27 Mar 2012

Guild Wars 2, Keybindings & Razer Naga

Confession time: I’m pretty excited about Guild Wars 2. After being able to get in to both press beta weekends, I’ve been impressed by the amount of detail already in the game. All the major game systems are present and correct, letting me get a real feel for what’s involved. You can find some of my more general thoughts on the game over at ZAM.

As part of the process of adapting from more stationary MMOs like World of Warcraft and SWTOR to ones that are more movement focused like TERA and Guild Wars 2, I’ve been reassessing how to make the most of my MMO-designed Logitech G15 and Razer Naga Molten. It’s not as straightforward as you’d think. Guild Wars 2 only has a single action bar with 10 abilities, which in theory would make the Razer Naga pretty much redundant. Add modifiers like weapon switching and profession abilities into the mix, and combine them with trying to limit moving your left hand so you can stay mobile, and you can see why a different approach is needed.

It’s why I spent the last four weeks playing movement based games like Team Fortress 2 in order to get used to moving again. I used to play a lot of Counter Strike and Quake 3 Arena back in the day, but raiding as a Mage in World of Warcraft has made my reflexes and spacial awareness soft and flabby. There’s only so many ways you can stand at the back pressing One, One, One, Two and occasionally moving out of bad stuff.

This is where the transition to Guild Wars 2 gets interesting. Instead of a whole bunch of abilities, I have 5 weapon skills, one healing skill, 3 slot skills and one elite skill. I can swap around my healing, slot and elite skills out of combat, but they generally tend to stay fixed. The five weapon skills, on the other hand, can be swapped in combat. This is done either through switching between two sets of weapons, or through a profession ability like the Elementalist attunements, or through a Slot or Elite skill, like the Engineer’s various toys.

It’s at this point that I started to seriously look at keybindings. When you’re in a crowd movement is less of an issue. But if you’re facing mobs alone or trying to survive in PvP movement is as important as dealing damage. I haven’t done a single arena in World of Warcraft, and it really shows in how much training Guild Wars 2 has put me through.

So where to start? The initial issue is left hand movement. Skills are bound to keys 1 to 0 along the top. WASD is home to your standard movement, with Q and E providing strafe movement. Q, E, W and S will also provide a double-tap to dodge if needed. Beyond that keys F1 to F4 provide access to special profession abilities, while the WTF key (`) will provide weapon switching for those professions that support it. Tab still does target switching.

By default your first skill is set to auto-repeat after the first cast, but you can do this with any other weapon skill if you prefer by holding down CTRL and right-clicking it. Useful, but its ultimate value depends on what weapons and profession you’re playing with.

The first option is to look at mapping the F1-F4 keys to the buttonpad on the Razer Naga. This only frees up four keys, meaning that either my heal (bad) or elite skill (not so bad) also gets thrown to the Naga. It also doesn’t prevent me from occasionally bashing the Esc key by mistake when trying to move from a weapon switch to F1. While it might have some potential, I eventually had to drop this one.

The next option is to bind my heal, slot skills and elite skill to the Razer Naga. This works to a point, although I had to put an adhesive pad on the heal button to make sure I could find it reliably and quickly. I think this could have potential as most abilities on the right of the actionbar are on a longer cooldown, but I can see it causing conflicts with having my voice chat push-to-talk bound there as well. During the more recent press weekend this was the setup I eventually ran with.

There is a third option, and that’s largescale rebinding. I can either look to drop everything down a row, so that WASD becomes SZXC and re-form everything around that. This way I can still map the profession abilities on F1 to F4 to the Razer Naga and still avoid kludging Esc. The other way is to potentially unbind the turn keys A and D and backpedal S, drop the bindings for strafe and move forward down a row to replace them, and instead rebind my heal and slot abilities to QWER and F. Both of these have potential, and I’m hoping to find one that feels natural over future beta sessions.

Is the Razer Naga worth using with Guild Wars 2? Well, yes and no. If you’ve already got the classic version or even a Razer Naga Molten then I’d suggest giving it a fair go, using the training stickers or adhesive pads to help your thumb retrain as needed. If you’ve not got one but you’re considering it, I’d suggest a closer look at the Razer Naga Hex. The button layout is designed for MOBA use, but I reckon it’ll be ideal for Guild Wars 2’s reduced dependency on hotkeys. Plus it’s green and, as we all know, green is good.

Meanwhile if you’ve got any keymapping suggestions of your own then feel free to share them. April 10th is only a few short weeks away and the promised land of beta awaits. Any planning done now will probably pay dividends later. Just remember, if you played last weekend then respect the NDA!

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