Recap Of Changes Since The Launch Of GW2

An ideal starting point for returning players who quit Guild Wars 2 in 2012 or soon after. This guide provides a brief recap of all major changes and new content leading up to present day. Up to date as of Icebrood Saga Episode 5 – Champions, Chapter 4: Judgment.
  • New Features
  • PvE
  • PvP
  • WvW
  • Mechanics
  • Misc.

New Features

Build and gear templates

This long awaited feature finally made it in! Players can now swap their traits, skills and gear with a single click. Well, two clicks to be precise, as gear and build templates are separate features.

Each character has 3 free build and 2 free equipment slots which should serve the more casual players just fine, while additional slots can be purchased through the gem store.

Equipment slots are not just for convenience. They also STORE the gear, removing it from your inventory even when the loadout is not active!

Legendary gear updates

Legendaries are now the ultimate convenience feature and exist in both armor and trinket form, not just as weapons. The stats on legendary gear can be swapped in just a few clicks provided that you are out of combat.

GW2 legendary weapon stat selection

Legendary upgrades

Even runes and sigils have legendary versions now. Once socketed into gear you’ll be able to transform them into any rune or sigil you like.


Gliding is a new mobility tool introduced with HoT that can be used almost anywhere in PvE (jumping puzzles excluded). Unlocking gliding is tied to a multitier mastery, with each new rank improving its usefulness.

In WvW, gliding is more limited and can only be used on territory under your server’s control. WvW gliding is unlocked through the War gliding WvW mastery and doesn’t require PvE grind.

Gliding is not permitted on sPvP maps, but can still be used to get around the lobby.


Mounts were a major selling point for PoF and serve as mobility tools beyond just providing a speed boost. A Skimmer may levitate above water surface, Springers can jump to crazy heights, and Raptors have no problem jumping over canyons, just to mention a few.

gw2 mounts

With the exception of the Warclaw (a WvW mount), all mounts are designed for PvE. Mounts are banned from sPvP.

If you wish to learn more about this feature and how to unlock them follow this link.


This is a replacement for the old trait system. Previously we used to be able to spend trait points in any of the 5 traitlines as we pleased, limited to maxing out 2 and a half lines at most.

Traitlines have been converted into specializations, and a character may only use 3 specializations at a time. Each specialization has 3 minor and 3 major slots.

A specialization’s minor traits are set in stone and are always the same, while each major slot has its own selection of 3 traits of which only one can be active at a time, allowing players to customize their specializations.

GW2 specialization example

The first slot is called adept, the second master, and the third grandmaster. In the old trait system players were able to slot lower tier traits into higher tier slots (like an adept into master or grandmaster), that’s no longer a thing. Adept traits are for the adept slot, master for master.

Players may choose to have 3 core specializations or 2 core and 1 elite.

Elite specializations

These are almost like sub-classes, elite specs can fundamentally change your profession. A Thief selecting Daredevil for example gains a third endurance bar and learns how to use a staff in combat, while a Necromancer going for Reaper trades its ranged Death Shroud for the melee cleave focused Reaper Shroud and gets to use a greatsword.

These always go into the bottom specialization slot and only one elite spec can be equipped at a time. All currently available specializations can be found on this page.

Not all elite spec benefits are purely additive, some have their tradeoffs. Mesmers who pick up Mirage get to dodge while casting skills, but only have one dodge bar. Engineers who go Holosmith gain access to the Photon Forge, but trade their elite skill’s toolbelt skill for it.

Guild Missions

Content on a weekly rotation that you get to do with guildmates. There are PvE, WvW and PvP missions of all kinds that provide useful currencies for both the guild and its members.

guild mission UI in GW2

Account wallet

Returning players often find that many of their assets have disappeared from their inventory – that’s because they’ve been moved to the wallet.

Every currency you earn – be it gold, gems or map specific –  is stored in the account-wide, unlimited capacity wallet and is deposited automatically. You can learn more about the wallet and other storage options here.

Ascended crafting

The maximum crafting skill for most professions has been raised from 400 to 500, adding new recipes and allowing players to craft Ascended quality gear and consumables. While getting to 400 crafting is relatively cheap, going all the way to 500 is going to cost you, but is necessary if you want to pursue things such as Ascended weapons or armor as they are account bound.

Wardrobe system

Instead of having to transmute the skin of one item into another, now players get to unlock skins for their entire account which are stored in their wardrobe. The skins can then be applied to compatible pieces of gear (heavy armor skins to heavy armor) for the price of 1 transmutation charge.

