So I finally dinged 80 with my Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 yesterday, which has been my main character and class since the open beta weekends. Even if GW2 inspires alting more than other MMOs ever did for me, I can’t change my basic nature of being a very dedicated main=me player. That will probably never change…even if I am also leveling an engineer and hunter slowly on the side and really enjoy how different every class feels in playstyle and mechanics (and Elems actually get a bit of them all via conjures, hah!).
Naturally, I have started to try grasp the deeper complexities of my chosen main in GW2 over the past days and weeks. If I am going to play this, I want to play it right – and the Elementalist happens to give a lot of merciless feedback like that. It’s true that this particular class doesn’t make for the easiest ride of the lot; that is not to say that combat and leveling are hard, but there are many occasions playing your Elem solo in PVE when you feel things aren’t going so smoothly. This also changes gradually during the journey to level 80: there are highs and lows in terms of pacing and character progression/power during some level spans, which makes you lean towards more glass or cannon at particular times. What is probably true is that you need to be in love with the class, its basic premise, playstyle and versatility, or you won’t stick to it very long. All Elementalists will experience the following in various degrees while leveling:
- Dying quicker than most, especially when compared to your other scholarly peers
- Feeling damage and survivability drops sometime after level 30ish. I experienced an incredible low during my mid-levels which only got better towards level 65 or so, making it impossible to kill groups and struggling with higher lvl mobs in general
- Underwater combat sucks. It keeps sucking until you reach proper high level. Also: Air is your friend here.
While weapon choice matters, I would go further and say for this class especially, keeping gear up-to-date at least every 10 levels (including gems, sigils etc. on all slots) is crucial – and so is spec. When comparing myself in combat with my partner’s Necromancer, I could only gape and the sheer amount of buffs and debuffs he had going on for himself, when I had erm…one to two. This made me start looking into my traits very hard, asking myself about my synergies and where are my boons?? Elems don’t have that many debuffs going on as some other classes do, but they can certainly unload some burning and bleeding. To make your buffs and debuffs effective though and help yourself to become more powerful, harmonizing your traits, skills and gear stats is of the essence. And this is where it starts getting complicated.
Wrapping your head around skills, traits, stats and gear
If I thought gearing and optimization became somewhat of a headache in WoW between WotLK and Cataclysm, GW2’s many different stats combos, item enhancements and synergies are proving a real challenge the deeper you delve into them. Having explored multiple guides of late, my two big recommendations for getting to grips are Tasha Darke’s guide on attributes and equipment, combined with Talk Tyria’s post on understanding basic naming conventions in GW2. While the marketplace is still far from functional, that second link will help you with the general gear chaos you’re facing.
I have now started to experiment with different specs, supporting traits via gear and skill choices. I leveled full fire for a very long time until it started to feel incredibly weak around level 40. My stats were all over the place and due to survivability issues, I used quite a lot of vitality gear. I had pretty much zero boons going on for myself and no traits to support my chosen utility skills which are mostly glyphs and signets (I don’t use cantrips, conjures or arcane skills much). Not great.
Much of that is now off the table. I have invested heavily in Air and Arcane traits, boosting my crit from 14% to 40% with trait, skill and gear adjustments (minding set bonuses and including interesting sigils or runes). Arcane is a great support tree in general for synergies and boons and worth looking into with any given attunement combo. I dropped healing stats entirely and started improving my health via traits rather than gear. That last point is still under heavy scrutiny right now as I am still feel too squishy; I might need to revert some of my gems sometime to address this. (How are you other lvl 80 Elementalists out there handling the survivability issue: traits or gear?)
…All this wild brainstorming really brings me to the heart of the matter though, which is understanding what you’re doing. Do you know how tougness and vitality differ in benefit, for example? Do you understand set and rune bonuses and what sigils and runes can do for you? Do your traits support your utility skills? Would you rather stack condition damage or crit, for a consistent damage debuff-heavy build or burst damage build respectively? Do you know your boons? Do your trait choices reflect your playstyle? Et cetera.
Getting to the bottom of these questions will greatly affect your character’s performance, Elementalist or other, and ultimately affect your entire gameplay experience and enjoyment in the game. It’s been said that GW2 is that MMO with the casual leveling and grouping mechanics, but by now I disagree quite a bit with that, having played my Elementalist in many different situations. The game might not punish you in the same way as others do and within a group individual weaknesses are less apparent. But you will need to address spec and gear questions at higher levels (Orr…uh oh), certainly for solo play and harder dungeons, as well as PvP encounters – and the ins and outs of character optimization in GW2 are not to be underestimated.
While it’s hard to find more concrete theorycrafting and build suggestions (few more in-depth discussions can be found at GW2 Guru forums) at this point in time, I encourage my fellow spellweavers to experiment and make use of the trait calculator. For a more basic intro to the class, there is also a great two-part Elementalist 101 guide over at Talk Tyria. In closing, I still greatly enjoy playing my Elem in GW2 and consider its shortcomings a challenge. I love the versatility of the different attunements, the mighty AoE and general “feel” of playing the class. As for all the open questions I currently still have, I fully intend to get to the bottom of them all over the coming weeks and months – Fire, Air, Earth and Water, I can deal death with any of them!