The Guardian: First Impression

I had a chance to play the guardian during the recent Guild Wars 2 beta event. It was my first taste of Guild Wars 2, so not only I had to learn about the profession, but also the game itself.
I played the guardian up to level 15 in PvE and WvW, so my impressions are of the early game. I also unlocked all of the weapons and off-hand skills (except aquatic skills) so I could try them out.

Some of you who’ve played with me in Guild Wars probably wonder why I chose to play a guardian, since I usually prefer a caster or some other ranged profession. I admit initially I was sceptical about the guardian, but after playing it for a while, I enjoyed it enough to include it on my list of characters to create with my first five character slots.

Guardian, the GW2 Monk?

Some might still hold out hope that the guardian can be played like the old GW Monk because of the legacy skill names from the Monk line. Well, I hate to disappoint, but the guardian isn’t the Monk of old. The main difference is the lack of ally targeted skills. You don’t pick an ally to use your skill on, instead most heal and protection skills are area effects. This makes the guardian play more like the Paragon than the Monk from the first Guild Wars.

Bah, Forget Healing. What about Tanking?

Hey, no need to use a dirty word here, but yes, a guardian can be very resilient. Now, this is not to say that a guardian can take on 100 mobs and laugh while just cycling his skills, but he can certainly be tough to take down given the right skill bar. For the first few levels I rarely bothered with the dedicated heal skill, Shelter.

As the profession name implies, he can guard others in his immediate vicinity as well. One common task I took on during WvW and large PvE events was to provide protection for my allies while they tried to revive fallen comrades. With the right set of skills, you can provide valuable seconds of defence and turn the tide of the battle.

Of course, defence isn’t all a guardian can do. He can lay down the hurt too. My offensive weapon of choice is the greatsword. With it, a guardian gives up some defensive capability for a more offensive skill set. But, as we all know, the best defence is a good offence, right?

OK, So What Weapon Should I Use?

Weapon choice defines the play style, but sometimes chosen for event necessity. Here’s a rundown of the weapons and my thoughts on them. I won’t list all of the skills, just some highlights of what I liked and disliked. For this discussion, I’ll call the first skill the “spam skill”.

Weapons skills animation demo with mouse-over descriptions

Single Handed Weapons

The Mace

The mace is the first weapon acquired at the start. This is the bread-and-butter defensive melee weapon. The spam skill chain includes Faithful Strike as the last skill, and it provides a self and nearby ally heal. The second skill, Symbol of Faith, provides regeneration to allies and damage to foes. The third skill, Protector’s Strike, puts up a defensive shield around you and nearby allies until you’re hit. This is a good starter weapon as it puts out defence while still providing some melee damage.

The Sword

The sword is a little more offence-oriented single-handed weapon. The spam skill ends with Sword Wave, a cone attack that strikes up to three enemies. Skill two, Flashing Blade, teleports you to the target location, striking the target and blinding nearby foes. This gives some defence via condition, while providing more mobility than the mace. The relatively fast teleport (12s recharge) means a bit less annoyance with kiters. The last skill, Zealot’s Defense, throws some ranged projectiles while defending against the same. A decent if not spectacular offensive weapon.

The Scepter

The scepter is the single-handed spell casting weapon. If you want to do damage at something you can’t reach, say, someone on a wall in WvW, then this is it. The damage is OK, but when you can’t reach them, this is pretty much the only option. The first two skills are straight up damage. The spam skill, Orb of Wrath, is easily dodgeable if the target is moving, so you might want to immobilise them with the third skill, Chain of Light.

Off-Hand Weapons

The Shield

The shield is the main defensive off-hand. It provides good defence for you and your nearby allies by offering two different AoE defensive skills. I have a love-hate relationship with Shield of Absorption though. I love the domed effect and the knockback it provides when I use it. I hate it when some other guardian uses the skill near me and knocks my target out of my reach.

The Torch

The torch is the damager of the off hands. It comes with Cleansing Flame, a cone of fire attack that also removes conditions from allies, and Zealot’s Flame, which sets you on fire and burn nearby foes. You can also follow up Zealot’s Flame with Zealot’s Fire, which lets you throw the flame as a ball at the enemy. Sure, this off-hand has utility in removing conditions, but come on! Fire!

The Focus

The focus is somewhat in between for offence and defence. Ray of Judgment damages and blinds enemies while regenerating and removing conditions from allies. Shield of Wrath blocks the next few attacks, and if not destroyed, will explode after a while and do damage. Unfortunately, this is one of the weapons I unlocked last, so I didn’t have a lot of time to play with it. And, no, I don’t recall any Laser Beam of Death for Ray of Judgment.

Two Handed Weapons

The Hammer

The hammer has a few AoE attacks, but also provides some defence. This is like the bigger brother of the mace, with AoE. The spam skill chain ends with Symbol of Protection, where you create a circle at your hammer’s strike location that damages the enemy and add a short duration protection to your allies. Mighty Blow is a standard nearby AoE damage. Purge Conditions remove conditions while burning foes, again more AoE damage with some utility. There’s one crowd control skill, Ring of Warding, which creates a ring that enemies cannot cross in either direction, in or out. Personally, I tried to like the hammer, but it just felt too slow and sluggish. I suppose it can be useful against large mobs, but overall I didn’t feel it provided enough for me to keep as one of my two weapon sets.

