Guild Wars 2: Mesmer Sharper Images Analysis

This weekend marks the 3rd Beta World Event for Guild Wars 2. I wrote a little bit about my general experiences in the first BWE, but this time I'm focusing on a very specific area of the game. In the first BWE, I was just playing the game and having fun with it. In the second BWE, I started to do a lot more "testing". In particular, one of the things I was testing was the "Sharper Images" trait.

Sharper Images (SI) is a Dueling trait that causes critical hits from Illusions to inflict bleeding for 5 seconds. This trait was bugged in the first BW1 and didn't work at all. In the second BWE1, it worked as described but a second phantasm trait called "Phantasmal Haste" was bugged resulting in some crazy damage output. This means that I didn't get a very good perspective on how these two traits would work together, but that's okay because I can do the math! In addition to seeing how the phantasm related traits would interact together, I also wanted to find out which stats to gear for in order to maximize my damage. In order to do this, we first need some information about how damage is calculated in GW2. Assuming a level 80 character:

  • Pandara_RA! at Team Legacy worked out the following formula for the base damage of an attack:  Base Damage = \frac{(Power) \cdot (Weapon Damage) \cdot (Skill Coefficient)}{Target Armor}
  • The chance of getting a critical attack is determined by the Precision above the base:  CritRate= \frac{4 + (Precision - Base)/21}{100}
  • When an attack criticals, it hits for 50% more damage plus any bonus to critical damage (Prowess). With this, we can find out the average damage of an attack using:  Direct Damage = (Base Damage) \cdot (1+(Crit Rate) \cdot (0.5+\frac{Prowess}{100}))
  • The last piece of information we need is the bleeding damage, which is dependent on condition damage (Malice). According to the GW2 wiki this is determined by  \frac{damage}{second} = 40+0.05 \cdot (Malice) . The bleed duration of 5 seconds can be improved through stats, but only pulses once per second. This means that we can round the duration down to find the number of pulses and find the total bleed damage:  \frac{damage}{second} \cdot \lfloor duration \rfloor

To get a rough estimate of Phantasm DPS, I put these formulas together with some various equipment set-ups and trait choices. You can download this spreadsheet here. To make things simplier, I focused entirely on "Illusionary Duelist" with SI because I knew it hits 8 times every 10 seconds. I also had to make several assumptions about how certain traits would stack, and all of this is subject to change when the game is released anyway. Despite these shortcomings, I found several interesting results:

  • Without any bonus condition damage, SI can add about 10%-20% damage depending on the target's armor (best against higher armor foes) when used in conjunction with Phantasmal Fury. This puts it on par with most damage traits at the adept level.
  • With a skill coefficient of about 0.5 (a total guess BTW), the direct damage builds and condition damage builds I tried seem to even out in terms of potential damage. A lower skill coefficient tends to favor condition damage and a higher one favors direct damage.
  • Chaotic Transference bonus seems lack-luster relative to the heavy investment.
  • Phantasmal Strength and Empowered Illusions complement each other well in a power Build, but the investment for Phantasmal Strength doesn't seem worth it in a condition damage build.
  • Phantasmal Haste tends to work better with a condition damage build than a power build. You don't need to hit hard with SI, you just need to hit often.
  • Investing 20 points into Domination can have a big effect on condition damage builds because it extends bleeds for an extra tick. This makes Lyssa's Runes a potentially interesting choice with SI because of the +10% condition duration, allowing you to spend 10 of those points from Domination elsewhere with minimal DPS loss.
  • The Rampager jewelry seems to be a better choice than Rabid for a condition damage build with SI. There's no point to having strong bleeds if you aren't applying them frequently enough.

There's still a lot more analysis to be done here and some empirical data to collect in BWE3 to verify these findings, but the results look promising. As it stands, you can make SI work in either a direct damage phantasm build or condition damage build with the appropriate gear. Small tweaks to the skill coefficient can keep the two builds competitive if necessary. This fits with Arena.Net's philosophy of having multiple play-styles be equally viable.

I'd encourage you to try out the spreadsheet with other gear and build combinations that I didn't try. If you're feeling adventurous, you might even extend it to include skills other than iDuelist or other traits I may have overlooked. If you find out any more information about how phantasm damage is calculated I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Happy theory-crafting!

