[GW2] 80 Elemental Ponderings

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!


  1. I struggled for a while on my elementalist leveling feeling very squishy and weak, until I ran across the lightning hammer build.

    While pretty much turning my ranged caster into a melee fighter, it is fairly overpowered in PVE. I mainly stay in water spec for healing/regen benefits and spam the 1 and 2 hammer skills. Gear is power, vitality, toughness — no condition. For the short period no hammer is available, I’m generally back to a fire staff.

    It doesn’t give a very “mage-like” feel (I mostly feel like a WoW paladin), but it’s very easy and low-stress. I can readily handle a decent sized group of attackers. Very often other players will grab up my second hammer and go to town too.

    I imagine I’ll have to rethink this all once I hit 80 (low 70s now), but works for me for now.

    Here’s the some info on the spec:


    see third answer down – lightning hammer

    full spec here:


    1. Thanks for the links! that’s an interesting approach.
      as you mentioned though, it feels a bit out of place that the smoothest way to level your Elem is to basically roll melee with it….it’s definitely not appealing to me personally, because I chose this class to play well, a magic caster. 🙂 I never used a dagger-build so far either, always went with staff or scepter/focus.

      the conjured weapons are fun to try, but I tire of them very fast. I wonder if the ‘melee approach’ like this might not be very interesting for pvp though.

  2. Congratulations to getting to 80! 😀

    Also, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences about elementalists. Right now, my elementalist is still at the teen levels but once I started getting more serious about him, this will be a good reference to what awaits him in the future.

    Thanks for the links too. I have yet to give a proper read to both specially since I have been feeling my charr engineer has been feeling a bit gimpy since about level 60. I admit I don’t know all the ins and outs of engineers or even have a good grasp of what exactly each stat does or how to more efficiently gear myself. The result of it is that getting to Orr itself has been a bit of a pain. I am making very slow progress to get there.

    Still I love my charr engineer. I mean, a charr with a flame thrower and monocles! What is not to love? 🙂

    1. Thank you! =) I meant to share my rambly impressions for a while, but I thought it would look bad before level 80, hah.
      those links are an immense help indeed – although the first one especially is really packed with info! it took me several reads and going back to some of it.

      Engineers rock! I love the monocle too but then, the backpack is so awesome on an Asura. wish you could equip’em both!

  3. “Dying quicker than most, especially when compared to your other scholarly peers.”

    Please, don’t say that. I’m having trouble with my Mesmer. I just signed up this weekend and, although I was sold on the mesmer profession, I rolled an engineer, a thief, a warrior and a guardian to see the different play styles. At level 9 my mesmer has died more often than the other four combined (each at level 5). A lot more in fact. The mesmer can handle a single same level mob whereas the guardian can take two +1 with no trouble.

    The mesmer is stuck on an instance in the personal story where it’s necessary to take on three same level mobs (Discovering Darkness). I was thinking about re-rolling as elementalist, but now you’re saying that that would be worse!?!


    1. Hehe I do – hence the reference to ‘scholarly peers’; the Elem is squishier than the necro (most classes in fact are squishier than necros lol) and the mesmer, too. I certainly noticed that in PvP. the illusions are an added distraction for you, whereas the Elem really only has the pet skill with a longer CD. there are times when I felt horribly glassy. 1-2 mobs at once tops for me, depending on their skills.

      So, if you struggle with your mesmer, am not sure I would recommend an Elem tbh 😉 but maybe the more direct comparison could be interesting.

  4. Grats on 80 🙂

    I still haven’t bought this game …lol! I know, I’ve been one of us bloggers who was looking forward to it the most, but I oddly have had no craving to buy any AAA games. Maybe I’ll get a free copy for christmas or something.

    Glad to hear you guys are still loving it though! Seems expectations were met and sometimes exceeded with GW2.

    1. Cheers Doone! you should absolutely have a look at GW2 sometime, even if only casually – it works well with that kind of play, anyway. 🙂
      my own expectations were met, yes. there’s things that could be better right now, but on all important fronts GW2 is what I hoped for and definitely not a 3-monther for me.

  5. If you play a Ranger you really don’t have to pay attention to any of this stuff if you don’t want to. I have very little interest in paying attention to stats, gear or other technical details and I worked out in the first beta weekend that if I played a Ranger I wouldn’t have to.

    Quite a few people told me, both in and out of game, that I wouldn’t be able to carry on blithely ignoring this stuff for long but in fact I have had very little trouble ignoring it all the way to 80, for solo purposes at least.

    My Engineer is 50th now and it’s very much the same story there. If anything he seems even easier, in that he can kill a lot more things at once, although he isn’t quite as good at running away to fight another day. The last time I upgraded his gear I just bought all the cheapest green “Pirate” gear off the TP, which gives a great look but the stats are all over the place.

    My Warrior’s in the 30s and all she wears is the crafted gear my armorsmith makes, and since he can’t keep up that’s usually to low. She storms through mobs, although she has even less of a get-out-of-jail plan than the engineer, so she does die more. That has a lot to do with the gung-ho way I play her, though.

    Eventually (and by that I mean in a few years) I plan to have all the classes at level cap. It will be interesting to see which ones really do need attention paying to this stuff, at least for the leveling game. So far I haven’t found one but I haven’t really played any Light Armor classes yet, or not beyond about level 12.

    1. Jep, well thats more or less the norm it seems. As far as Elems go my own summary is echoed quite a bit among other blogs, so I feel reassured its not just me. Still, you can make it harder or easier for yourself with any class; I could play my Elem like a thief but that I simply won’t do. 🙂

      My partner arched an eyebrow at some of my issues until he started his own Elementalist. After a necro and hunter, he had to admit Elems make you work much harder. You can still do it but its simply not the same bang for the buck, I think. It’s definitely a class too that shines more within a group than solo.

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