GW2 account wardrobe illustrated

New profession – Revenant

The 3rd heavy and overall 9th profession of GW2, Revenant was added in HoT and is the only profession that’s inaccessible to F2P players. 

Revenant concept art

Revenants have 2 weapon sets that set the left side of their bar, but also 2 legends that make up the right side, allowing them to swap their heal, utility, and elite skills in combat.

They use energy as a resource and unlike most other professions in GW2. Their skills have an energy cost which should be a familiar experience for GW1 players.


As a returning player you may remember having to go to 3rd party sites to find groups. Those days are long gone! The game now has an ingame LFG system where you can create groups or sign up to them. This feature is accessible through a tab on the left side of same UI element that houses your friend list.

LFG system in Guild Wars 2

Rune and sigil salvaging

You no longer have to visit the vendor to sell your useless minor sigils after having salvaged a bunch of gear, now you can just salvage them with the gear!


Gathering tools may now be upgraded with Glyphs, allowing you to customize them and add extra functionality. For example Glyph of Industry increases gathering speed, while Glyph of Reaping allows for AoE harvesting. Most of them come from the gem store.



Servers now basically only matter for language (EN/DE/FR/etc.) and WvW. PvE uses a megaserver system where people from all the different servers get to play together. Even if you’re returning to a server that has lost some of its population, you shouldn’t really feel it.

Instanced 5 man content

Dungeons have been sidelined in favor of Fractals, the new go-to endgame 5 man content. They scale up to level 100, getting progressively more difficult and requiring more and more agony resistance. Agony resistance for the most part comes from infusions which you slot into Ascended or Legendary quality armor.

Instanced 10 man content

Raids arrived to GW2 as the hardcore 10 man endgame content in Heart of Thorns with new wings containing multiple bosses getting released consistently until the Icebrood saga, after which they’ve been more or less replaced by Strike Missions.
The Lion’s Arch Aerodome serves as the raid hub.

Strike Missions are single boss encounters that are more beginner friendly than raids. Eye of the North now serves as a strike mission hub.

Living story and open world

Anet is continuing their Living World model, releasing free content every few months for players to enjoy. Some returning players may remember the S1 era of temporary content that goes away after a few weeks – the good news is that from S2 onward every content added is permanent, and some of S1 has already made its way back into the game.

Open world maps and singleplayer story content make up the bulk of these releases, but sometimes new PvP maps or PVE endgame content is also bundled with it. The maps and story chapters are unlocked for free permanently, provided you log in before the next release else you’ll have to buy them from the gem store.

Seasons 2-4 and the Icebrood Saga are up for grabs in the store.


This is a type of open world content on the more casual side. Adventures were introduced in HoT and the new ones keep getting added on a regular basis. These are essentially minigames. There are mount races, jumping puzzles and more. Adventures are great for leveling up masteries.


Masteries are an endgame progression system, kind of like a new version of leveling but for max level players. Instead of earning XP to get to the next level and spending skill points to learn new skills, you grind XP to fill your mastery bar. Once the bar is filled, you can unlock a mastery by spending mastery points which you’ve earned through doing either achievements or open world/story content.

Masteries provide benefits of varying usefulness. Gliding and mounts are easily the most useful and universal masteries, these can be used almost anywhere whereas some other masteries are tied only to specific maps.

Ascended gear

At GW2’s launch, Exotic was the highest tier of gear – while Legendaries were a thing, statwise they weren’t any better than Exotics. The problem with Exotic was that it was way too easy to obtain at max level which left both players and developers questioning what could be done to make gearing more of a long-term goal for players, yet still avoid the gear grind of other MMOs. Enter Ascended.

Ascended is now the highest tier of gear and there are no plans to ever change that, which means going forward your acquired gear will always be relevant when you return to GW2. Legendary gear has been raised to Ascended tier to keep them relevant, we’ll talk about the differences between the two a bit later.

Statwise, Ascended is roughly 5% more effective than Exotic gear. This ensures that the difference between casual and hardcore players remains small, but there is still a feeling of progression to gearing at max level.

exotic vs ascended

Ascended gear is always account bound and can’t be bought from others. It must either be earned or crafted personally.

If you are a casual and don’t intend to do high level fractals where you’d need Ascended for infusion slots, or you just want to get some gear for alts, there is nothing wrong with exotics.

