[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.