SKILLS AND ROTATION
What exactly is a ‘rotation’?
There’s a bit of mystery surrounding DPS rotations and animation cancelling but I promise you, it’s not some sort of black magic. A DPS rotation is built from the following elements; buffs, DoTs (damage over time abilities) and what I call a ‘spammable’, something relatively cheap that deals damage right away. And the rotation itself is the most efficient way of keeping as many of those damage abilities going at the same time as you can. Sustain is also important but I’ll get to that.
Let’s use Magsorc as an example because the rotation doesn’t have too many surprises.
- Power Surge (grants us a spell damage buff)
- Liquid Lightning (does lightning damage at the targeted area for 10 seconds)
- Elemental Blockade (does elemental damage, based on the staff used, on the ground in front of us for 8 seconds)
- Haunting Curse (does damage after 3.5 seconds and more damage after another 8.5 seconds)
- Force Pulse (does flame, lightning and frost damage instantly)
I think the best way to describe this is with a timeline so show what we’re actually trying to achieve here. The diagram below shows the sequence and duration of each ability, where ‘X’ is when you cast.
Essentially what you’re doing is just casting each of your abilities, one after the other, and then using your spammable until you need to start over. Mag sorc is such a straightforward rotation because your abilities are mostly within a 8-10 second range so it’s pretty easy to maximise uptime without overlap.
You can see in the diagram how each ability is cast in turn. The darker areas are where there’s overlap and obviously the white space is where that ability is not active. The only unusual part of this rotation is haunting curse which is on a 12 second timer. We can’t recast it the second time around because we’ll miss out on the second round of damage at 12 seconds, so we cast it every other time through the rotation – everything else is done in sequence. Note that the second time through we cast an extra Force Pulse, because we’re not casting Haunting Curse this time.
Also note I’ve specifically allowed for heavy attacks. The time taken depends on the weapon but for a lightning staff it’s 2 seconds. If you’ve run out of magicka to cast your DoTs it’s too late to do a heavy attack so plan for them in your rotation.
Don’t forget that you should be doing a light attack before each of these abilities (more on that below) but this should illustrate the idea of a rotation. Keep your dots going all the time, and use instant damage abilities or heavy attacks in the gaps.
Some builds will have an execute which deals more damage when the enemy is below a certain health percentage. If you have one of these you want to use this instead of your spammable ability after the enemy has reached that health percentage. Don’t use it earlier as it’s not dealing enough damage to be worth casting. So in this example, you’d start casting Mage’s Wrath instead of Force Pulse once the enemy is below 20% health, but the rest of the rotation remains the same.
Every DPS rotation works this way, though the abilities and timing is different. But you’re trying to get as close to 100% uptime on your DoTs are you can, filling any leftover time with your spammable.
tl;dr Keep your DoTs running all the time and only spam if everything else is active. If you cast abilities willy-nilly, or just spam one ability while your DoTs run out, your dps will suffer.
I thought that was a bug…
People seem to get upset or confused about animation cancelling, but it’s not really wizardry and, regardless of how you feel about it, it’s been embraced as a part of the mechanics for dps. This is evident in things like the Maelstrom staffs, which boost the damage of your light and heavy attacks and the Hawkeye passive under the Bow skill line, which boosts the damage of your Bow abilities when you use light and heavy attacks. There’s also numerous set bonuses that proc on light and/or heavy attacks.
The two most important aspects of animation cancelling for DPS are light-weaving and swap cancelling.
Light weaving is simply using a light attack before every ability. It sounds trivial, but it actually adds a significant amount to your dps. This is because the game will prioritise the ability over the light attack. When you do this quickly, you do the damage for the light attack AND the ability in the same moment. It’s more damage in the same time. And it’s free. And it generates ultimate. And if you’re using a bow or a maelstrom staff or a proc set it’s an even bigger benefit. And if you’re a nightblade it returns resources. Have I convinced you to light weave yet?
It takes a bit of getting used to, but eventually it becomes automatic. The timing for it does depend on your ping – I suggest just practising with one ability and seeing how fast you can get it before the light attack stops registering. Experiment for just 5 minutes and you’ll see what I mean.
Swap cancelling is the same idea, except it cancels the animation for your ability, instead of your light attack. If you cast an ability and swap bars immediately, the ability will still fire but the animation won’t play. This can save you a LOT of time, especially in rotations where there’s a lot of bar swapping, or abilities with long animations (despite their instant cast time).
So putting the two together, when you do your rotation you want to light attack before each ability and then as soon as you use the last ability on your bar you swap immediately. In the case of the above rotation this is poison injection.