Dragon Response Missions

DRMs are a new type of casual instanced content doable in party sizes of 1-5, accessible via the Asura Gate at the Eye of the North.


PvP locker removed

PvP-only gear as inventory items is no longer a thing in GW2. Skins in the PvP locker were merged into your account wardrobe where all other skins are stored. Returning players can now use the same appearances in PvP, WvW and PvE regardless of where the skin came from.

Underwater combat removed

Don’t go looking for the underwater gear slots either because underwater combat has been removed from sPvP and maps like Temple of the Silent Storm were reworked to have no water.

Division system

The ranked ladder is now separated into bronze, silver, gold, platinum, and legendary divisions. Each division has 3 tiers.

You can derank from one division to another if you lose enough games. Each division has its own badge that players can choose to display next to their names. As you climb the ladder and ascend divisions you’ll start encountering harder and harder opponents, but you’ll be compensated for that by earning more pips per wins.

MMR is now finally visible to the players and is used to measure progression/place players into divisions.

Division pvp system

At the start of each season players will have to redo their 10 placement games before they are assigned a division. At the end of the season the top 250 players on the region will earn titles. One must play at least 120 games per season to qualify for the top 250, that’s a minimum of 15 games per week.

Map selection

Players are now offered a random selection of 3 maps and can vote for which one they want to play on. After a short selection period the map is selected randomly, but maps with more votes have a higher chance to be picked.

Custom arenas and spectating

Custom arenas are private, player owned sPvP servers inside the Hotjoin lobby that also support about a dozen spectators. This is a great place to host your own tournaments, practice with your team, or just mess around with friends.

Beware! A Custom Arena Starter Kit is relateively pricey and only grants 2 weeks of time during which it remains active. After that you’ll have to keep the arena going with Time Tokens. If you run out of time and the 2 week grace period that follows expires, your arena AND the starter kit are deleted. If at some point in the future you intend to start up your own arena again, you’ll have to purchase a new kit.

Standard enemy models

This is massive. GW2 combat puts a heavy emphasis on reading animations, so naturally people would do everything in their power to make theirs harder to read. Remember when everyone who was serious about pvp rolled asura? Well now that’s a thing of the past! By enabling Standard Enemy Models under General Options/Competitive you’ll see everyone as human.

For some returning GW2 players this could even save up a few character slots, as PvP-only asura characters are no longer needed.

PvP rank

PvP rank is no longer capped at 80. It’s now an infinitely scaling reward structure that gives you a rankup reward chest each time your PvP rank goes up.

Reward tracks

This system allows players to choose what specific rewards they want to pursue. Progression is made after every PvP match towards a big final reward whilst earning smaller reward chests on the way. Some reward tracks are for holidays, others offer PvE gear or crafting materials. Most reward tracks also come with Tomes of Knowledge which can be used to instantly level up alts in PvE.

A PvP reward track

Not every reward track is unlocked automatically. For example Living World related reward tracks require you to complete certain PvE story steps before you get access to their corresponding PvP reward tracks.

Ranked pip rewards

As you play ranked games you earn pips which contribute to reward chests. The most notable rewards here are gold and tokens that can be used to purchase Ascended quality gear in case you’re also interested in PvE/WvW.

PvP pip rewards

Unlike reward tracks, you have no control over pip rewards. It’s a linear system where everyone is progressing through the same track for the same rewards, and progression is reset at the beginning of a new season. The more you play during a season, the better your pip rewards are going to be.

Ranked arena

By far the most popular PvP format, ranked arena is for solo and duo players who want to climb the ladder and compete for titles not to mention earning plenty of gold and even Ascended tokens on the way. Players must be at least rank 20 to queue for ranked, until then you should familiarize yourself with the combat in unranked. Ranked seasons are Conquest-only.

ranked arena miniseason

Miniseasons and new gamemodes

Miniseasons take place between Conquest seasons and are meant to spice things up by allowing people to compete for unique titles in new gamemodes such as 2v2 and 3v3. The only permanent gamemode besides Conquest is Stronghold, which is Unranked-only.

Automated tournaments

ATs are for groups of 5 who want to engage in the most competitive aspect of GW2. These tournaments open at various changing time slots each day. Playing in ATS can net quite a lot of gold as well as qualifying points for the prestigeous monthly tournament (mAT) which has its own unique rewards on an annual rotation.

GW2 automated daily and monthly tournament UI


This casual game browser format is no longer popular, mainly due to players getting removed from the ranked matchmaking queue when they enter hotjoin. Some people play it to do their PvP dailies quickly and effortlessly, but that’s about it.

