17 Mar 2012

Guild Wars 2: Spellcasters Quick Guide

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll probably notice that I have an ongoing love-affair with spellcasters in MMOs. Call it a mage, wizard or sorcerer – if it hurls magic then I’ll probably be playing it. Perhaps it’s because I identify with the thought of an intellectual magus studying to become proficient in arcane lore. Maybe I just have a primal desire to launch balls of fire from my hands. Who knows.

Earlier this week, ArenaNet announced that Pre-purchases of Guild Wars 2 will start on April 10th. As an added bonus everyone taking part also gets access to beta weekends. If you’re thinking of going for this MMO then I’d seriously suggest going for this deal, if only to get used to just how different this game is for spellcaster types.

As a result, I’ve gone through my notes from the closed beta back in February and pulled together this quick guide on spellcasters in Guild Wars 2, focusing on how they work, what the common features are and what sets them apart. I’ve also tried to explain how each profession feels in order to give you an idea of the playstyle. I’ve been a bit brief in some of my explanations, so if you have questions please let me know in the comments!

If you’ve been brought up on a diet of Warcraft, Rift or SWTOR then you’re probably used to the traditional style of spellcaster combat. There’s a meatshield at the front who’s job is to stand there and get hit. There’s healers mashing their keyboards desperately trying to prevent people from dying. And there’s caster DPS, playing their rotation like a orchestral symphony of destruction and occasionally interrupted by Bad Stuff on the floor.

As I found out during the Press Beta last month, that approach won’t work in Guild Wars 2. Instead of being able to conduct affairs from the back, we’re expected to get into the thick of things. And occasionally tank. And heal ourselves. And dodge incoming attacks. But although it was a painful experience, it’s the good type of pain that leaves you mentally exhausted and grinning like a madman. Since then, I’ve been putting myself in a training regime to help meet the challenge.

Switching from playing a spellcaster in other MMOs to playing one in Guild Wars 2 is a little like changing out a greying Gandalf for something from a martial arts movie. Deciding what to cast is just as important as where you’re standing and what weapon you’re carrying. At any point you could be dealing damage, tanking an enemy or healing yourself up – or all three at once. It’s a much more intense experience, which is something a lot of veteran spellcasters have been crying out for.

Oh yes, there’s also no mana bar. Instead of managing a resource and trying to maximise your damage output around it, Guild Wars 2 is all about using the right abilities for the situation at that time, with the flow of the game changing rapidly so that you’re forced to flex those abilities.

Although Guild Wars 2 includes three different types of spellcaster (Elementalist, Necromancer and Mesmer), there’s a couple of features common to all three of them. Your first priority is to find your self-heal ability and commit it to memory, as you’ll need to keep yourself alive rather than rely on others. The other thing you’ll notice is that you don’t get a huge amount of time to move out of the way of incoming attacks and AoE, which is where dodging comes in. It’s worth getting used to this technique before getting into the meat of the game, as you’ll need it to handle some of the tougher content.

The third feature that all spellcasters share in Guild Wars 2 is having their spells linked to the currently equipped weapons. Changing weapons gives you access to a new set of five skills, meaning that you don’t need a mass of hotkeys just to have every ability mapped. Both the Mesmer and Necromancer also allow you to have two sets of weapons that you can quickly swap between in combat. You can read more about weapon skills and other character abilities in my summary on ZAM.

With that out of the way, the final task is to choose what kind of spellcaster to play. Classes are known as Professions in Guild Wars 2, with spellcasters represented by Elementalists, Mesmers and Necromancers. There’s no dedicated healing profession, although you can tweak them (particularly Elementalist) to provide some groupwide healing. The great thing is that although each class will feel slightly familiar, ArenaNet’s approach really freshens things up.

Probably the easiest to grasp is the Necromancer. If you’ve played a Warlock, Shadow Priest or other class with a lifestealing mechanic then this will feel right at home. A fair few of your abilities will drain life from your enemies, with others inflicting poison, bleeding or crippling effects. The Necromancer basic heal is also pretty unique, as you summon a Blood Fiend that heals you every time it attacks. You can also pick up skills that allow you to summon other blood creatures if that’s your thing.

