Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why I Love The Guild Wars 2 Elementalist So Much

I touched on it in my post about Guild Wars 2 after BWE2 finished, but I feel that more elaboration is necessary.  And to accomplish that, I'm going to relate GW2 elementalists to GW1 elementalists.

In Guild Wars 1, you had a limited number of attribute points to spend.  Spread them too thinly and you won't be effective, but specialize in the wrong area and you also won't be effective.  This was a balance that was made more difficult to strike if you tried to use more than one element in Guild Wars 1.  Yeah, I know, you could go 12 Energy Storage and then put 9 into two elements, but what use was that?  There were very few skills that interacted with other elements in useful and relatively inexpensive ways.  This led to most elementalists in Guild Wars 1 using just one element alongside Energy Storage.  Your chosen element was very powerful, and you had a lot of energy to expend during battle.

Given that in GW1, fire was the element that was most easily understandable since it dealt the simplest, most intuitive damage, that's what a majority of elementalists took.  The other elements had their uses, but were less focused on raw damage.  Water Magic was pitifully underpowered damage-wise, but it was quite useful to have around because the majority of its spells would slow enemies down, and controlling enemy movement meant that key party members would be able to avoid taking damage.  Water Magic's best damage skill, Vapor Blade, had a very counter-intuitive drawback built in: it dealt half damage to a target if it was enchanted.  Given that the campaign it was introduced in, Factions, had enchantments on pretty much everything, you were lucky if it dealt full damage at all.  Water Magic had a decent damage skill in Winter's Embrace for a while, when they changed it to slow the target and deal a packet of damage every second while they were moving, but then they nerfed it by doubling its energy cost and lengthening its recharge.

In Guild Wars 2, you have real incentive to use all four elements.  Due to the lack of attribute points, levelling up as an elementalist simply means you become a better mage, and with that increase in skill comes greater spell effectiveness across the board.  Furthermore, the lack of a cost or penalty (other than the amount of time you have to wait to switch back) to switching between elements makes it very easy to switch during battle.  So if you're fighting a big battle and you're attuned to water for the support it provides, but you notice a bunch of enemies clumped up and say "hey, a meteor shower would go real nice right there", you can just switch over to fire and drop flaming rocks to your heart's content.

Plus, a fair number of the elementalist utility skills have effects that change depending on the element you're currently attuned to, giving you four options with one skill slot.  Ten skills at a time?  Pfft.  How about forty?  This is the key: Elementalists in GW2 are far more versatile than they ever could have hoped to be in GW1.  I personally value versatility in a class.  If it seems too single-purpose, I lose interest really quickly.  In role-playing games, it's typically the ranged support classes that are more versatile, whereas the front-line fighters are all "smashy smashy durr what's a spell" and the healers are all "healy healy durr what's an attack".

This is also why I liked the GW1 Dervish as much as I did.  It was a very versatile melee class.  It far outshined the warrior and assassin in its versatility.  The warrior and assassin both depended on combinations of skills, implied for the warrior (i.e. one skill causes condition -> next skill has extra effect if foe has that condition) or literal for the assassin (they had skills that you could only activate in a certain order, and between foes you had to have the entire chain recharge, which was boring to wait for).  Foes in PvE die too quickly for elaborate skill combos to really work.  If you can't do it in two skills, you need to rethink your build.  Dervishes depended on combinations of skills as well, but those combinations could be set up outside of combat or right at the beginning of combat and then used at will from then on.

Also, since energy costs for skills are a thing of the past in GW2, the elementalist is inherently more powerful.  I feel as though they know this and have balanced the skills appropriately, yet I still do a very pleasing amount of damage.  While RPGs typically have some form of mana, I never thought it made much sense for a mage to have an artificial limitation on their capabilities.  The only limit should be their skill.  Magicka did exactly this, and it was both incredibly challenging and incredibly fun, because it forced you to get good at the game really quickly, and because you could experiment with different spells without penalty.  I don't know if any of ArenaNet's devs have played Magicka, but if they have, it looks like they learned something from it.

That something would be "versatility is the key to fun".  The more versatile you make an RPG character class (i.e. the more stuff it can do and the variety of stuff it can do), the more fun it's going to be for the player as they experiment with what's available to see what works in a given situation.  Putting that element of player learning into the class makes people feel like they've gained skill at the game, which is exactly what the Guild Wars series is supposed to be about: skill, rather than gameplay time.  Even though GW2 has a level cap four times that of GW1, I've noticed that you still level up pretty quickly, which keeps the focus off of the struggle to gain power and places it squarely on enjoying the content they've put in front of you.  Which, as a developer, is all you really want: for people to enjoy your creations.

So, I've gone off on many tangents, but the main point is: Elementalists in GW2 are far more versatile than they were in GW1.  That versatility makes for better, more fun gameplay.  Which makes me like the class a lot more than I did previously.  Which draws me in and keeps me playing the game.  Which is exactly what ArenaNet wants.

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