[GW2] Elementalist Review

[Update: as of 11/15/2012, blast finishers were removed from Evasive Arcana, eliminating most of the ability to create and then exploit fields with a staff. It is not clear if the elementalist will remain a viable support class.]

  • Best roles found: group support, event AE damage, WvW siege weapon destruction
  • Pros: skill variety, combo fields and finishers, ranged area effect attacks, area effect healing, area effect buffs, high mobility, moderate control
  • Cons: damage, damage resistance, health, underwater combat, elite skills, high attention needed for effectiveness
  • Difficulty: low for leveling, events; high for late game effectiveness
  • Not tested: sPvP dagger/dagger builds

The elementalist is one of the two best group support classes and the worst solo class. To get the most out of it, you need to be with other people. To get the most out of it, you need to constantly switch attunements and use all 20 skills. You will love this class if you run dungeons, if you attack towers with a zerg in WvW, or if you like to hit large groups of enemies with giant, flaming rocks. You will love this class if you draw satisfaction from seeing others succeed. You will hate this class if you play a lot of underwater content, if you compare your damage to others, or if you need to see the big numbers on your screens rather than the combo effects telling you they are on others’ screens.

The ability to generate and exploit fields is the greatest strength of the class. Combos are your friends. This makes elementalists valuable in groups, where many players can benefit from the fields.

Attunements are the class feature. Elementalists can swap between fire, water, air, and earth, changing the effects of their weapon(s). Elementalists do not get weapon-swapping, but they do get access to 20 skills at a time. Those usually translate to AE damage+burning, healing+chill, damage+control, toughness+cripple+bleeding.

Other than that, elementalists are basically what you expect from an MMO cloth caster: low hit points, low armor, ranged attacks, lots of AE. Damage is lower than in game where wizards are your primary ranged damage class, so you get the “glass” without as much “cannon.”

At release, elementalists seem to have been balanced around the assumption that other characters will be exploiting their fields. Elementalists themselves do not dole out huge damage numbers, but they raise the numbers of everyone around them. When you create a field, you start seeing combo effects pop up like “Area Might,” “Burning,” “Vulnerability,” and that is where your elementalist is doling out the harshness.

One-on-one, the elementalist generally loses, either by comparison or in a sPvP/WvW fight. That is the nature of a support role. You will see warriors crush things while you are still getting your stacks of might going, and if they are near you, they are also getting your stacks of might. You will see some bitter soloing elementalists grumbling about how they are benefiting everyone else without getting rewarded for it. That comes of being a fountain of buffs.

The other major balancing factor is that an elementalist has 20 skills and seems expected to use most of them. You do not sit in earth attunement and tank or sit in water attunement and heal. You hit your fire attacks, switch to water, drop a heal and a slow, switch to air, blind something, switch to earth, make the boss bleed, switch back to fire, set something on fire… Whereas WoW hybrid classes are 100% as effective as comparable tanks, healers, and DPS, because elementalists have the opportunity to play all roles in the course of a few seconds, they are not at 100%. I am not going to guess an actual percentage, and it will probably change by the time I hit “post.”

Elementalists reward active, involved, even spammy play. You need to be moving, casting, and re-attuning constantly. You can deal damage just by sitting there and auto-attacking. Some classes might be at 60-80% effectiveness just hitting “1” and going AFK, but you will see a big difference between good and bad elementalists. There is great room for player skill, but you need to use that skill to make the class worthwhile. Otherwise, you just have a moderate-low damage dealer.

This leads to a reasonable complaint: elementalists work harder for the same results. They can also work harder for better results, while your ranger has a relatively low player skill cap. Elementalist is not easy mode.

Leveling up, PvE is easy mode, and elementalists do as well there as any one. They will excel in events with large groups, the ones where you defend a town as waves of dozens of enemies come in. Elementalists have great ranged and area of effect, so they will tag lots of enemies and rack up loot and xp. Players fall in love with elementalists on level 7 events when they loot 50 items from a mass of harpy/bandit/whatever corpses.

Because of this AE, elementalists are about equally effective against five targets as one. There are some single target abilities, but until talent switching is in, it makes more sense to build for all the AE situations that are an elementalist’s strength. The hard part is surviving against five targets with the worst health and armor in the game, but you do have access to earth and water to keep you alive. Healing and toughness are your friends. If you summon elementals, all your heals and buffs are AE, so you can make them much tougher, too.

Elementalists get access to almost all conditions and boons, some of them indirectly through fields or trait effects. You have the full range of support. You also have good mobility with a bit of air: one talent lets you build up a passive +25% run speed, or use can use that attention to skills and fields to get perpetual swiftness (non-stacking +33% run speed).