Update: BWE3

I did a little testing during BWE3, regarding the attack rates and skill coefficients of the different phantasms. This information should help give an idea of how much each phantasm benefits from stacking Power vs stacking crit/condition damage for Sharper Images. Please note that my recharge times were approximated, and Sanek over at GW2Guru came up with somewhat different numbers. I'm including both my attack rates and his for comparison:

illusion Hits Recharge Attack Rate (hits/sec) Sanek's Recharge Sanek's Rate (Hit/sec) Approx. Skill Coef. DPS Coef. (Mine) DPS Coef. (Sanek)
iDuelist 8 10 0.8 7.5 1.066666667 0.228956229 0.183164983 0.244219978
iSwordsman 1 3 0.333333333 5.5 0.181818182 0.734006734 0.244668911 0.13345577
iWarlock 1 5 0.2 6 0.166666667 0.080808081 0.016161616 0.013468013
iBerserker 1 5 0.2 6 0.166666667 0.281144781 0.056228956 0.046857464
iMage 1 5 0.2 6.7 0.149253731 0.397306397 0.079461279 0.059299462
iDefender 1 3 0.333333333 4.5 0.222222222 0.131313131 0.043771044 0.029180696
iDisenchanter 1 3 0.333333333 4.5 0.222222222 0.131313131 0.043771044 0.029180696
iWarden 12 10 1.2 14 0.857142857 0.033670034 0.04040404 0.028860029
swordClone 3 3 1
staffClone 1 1 1
scepterClone 2 3 0.666666667
gsClone 3 2 1.5

Knowing that the skill coefficient for iDuelist is only 0.23, stacking for condition damage seems to be the best method to maximize damage over time with Sharper Images given a high enough crit rate to apply it consistently. As a general rule of thumb, if your crit rate is less than 50% then you should be gearing for power and if your crit rate is greater than 50% then you should be gearing for condition damage.

A few other interesting things to note:

  • iSwordsman has one of the best skill coefficients of any phantasm. If you're not using Sharper Images and have Power oriented spec, you may want to try out the off-hand sword.
  • iWarlock's DPS is pretty pitiful without conditions. I'm not sure what the bonus per condition is, but I'd recommend having two staff clones up with iWarlock since they have a much faster attack rate. Edit: 10% bonus per condition
  • iWarden has quick attack rate and is has an AoE attack, but remember that this Phantasm is stationary. You're very unlikely to get all 12 hits against a real player.
  • iBerserker has slow recharge AoE attack that moves down a line. It might be possible to hit an opponent twice with this if they're running in the same direction, but I can't be sure about it.
  • The Greatsword clones have the fastest attack rate of any illusion according to my tests. It seems kind of odd that the best clone for Sharper Images would be on a weapon with no innate condition damage.
  • iMage has a high skill coefficient but low attack rate. At first glance, this looks like it would be better for a power build than condition build, but you should remember that he also applies Confusion on attack.
  • iMage and iDisenchanter have bouncing attacks that hit three targets: 1 enemy and 2 allies. I couldn't seem to get it to hit the same enemy twice, but this is something to check for on release.
  • Keep in mind that my original spreadsheet assumes that you leave your Phantasms out all the time. As of BWE3, this is no longer the optimal play-style. If you decide to go with a Power build, you'll probably get the best burst damage by using Mind Wrack right after your phanstasm's first attack cylce. Likewise, Cry of Frustration can now dish out some major hurt if you're built for condition damage.

Guild Wars 2 Beta World Event 4/27-4/29: "Over & Under"

At long last, I finally got my chance to play Guild Wars 2! An ambitious title to say the least, GW2 is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. I clocked in as much time as I could over the beta weekend, and am now going through withdrawal so I thought I'd take this opportunity to share my experiences. I had hoped to record some video over the weekend, but the performance impact was a little more than I expected. A choppy YouTube video would hardly do this game justice, so you'll just have to settle for a written account.

As a mesmer primary in the original Guild Wars, it should be no surprise that I gravitated towards this class in GW2. I had my concerns about how this class would carry over, but any doubts that I had are now gone. The GW2 mesmer uses completely different game mechanics than the GW1 Mesmer, but it still captures the essential feeling of the class. I played the mesmer class through the end of the BWE personal story line at level 18, and spend the rest of my time playing PvP with various classes.

Coming from GW1, I had a lot of preconceived notions as to what GW2 would be like. It makes sense to organize these into the parts I overestimated and parts I underestimated. These are not necessarily pros and cons, but simply differences between how I thought GW2 would work and how it actually worked. Keep in mind that the game is still a work in progress, and I'm trying to give an honest opinion so that it can be made even better in the future.

Since I spent the most time playing a mesmer, that's probably the best place for me to start. From the very beginning of the game, it became clear that I had overestimated the shatter skills and underestimated the phantasm skills. Don't get me wrong, a Mind Wrack with both traits is definitely a force to be reckoned with, but it's just that I thought that the Mind Wrack traits and a high level of Guile would be essential to any mesmer build. It turned out that this wasn't the case and there were other viable ways of playing the class. In fact, the phantasms were so awesome that I was usually hesitant to shred them. The three illusion limit also meant that I had to be careful about when I used my clones to not overwrite my phantasms. Since the illusions are locked on to a single target, this added an additional incentive to shred them before the target dies. All of these considerations made the shatter skills something that required careful timing and not just another skill to spam.