PvP gear

This may come as a surprise to returning GW2 players, but PvP gear as its separate set of items and UI is no longer a thing. Instead you’ll be using the build and equipment template features to set both your PvE and PvP builds.

There is a special toggle for PvP gear in the PvE equipment panel that lets you select an amulet (this contains nearly all your PvP stats) and your PvP runes/sigils.

sPvP is still all about even playing field, no PvE grind or unlocks required! To read more about the PvP gear system, click here.


Participation, reward tracks

By killing players or taking objectives your WvW participation level goes up. To check your progress click the chest icon at the corner of the minimap. There are 6 tiers – the higher your participation tier is, the faster you’ll earn your rewards.

There is a decay built into the system: after a maximum of 10 minutes without earning any participation, it starts decaying and progressively gets worse. This is to prevent players from building participation and then going afk to leech rewards. A countdown on the green participation level bar shows when exactly will the decay start.

You can choose which reward track to progress in the Reward Tracks tab of the WvW menu.

Pip rewards

Based on the same participation system as the WvW reward tracks, this one is entirely passive and you don’t have to set anything. However your participation must be tier 3 or higher in order to be eligible for pips!

The amount of pips you earn per 5 minutes depends on things such as your WvW rank, your server’s standing in the current skirmish, or whether you have completed wood tier in the previous week or not. But the biggest bonus comes from playing on a borderland where your server is outnumbered.

WvW ability points/masteries

Everytime you raise your WvW rank you earn 1 WvW ability point to spend on an empowerment (mastery) of your choice.

There are dozens of masteries for returning players to choose from, each mastery makes you better at certain things like manning a catapult or killing guards, and if you play religiously eventually you can unlock them all. WvW rank is account-wide but these mastery loadouts are per character, so feel free to customize your characters for different roles.

If you end up changing your mind, you can reset your loadout with an Ability Reset Guide for 20 spirit shards.

Gliding and Warclaw

These are absolute gamechangers and we strongly recommend that returning players invest in these two masteries first. Both of them are must have mobility tools. War gliding is tied to a simple mastery unlock but the mount is a bit more complicated. For more info on how to obtain the Warclaw, click here.

Territory system

Each camp, tower and keep now has a territory marker around it. Controlling a territory means that you gain permission to glide, your Warclaw mount travels faster, and you also gain stat bonuses of the guild that owns the land.

Desert borderland

This is a “regular” borderland map just like alpine. At launch each server had an alpine home borderland, now every matchup 2 servers have the alpine borderland as their home map while the third has the desert one.

Edge of the Mists

EotM is maybe best described as a waiting room. This is just something you could do when every map is full and you are in queue but still want to play some WvW.

What you do here doesn’t contribute to the warscore of your realm, and green/blue/red servers are on the same team. For example, every player from blue servers is on team Frostreach.

Mists Arena

Accessible from EotM, this arena was created for events organized by players, be it dueling or Guild vs Guild. This is a place where they can face off without taking up space on regular borderlands.

Ruins of power

Remember the quiet lake in the middle of the Alpine Borderlands? It now houses a series of ruins with 5 capture points.

When your server controls at least 3 of the ruins for a few minutes, everyone in your server gains a buff that grants extra stats and makes stomping downed enemies contribute 1 score toward the war score.

This is a nice extra objective for roamers, since the stomping buff benefits them the most and the rewards are easy to capture with a small team. Each of the 3 borderlands have this mechanic, Desert included, and the buffs stack!

PvE bonuses removed

Your server’s performance in WvW no longer has an effect on PvE.


An update that’s going to fundamentally change WvW and move away from the server based system we currently have is already in development, it’s called alliances. There is currently no known release date however. For more details see the official announcement.


Guild Wars 2 combat mechanics recap


Invulnerability now also protects you from condition damage, even if the conditions are already on you. In the past it only prevented new conditions from being applied.


The stacking cap for conditions which used to be 25 was removed, and the new cap is so high that players should never hit it even in an open world event. This change singlehandedly made condition builds viable in endgame PvE.

All damaging conditions stack in effectiveness, while debilitating conditions such as Blind or Chill stack in duration.

There are several new conditions:

  • Taunt makes enemies run toward you, only being able to autoattack.
  • Slow reduces the casting speed of those affected by it.
  • Torment is a damaging condition which stacks in effectiveness and deals increased damage to stationary enemies.

