Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Guardian Leveling Guide

Welcome once again, my shield brothers and sisters! This week I’m going to provide you with some advice on leveling your Guardian from level 1 to level 40.

Since this is the Guardian column, we’re going to move beyond general leveling advice and focus on specifics broken down by level bracket. If you’d like to read more about general tips and guides, we have an extensive guide/tutorial section ready and waiting for you. Feel free to browse it while at work, or during family functions on holiday weekends. That’s how I spent my Labor Day here in the States.

If you’re brand new to the profession, I provided an overview of the Guardian in a previous article as well. It’s a comprehensive summary of our weaponry, trait lines and unique abilities. For long-time readers, some of my suggestions here may contradict those I’ve expressed in earlier features. As a rule of thumb, always trust the most recent information. Abilities have changed over time, and so has my experience level. If we refuse to adapt, we fail to learn. If we fail to learn, we die.
Those disclaimers aside, let’s dive in!

Levels 1-10 – Experimentation
You’ll start your adventures in Tyria like every other Guardian, armed only with your wits and your trusty Mace. Learn this weapon. Love it. We’ll be coming back to it later. After your tutorial is complete, you’ll have a choice between the Shield or the Focus. Choose the focus. I went into the specifics behind this during last week’s column. Learning early on that you can block as well as dodge will help you later. The ease at which the focus allows you to block will also help you through your learning curve with dodging.

My other specific suggestions involve paying close attention to the Sword and the Greatsword, which, along with the focus, will teach you the wonders of the blind condition. Blind will make your opponent miss his next attack. Learning to time this well will separate the novice from the expert. Learn this condition and learn to recognize the icon and when it’s missing. Save your blocks and dodges for when your blind has worn off.

Other than that, the early levels are all about experimentation. Unlock every weapon ability, and then set the weapon aside. Don’t worry about mastery just yet. You can read about what weapons do until Guild Wars 3 comes out, but nothing takes the place of hands-on practice.

Levels 11-20 – Finding your footing
 By this level bracket, you should have unlocked all of your weapon abilities and be comfortable with dodging.  You’ll also be faced with choices regarding your first utility skills and trait points. I suggest picking up the Signet of Resolve with your first skill point. The reasons for this are fairly simple.
First and foremost, while Shelter is an excellent healing ability, the passive condition removal from the signet will make your early levels more forgiving. The second reason is that signets in general are beginner-friendly. Nothing is worse than finding yourself dead and having to travel back to a waypoint, only to realize that skill you spent points on is still sitting unused on your bars. If you’re so focused upon learning the dodge mechanic or your weapon abilities that you forget to use your skills, it’s okay. The passive ability of the signets will still benefit you.

Because of this, I would suggest picking up both Bane Signet and Signet of Judgment as your initial utility skills in this bracket. They only cost a single point to learn, have short cooldowns, and have both passive and active abilities that will help you learn your profession. Bane will increase your damage output, and will knock down your enemy for a few seconds when activated. This can help you stop fleeing enemies, or allow you to gain distance on a foe if your dodge is down. Judgment will reduce all damage you take by 10%, and will grant retaliation to nearby allies and weakness to nearby foes when activated. Retaliation reflects a portion of incoming damage, while weakness will reduces the damage you take. In fact, weakness will make half of every non-critical strike a glancing blow – almost negating the attack completely. Understanding this condition early on will help you later when an enemy applies it to you. No sense wasting your heavy-hitting abilities while weakened.

Concentrate your first trait points into the Radiance line. It increases your critical strike chance and your condition duration, so burning lasts longer and your strikes hit harder. It also unlocks Justice is Blind minor trait, which blinds enemies around you when you use your Virtue of Justice. This will get you into the habit of activating Justice, which becomes increasingly important at higher levels. For your first major trait, I suggest taking Signet Mastery. It lowers the cooldowns of your signets by 20%, including your heal, reducing Signet of Resolve to only 32 seconds.

Since you’ll be unlocking your first tier of utility skills at this point in your adventures, I’d also suggest becoming familiar with:

  • Sword of Justice - Low cooldown. Fire and forget damage boost. 
  • Hammer of Wisdom  - Low cooldown. Fire and forget damage boost. Passive knock back with activated knockdown.
  • Smite Condition - Low cooldown. Easy self-condition removal with AoE damage built in. 

Levels 21-30 – Two-Handers for show. One-Handers for a pro.
This may be a controversial point, and some Guardians may disagree with me, but in this bracket I suggest you temporarily leave your Greatsword, Hammer and Staff in the bank (or at least make them your secondary set) and start mastering your main hand and off-hand weaponry.

