Combat is the main gameplay aspect of Guild Wars 2. Almost all the PvE quests in the world of Guild Wars 2 involve fighting. This is even more so the case in the PvP and WvW game modes, which are solely about the combat experience itself. Guild Wars 2 does not follow the "holy trinity" design found in other MMOs, where professions fall into tank, damage, and healing. Due to a diverse skill system allowing for a multitude of vastly different character builds, every profession in Guild Wars 2 is capable of fitting each of the combat roles (damage, support, control) or are sometimes even the result of a combination of them.
Every profession has the tools to survive on its own. As a result, there is a skill slot in the skill bar reserved for a healing skill, and every character has the ability to dodge attacks. Despite being able to play most of the game solo, there are occasional events that require more than one player, such as dungeons and champion level bosses.
Whether the player wants to engage in offensive or defensive actions, the skill bar always plays a central role in combat. It can carry a maximum of ten different skills, most of which are initially locked, and looks different based on profession, chosen skills, and equipped weapons. Skills can be used to damage and debilitate opponents and aid the user and their allies to attempt to win the battle.
The slots in the skill bar are reserved as follows (cf. picture):
- Slot 1-5: weapon skills
- Slot 6: healing skill
- Slot 7-9: utility skills
- Slot 0: elite skill
- F1-5: profession mechanics
In addition to the explicit effects of skills, any character damaged by an opponent is placed in "combat mode", which reduces their forward movement speed, increases the cooldown on swapping weapon sets, and prevents the character from changing their equipped items or skills. Combat mode ends after all enemies you have attacked or been attacked by are dead or far enough away.
Certain conditions, such as poisoned, can sometimes continue to inflict damage and keep a character in combat mode for a significant time even after all opponents are defeated. On the other hand, a character that avoids damage (for example by dodging or using aegis) can sometimes stay out of "combat mode" even while under direct attack.
Players can easily tell if they are in combat by the appearance of their skill bar: while in combat, the skill bar is surrounded by yellow haze. Combat mode is normally triggered by attacking or being attacked by an enemy, taking damage to health in any way, or receiving hostile effects like conditions. While in combat, the character's health will not recover naturally; while out of combat, the character's health will regenerate rapidly. Some actions such as revival take longer while in combat than while out of combat, and some actions such as the use of waypoints are not permitted while in combat.
Maximum range of "combat mode" is 1,500. Going past this range can let a player leave "combat mode" regardless if the enemy is still in combat or not, and is easily exploitable for classes with movement skills (such as teleport, Shadowstep (mechanic), and Leap) who are able to move over the 1,500 range quickly allowing for quick health regeneration. Best classes for exploiting this mechanic are Warrior, Ranger and Thief, with the Thief being the easiest to exploit the 1,500 range of combat mode.
Actions not permitted in combat mode
- Waypoint travel
- Entering WvW (however, the player can enter WvW if they were queued before entering combat and get the enter WvW dialog)
- Changing traits
- Changing skills
- Equipping or Unequipping items (including gathering tools)
Swapping weapon sets during combat
Swapping weapons is one of the key combat elements in Guild Wars 2.
Most professions can have a second weapon set readied. This allows players to switch back and forth between weapon sets, which will instantaneously replace the first five slots of the skill bar (the weapon skills) based on the weapon set the player is currently wielding. A player is therefore effectively replacing their five core skills.
Weapon-switching is especially useful for:
- extending the number of skills available in combat,
- avoiding long cooldowns on skills,
- making use of the different weapon properties (such as range) in combat.
Note: Both the elementalist and engineer professions can only ready a maximum of one weapon set at a time. However, elementalists may achieve similar effects by switching attunement, whereas engineers can equip various engineering kits.
Avoiding enemy attacks
Every character has the ability to dodge incoming attacks at the expense of endurance.
The best time to initiate a dodge is when the enemy is executing a powerful attack. This is much easier to do in PvE because the monster types encountered in this mode generally have a clear indicator of when they are about to unleash a powerful attack: for instance, an exaggerated attack animation or the glaring of the enemy's eyes.
There is no basic attack in Guild Wars 2, since all attacks require the player to activate a skill in the skill bar.
However, any skill slot can be put on auto-attack. It is thus possible to activate a skill as soon as it is recharged if no other skill is currently being cast. By default, skill slot 1 of each weapon set is set to auto-attack.
If the player is using the optional Action Camera mode, then action 1 is treated as an autoattack and is activated by left click.
Note: Most bundles do not have a default auto-attack. In Action Camera mode, left click will still trigger action 1.
Some skills create chains with others. Upon successful activation of a chain skill, it is replaced by the next in the series. Chains are reset if another skill outside the chain is used, if the player is interrupted, or when the chain completes.
Certain skills can dynamically combine their effects in a combo that produces an extra benefit beyond the skills' normal effects. Skills that can begin a combo create "combo fields", and skills that can complete a combo are called "combo finishers". Both skills do not necessarily need to be performed by the same character, and in fact many combos are only possible using skills from two different professions.
- In the game window, the color of the mob's level varies depending on the apparent (or adjusted) level of the player character. If the character is four or more levels higher than the mob, the mob's level has a greenish tint to it. If the character's level is three or more levels below that of the mob, the mob's level has a reddish tint to it. If there is a greater level difference, the mob's level appears as reddish-purple.
- According to The Making of Guild Wars 2, at one point during development the combat system of the game consisted solely of aiming and shooting, similar to an action game.