A Thought on Key Bindings

Key Bindings

Something that’s been bothering me since we first heard about the skill bar being ten skill long and each skill assigned to a number, as the case was with the original Guild Wars, was the question of what skill slots would be feasible to invoke using the left hand and which would be better off using the mouse. It didn’t strike to me as a big deal, but certainly somewhat of a deal. I mean the first game did suffer from the same problem, but since the skills were eight, it didn’t feel strange. But now it’s different. The explanation is pretty obvious and almost anyone must know what I’m talking about just by reading the title of this entry, but let me explain it anyway, because otherwise this entry would be too short.

Assuming you’re right handed (like me) and you don’t have a special keyboard or mouse, you’ll play the game resting your left hand on WASD to move and occasionally jumping to the numbers of the horizontal bar to use the skills. This works fine for 1-5. At 6 it starts to get muddy (at least for me), but it still works. But any attempt to use the left hand to press anything from 7 to 0 feels like trying to caress the face of an invisible lover, where instead of gently touching their lips, you end up poking their eyeballs or their nostrils. At least I imagine it was the nostrils. Every time I reach for those keys, I usually end up pressing 6 (because of me misjudging the movement distance for the fingers) or U, I, O or P (because of me misjudging the movement arc). Which is rather inconvenient, because having 6 (the healing skill) available can be crucial five seconds later and being able to see the battle when you’re actually fighting, instead of the inventory and the commerce panel stacked on top of another (as well as whatever P activates), is considered useful in many schools of thought.

Of course, you could say that I’m useless for not aiming on my own keyboard. But the truth is, I’m just not used to being able to blindly locate all keys with my left hand. I can type pretty fast, but the right area of the keyboard is the job of my right hand. And one can’t leave the mouse during PvP. You can’t also stop and look where the far keys are, because you’re missing crucial moments of the battle. The most painless solution in the moment seems to be the one I used to follow in the first game: the skills that are too far to reach using the left hand can be clicked. In the first game, maybe because they were just two skills, maybe because the combat wasn’t that dynamic, this worked like a charm – a quality that hasn’t translated at all to the sequel, where making a habit of activating a skill by clicking on it will likely alleviate you from this unfortunate burden altogether by regularly presenting you with 4 very easy-to-click skills and the opportunity to beg for mercy.

It stands to reason, therefore, that one would want to remap the key bindings. After no longer than a few minutes of PvP, you’ll realize that your left thumb is probably your least used finger. That and the pinky, most likely. The pinky though can’t help us much because there’s little good left of the WASD area (in typical keyboards, again) and even if there was, would you trust that finger for such a complicated role in PvP? On the same hand, the thumb only has the duty to invoke jumping, which is great and useful, but it leaves room for further utilization of that finger most of the time.

It seems to me that you’d want to assign the far skills somewhere in the Z-M region. I’d avoid the region next to WASD because it would keep the index busy, which is already busy enough for movement. So, in the Z-M region, the V, B, N and M keys are taken, but you could move them. The question boils down to where, in this region, would the skills be reassigned. I chose the range of Z to B, because it requires me to change less key bindings that are already in place and also because anything farther than B seems to be a little too far for the thumb anyway. Specifically, I moved the battle window from B to the previously unused U key and I moved the dodge from the V key to Caps Lock (not Left Shift, as I don’t want to dodge when trying to invoke the action “Previous Target”). So, I assigned Z, X, C, V and B as my 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0 skill slots respectively – but without disabling the default ones. You might point out here that Z isn’t as easy to access in practice as are the rest (X, C, V and B). That’s true, but this can be ignored due to the fact that 6 is still in the reachable range on the top. And because of that, you could use Z alternatively for the shortcut for the single tap dodge.

It feels that I’m stating the obvious here but I’m assuming (based on the previous reasoning) that anyone who’s tried PvP must have done some sort of custom key binding themselves. And based on this assumption, it’s hard for me to understand why ArenaNet (or any company, for that matter) would choose to ship a game with default key bindings that are so obviously subject to change by the players. But I might be making wrong assumptions (regarding other players’ views on this) so please leave your thoughts in the comments: are you satisfied with the default bindings for skills or have you reassigned some (or all) of them – and if so, where?

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