Vulnerability now affects condition damage and is the only non-damaging condition to stack in effectiveness. The stacking cap for this remains 25.


Stability now stacks in effectiveness. In the old system applying 2 stacks of stability each for 3 seconds resulted in 6 seconds of stability during which the player was completely immune to CC. Now the result is 2 stacks of stability for 3 seconds, and each incoming CC (like stun or fear) removes 1 stack.

Vigor was nerfed from 100% endurance regen increase to 50%.

Retaliation is no more, Resolution took its place. Resolution works much like Protection, this boon reduces incoming condition damage by 33%.

New boons:

  • Quickness is now a boon instead of an effect. Attack and casting speed increase reduced from 100% to 50%. No longer affects actions such as stomping or rezing.
  • Alacrity makes skills recharge faster.
  • Resistance renders non-damaging conditions ineffective.


There are a couple of new stats which replaced the static percentile bonuses for things like condition duration or critical damage:

  • Ferocity increases outgoing critical strike damage.
  • Concentration increases the duration of boons applied by the player.
  • Expertise increases outgoing condition duration.


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


Skills with ammunition have extra charges. Ammunition 3 means the skill can be used 3 times before all the charges are consumed. When a charge is used, it immediately starts recharging, meanwhile you still have access to its other charges. Only one charge will be recharging at a time, you can’t use all 3 charges of an ammunition skills and expect them to recharge simultaneously.


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.


Transmutation charges

Transmutation stones as inventory items are long gone, instead we have Transmutation charges. 1 charge is used upon applying a skin to a piece of gear through the Wardrobe system, which is accessible from a tab on your hero panel.

Guild Halls

These are personal lobbies for your guild and something of a shared progression system. Guilds can unlock tons of bonuses here that benefit all members, most notably enhancements that provide boosts to various things like experience or PvP rank points gained. Only one enhancement can be active on a character at a time. The enhancement is just one of the many reasons for returning GW2 players to join a guild.

Achievement rewards

Achievement points are more than just a number, it’s a long-term progression system. The rewards include unique skins, account bonuses related to currencies or magic find, gold, gems, gem store items and more!

An example of achievement reward chests

Luck/magic find

Magic find as a stat found on equipment is now gone. Magic find is an account-wide stat increased by Luck. Magic find increases the chance of finding better loot upon killing mobs or opening certain chests.

Luck is an account bound currency, consuming luck permanently increases magic find. The main source of luck is salvaging equipment.


Originally the Living World model was supposed to sustain the game without expansions, but ArenaNet has since decided to return to an expansion model with Living World seasons/sagas inbetween.

There are currently two expansions: Heart of Thorns and Path of Fire. A third one, End of Dragons, is currently in development.

The base game is now F2P, while HoT is rolled into the PoF purchase. If you need help deciding which release or edition to buy, check out our GW2 purchasing help.

Daily and monthly achievements

Monthly achievements got replaced by daily login rewards, but daily achievements are still a thing. Laurels are a new currency that comes from these login rewards and can be spent on a wide range of things from crafting materials to ascended gear.

Home instances

The home instance had its usefulness upped significantly by gathering nodes you can unlock for them and harvest daily. Some people with a maxed out home instance that are generous enough often offer home instance tours to other players, allowing them to reap the goods they have. To find such a tour we recommend hanging out in Divinity’s Reach or keeping an eye out on the LFG.

Skill and trait unlocks

Skill Points and Trait Points have been replaced by Hero Points (HP). These are more or less the same thing. Hero Points are a currency used to purchase skills, traits, and specializations.

You can earn HPs through levelling or doing certain content in the open world such as fighting a boss or communing with a place of power. HP challenges found in core (non-expansion) zones award 1 HP each, while expansion zone challenges award 10 HPs. This is a universal currency, there is no real difference between HPs earned on core, HoT or PoF maps.

It’s possible unlock all core skills and traits just by leveling to 80, whereas you’re going to have to do some grinding in order to unlock elite specializations.

WvW players may forego the PvE grind and purchase an item called Notarized Scroll of Heroics. Consuming a notary autocompletes a random hero challenge and there’s a scroll type for every expansion.

You could also combine the two methods – do the easy challenges on PvE maps, then unlock the rest with notaries.

PvE, PvP, WvW balance split

The tree main aspects of the game are now balanced separately to some extent. These balance differences are almost exclusively numerical changes, not functionality.