Underwater and elite abilities are poor. The aquatic skills face the same lowered damage without the compensating advantages on land. I am told that elementalists can do well underwater in groups, where the AE, range, and control can be used advantageously while someone else tanks. I have rarely gotten a group of enthusiastic swimmers together, and other classes still offer much better underwater AE, range, and control. The elite abilities are also not overwhelmingly awesome; I usually use an elemental, because I can always use another damage dealer/healer/buffer/tank (depending on attunement). These combine: underwater, elementalists have exactly one elite skill, and it takes away all the other abilities to make the elementalist a whirlpool of point blank area effect damage. The damage is rather nice, but recently nerfed, and you are now in melee range as an elementalist with nothing to do but cuddle your enemies to death.

Around the world, PvP is dominated by single target spike damage. Elementalists cannot survive that, although there are ways to get several seconds of invulnerability at a time. Elementalists are good at tagging many enemies and helping groups fight but have fewer solo options. If the fight goes to one-on-one, the elementalist is probably in trouble.

In WvW, the elementalist has two great virtues. First, in the zerg, either path works. You can play it as a group, where you are now buffing several dozen people. Great, although again your reward is lower than the benefit you are providing. You can play it as a PvE event, where you are a glass cannon safely hiding amongst dozens of bodies and raining fire down on the enemy. Great, less group benefit, but you are getting your full reward. Elementalists prefer to stay at range rather than running up for finishing moves.

The second great virtue is an elementalist’s ability to destroy siege weapons. Elementalists excel at putting red circles on the ground, usually fire. Smart players know not to stand in those. Cannons have no way of getting out of those, and the user is usually in the fire, too. An elementalist has AE that kills siege weapons and discourages enemies from walking through choke points like tunnels. Elementalists are good when the siege is at the door of the keep. Fields are somewhat less useful in wide-ranging, open field battles. Avoid those.

I like my elementalist when I have a good group. I hate my elementalist swimming around Orr. I am developing a second character for less group-focused play and shelving the elementalist except for dungeons and dragons. I always have groups at both of those, and I want my dragon chest rewards to be level 80. Outside of those, given the numbers behind the abilities, I have found the class to have a worse effort:reward ratio than my other characters, although admittedly those other characters are not in Orr yet.

: Zubon

24 thoughts on “[GW2] Elementalist Review”

  1. Hmm, nice article. Will ponder my plans to play one of these. I like the utility and variability, and I don’t care about endgame, but it sounds like it might be a bit… frustrating.

    1. If you don’t care about the endgame, then nothing (PvE) is really frustrating. Outside of the Risen and dungeons, you can roll over the whole world.

      1. I think that depends greatly how you travel and where you level up though; pace feels fine solo if you’re playing ‘parallel maps’, meaning you keep playing all areas of a level horizontally rather than following the steep progression. Elems do pretty fine with content thats below level appropriate (scaling or not). if you keep everything at level or slightly higher though, you can experience quite some frustrations even against single mobs and certainly for your personal storyline. thats my experience, anyway.

        1. I haven’t had much trouble playing ele at all, even story missions a level above me. I once took down a mob 5 levels above me without realizing. I really don’t get how people are having trouble with ele, to be honest; it feels very powerful when I’m positioned correctly.

  2. “When you create a field, you start seeing combo effects pop up like “Area Might,” “Burning,” “Vulnerability,” and that is where your elementalist is doling out the harshness.”

    …except you’ll be hard-pressed to see any actual effect on how fast the enemies go down because of them. The effect of combos is VERY minimal and don’t really ever reach the level where you can measure their effects while actually in the field.

    [Oh, and this new comment setup is bad – if I resize the comment box, the post button & email/name fields end up going off the page and don’t come back until I shrink the box back to its normal 5-line size. Resizing the article & comment text (Ctrl-+ under Firefox 16), since the default has always been too small, also ends up driving it off the page. The problem is that grey box surrounding the comment field – it doesn’t change to fit the user’s use… The 2.5 inches of grey, wasted space on either side of the article – 1440×900 on a 19″ monitor – is also a lot more annoying than it used to be, for some reason :/ AND just found that we now have to let WordPress run scripts. WHY? :/]

    1. Is 10% enough? A standard fight opener for me is F4-2-F1-2-forward roll-Arcane Wave. That is three blast finishers in a fire field, and I measured that as a 10% damage increase yesterday. That is soloing, before considering any additional burning or whatnot that attacks might generate, and that might affects everyone in an area around the ele.

  3. You echo alot of my own thoughts of my recent review. Elems are indeed made for grouping – in general GW2 has been a lot more enjoyable to me partnered up than solo. the AoE is amazing and what I love is that you can have so many things going on at the same time. it’s not like in other MMOs where you only have more or less one spell/skill going after the last. the tactical depth of this is truly shown in WvW. I havent played a ton yet, but recently I’ve experience a few great games and several times I dare say I single-handledly slowed down smaller zergs trying to come up hills or get in range for gates considerably. that said, if a melee sneaks up on me, I am done for. ;)

  4. While combos may be wasted on normal trash mobs and maybe even veterans (depends on group size), they show their strength on silver ranks and stronger stuff. Your generalization is plainly wrong. Run a few explorable dungeons with and without a group that coordinates combos, you will notice the difference.

