Tuesday, January 19, 2010

AI: Spiritmastering at 35

Aion had been taking a back seat, writing wise, since WoW introduced the last major patch. Game-time wise wasn't much different, but I was logging some good weekend hours to take advantage of the double exp offered. That promotion is over now, but I still am spending a lot of time in Atreia on the weekends.  Having hit 35 now, it seemed like a good time to update my Spiritmaster guide.  As usual, I start with a copy/paste and add or rewrite from there.  So here we go.

At 35, you will have 3 stigma slots open. Here's what I'm currently using:
  • Ignite Aether I - Extremely useful, instant cast removal of three buffs.  Great for PvE (i.e. mobs that do the temporary stone skin thingy) and PvP (who isn't buffed out in the Abyss?)
  • Absorb Vitality III - Hits for a good amount plus returns you health.  A great spell to have.
  • Sigil of Silence I - This is great for finishing off both monsters and other players.  Being able to silence spellcasting for a bit is a great utility to have on top of removing buffs. 
Spell Usage
When attacking a PvE mob, I lead off by sending in my pet with an abilities or two (more on pets later). Then I put my dots up. From there, I move to nuking or utility spells. Your dots are Erosion and Chain of Earth. The nuke spells are Flame Bolt and Ice Chain.  Since Ice Chain and Chain of Earth share a cooldown,  you usually have to choose between the two.  Normally I lead off with Chain of Earth and then would utilize Ice Chain later in my rotation. 

The utility spells consist mainly of your stigmas, as listed above. You have acquire the ability to heal your pet, and summoned servants.  I like throw a pet heal if the pet needs it and immediately follow it with an Absorb Vitality, healing me for what I threw at the pet. This seems to work pretty well. Also, I like to use the combination of Summoning Alacrity (a skill you gain that makes summons instant cast) and summon one of my servants (depends on pet choice).  I tend to get a servant set up before I move to nuking.  Finally, applying things like Stone Skin or having the pet Re-taunt the mob if I'm using it as a tank also fall under the utility banner.

So for a PvE mob, my thinking goes basically like this:
  1. Send in my pet.
  2. Dots! And a Servant if Alacrity is up.
  3. Check if any of my utility is needed.
  4. Deal Damage with nukes and pet abilities.
During my damage dealing, I'll always keep an eye on what's going on to be ready if my utility is needed (i.e. dispelling that annoying stone skin buff on mobs).  I usually only use a servant if alacrity is up, and generally don't refresh it because it seems like stuff dies to quickly for two rounds to fully complete. 

It seems that Spiritmasters can really eat through the mana, so I try to be conservative when running instances and such.  The addition of Spirit Absorption to our ability pool really helps with this though, and if you use that, then a pet heal, then absorb vitality... it's almost like free mana.  Almost.

For Crowd Control abilities, it's important to note that we have both Root and Fear.  Root is great in PvE as long as the mob isn't ranged.  We're not the CC masters that Sorcerers are, but a well placed root can help things out quite a bit.  Fear is okay in a PvE when you have tons of room (where things won't aggro), but it's great in a PvP situation since it allows you to go to town on an otherwise controlled individual.

Pet Choice
By the time you hit 35, you should definitely have each pet (hopefully higher ranks too). A couple of the pets are drop dependant, but if you haven't gotten the drop for at least rank one of each pet, you should probably pick it up at the auction house. This will give you four spirits:
  1. Fire Spirit - After getting rank 3 of this guy, I've been using him as my main tanking mob when duo'ing with Fuu, my assassin counterpart. He has a strong taunt and pretty decent survivability. At this point, he's probably out 80% of the time.  Until I get other rank 3's, he'll be my go-to spirit.
  2. Wind Spirit - After getting rank 2 of this pet, he's was main consideration for straight DPS. His survivability and taunt are weak, so don't use him as a tank. He can put out some good damage though, so in a group environment where I'm with a tank and a healer, I'll use this guy if I don't feel like going Fire with the higher rank. I probably pull this guy out 15% of the time, leaving the other 5% split between my last two pets.
  3. Earth Spirit - This spirit is stuck at rank 2 and for a while he was my main tanking consideration. His shield ability is pretty handy, giving him above average survivability, however his taunt isn't as strong as the Fire Spirit's. Thus, the only reason I might use him right now is in a group that lacks adequate CC. He might be able to output decent DPS while allowing a temporary tanking of a renegade mob. I haven't really had reason to use him yet. Once I get rank three, I may pull him out to tank a bit just for kicks.
  4. Water Spirit - I've still haven't gotten rank 2 of this spirit yet, and it's too expensive for me to justify right now. He happens to be our lone ranged pet and is drop dependent. I tended to use this guy in large scale PvP encounters, but haven't really been in one for a while now. It's nice to have him sit back and pop damage on melee classes, goading them into getting close enough for a Templar to yank or for someone to root. Also, the ranged nature can keep him off of a player's radar longer than a pet that's gnawing on said player's leg. Plus, in PvP, taunting doesn't matter, so the weak taunt doesn't matter, though he is a bit of a glass cannon if he gets focused on.
That's all the pets I've picked up at this point in time. Higher ranked pets are looming on my horizon, but I'll probably still pull the spirits out in the same situations. The percentage of usage probably reflects my percentage of type of gameplay more than anything, but it should give you a small idea of how often I'm using certain pets. It was great when they made our spirits able to fly too, and spirit speed is definitely a consideration when trolling the abyss.  I don't want to have to re-summon all the time, so I usually run with the wind spirit since he can keep up the best.

