Flameseeker Chronicles: How Guild Wars 2 can improve underwater combat


Way back in the lead up to Guild Wars 2’s launch in 2012, I remember the community being all abuzz about the addition of aquatic combat to a franchise where players had previously been landlocked. After the game launched, players quickly became disillusioned with moving and fighting underwater, and, for the most part, new content has been designed such that players can avoid doing much of anything underwater if they wish.

Back in 2018, ArenaNet did a balance pass on underwater combat, focusing on time to kill and the addition of a new ascended breathing apparatus that could slot the new swim-speed infusions. This was a step in the right direction, but it only took underwater combat from being painful to mildly annoying, and there hasn’t been much movement since. It’s still nowhere near as fun as terrestrial combat, and if you mention aquatic combat to most Guild Wars 2 players to this day, you will be met with a groan.

More recently, we received the news that the skimmer mount would be receiving an update that will allow it to travel underwater. Quicker and easier traversal will also go a long way toward making aquatic content more bearable. These two updates make me strongly suspect that the upcoming Cantha-themed expansion will have a large underwater component. No doubt Dragon’s Watch will eventually need to do something about the unnamed deep sea dragon, so whether it comes in this expansion or not, it seems we will eventually need to do battle with a lot of aquatic dragon minions. If ArenaNet wants this content to draw players in rather than push them away, some changes will need to be made. So, for this week’s Flameseeker Chronicles, let’s look at some changes that could be made to improve underwater combat.

Make combat snappier

The aforementioned balance pass to underwater combat was serviceable, but there is still a lot of work that can be done to make underwater combat feel more like the snappy, precise combat we all know and love when we’re on terra firma. I understand what the designers were going for; it makes logical sense that underwater movement would be slow and floaty. That’s just physics. But not everything in games is realistic, and often allowances have to be made for the sake of gameplay. I’m sure the general vibe of underwater combat would suffer if the animations and reactions were quicker, but it would make the experience a whole lot more fun.

A greater variety of aquatic weapons

Another frustration of underwater combat is that there are only three weapon types, with each profession having access to at most two of them. If the design of these aquatic weapons don’t match your playstyle, tough luck. For instance, the feel of my Renegade is very different when using a spear or trident than when using a mace or shortbow. What’s worse, Renegade can’t use either Legendary Renegade or Legendary Centaur stances underwater, so you can forget about aquatic healing for the Revenant.

It’s nice that aquatic weapons have a flavor all of their own, but it would be better if we had enough underwater weapons that they could map 1:1 the types of weapons each class has available on land. In other words, some aquatic weapons that are more condition focused, some that are more support focused, etc., the way terrestrial weapons are. With only one or two weapon choices, it is no wonder underwater combat feels bland.

Directional aggro indicators

This is something I would likely turn on for terrestrial combat as well: The ability to draw a line or arrow in the direction of all of the things that are currently attacking you. This is an option I’ve seen occasionally in a few different MMOs, and it comes in especially handy in underwater combat, where players are moving in three dimensions rather than two. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been underwater with Krait all around me, and I’ve been hit by some spell or other with no idea where it came from. I end up swinging my camera around wildly, and by the time I realize my target was below me the whole time (I guess I should have paid more attention to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), my health is half gone. I’ve had similar experiences on land just about every time I’ve been around a Jacaranda.

Aquatic combo field indicators

One of the many things that makes Guild Wars 2’s combat so fun and engaging is combo fields and finishers. A strong understanding of a class’s combos is one of the things that separates a good player from a mediocre one. Combo fields exist underwater, but the edges are not nearly so well defined as the circles we’re used to seeing on land. I understand that it is a real challenge to show the boundaries of a sphere in three dimensional space without obscuring players’ vision, especially with a number of combo fields stacked on top of each other, but I trust that the good folks at ArenaNet could come up with something workable given the time and resources.

Just replace aquatic combat with terrestrial combat

I have seen it suggested many times over the years that ArenaNet should just delete underwater combat and keep players’ skills the same underwater and on land. Make ground-target skills activate centered on the target, perhaps tweak a few animations, and you’re done. I am really ambivalent about this idea. On the one hand, aquatic combat has been a thorn in players’ collective side for so long, I wouldn’t shed any tears if ArenaNet chose to simply rip aquatic combat out of the game. It would certainly mean a lot less time spent trying to remember what the aquatic skills do on a character I haven’t played in a while for the sake of spending five minutes doing an underwater heart or dynamic event.

On the other hand, it would mean losing a lot of the flavor of underwater combat. I love some of the creative ways that professions change when they jump in the water, from the unique Mesmer phantasms, to the way the Necromancer’s flesh golem becomes a risen shark, to the super creative use of the Elementalist’s elemental attunements (the fact that you can boil the water around you using fire blew my mind, and using earth skills to make enemies sink and air skills to make them rise is just fun). Additionally, I suspect that converting land skills to work underwater would be less simple than most players imagine.

