When I created my character, I knew my focus would be on fire magic, since it was my go-to element in the first Guild Wars. I was given a scepter initially, and while it had a couple of cool skills, I knew I wanted to get my hands on a staff for its longer range. Later I investigated dual daggers - a new option for the elementalist - but I'll get into that later.
you can find that information on the wiki. Rather, this section talks about using the staff to best effect (or at least as much as I learned in the beta).
- Fire magic deals the most damage of all the attunements, and is the most straightforward. You simply deal damage over large areas. Meteor Shower, the strongest fire skill, takes a long time to cast at full power, but oh man is it ridiculous. You rain down flaming meteors from the sky, dealing big damage to anything within the radius. I found it excellent at destroying centaur siege weapons or bandit cannons - all you need is one meteor shower and the weapon is gone, where otherwise it would take a lot of focus fire from several players to take it down that quickly. Also interesting is Burning Retreat, an evasion skill where you roll backwards, leaving a line of damaging fire in your wake - great for both avoiding melee enemies and dealing a bit of extra damage to the AI that just runs right through it.
- Water magic is the most team-oriented, healing allies and setting up combos. There are three healing skills and three combo initiators among the five staff skills for water, all with an area of effect. When you're fighting in large groups, a water elementalist can make a huge difference, preventing allies from dropping when they might otherwise. Since water doesn't deal much damage, I found it useful to occasionally switch to water and throw down some healing when someone's health was low or I anticipated a big attack.
- Air magic is all about avoiding damage. The auto skill, Chain Lightning, is the only one that doesn't fit this description, simply dealing damage to a couple of enemies. Your air options include blinding, stunning, and knocking back enemies, allowing you some control over when and where you'll be taking attacks. A good strategy is to set up a static field around a weak ally, giving him a few seconds to recover. You can also give your allies a speed buff and remove movement debuffs, allowing you to, say, escape from a net.
- Earth magic focuses on defense and conditions. While attuned to earth, you incapacitate enemies and prevent them from reaching or damaging your allies. Your primary skill causes weakness, reducing the monster's damage to your allies. Two spells focus on slowing enemies: one cripples and another immobilizes. You can also reflect incoming projectiles, which is neat. Swap to earth magic when you're dealing with highly mobile enemies, allowing you to quickly deal some damage when they stop moving.
Later on I realized that elementalists can dual-wield daggers, which sounded pretty cool. I spent some time unlocking all the dagger skills, and while I won't go into them with as much detail as the staff skills, I found them pretty cool. The dagger skills are short range and more offense-oriented than the staff. I particularly liked the earth skill set for daggers, which focuses on stacking bleeds and powerful close-range blasts.
In terms of the utility skills, I didn't get to try out that many, but here are a few that caught my eye:
- Lightning Flash allows you to teleport and deals lightning damage where you land. This is cool, but with low armour, elementalists shouldn't generally be popping that close into a fight. Instead, this is a great skill for out-of-combat movement. You can pop up a cliff instead of going around, or alternately, down the cliff to avoid fall damage. Its biggest use is in the game's jumping puzzles, where you can hop across a large gap without worrying about how you're supposed to make it.
- Glyph of Lesser Elementals summons an elemental based on your current attunement. It's weak, but has two good uses: a quick distraction allowing you to escape, or an extra source of damage against enemies focusing their attention elsewhere.
- Glyph of Renewal is a very powerful team skill, allowing you to revive a downed or defeated ally and providing a buff based on your current attunement. Sounds great, but it seemed to be bugged: I never got it to actually revive an ally, for unknown reasons. Hopefully it'll be fixed in the next beta.
- Arcane Power causes your next few spells to deal critical damage. Simple yet awesome.
- There's a Conjure skill for each element, which creates a weapon for you and an ally. This replaces your weapon skills. Cool in concept but I didn't try them, so I'm not sure how effective the new skills are.
- Signets have a passive, always-on effect while equipped, and a more powerful effect that you can activate. When you activate the signet, you lose the passive benefit until the skill recharges. There's a signet associated with each element, providing a relevant bonus: increased crit chance for fire; periodic condition removal for water; 10% increased movement speed for air; and improved toughness for earth. Each applies a condition to a single enemy when activated - burn, chill, blind, and immobilize, respectively. There's also a healing signet that gives you a bit of HP whenever you cast a spell, and gives a bigger chunk of healing when activated. I really like the signets for their simplicity - you can equip and forget if you don't want to deal with utility skills. You can choose three of the four elemental ones, plus the healing one, for a total of four passive buffs. Cool!
In terms of gameplay, it looks like an elementalist's most important skill will be learning when to attune to which elements, and changing attunements as the situation calls for it. It's easier to stick with just one element, and some of the major traits reinforce that choice and power it up - but even the most efficient fire elementalist should keep an eye on his allies and drop some healing rain every once in a while, or throw up a static field to keep enemies from closing in.
Attunement swapping seems to get more important the bigger the battle. Fighting one-on-one with the AI, it's very easy to defeat single enemies without changing attunements, especially with water magic - you can often outheal damage and finish a fight with full HP, even though it might take longer to win. In bigger fights, though, it's important to watch what your teammates are doing and help them out. Your control effects can make the difference between allies being defeated or rallying, and your healing powers can keep friends on their feet when they should go down. And, of course, Meteor Shower is more fun the more targets you have.
So overall, I really like the changes made to the elementalist. In the original Guild Wars, it was usually infeasible to blend two elements, and very difficult (at best) to build an effective bar incorporating all four elements. But in Guild Wars 2, you really feel like a master of magic and elements - you can drop a meteor shower, heal some friends, stun the big bad, and cripple the minions...
...and by the time you're done with all that, you can drop some more meteors.