As far as the mesmer weapons are concerned, I think I overestimated the scepter and underestimated the staff. The scepter was great at pumping out clones, but I ended up relying on phantasms for most of my damage and it was hard to keep up confusion in PvP. On the other hand, I found myself enjoying the staff a lot more than I expected. The idea of random conditions and boons was something of a turn off for me when I first read the skill descriptions, but the way that it worked was that offensive buffs/debuffs were tied to offensive skills and the defensive buffs/debuffs were tied to defensive skills. Even though the results were random, they were still something that was useful in the situation.

Slightly related to the points above, I think I overestimated the confusion condition and underestimated poison. I think that part of this was that I was trying to compare confusion with hexes like Empathy and Backfire in GW1, where a whole stack of hexes becomes problematic to remove. A whole stack of confusion in GW2 still only counts as one condition, making it relatively easy to remove -- if it was even worth removing at all. On the other hand, I somehow missed the memo about poison reducing healing by 33%. This healing reduction coupled with a sometimes deceptively long duration made poison into one of the more threatening conditions for me. I distinctly remember this one thief that I fought where I had to keep spamming my healing skill until my condition removal was up again to avoid dying from poison long after I had killed him. By the time I was able to remove it, he had respawned and was back for more while I was still at 25% health -- ouch.

One of the other things that caught me off guard was that I overestimated Vitality and underestimated Toughness. In GW1, gearing for PvP was quite simple: stack as much health as you can. GW1 had a large number of armor ignoring damage sources and having enough health to survive a large damage spike was essential to surviving long enough for the healers to react. In GW2, there are no "healers". I found that rather than dealing with a single large damage spike, sustained damage was much more of a threat. This made it more practical for me to focus on improving damage mitigation rather than just stacking health. Of course, this might also be a function of beta players not using voice chat to coordinate spikes.

In terms of the PvP modes, I think I overestimated "Structured PvP" and underestimated "World vs World". I spent a lot of time playing Random Arenas in GW1 and it seemed like the "Structured PvP" was going to be right up my alley. I enjoyed the Structured PvP in GW2, but I think that was mainly because it gave me a chance to play with a fully leveled and unlocked character. The problem I had with Structured PvP it was that it felt too much like an FPS match to me. Win or lose, you were queued for the next match on the same server, fighting the same opponents with the same team over and over until someone leaves. Despite the best efforts of the game to auto-balance the teams, they were often off by one player which makes a big difference with smaller numbers. Nothing like fighting a 2 on 1 battle to ruin the fun. I also spotted a couple of "leechers" in the beta, which I thought was kind of odd. Its not like it was worth farming Glory in the beta, so I'm assuming that they just went AFK and forgot about it. However, "World vs. World" was a completely epic experience. Despite the fact that none of us really knew what we were doing, the sheer number of people on the battlefield was a sight to behold. In comparison to World of Warcraft, World vs World seemed like Alterac Valley on steroids with added benefits outside of the battleground. The only downside to World vs World that I saw was that the repair costs could rack up quickly if you were careless.

All in all, I think Guild Wars 2 met and then exceeded my expectations in a lot of areas. If I were to make a comparison, it felt like Guild Wars 2 was like the MMO equivalent of an Elder Scrolls game. The starting "tutorial zones" seemed less like a tutorial and more like a story "hook" -- my favorite of which being the Charr. The dynamic event system made questing feel less like a grind and more like a sandbox. There's a main story if you want to follow it, or you can just go explore the world and do whatever you like.

I also felt like I had a great amount of freedom in how to play my class. The build I finally settled on with my mesmer in PvP was this one. The Illusionary Warlock and Illusionary Duelist combination packed some serious damage while the Chaos traits and crippling clones made me pretty difficult to kill. Chaos Storm and Null Field allowed me to skill combo by myself for extra conditions. The Portal skill was simply amazing in Conquest mode for feigning retreat from a node, only to return later with reinforcements. The only downside of this build was that I had to be careful when swapping the scepter so that I didn't overwrite my phantasms with clones -- I would just use the two pistol skills and the channeled confusion skill then immediately swap back to the staff. In PvE I replaced the pistol with a focus and Portal with Blink to get around faster, since the burst damage wasn't as important.

Another hidden surprise was the crafting system. I didn't get much time to play with it, but it seemed to be a nice balance between the "discovery" system of Final Fantasy XI and the "recipe list" system of World of Warcraft. You combine random materials to learn new recipes, but once you learn they are added to the recipe list. As an added bonus, it seemed to accelerate the crafting process when I was creating items in bulk! It's the little details like that which made me feel GW2 was respecting the time I spent playing.

Are you a long time Guild Wars player that participated in the GW2 Beta? What did you underestimate or overestimate about the sequel?