The Death Shroud ability is the Necronamcer’s signature move, putting them in an altered state that provides them with another set of skills and allowing them to turn their accumulated life force (absorbed from killed creatures) into health. If you’re going to be temporarily tanking a mob, switching into Death Shroud should keep you up for longer.

Mesmers are probably the next easiest to get to grips with, but also provide buckets of chaotic fun. One way is to create illusions of yourself, either as autonomous clones or attacking phantasms. Another way is to load enemies up with random conditions or debuffs. You don’t know quite what you’re going to get but that’s half the fun! If your mission is to create a character with a distinct Loki feel, this is for you.

As with Necromancers, the Mesmer also has a signature move. In this case it’s the ability to shatter illusions to disrupt surrounding enemies or reflect incoming attacks. While it doesn’t help as much with tanking damage as the Necromancer’s Death Shroud, there’s more flexibility when you’re getting paggered by a crowd. It allows you to be more nimble and flexible, almost being a spellcaster equivalent of a rogue or thief.

The Elementalist profession is possibly the most difficult one to master, but comes with the added benefit of a high degree of flexibility. If you’ve played mages or shaman in other MMOs, you’ll be used to the elemental spell types on offer here. As well as throwing fireballs or ice shards at your opponents, the Elementalist can also summon weapons for themselves and their party to deal additional damage. You can also summon temporary creatures to fight by your side depending on which elemental attunement you’re currently using.

That attunement is the Elementalist’s signature move. Instead of switching weapons like the Mesmer or Necromancer in order to change abilities, the Elementalist changes which of the four elements they’re attuned to. Earth will help with soaking damage, water can help with healing and fire and air provide alternate styles of dealing damage. This allows a skilled elementalist to quickly switch roles in response to a changing situation, but it does require a greater level of skill and/or practice to master.

There is one spellcaster gap with Guild Wars 2, and that’s the pure healer. Although you can try to force a Water elementalist into that role, the output just isn’t enough to be the sole supplier of healing to an entire group. Instead, everyone in the party is expected to deal damage, heal and occasionally tank. It means that responsibilities are shared more evenly between players, as well as making it much easier to assemble a party for group content.

Change is definitely coming to MMOs, with Guild Wars 2 offering some real challenges for those players looking for a fresh approach to spellcasters. While this change might not be for everyone, I can see arena spellcasters and raidiers suffering from malaise or boredom really going for something like this. If you’re contemplating getting into Guild Wars 2 then the best advice is to get in early, try out the spellcaster professions and see which ones work for you.

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11 Responses to Guild Wars 2: Spellcasters Quick Guide

  1. Azuriel says:

    Did you manage to play any of the dungeon content? I still remain highly skeptical about the “everyone is a tank/healer/DPS!” philosophy, as I cannot see that resulting in anything other than The Dance 2.0 or a trivial (i.e. zerg) level of difficulty. The BFF Report video sort of confirmed my fears, but I’m still open to other first-hand viewpoints.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I managed to play the Ascalonian Catacombs and the World vs World content. Currently, dungeons are chaotic and confusing because a large chunk of us were still learning how the classes work, how the bossfights work and so on. Once I stepped away and had a chance to reflect back on it, my perspective changed.

      Essentially you end up ducking into melee combat to take over tanking, but you’re eventually forced to back out and recharge because it’s impossible to absorb that amount of damage and keep yourself up. All the while you’re dealing damage and moving out of incoming attacks. It’s good fun, but completely different to what we’re used to.

  2. Nabol says:

    I must admit I haven’t looked into GW2 much. I’ve played GW:Factions for a little while, but it didn’t quite click with me. That was around the time I started playing WoW.