One compromise here would be to allow players to walk on the ocean floor and use terrestrial combat that way. Perhaps a special action skill could appear when near land to allow players to stand or swim at will. The only issue I can foresee is that it would be frustrating is for melee characters fighting ranged enemies above their heads, but as long as sea floor walking it is easy to swap in and out of, I would happily grind this as a mastery!

Over to you

As annoying as it can be at times, I think Guild Wars 2’s underwater combat has gotten a bit of an undeserved bad rap, especially from people who have been avoiding it since before the 2018 overhaul. There is potential there, but it still isn’t nearly as fun and engaging as it should be, and has a lot of room for improvement. Do you have any ideas for improving underwater combat? I’d love to hear them down in the comments!

Flameseeker Chronicles is one of Massively OP’s longest-running columns, covering the Guild Wars franchise since before there was a Guild Wars 2. Now penned by Tina Lauro and Colin Henry, it arrives on Tuesdays to report everything from GW2 guides and news to opinion pieces and dev diary breakdowns. If there’s a GW2 topic you’d love to see explored, drop ’em a comment!

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I’d contend that it’s very rarely been done well in any game and I personally can’t think of a single game where underwater was great or enjoyable or stands out as a favorite experience.

Kickstarter Donor

Probably an unpopular opinion, but I’ve never disliked the underwater content and combat in GW2. I do wish their were more skills and weapons though.

Mike Szuminsky

A change that needs to occur to improve underwater combat is Traits. Either we need a line or two just for underwater(for each weapon) that applies to the exclusion of the other traits underwater or we get the ability to set up a separate traits build that auto swaps when we go below the surface.

Personally I prefer the latter. Since underwater skills are so different they often don’t match with the build your using on land which means you either have to remember to use templates to swap your traits(and remember to swap back) or just have a good chunk of your traits be of little to no benefit to you.

Ideally I’d love to see traits get a pass thru and modify some to play better for underwater with a separate version or have some traits fully replaced underwater.

Ultimate wish list is the game being able to handle say me being a reaper on land and a scourge underwater if I want and not unequip land weapons if your underwater build doesn’t use them.

I do think the work done for templates has laid the groundwork for arenanet essentially giving you a fully different underwater build if you want.

Bruno Brito

Mix terrestrial and aquatic combat ( considering they never bothered to make good underwater traits anyway ), so you get more weapons underwater and get the underwater weapons in-land. It’s about time we got spears on land.

Dankey Kang

Never had an issue with it personally. TTK is acceptable now since the rework, the only real issue is the lack of mounts and now that is being addressed.


I’ve never really understood the hate for underwater combat/zones. I like underwater content, and GW2’s is the best in my opinion.

That being said, the stigma against anything underwater in MMOs is so strong I’d say it’s not even worth precious development time trying to fix it. Even if ANet completely overhauled underwater combat and made it amazing, tons of players would be dismissive out of hand. Better to focus ANet’s (obviously rather limited) development resources on something more people actually want to see.

Kickstarter Donor

Don’t have underwater combat anymore. I’m serious, just never make underwater zones with things to fight.

I’ve lauded GW2’s attempt at underwater combat in the past, and they’re still the best around right now. That said…I still also think it’s hot-garbage. Its combat and movement designed around 2D settings smashed into 3D, and it’ll never work properly.

Mob is coming at you from a Z axis? Better keep slowly swimming back, because there’s a high likelihood the mob will stop just above/below you while ALSO being behind you. Don’t ask questions, just accept.

Want to get a better view and wider range on things “in front” of you that are above/below you? Too bad, you’re stuck default resetting to the same 2D plane that exists on land because that’s what all combat is designed around.

The only other alternative I see is a complete top-to-bottom overhaul of it with a functionally brand-new combat system introduced specifically for underwater combat. But given how little time is spent in underwater combat as-is (what, like 95%+ of the game is out of water?) it doesn’t seem like a wise investment.

Dug From The Earth

The biggest issue for me and my friends was always how you spend 99% of the game using skills and abilities that are COMPLETELY different to the skills and abilities you get while in the water.

So while you learn, improve, and perfect how to play your character during that 99% of your gameplay experience… when you finally enter the water and are given a mostly whole new set of skills and abilities, you suddenly feel like a complete noob again playing a brand new character.

You dont know the tricks and tweaks to using them. You dont know the best rotation. You completely lack the experience with them to really play them in an fun and skillful way. And thus, every time my friends and I jumped in the water, it felt like the game went from being a skillful, tactful game, to being a button masher where we often werent even sure what the abilities were doing.

Not much different than the games abilities you get when you enter a downed state. Ive met people who STILL didnt really know how to use one or more of their downed abilities simply because the amount of time you actually get to practice with them is like 0.01% of your time playing the game.