The pet abilities I mentioned using above vary based on the pet you're using. Basically though, I try to use the Thunderclaw as a "pet attack" in my rotation above. The set up abilities include the two that are on longer cooldowns (one's a buff and the other is a debuff) and the taunt. I obviously only use the taunt when I'm using my pet to tank, and in that case it's often what I lead off with. Then, I'll only reapply when I see the mob running at me, leading to a little bit of a ping-pong effect. The other abilities I just try use when they are off cooldown, being sure to save the increased drop-rate ability for boss fights when applicable.

A small side note: I choose which servant to use based on which pet I used. Most of your pets weaken your target to a specific school of magic that is aligned them. Thus, my theory is that it helps to use the same servant, since you'll get more bang for your buck. It's hard to really test any of these theories since I don't have a damage meter like I do in WoW, but it seems to make sense from reading the tool tips.

PvP Encounters
For small scale encounters, Dots are my best friend. I try to Chain of Earth anything right away and then hopefully get a stun out of the chain. If that happens, I might throw in a nuke, depending on the situation. If not, Erosion is quick on the heals of CoE. At this point, I usually check to see how much my initial salvo hurt them for. By that, I can usually judge how much of a chance I have. At this crucial point, it's fight or flight. Either way I probably have to keep the player away from me, but if I'm doing zippo damage, I'll probably just run for it, saving my root spell for if they catch up to me.

If I'm hitting them for a good chunk, I might try to get some distance and pull out one of my servants to bother the player. Other than that, it's time for fancy evasion and keeping those dots refreshed. If I get enough space, I'll try to throw in a fire chain. This strategy has served me well, keeping me alive most of the time, if not always victorious.

For a large scale encounter, the difference is that you're going to have to really pay attention to your range. The LAST thing you want to do is get yanked into the fray by some over-eager Templar. Thus, I usually hang back, looking for the opportunity to slap a dot on someone. Most players seem to dance back and forth, so I find it advantageous to focus on one person and nail them every time they get too close, leading off with my CoE to slow them. Sometimes, this delays enough that our Templar will yank them and then they're in bad shape.

A final tactic I mentioned a bit earlier is to send you pet in to annoy a player. For melee, it's particularly effective if you use your water spirit. Some players see a spirit and run out to kill it, forgetting that they've just brought themselves within range of our Templar. It's annoying as a melee to have to sit there and let someone's puny water spirit take pot shots at you. Also, just the general harassment effect of it gives me pleasure, even if it doesn't really kill anyone. Getting in their heads can sometimes goad a player into making a tactical error.

To be honest though, I'm still learning a lot about this part of the game. I've been involved in a lot of PvE, a moderate amount of small scale PvP, and just a handful of large scale PvP encounters. I really enjoy the large scale stuff, but it just doesn't always happen and even then frame rates can be iffy (and I'm on a good machine!).  I'm not sure what happened, because the frame rates I get in large scale stuff tends to vary with each patch.  Previous patches I'd been easily able to join in huge battles and not have massive lag, but right now I can't without getting abysmal (ha, pun) frame rates.  I'm hoping they continue to work with the game engine to find a solid solution, but, for right now, there are plenty of other things to do.

Wrap Up
So here's hoping that some of this experience finds other Spiritmasters out there and is of use. If you're a spiritmaster, please leave me your thoughts. Have you found some of these tactics useful? Do you know of ones I didn't mention. With such a young game, class specific help seems hard to find, but I'd like to at least relate what I've learned through experience and research here.

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