You'll have questions. Where do utility skills come from? Which skills do you take, and in what order? What if you give your first point to the wrong trait line?
Skill point acquisition and use
When your character hits level 5, and at every ding after that, you'll be rewarded with a skill point. You can also earn skill points by completing tasks in the open world. These tasks are marked on your map as little blue (are they teal?) chevrons that show as an outline when you have yet to complete them and are filled in upon completion (similar to the UI states of renown hearts and vistas). Skill challenges can be everything from drinking a particularly interesting beverage, communing with a place of power (like the sunken statues of the Temple of Ages), or defeating an NPC (there are a lot of those types). You can take part in the event that pops up for Battling an NPC multiple times or commune with a place of power 'til you're blue in the face, but you'll only be given a skill point on your first success.
Earning a skill point either by leveling or task-completion will make a little red circle with an exclamation point appear over the hero panel icon in the upper left of your UI. A matching image will show up on your traits and skills tab when your hero panel is open.
When you open that traits and skills tab, you'll see a list of how many unspent trait and skill points you have. There are three viewing choices: weapon skills (which shows a complete list of weapon skills available to your profession and which ones you have and have not unlocked), utility skills (same thing as before, only with utility skills instead of weapon-based ones), and traits (which we'll get to in a short while). Our interest now lies in the utility skills tab.
Skills in this tab are sorted by what they slot into. You've got three types of slots to manage in this window: your heal slot, your three utility slots, and your elite. Just because you can see all the skills and slots doesn't mean you can make use of them all yet. You unlock skills with skill points, and you unlock the slots by leveling. Your healing skill has been unlocked since you made your character. At levels 5, 10, and 20, you unlock the utility slots, and you'll be able to start using elites at level 30. Just because you can't use skills yet doesn't mean you can't unlock them, though. Go ahead and unlock as many skills as you have points for.
Each skill has a little number representing how many skill points are required to unlock it, and skills on the same tier have a similar cost. Just click on the skill, click again to confirm, and whammo! you've bought yourself a skill.
To put a skill in an unlocked slot (or to switch out your healing skill) click on the little arrow at the base of the skill slot either in your window or on the skillbar proper (this works only when you're out of combat).
Trait points are unlocked by leveling and only by leveling (in PvE and WvW; in structured PvP you will have access to max trait points and all of your slot skills will be available). You'll get one at level 11 and one every level after that until you hit the max of 70 when you're level 80.
Next to the big number will be two small symbols and numbers. These represent the boosts and bonuses that a specific trait line is giving to certain stats. You can hover over the symbols to figure out what it is a specific trait line is affecting. As an example, the Warrior's trait line of Discipline directly affects critical damage and burst skill (the Warrior's profession-unique mechanic) damage.
You can invest up to 30 points in a line, and every five points invested nets you a trait perk. The minor traits at 5, 15, and 25 points are predetermined (you can hover over their symbols to see what they are) while the major traits at 10, 20, and 30 can be selected from a table. There are 12 traits in total for each line, and you'll be able to access six, then 10, then all 12 of them as you unlock the three major traits.
Making the numbers work for you
Since everyone playing a member of any given profession has a prescribed set of weapons (and therefore weapon skills) available to him, utility skills and traits are where the fine-tuning of your character really comes into play. Do you want to be more of a generalist, able to handle pretty much anything that comes your way but maybe without a single, shining strength? As a Warrior, do you want to leap quickly around the battlefield, building up rage and dealing out damage mercilessly, leaving others to worry about silly things like safety and health? Or are you more of the group support type who wants to be able to bring friends safely through the battle?
The good news is you don't have to wait until the game is live to at least think about what you want to do with a character. Information is your friend! Read up about the trait lines and how they vary from profession to profession. Figure out what trait perks suit you and which ones, well, don't. Maybe your Guardian is all about the mace and shield, with a little staff action thrown in for good measure. The Valor trait line has some possibilities to augment your mace and shield play, whereas you might find yourself a little light on options with the Zeal line, which has more choices for greatsword, focus, and torch.
If you're big into number crunching or just want to toy around with how things might work out and can't wait to be in a PvP lobby to see how the numbers stack up, there are loads of fan-built calculators out there for you to start playing around with.
You know the basics of how stuff works now, and you've got everything you need to start tinkering with build ideas. Go and do amazing things, adventurer!
And other stuff
It's not quite long enough for four weeks to be accurate, but neither is it close enough for three weeks to suit, and I'm not one for half measures. So let me say: soon.
Do you remember hearing the announcement of Guild Wars 2 5 years ago? You do? Want to write about it? GuildMag is hosting a blog carnival about that very topic and is looking for submissions. Maybe give it a shot if that's your sort of thing.
Elisabeth Cardy is a longtime Guild Wars player, a personal friend of Rytlock Brimstone, and the writer of Flameseeker Chronicles here at Massively. The column updates on Tuesdays and keeps a close eye on Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and anything bridging the two. Email Elisabeth at email@example.com.