class has a few healing skills.
Min/maxing refers to applying attributes to maximise a single aspect at the expense of others while minimising risks though other means. For example, the trend towards Berserker build characters aims to maximise damage output by sacrificing the survival attributes such as Toughness and Vitality. The Berserker hopes to avoid damage by using other game mechanics such as dodge and blind to minimise the risk. Risk is also minimised by killing the mobs before they can inflict much damage in return.
I certainly aim to min/max my builds, aiming to do one thing really well while mitigating the sacrifices required to reach the maximum. If I’m making a Power build, then I try to add everything I can to get that Power attribute up, with every piece of gear having the highest Power I can get. However, I will sacrifice Power if that choice leaves me excessively vulnerable in another area. So min/maxing is really about finding balance, aiming for a maximum value, but only so far as you can while still keeping the character playable.
What do I use? I tend to build most characters on the same base, with Soldier’s armour and trinkets, and Berserker weapons and jewels in the Trinkets. This allows me a relaxed style of play even at my Ping of 400m/s, while giving me roughly 25% chance to critical in order to activate Sigils and special trait abilities. I do the best damage possible against world bosses and still manage decent damage against other creatures. Not all characters are built this way, but I find it a solid base line for tinkering. This also allows me to change traits into many configurations for testing without having to change my gear.
What about balanced builds? Well, some classes can do well with a balanced gear set. Celestial gear offers a perfectly balanced set of attributes which can work wonders for Elementalists or some Guardians, but feels sub-par for most other classes. Balanced builds in any class certainly can work, but it really depends on how you play. A balanced build will rarely shine in any way, but they are a viable option.
Runes and sigils
The selection of runes is really done in the same way as everything else; acquire runes suitable to your concept and play style. Since the April 15 patch I see little reason to not use a full set of your selected runes, so you need 7 runes in total, six for your armour and one for your breather. If you don’t put the same rune in your breather then you will lose your six rune bonus when under water as the breather replaces your head armour. If you cannot find a suitable breather, I recommend you get the level 80 masterwork breather from Gavbeorne in Cursed Shore.
Sigils are a little more personal to your build. As with traits, you want the sigil for the special ability it provides. Aim for a sigil that plays toward your concept, and interacts with your traits and skills. I use a lot of sigils that work when I kill a foe, because I know I have a tendency to plough directly into crowds of bad guys. My Ranger uses a sigil that grants Vulnerability as it compliments her already prodigious Vulnerability stacking abilities. Many of my characters use a Sigil of Speed just to help them move swiftly around the maps. The choice you make should be well considered, but there is no ‘best in slot’, so go with something that suits you.
Researching a build
I use a couple of tools for creating a build. Primary is this Build Editor, which allows you to select gear, traits skills etc and lets you know how it should add up. Make sure you switch the mode to the right type as it defaults to PvP mode. With the builder open in one window I then open two more on the GW2 Wiki. For the first I search for the traits for the class I’m working on. If I’m working on a Guardian I would search ‘Guardian Traits’, which should provide a good list of all traits a Guardian has. On the other tab, I then search the Wiki for skills. To get a full list of the skills e.g. search ‘Guardian Skills‘. With these two things open on the wiki I can easily click any skill or trait to read fully into what it does.
I then move to my concept. For example, if I want a character that benefits or causes a lot of Criticals, I go to the Traits page and hit Ctrl+F to use the browser Find function, then enter ‘Critical’ into the search parameter. This allows me to find every reference to Criticals in the traits. I might also do the same with the skills page but it’s rarely as fruitful. As I find each relevant trait, I put it into the Build Editor and see what I’m left with. If I’ve spent all my trait points and don’t have all the related traits I want, then perhaps the scope of my concept is to broad. If I carn’t find many relevant traits, I move onto the next distinguishing element of my concept. If I exhaust all the distinguishing elements of my concept, then either my concept is weak and needs alteration, or I’m free to choose whatever traits add flavour to the concept.
That might all seem very confusing, but there is no hard and fast rule here. The moral of the story is to find traits that support your character concept and play style. I won’t say there are no bad traits, because some are pretty bad, however any trait that allows you to play your character the way you want to, is a good trait. Unless of course you are in one of those hard core militaristic zombie guilds, in which case you’ll have to be a mindless drone and just follow your masters orders :P.
Using the build editor, you can add in all your gear and traits and see how the numbers stack up. I tend to do two versions, one version with basic gear, then another with the gear I intend to get when I can, just to give me an idea of what to expect as I take time to collect the complete equipment set.
How do you tell if your numbers are any good? Test it! You can go into the Heart of the Mists and use the practice golems: Go to the crossed swords icon top left of your ui, enter the mists and take a look around, you’ll find all you need and more. I much prefer to actually dive into the ‘real world’ and try things out there. What you choose as your testing grounds really depends on what you want to test, but whatever you use, be consistent. Incarnica and I used the south end of Wayfarer Foothills in our early days, as there is a good range of events which we could also gain guild influence with. These days we use the Jotun and the Champion Ram in Timberline Falls as our baseline for testing. If a character cannot beat up an entire Jotun village and solo the Champion Ram, then the build needs looking at.
Find a place that suits you and try out your build. Keep tinkering it and trying it until you work out any bugs and things feel right to you. By being consistent in your testing subjects, you are more accurately comparing each configuration. Of course a build might feel fine in the tests, but then feel wrong after a week or so, so really, the testing never actually stops. I have some characters that I’ve invested 50 gold or more in just trying a build setup, only to return to their old gear after a week.
Ultimately, build creation is about what you want to do with your character. If you want to be a hardcore PvPer, WvWer or Dungeon runner, then there are highly number crunched builds out there you would be foolish to overlook. My focus is more on casual PvE, so my build focus is on the individual character, their concept, and what’s fun to play. I tried the Might stacking greatsword warrior everyone recommends and yeah, he’s incredibly powerful and a massive boon to any team, but he’s also incredibly boring for me, so I switched back to what I was doing previously.
While the equipment for builds can be very costly, playing with the traits is free. It’s comforting to know that you can never actually ruin a GW2 character, so you are free to experiment as much as you like. For me, fun is what it’s all about, but the number crunching side of me revels in the challenge of making builds. I’ve spent hundreds of gold just playing around, and I’ll spend more yet, though I am careful not to go overboard with expenses.
Those cookie cutter builds everyone else is playing; those are all awesome builds … for those players. My advice to any player, whether a GW2 veteran or a complete newb, is to find the build that is awesome for you.