    1. Ravious, Ethic, any chance you can review your main classes? It took about a month and a half of play before I felt comfortable reviewing the class, because I sympathize with the response, “That’s great, newb, play it for 100 hours at the level cap and tell me how much you like it.” Classes play differently at low and high levels, and the content differs, so with aggressive alting and hardcore play, it would take me about a year to get through all the classes … at which point, there would have been enough updates to necessitate re-reviewing them.

      1. Sure, I could do necromancer. Although I’ve been keeping almost entirely to a conditomancer. Still I could follow your lead and good organization for that.

  5. Eles are also nice in group events due to the ease of tagging. I never touch earth after I unlock the skills. There’s not much sense in switching periodically to just to apply a bleed when you could focus on stacking a particular condition. Really, the traits pretty much force you to focus on a couple areas as most are element specific with the exception of arcane. I don’t necessarily mind. In fact, I’m very partial to air and water, and daggers. Love daggers. But yeah, solo can be trying – especially after leveling a mesmer. It will pay off in Orr when eles are easily scoring gold medals while others scramble to tag mobs. I can spec heavily toward support and still do enough damage in events for a gold, with daggers at least. Staff bores me. Fire bores me. Too many years of playing a mage in WoW, and a mesmer skinned fire ele in GW1 (prior to discovering the joy of panic builds.)

    Orr underwater sucks for all professions, even mesmers which are otherwise great in underwater combat. There was a time I felt better under water than on land…then I got to Orr. So many stuns and pulls (violent yanks.) Yuck.

    1. As an addendum, drake’s breath is hysterical on a charr female. Sounds like she’s coughing up a hairball. A flaming hairball of death.

  6. ” You do not sit in earth attunement and tank or sit in water attunement and heal. You hit your fire attacks, switch to water, drop a heal and a slow, switch to air, blind something, switch to earth, make the boss bleed, switch back to fire, set something on fire…”

    Not a criticism at GW2 per se, but this is a type of gameplay mechanic I find myself disliking more and more as the years go by. I had a similar feeling with TSW’s fetish about adapting skill combinations… and to a -much- lesser extent with stances and such in WoW.

    Always felt to me like micromanaging disguised as depth.

  7. For “solo” PvE, I’ve tended towards Earth with sceptre+dagger. Circle-kite, stack on the bleeds, and most stuff eventually dies. I’ve also got the “big kill” attack – dagger 4 to knock everyone down, arcane shield, and then dagger 5 for the big bleeding burst. I’ve taken down 5 elementals at once with that, but if it doesn’t work I’m pretty sunk.

    I do find some of the elemental traits rather odd. For example, the Fire trait that gives 20% chance of burning when struck in melee while attuned to Fire. As an ele I don’t want to be in melee range, and if I get there I’d rather switch to Earth or Air in order to get tactical superiority and then get away.

    I’m currently only level 45, so things may change at higher levels. But my experience of low level solo-ish play has been:
    – ranger: flexible
    – mesmer: high damage, somewhat squishy
    – guardian: super-tanky, good damage
    – elementalist: squishy – kite-or-die

  8. All in all a very nice description of the elemental for the majority of players imo. Sure you will find a lot of dissent if you were to publish this in the GW2 official forums. There, passonate defenders of the profession claim they are on par in 1v1 sPvP battles, but that is not the norm. To be fair, there is a learning curve to solo PvE. Once one gets the hang of attunement swapping and fields and finishers though, the game becomes much easier.

    The hardest part for me has been the fine print in the skills and traits and the not so obvious connections between them all.

    The Phoenix skill for example is an obvious single target with an aoe component. It also increases Endurance which allows for more Dodges which in turn allow for more Invulnerbility and movement. It also removes Conditions. Access to the skill is limited to Fire attunement which, if you had just moved into a different attunment, you have to wait 9 to 15 seconds to get back into, 9 seconds if you max out Arcane traits. Of course maxing Arcane traits offers many other advantages, at the expense of other trait lines. And so it goes. 65 unique skills all told.

  9. I’ve been having an amazing time with my Elementalist lately, although she’s not quite into Orr yet. I’ve been spending most of my time in Staff/Fire, with both elementals. Compared to my necro and warrior setups, I’m not really feeling a huge lack of damage. She’s clearing mobs faster than either of my other high-level, even in chained-single-pull.

    To be honest, my Thief honestly feels like my squishiest toon so far, because he’s forced to melee with the same HP as the elementalist, and only marginally better armor. Not to mention that the Thief has the *worst* condition-clearance of any prof I’ve tried. Cleansing Fire/ Armor of Earth does a *lot* to make up the survivability gap.

    I still need to try out some of the other weapon combos, but I’ve been having so much fun with the Staff that it hasn’t been a priority. (Also, if you complain about Elem’s underwater performance, don’t ever try swimming with a Warrior. Water/Air Staff is pretty solid underwater. I’ve cleared out a Vet with four adds with it. Best underwater, for me, is the Engineer, though.)

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