The Greatsword

The greatsword is another hard hitting offensive weapon. The spam skill is pretty straight forward chain of single target damager with no special finisher at the end. Symbol of Wrath provides some protection and damage via damage reflection for nearby allies. The next two skills are probably my favourite: Whirling Wrath and Leap of Faith. Leap of Faith jumps you at an opponent and blinds nearby enemies on hit. Follow that up with Whirling Wrath, which is an AoE damage with projectiles. The last skill in this weapon is Binding Blade. You throw the blade at the enemy and do damage over time. In addition, you can optionally pull the enemy toward you. Think Scorpion from Mortal Kombat, but with a big giant sword instead.

The Staff

The staff is another casting weapon, although the spam skill, Wave of Wrath, does not have the range of the scepter spam skill. It is, however, AoE. There’s no chain follow up to Wave of Wrath. Orb of Light sends out an orb that damages target, but can be detonated to heal. Symbol of Swiftness damages the foes and add some movement speed to allies. Line of Warding creates a line in front of you that foes can’t cross. Finally, Martyr draws conditions from nearby allies to you, and gives you a bunch of boons. For the most part, I did not care for this line. Martyr is nice for emergencies, and Symbol of Swiftness is useful in WvW where you sometimes have to cover a lot of ground, but the rest of the line just didn’t appeal to me that much. I found Line of Warding rather situational, for example.

Utility Skills

I didn’t try out many utility skills, as not many were available yet by the time I was done. I tried a few of the spirit weapons: Bow of Truth, Shield of the Avenger, and Sword of Justice. They have nice graphics, but I’m not sure how useful they really are. For example, I don’t see the sword doing much attacking, and the shield seems to pop a defensive bubble only once in a while. I also tried Judge’s Intervention, which is a teleport and burn skill. It’s marginally useful with weapons that don’t come with crowd control or leaps/teleports, but with the long recharge it just didn’t do much for me.

Wait, Spam Skills? So You Can Just Spam And Win?

I know there are some talk of how you can just mash buttons and win in Guild Wars 2. Sure, with the resilient guardian, you can certainly play that way and get pretty far. However, it wouldn’t be efficient. For example, if you’re in the middle of melee with other melee types, and suddenly pop Shield of Absorption, you’re not going to make many friends. Also, watching the battle and seeing who needs protection, such as people reviving, goes a long way then just charge and spam 1-2-3-4-5. This is especially true in WvW.

Early Level Event Footage (Defend the Waterworks)

What About Weapon Switching? I Hear It’s Useless

I personally think that is not true for the guardian, and that it is important to have two sets that compliment each other. Remember, with weapon switching, you have access to 10 skills instead of five. I like keeping an offensive set (greatsword) and a defensive set (mace and shield). For most PvE encounters, I would lead with the greatsword. My favourite PvE starter is Leap of Faith into the oncoming mobs, which are usually bunched up nicely. The hit and the blind usually gets their attention, but the blind buys me time to fire off Whirling Wrath to damage the whole group. If I can’t take them down before I start taking on too much damage, I switch to my defensive set and start mitigating the damage.

I also played some WvW on my guardian, but for the most part the groups I was with weren’t really coordinated in any real way. The key differences were WvW opponents kited more, and I faced situations where I couldn’t close to melee. Therefore for WvW the weapon sets should contain some sort of snare or jump, and something that can be of use when attacking a tower or wall. That can be either ranged damage like the scepter, or full defensive to protect your ranged units and siege weapons.

This brings me to another topic: weapon skills unlock. While I understand and appreciate the concept, I found unlocking all those weapons and off-hands to be a bit of a grind after the first few. By the time I got around to unlocking the staff, having one skill to spam against the now tougher enemies just didn’t cut it. There were two ways of solving that: get into a PvE event or group and feel like a leech, or go pound on some lower level mobs. I didn’t particularly care for either options, but I ended up just grinding low level mobs. It would be nice if there was a way to unlock weapon skills in some other way after some point, say if you’ve already unlocked two weapon sets, or after level 10. If not, I would recommend unlocking all the weapon skills early.

What About Aquatic Skills? PvP? Elite Skills? Other Skills? Dungeons? Traits? Bacon?

Yes, there is a lot of stuff I haven’t covered or tried in game given the limited time. My goal was to play through the early part of the game as though it was my permanent character, to see how the guardian, and the game, played. So my impressions are based on my play style, which is mostly solo and exploring the world around me. Hopefully in future beta I will be able to explore some of those items in detail.

And I like bacon.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with the guardian, even though melee classes aren’t my usual first choice. I enjoyed the the ability to switch roles in the heat of combat. The resilience and ease of survival might lead some to label this as a a noob profession. But I believe there are enough complexities to the profession a good player can make a real difference in tough situations. The old Guild Wars Warriors community had a saying: “It’s easy to play a Warrior, it’s hard to play a Warrior well.” I think that saying applies very much to the guardian as well.

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