    But, colour me intrigued. I might give GW2 a try. Thanks for this post :)

    • Gazimoff says:

      You’re welcome! I’ve not tried Guild Wars 1 either, which is why Guild Wars 2 feels very fresh to me. I’m thinking of spending some time in the original game before the GW2 launch in order to understand more of the game’s culture and playerbase, as I’m hearing it’s pretty unique compared to other MMOs.

  3. Buckwheat says:

    I play gw1, and one of the things that has always frustrated me was the “acceptable” community builds. That if you played in PUG’s you had to use a specific build. As a player you were forced to play a style of play that you might not enjoy playing because of the class choice you made.

    I’m really excited about all that I have read, and seen and the attempts to get away from a hard “trinity” (tank, heal, dps). It is great to see this transition where all classes are expected to tank, heal, and dps depending on the situation. This gives a player immense freedom to play a style that they want to play. It all looks promising and I really hope it lives up to their philosophy. I think ArenaNet is being a innovator here, and I’m looking forward to playing gw2 and breaking my own mindsets about classes.

  4. Imakulata says:

    The feature I’m most looking forward to is the 16 active skill limit (10 on the bar, up to 4 profession specific, weapon switch and dodge). I had problems getting used to the large amount of abilities WoW had and still have problems in WoW-likes who like to dump 15-20 abilities on people in first ten levels.

    As for the “everyone’s responsible for their own health”, I think that’s actually similar to raiding in WoW-likes – there’s a lot of unhealable damage there that can be either avoided or prevented by DD-ers. However, I don’t agree with Azuriel this necessarily leads to the encounters being difficult for everyone or easy for everyone. It is possible GW2 will turn that way but I’ve seen two TERA videos where all but one party members died early on a low-level boss (the same one in both) and the remaining one killed it thanks to perfect avoidance. I agree this seems to be harder in GW2 (TERA mobs seem to have huge charging time on most skills) and I really can’t tell whether devs managed to hit the sweet difficulty spot, um, interval, where dungeons will allow a couple of players to be carried but require the others to play well. That reminds me, were exploration (hard) mode dungeons available too? All the videos I’ve seen seemed like story mode but it’s just my guess.

    I’m a bit worried about the traits – seems like the former WoW talent system, too complex to make making your own build fun. I am not fan of “make skills X and Y Z% better” talents – I would rather like having more utility skill or skill slots if they feel the options gives by those are not sufficient (40k-something combinations for Elementalist, more than 350k for Necro and Mesmer before traits are applied).

    • Buckwheat says:

      One of my favorite comments, is, “if you have a person that is dying a lot…it’s mostly their fault”. xD

      There are two versions of the dungeons, Story mode and exploration mode. Also there are 4 trait categories, 30 points deep and you will receive a total of 70 points. So at a minimum you will have to put points into 3 different areas.

      Here is a really good interview with Jon Peters talking about it and some other things. http://www.twitch.tv/mmorpgcom/b/311753826

    • Gazimoff says:

      Exploration modes are available. As an example, Ascalonian Catacombs is aimed at level 30 players in Story Mode, with the Exploration Mode available at 35.

      There’s also three variants of Exploration Mode, each with their own bosses and taking different routes through the dungeon. Players get to vote on which route they want to take at the beginning of the dungeon by speaking to the NPC outside.

  5. Syl says:

    I like how you take the new concepts in GW2 as a challenge; I think some of the greatest mind switches players coming from wow will have to perform, are combat being mobile (no more feet of stone) and targeting being more area based overall. I love casters myself, I will roll an Elementalist in GW2. the extra abilities will take me some learning, but I’m really looking forward to it. :)

  6. Katsuki says:

    The tanking and healing jobs can become tedious and unenjoyable when there are inconsiderate players among the team. (And that’s why not many players would take the tank or healer jobs)

    Now no more blaming on tank/healer, you die it’s your fault.

    I love class builds, as they are necessary to create game with “easy to play, hard to master” mechanism (like D2 and BC/Wotlk WoW), and it seems GW2 has a pretty deep class system.

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