If you’re focused on PvE, then you probably already know that the story mode of Ascalonian Catacombs becomes available to you at level 30. Dungeons in Guild Wars 2 are not like dungeons in other MMOs. Even the entry-level dungeon is brutal and lethal. Guardians who charge in swinging their massive two-handers like they do in the open world are going to be in for a rude awakening. Take the time in this bracket to form a solid foundation that will serve you well the rest of the game. The synergy between the mace and focus is amazing! As I said, I spent the entire column last week discussing it. Blocking will save your life, and it provides powerful offense through skillful defense.
The real beauty of this synergy is that it all happens inside the Adept trait column (or at least enough of it does to get you started). My suggestion is to run with a mace/focus in your main set with the sword/torch in your second set. Pay to reset your traits at your trainer (look for the blue book icon on the map of any major city), and drop out of the Radiance line. Re-distribute your points first into the Valor line and then build out into the Zeal line. The key major traits you are looking for are Defender’s Flame in the Valor line, and Fiery Wrath in the Zeal line. The first will give you a 100% chance to burn your enemies every time you block, and the second increases all damage you do to a burning enemy by 10%. This will also net you the Valorous Defense minor trait which gives you Aegis (another block) free when your health hits 50%.

Speaking of blocks, if you really want to maximize your chances, you should swap out Signet of Resolve and pick up Shelter once more. Since you no longer have Signet Mastery at this point, their cooldowns are roughly equivalent, and now your heals will burn your attackers! Just make sure that condition removal utility skills like Smite Condition and/or Purging Flames are on your bars.
I’d suggest using both since they boost your AoE damage, have short cooldowns, and can lead to a respectable amount of AoE burst if you use them after a blocked Protector’s Strike from the mace. Obviously on condition-heavy fights you may want to hold them in reserve for when they’re needed most, but for open fighting against multiple enemies, I’ve found the AoE damage of this method on par or better than the greatsword or hammer when combined with the mace’s Symbol of Faith.
The secondary weapon set of sword/torch is an open world suggestion, good for questing and general use. You’ll benefit from the blinds, gap closing and single-target damage of the Sword along with the burning, condition removal (allies only) and AoE damage of the Torch. Now is also the perfect time to pick up and master the combination of the Scepter and Shield. Scepter/Shield becomes extremely viable in dungeon play, allowing you to immobilize opponents, strike from range or knock back enemies from players who need revived.

You can certainly substitute in your favorite two-hander as a secondary weapon in this bracket if you like, but if you want to skip ahead and look at the Right-Hand Strength ability in the Radiance line, you’ll get a glimpse of how I play at middle- and end-game levels.
In addition to Smite Condition and Purging Flames, I’d suggest picking up and mastering:
  • Judge’s Intervention - Gap closing teleport that explodes for AoE burning damage when you arrive. 
  • Wall of Reflection - Since your ranged options are limited, learn to love this skill. Use it on rangers/archers in dungeons and thank me later.
  • “Save Yourselves!” - Removes conditions from allies and places them on you, along with giving you multiple boons. You still get the boons even if no conditions exist. Use this to your advantage.

Levels 31-40 – Realizing your potential
This is where you put everything in the earlier brackets together. Remember those early points into the Radiance line? That’s where you assign them again in this bracket. Only this time, when you reach your major trait slot, you have some options. If you want to go back to a signet build, you can pick up Signet Mastery again and adjust your utility skills/heals accordingly. If you’re like me and love the block and burn play style, but want to add a bit more damage and utility, then pick up Blind Exposure instead. The vulnerability it applies to your enemies will make you and your allies hit harder. If you’re looking at WvW or facing a tough mob that uses a lot of boons, then perhaps the boon-stripping ability of Searing Flames is more to your liking.

They key thing to remember is that you can swap your traits around at-will when you’re out of combat, without the need for a full respec. The points are fixed, but the major slots aren’t. I frequently change out skills and traits between dungeon bosses, or during major battles in my personal story. Take inspiration from the U.S. Marines, and make your Guardian mantra “Improvise, Adapt & Overcome.”

To help with that, the following utility skills are worth your investment:
  • “Retreat!” - Not the best skill for a combat situation, but it has uses off the battlefield, especially when running from event to event or heart to heart. 
  • “Stand Your Ground!” - Stability is an very useful boon. I wrote an entire article about it for new players that explains why.
  • Signet of Wrath - Passive condition damage, which is useful for burn builds, and a 3-second immobilize with a 1200 unit range.

Closing Thoughts
At the time of this article, I am quickly approaching level 70. The number of easy encounters in the open world is slimming, and the amount of dangerous foes is increasing. The risen land of Orr already looms ahead of me, and it’s an unforgiving and punishing land. More and more dungeons are revealing their secrets to me. My personal story missions have grown more epic and challenging as well. Yet, by building upon the foundation I’ve described here, I’ve clutched victory from the ravenous jaws of defeat numerous times.

Even in World versus World, blocking and burning has proven extremely effective. Many players out there don’t seem to grasp concepts like “I’m hitting this Guardian, yet I’m the one who’s dying.”  Also, hitting a speed boost like “Retreat!” to catch up to enemies or run from overwhelming odds is great, but all it takes is a single cripple to ruin your day. Using combinations like the Sword and Focus give you blinds and blocks that keep you mobile, even while playing what is regarded to be a less-than-mobile profession.  The lessons learned here can translate to WvW so long as you master the concepts behind them. You can excel at leading strike teams to take secure objectives or destroy enemy siege equipment with builds similar to this.

In the future, I’ll return to cover leveling all the way to 80.

Until then…

Remain vigilant.



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