Magic users who wield elemental power are a fantasy staple. In Guild Wars, the part is played by the Elementalist and this profession presented an interesting dichotomy. For Star, our study presented a unique opportunity. Although she is a veteran player of both Guild Wars games, she has never played an elementalist before her experimental character. This provided us with a chance to explore how veteran players might use the NPE system to learn a new class. Unlike Star, San had finished leveling an elementalist a few months before the September Feature Pack dropped, a journey she’d taken slowly and enjoyed immensely as she got to know what her charr elementalist could do. She was in the middle of leveling a second when the NPE and its stat slump made this alt no longer viable in a map for which she was supposed to be ready (early 30s in Lornar’s Pass, a level 25-40 zone). The change was so noticeable that San’s new ele had to be moved back into Snowden Drifts in order to be effective, despite running double dagger, conjure weapons, and arcane skills for spike damage. For our study, then, San decided to try and mimic this mid-level elementalist’s build in order to try and figure out how to make the rest of the journey to 80 less painful lest she close the door on GW2 forever.
Elementalists begin the game with a dagger and the Fire attunement. The first three weapon skills open quickly, allowing elementalists to experiment with a handful of weapons and the various skills they have available. Even with only one attunement and a few weapon skills, Star found enough variety to stave off boredom. At level 5, the Water attunement opens, allowing for another entire set of weapon skills. Some are similar – ice breath vs. fire breath – but others add survivability, shields, healing, boons, or area-of-effect damage. Star felt that if people new to Guild Wars were beginning with elementalists, it is easy to see how they may have been overwhelmed by the number of attacks, their variety, and the amount of time it would have taken to open those skills under the original weapon system. Air opens at level 13, adding more variety to the elementalist’s repertoire. However, waiting eight levels for a third attunement when the second opened only five levels after the first felt like an overly long time to wait for the new options. As this opens at the same time as the first utility skill, this inadvertently piles two different learning objectives on top of each other. It should be noted that Star felt the wait between these F2 and F3 skills was too long. Waiting another four levels – until level 17 – for Earth to open also feels too long. San, however, found that having weapon skills and elemental attunements open more slowly also meant that she could take her time refining her skill rotation, learning too how to better time switching between attunements to maximize this class’s direct and condition damage, as well as its survivability and healing.
Star found that by changing attunements, she was able to hold her own in most situations, even wandering into higher level areas and tackling enemies two or three levels above her own. However, she still found the elementalist to be extremely disadvantaged while under the effects of the stat slump. To combat this, she turned to crafting her own weapons and armor during this experiment, despite our normal avoidance of this tactic. This gave her access to decent armor at level 15 and level 20 in order to counter the lack of attribute points. People leveling characters may want to consider adding crafting to their schedule as a quick experience boost and a way to earn extra coins from selling items on the trading post. Star felt it might be beneficial to craft through each stat slump.
In addition to crafting, mapping the cities has been an interesting diversion for Star. These tours have given her an opportunity to explore some of the mini stories various NPCs tell as they wander the streets. In her elementalist travels, she encountered an asura who had grown to distrust sylvari after Scarlet Briar’s attack on Lion’s Arch. In other cities, spouses speak of their partners and children can be heard playing. These little touches add both whimsy and reality to the living world experience. Mapping might also be a valuable strategy for safely leveling through stat slump levels.
After reaching the teen levels, elementalist utility skills offer a variety of attacks and survivability options. Signets of the various elements provide passive and active buffs. Arcane powers and glyphs add even more attacks to the elementalists’ arsenal. Finally, the elementalist has the ability to conjure elemental weapons: frost bows, flame axes, earth shields, and lightning hammers. Through exploration of this variety, Star concluded that elementalists could create a wide array of skill sets. She attempted two different builds, one focusing on glyphs and sigils and another that added arcane skills to her normal weapon attacks. Throughout her experimental leveling of elementalists, she berated herself for never trying this class before.
In addition to the land-based attacks, the elementalist has equally diverse attacks underwater that open as the weapon skills become available. San’s ele performed well underwater with only three skills open per elemental attunement, but she found that success depended more on switching between all of the attunements more rapidly underwater than when all these weapons skills are open. The constantly evolving options available throughout the early levels chased away the doldrums Star often felt between levels 12 and 20.
Being familiar with this class definitely has its advantages and San zoomed through the first 10 levels, and the journey to 23 also felt less tedious since she used a second starter map to level from 18 through 23 after running through the level 10 and 20 personal story chapters when they became available. Where Star felt her ele was a bit squishy, turning to crafting to help strengthen her character’s stats, San relied on drops and rewards, choosing gear that boosted toughness and healing power whenever possible in order to help her character from becoming too glassy. One thing to note about level rewards and the drops (at least for San) is that they are +power and +precision heavy. This is an interesting design choice when taking into account the stat boost/slump and the many debates about moving away from the ‘zerker meta. Boosting power and precision can certainly feel much more powerful and rewarding, but if you’re one- or two-shot when fighting an enemy one level higher (or when being sidekicked down), that rewarding feeling can turn to frustration quickly.
In Star’s opinion, veteran players exploring new classes might find the slower pace for opening weapon skills helpful. However, experienced players may not benefit from the prolonged pace for opening utility skills; they are already familiar with the various concepts found in all utility skill sets – survivability, spike or AoE damage, buffs, and conditions. These players may have to find alternative ways to level through to the opening of the elite skill and beyond. The options San chose with that mid-level ele, for example, were to get her through the level 40 personal story chapter and then switch to crafting, getting to level 400 in two disciplines. Using crafting boosters, this brought San’s ele into the mid-60s when she switched over to the abundant stack of Tomes of Knowledge in her bank to push this alt to 80. Despite already having a max-level elementalist, the thought of grinding through another 30-odd levels on an immensely fun (and OP) class was too much for her; she wanted this alt in dungeons now.
Once our experiment was over, Star started playing a permanent elementalist. Although she has continued enjoying the class, she finds that she has to stop at regular intervals – levels affected by the stat slump – and find a different way, other than killing, to level. She has not been using Tomes but usually turns to crafting and mapping instead.
Next time: Rising with the Necromancer.