gw2 combat mechanic guide

Guild Wars 2 Combat Mechanics Explained

Combat in GW2 is unique and diverse, there are many concepts new players must learn of before they can master it. This guide is a great place to get started for those who wish to gain a better understanding of the fundamental mechanics of the game’s combat system.

Downed State

A defining mechanic in all of GW2. When you take too much damage and all your HP is gone, you’ll enter a downed state where you can no longer move or perform any actions aside from using your downed skills. In most formats this is your last chance to get back into the fight before having to respawn.

Allied players/NPCs get a chance to revive you in combat while your enemies will be working on denying that. Killing either an enemy player or any mob that yields XP is also a way to rally yourself and get back up.

IMPORTANT: if you die from falling off something tall, you die right away and skip the downed state!

Each profession has its unique downstate bar, but the structure is generally the same.

  • Skill 1 is a simple damaging skill that gives you a chance to kill others and get back up.
  • Skill 2 is always a skill that could prevent others from finishing you.
  • Skill 4 is a self-rez that breaks on damage.
  • Skill 3 is something entirely unique. For example an engineer’s skill 3 is an AoE CC while ranger has an extremely strong self-rez that doesn’t break on damage.
An engineer's downed state bar
downed state rez mechanic popup

Rez & Rally

Before the downed state HP runs out you have a chance to rally and get back into the fight.

To rally you either have to kill an enemy or get revived by your allies. Any ally can press their interact key (F by default) next to a downed player to start reviving them, but there are also certain players skills that can revive  others.

IMPORTANT: reviving an ally counts as healing and the rez speed is negatively impacted by healing reduction effects such as poison! Same goes for player skills that rez others, poison may make them fail.

Stomping

There’s more than one way to kill a downed enemy, and you may choose to do it without even dealing damage to them – this is called stomping. Simply walk up to them, hit F, and successfully finish the channel. Whether stomping or cleaving is the right call is situational, and it’s mainly a PvP thing.

Stomping mechanic popup

Defeated

Once your downed bar runs out and you were unsuccesful in your attempts to rally, you enter the defeated state. In other words, you’re dead. Whether allies are still allowed to revive you depends on the area and the circumstances. Open world is more forgiving in thet regard and you may even attempt rezing others while still in combat. Meanwhile endgame and PvP areas often force defeated players to either use a waypoint or wait for the spawn timer.

Dodging

This is really something you can’t play without so might as well get used to it early. In GW2 you are expected to avoid the most important skills through dodging, blocking, teleporting and other similar methods. Even a dedicated healer wouldn’t be able to keep you alive if you facetanked everything.

Every player has 2 dodge bars by default, which means you can dodge twice. A bar consists of 50 endurance and when it’s depleted it slowly starts regenerating. Effects like the vigor boon can speed up endurance regen while debuffs such as the weakness condition could slow it down.

As for what to dodge and when, it obviously depends on what you’re facing. Most dangerous attacks have well-telegraphed animations and you should always be reading the battlefield for them.

Weapon Swap

With the exception of engineers and elementalists, every profession has access to 2 weapon sets in combat. Swapping from one set to the other while in combat has a 10 second CD. This is a big part of your cooldown management. While elementalists and engineers can’t swap weapons in combat, they have similar mechanics in the form of attunements and kits which also work with mechanics tied to swapping, like on-swap sigils.

Combo System

The things you’re able to do with skills don’t end with what’s stated on the tooltips. With the help of the combo system a good player can push the limits of not only their build but also their team comp by creating combos with their allies. Not every profession makes equal use of this system though – necromancers are notoriously lacking in the combo department while engineers are a swiss army knife of combo potential. There are 2 major parts to this system: fields and finishers.

combo fields in Guild Wars 2

Combo Fields

These determine the nature of the interactions. For example combos executed in an ice field are centered around chilling targets and applying frost aura, while smoke fields serve as a basis for stealth and blind focused combos.

Combo Finishers

Fields are nothing without the finishers that make use of them, but they are limited to what the given field allows for. A blast finisher executed in a water field causes AoE healing for your allies, while a leap finisher only heals you. Blast and leap finishers are the most consistent and impactful ones, as a new player focus on learning those. To view the full list of interactions, click here for Blast finishers and here for Leap finishers.

Successfully executed combo finisher

Breakbars

Also referred to as the defiance bar, breakbars are ArenaNet’s solution to making CC matter on boss fights. This is almost exclusively a PvE mechanic. There are certain foes in the game you cannot CC nor interrupt, but you may notice a blue bar under their red HP bar when targeted – that’s a breakbar.

