In the lineup of elite specialisations for Heart of Thorns, there are two types of elite specialisations: those that take the profession into an entirely different direction, and those that do not.
While this may look like one of those trite statements that purport to be deep and meaningful but actually say something fairly obvious, it does fit with the announcements so far. Dragonhunter and reaper are quite transformative, almost causing the character to play as if it was an entirely new profession entirely. Chronomancer, on the other hand, feels more like a straight expansion on the mesmer, building on the existing playstyle and offering more options within the existing theme.
The tempest is looking to be a member of the second group. Perhaps this is a trend that will continue for specialisations that offer an offhand instead of a two-handed weapon – I guess we’ll see as others get released. Either way, the tempest does not feel like it will substantially change up the way the elementalist plays the way that, say, reaper does for necromancer. Rather than being transformative, the warhorn feels like it is simply offering an alternative to the dagger offhand for the close-in fighting preferred by dagger mainhand elementalists. The behaviour of the overload and shout skills reinforces this: they are all essentially point-blank area effects that aid the caster and their allies, harm enemies, or both. This is a theme that certainly is not lacking in the current elementalist – however, the tempest may well become the specialist in it.Playing an elementalist has been compared to playing a musical instrument, and the warhorn adds a brass section to the orchestra.
Certainly, while dragonhunter and reaper, and even the chronomancer to an extent, have seemed to draw in attention from players who have thus far eschewed the core profession, the tempest seems unlikely to attract players that are not already attuned by the combo-based style of the elementalist. For the elemental maestros out there, however, the tempest offers new combinations to add to their symphonies of destruction.
Reading their Auras
One early observation that has been made about the tempest is the significant increase in the frequency of aura generation that the tempest appears to offer. While the warhorn skills themselves do not provide auras, the auras on the focus and dagger offhands are slow to recharge and offer little beyond their mere existence: while useful, an auramancer currently is probably more inclined to rely on traits such as Sunspot, Soothing Ice and possibly Tempest Defence, in combination with faster-recharging auras such as Shocking Aura on the dagger mainhand, to keep up the supply of auras. The tempest, on the other hand, offers a number of new sources for auras: three of the new shouts grant auras to allies within range, one of the major traits grants an aura on a successful attunement overload, while another major trait gives healing to allies on receiving an aura.The tempest offers a range of new ways to apply auras to themselves and their allies.
This has led some to express fears that a Powerful Auras water build will clearly be the optimal build for group play. While I can see the advantages, I think the tempest might also serve to reduce the pressure for auramancers to take Powerful Auras. The key is that many of the new aura sources – the three shouts and the Elemental Bastion trait – already apply auras to allies by default, making Powerful Auras redundant. This means that a tempest auramancer might instead be able to invest in traits from other lines that increase the benefit from an aura: Fire for extra might, Air for swiftness and fury, or Earth for protection.
Alternatively, it is worth noting that through not taking these traits, a tempest could theoretically divest themselves of auras entirely (through using sceptre/warhorn). While this may be a drastic choice, it is worth noting that, as attention-grabbing as the auras are, there are still plenty of things that the other core specialisations have to offer the tempest: particular Arcana for its traditional benefits of decreased attunement recovery time (likely to become even more important with overloading available) and Evasive Arcana for blasting fields.
Spare the RodWarhorn skills show a distinct trend towards effects that travel along a straight path, affecting those around them as they move.
Another feature that sharp-eyed observers would have noticed is the number of Lightning Rod triggers that could be generated from the control effects of Tidal Surge and Cyclone. In addition to being able to generate control effects across a crowd, these skills have relatively short cooldowns for control effects (or at least, they do now – this may change in balancing, of course), which could make these skills attractive options to use with a Lightning Rod-oriented build. Alternatively, for those who just want to cut loose, Fresh Air could potentially allow for multiple overloads in quick succession (which could be particularly scary if combined with Unstable Conduit and, yes, Powerful Auras for generous distribution of Shocking Aura).
One thing I did find interesting, although probably understandable given its current red-headed stepchild nature, was the focus in the livestream on the tempest as a dagger wielder at the expense of the sceptre. It strikes me, however, that should the sceptre be rebalanced to become viable, that the warhorn could also have a lot to offer a sceptre wielder. Most of the warhorn skills do have enough range for some stand-off capability, and the aforementioned control skills can have the potential to set up enemies for sceptre skills – for instance, Cyclone could be used to pull enemies in for a line effect such as Phoenix, Dust Devil or the humble (probably too humble) Arc Lightning, while Tidal Surge could push enemies into a clump for a circular area attack (or keep a single enemy in the area of a Lightning Orb for longer). Between Tidal Surge, Cyclone, and Dust Storm on the one hand, and the sceptre’s own blinds on the other, a sceptre/warhorn elementalist could well become the elementalist king at stopping an enemy from being able to land a hit… at the cost, with current sceptre damage output, of taking forever to kill anything in return. (Unless using Fresh Air to constantly recharge Overload Air proves to be a viable tactic.)
Reaping the WhirlwindC’mon, baby, light my fire!
Despite these possibilities, however, the tempest remains most at home in the middle of the action, where the tempest’s shouts and powerful (and potentially quite frequent) overload abilities can have their biggest impact. In this way, the tempest is well named – an elementalist with this specialisation behaves like a living storm, with enough control to avoid harming their allies but otherwise with the potential to become a natural disaster to all around them. In a way, it feels like the ArenaNet developers felt like the elite skill Tornado was an awesome effect, and wanted to make something similar that could actually be used regularly enough to become part of the playstyle rather than a panic button to be deployed at a decisive moment. The overloads appear designed to give the feel of being able to use Tornado several times a minute; with, of course, the power of the effect suitably reduced so that it remains balanced.
With this being a style that will necessarily require the tempest to be close to the front lines for best effect, the tempest is provided with shouts and, to a lesser extent, warhorn skills that further emphasise a play style based on being in the middle of the action. (To be honest, in fact, the shouts feel to me more like regular point-blank area of effect skills that just have the shout tag so they can interact with Runes of the Soldier for condition removal.) While a well-played celestial dagger/dagger elementalist is already comfortable in close combat, the tempest offers a new set of skills and abilities that can offer a new twist on the existing formula.