Guild Wars 2 Elementalist preview

Ahhh, the beautiful dance between fireballs and truly ugly things.

My time as an Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 has made reality a drag. I want to toast my Pop-Tart with the power of fire, not wait for an open toaster slot. My instinct tells me to throw jolts of electricity at bad drivers on the way to work. Most importantly, my food should be chilled by magical ice so I don't have to rummage around in the horror that is our office refrigerator. But now that my GW2 beta access has been temporarily cut off, I'm stuck doing things the hard way. Elementalist's knack for making life, and the taking of it, has spoiled me.

Tools of Destruction

The first thing I noticed after creating my Human Elementalist was the multitude of options available to my would-be centaur cooker. Four attunements were at her disposal (Earth, Fire, Water, Electricity), each of which with unique spells that change depending on what weapons you are using. The possibilities halted my progress as I tried to imagine what type of caster I'd be. Lightning allowed me to control and stun my enemies, but earth powers were both hard hitting and great for damage mitigation. My inner healer loved the frosty-priest feel to Water attunement's mix of deadly ice cubes and life-mending rains.

It took some time, but I eventually yielded to the blazing power of Fire Attunement. The skills were explosive, the damage was high, and every flame saturated spell effect brought back old memories of playing with matches and a can of gasoline. Several times I'd go into a crazed frenzy, throwing fireballs at everything that moved, only to realize that I had pulled upwards of ten singed and ticked off enemies. I wasn't worried—this is when the power of fire really shined. A few dodges would rally the enemies together and well-placed AoEs burnt groups of centaurs down as quickly as if I were fighting only one. On the off-chance that something survived, I'd cast my Flaming Phoniex, throwing a giant bird of fire that torched anything it touched and exploded at a point of my choosing.

Fire Attunement was hot (I'm sorry), but I never felt limited by my obsession with flames. The Attunements all have advantages and disadvantages and ArenaNet has done a great job in developing a system that encourages you to use what you need without feeling punished for focusing on what you love. Swapping attunements mid-fight opens up entire new levels of depth. Depending on which attunements you swap between, new skill combos give group perks or an extra punch to a favorite spell, such as adding additional damage to my fireball when cast after healing via a water spell. Even though I was mostly found on the outskirts throwing balls of fire, I'd occasionally swap to Water Attunement to help heal or slow groups of enemies with freezing spells. The ability to swap between attunements helped me understand why I was an Elementalist and not just a mage with a fire fetish.

Solo Friendly

I'm one of those players who tends to quest alone, which is why I usually play a caster class—they require me to use strategy and forethought to successfully overcome challenges. The Elementalist is by far one of the most solo-friendly casters I've ever played in any MMO. I died far less frequently than I did while playing other professions, yet it still provided me with that strategic element that I love.

One of the few times I died was testing my magic on a giant wandering tree. The toughness of the creature enabled it to live through my normal rotation forcing me into a panic whilst unexpectedly being pounded. The lumbering monstrosity packed a painful punch, killing me in a few hits while I scrambled like a scared child. Gathering some wits, I decided on a plan that utilized the slowing skills of water attunement with the protective qualities of earth. The result was a five-minute battle that forced me to incorporate spells I rarely used. I managed to cut him down and stand victorious without using a single fire spell, and it felt great. I'd outsmarted the fire-resistant jerk.

Refining my strategies for large fights became an enjoyable meta-game that had me theory-crafting which attunement swaps and spell chains would work best. It made me feel like an alchemist of destructive magic: mixing the attributes of one spell with the power of another for devastating results. When I didn't have the time to think, sticking with one attunement and a few skills was effective, albeit less engaging.

The Meat Grinder

In PvP, the Ele puts the glass in glass cannon. I quickly made up for my lack of deaths in PvE with torturous amounts of running and dying in the midst of a Charr-ridden group hug. Instanced PvP was the most brutal. If I didn't have group members near me, I often felt forced to utilize every trick in my book to take down an enemy. Two or more people attacking me? I just took up the fetal position and wondered why I ever got sick of centaurs. My survival always seemed tied to a group watching out for me or at least serving as a distraction while I attacked from afar.

When I did manage to find an enemy alone, I relished the power of chaining my skills together. A Thief proved to be an equal adversary for me as we traded wins back and forth. Most fights started with his advantage, but everything turned to my favor when I clicked my elite skill of choice: a player-crushing tornado. The skill transformed me into a large twister, shooting out periodic damage and making me immune to any control effects. While the little Asuran Thief didn't show much emotion, I like to believe his eyes swelled with tears each time I morphed into this wind-fueled killer.

My experience with the Elementalist in Instanced PvP left me wanting more control on the battlefield, but World vs. World PvP left me wanting nothing. In the open-world area, defending a keep or outpost feels like it was designed for an Elementalist. Tall battlements make it difficult for enemies to return fire, allowing you to cast AoEs and other spells down on attackers while they're focused on your gates. Melee professions were easy targets as long as their ranged allies didn't come to their aid (or the melee character swapped to a ranged weapon). I often felt myself wanting to cackle with destructive delight as I rained revenge on enemies with flaming meteors. Offensively, the Elementalist was perfect at keeping defenders out of sight. Even though I had a lower perspective from the ground, placing my AoE's at the top of keep walls forced defenders to retreat back far enough to give allies room to attack the gates.

In the End

I know I talked a lot about the AOE attacks, but the best thing about the Elementalist class is its diversity. A Warrior in GW2 who swaps out his greatsword for a sword and shield still feels like a Warrior to me, but the different attunements of the Elementalist completely change its roles and helped keep things interesting throughout my 40+ hours of playing her. You don't have quite as many different skills to pick from as you did in Guild Wars, but that doesn't mean it feels more restrictive. You can play GW2 in many different ways and it's this flexibility that'll keep me daydreaming about unique uses for fireballs well beyond the game's release.