GW2 breakbar mechanic illustrated

A breakbar could be locked or unlocked depending on the mob you’re facing. In its locked status you can’t interact with it and some bosses only have their breakbars become unlocked during certain phases during which you must unload as much CC as possible. A 4 second CC is going to deal more “damage” to the bar then say, a Chill effect or a short daze. What happens when a breakbar is depleted depends on the encounter, it ranges from the enemy simply getting knocked out for a few seconds to entering a new phase where it’s even more vulnerable to damage.

Barrier

A barrier is like a shield that soaks incoming damage and starts decaying after a couple of seconds if not consumed by damage. In a way barrier scales with vitality, as the maximum barrier amount on you can’t exceed 50% of your max HP. The bigger your base health pool is, the more barrier you can stack. Barrier is represented by a sand effect overlapping your upper HP bar plus a yellow number stating the exact amount.

GW2 Barrier mechanic illustrated

Stealth

Stealth access in GW2 is rather limited when compared to some other games, it’s not a mode you toggle on and stay in indefinitely. Most skills and combos only offer 2-3 seconds of stealth. Stealth stacks in duration up to 12 seconds, so using 2 stealth skills with a 3 second duration is going to give you stealth for a total of 6 seconds. 

Stealth buff as seen in the tooltip

Taking damage while stealthed doesn’t interrupt stealth, but a stealthed player dealing direct damage to others will drop out of stealth (doing condition damage to enemies doesn’t break stealth though). There are also certain skills that could force others out of stealth by directly applying revealed to them.

Tooltip for the revealed mechanic

Revealed is a mechanic which prevents players from re-entering stealth for 3 seconds in PvE/WvW and 4 seconds in sPvP. This effect could be self-inflicted (mostly from breaking stealth by doing damage to others), or applied by your enemies through anti-stealth skills such as a ranger’s Sic ’em. If an enemy applies revealed to you while in stealth, your stealth will be broken.

Buffs And Debuffs

Most of these effects are fairly streamlined in GW2. Almost every positive effect you could grant to allies is a boon, while nearly all the negative ones are conditions.

Conditions

The main debuff and DoT effect category in GW2. There are 2 main types of conditions: damaging and debilitating.

Damaging conditions do just that, they deal damage over time and stack in intensity. If you apply 3 stacks of burning to a target for 2 seconds, they’ll be taking 3 stacks worth of damage each second.

Debilitating conditions are negative but non-damaging effects that stack in duration like Cripple (decreases movement speed) or Blind (makes your next attack miss).

Boons

Boons are the opposite of conditions, they are positive buffs.

The only buff that stacks in intensity is Might which increases outgoing damage for each stack affecting you, all other boons stack duration.

Interactions And Counters

You can get rid of your conditions with the help of certain skills that remove them. This process is called cleansing. In this case a specified amount of conditions are simply removed (always in full stacks).

There’s also condition conversion, which not only frees you from conditions but also converts them into their respective boon counterparts.

On the other side of the spectrum there is boon coversion, through which you may transform the boons of your enemies into conditions. And finally, boon removal. Skills with boon removal simply strip your opponent of a specified amount of boons.

You can find more information about boons and conditions on this official wiki page.

Crowd Control

CC abilities let you control the flow of battle by disabling your foes for a period of time. These fall into two categories.

Soft CC limits the freedom of those affected by it, but only target a specific area. For example immobilized targets can no longer move but are still able to use skills, while crippled targets can move freely albeit at a slower pace.

Hard CC causes a more severe loss of control. Knocked down targets can neither move nor cast skills, fear causes them to flee, launch yeets them across the room, and so forth.

Counters

Control effects can be tackled both proactively and reactively. Those with the stability boon are immune to CC, but each hard CC they eat removes one stack of stability. Stability can only protect you from incoming CC and is ineffective against the ones currently affecting you. Stun breaks on the other hand free you from any form of hard CC affecting you.

Blocking

A tier below dodging/evasion is blocking. This is overall weaker and more counterable, but powerful nonetheless.

Most blocking abilities are channeled ones, preventing you from casting other skills in the meantime. Aegis is an exception, this boon blocks the next incoming attack without limiting your combat capabilities.

Unblockable

Unblockable attacks counter blocking skills by straight up ignoring the effect. Same goes for projectile reflects – unblockable attacks won’t be reflected nor absorbed by anti-projectile effects.

Invulnerability

The ultimate defense, invulnerability makes you immune to any and all negative effects including direct damage, conditions and even CC. The only thing this doesn’t save you from is fall damage, so mind your surroundings!