The only abilities you do not want to swap cancel are abilities with a cast time as this will fail either the ability or the swap. Try to arrange your rotation so you’re swapping an appropriate ability.
tl;dr use a light attack before every ability and bar swap as soon as you cast the last ability on that bar.
Why am I constantly running out of stamina?
When you start doing what I’ve described above, you’ll find yourself running out of your primary resource because you’re using abilities constantly. So you need to learn how to sustain. As a general rule, if you’re starting to run low, use a heavy attack instead of your spammable. Avoid heavy attacking between your DoTs as it will get your timing out of sync and you’ll start to get downtime, and whatever you do make sure you have enough magicka or stamina to cast your dots. So you need to start heavy attacking before you run out. You might wish to do one heavy and one spammable in every cycle, or all spammable one cycle and all heavy attack in the other. More spammables means more damage, but it ends up being a loss if you can’t keep your DoTs going. Ultimately it’s up to you to find the balance point. And don’t forget your potions. Not only does a potion restore your resources immediately, it also boosts your regen.
I really don’t want to talk to specific skills here, but it’s important to note that every dps build needs a source of their respective damage and critical buffs. For stamina this is Major Brutality and Major Savagery, for magicka it’s Major Sorcery and Major Prophecy. These will give you an additional 20% damage and 10% critical chance which make a noticeable difference to your dps. The most typical source is from potions but I don’t recommend burning through expensive potions while you’re still learning. There are some abilities that gives those buffs so you may be able to use those to start with, otherwise just get your dps into the 20-25k range and then do a test with pots. You can craft potions that restore your primary resource, boost your regen, and give damage and critical. With 3 skill points in the ‘Medicinal Use’ passive (under the Alchemy skill line) your potions will last 47 seconds and you can drink one every 45 seconds meaning you’ll get 100% uptime on those buffs.
ROTATION, ROTATION, ROTATION
This is the part where I just have ‘git gud’, isn’t it?
You’ve probably picked up on it by now, but chances are what you really need to do is simply practise. This is for two main reasons.
First of all, you just need to get better. If your numbers are low, you need to make the most of your abilities by practising keeping them up all the time, as well as maintaining your buffs and getting those light and heavy attacks in.
The second is because a boss fight is way harder than a target skeleton. You need your rotation to be muscle memory so that when the proverbial hits the fan you can maintain your rotation without having to actively concentrate on it, and instead dedicate your concentration to whatever mechanics are happening at that point in time. Many boss fights, particularly in vet trials, require both high DPS and precision timing in terms of group movement. You don’t want to be doing low DPS because you can’t keep your DoTs on the boss whilst running to a safe location or doing zero DPS because you’re dead on the ground because you were spamming your execute and didn’t run to a safe location. It’s a balancing act, but endgame content will require you to do both, and do them well.
The best place to start if you’re new to rotations is to find a build and literally just go through every skill on your bar, with a light attack before each. (light attack) One, (light attack) two, (light attack) three, (light attack) four, (light attack) five, swap. Repeat. Of course, skip toggles like Bound Armour or passive abilities like Inner Light. That is really the core of your rotation and you’ll be surprised at how much damage that alone will do. Once you’ve got the hang of that try to be a bit smarter about it and match those timers better. Have a look at how long each skill lasts and figure out which ones you should be casting together etc. As I said before, don’t bother using expensive potions until you’re around to 20-25k dps mark as you’re just wasting money. Stick with trash pots. Also don’t forget to use your ultimate as soon as it’s ready.
Once you’ve got a feel for it, you need to start finding ways to improve. Practise with purpose. Don’t just do the same thing over and over expecting your numbers to go up. Try to get 100% uptime on your buffs, or make sure you don’t run out of resources, or ensure you land a light attack before every ability. Always be working on something.
And when I say practise, I mean get yourself a target skeleton (the standard ones, with 3 mill health) or find a friend who has one in their house. It’s the best simulation of a boss fight you’ll find, without finding an actual boss that might try to kill you. Hitting two things with your AOE will double your dps and trash mobs often die far too quick and have much lower resistances. Proc sets with a % chance, Ultimates and execute damage will all be more consistent the longer the fight lasts which is why you need something with a decent amount of health to learn on. When people quote dps numbers like 15k, 30k etc. they’re talking about single target in a sustained fight.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but there are some really useful addons that will help you understand your dps and rotation. If you’re on console, my sympathies. You’re a bit more limited in terms of tracking the details of your rotation.
Combat Metrics will give you a dps bar so you can see how much damage you’re doing during a fight, as well as the % of the group dps. It also has a fight summary that you can keybind which will show you a lot more detail about your dps. Uptime on buffs, percentage and dps from particular skills, how often skills are critically hitting etc. This is where you want to go once you’re familiar with the basic rotation and are looking for ways to improve. It’s also where you want to compare particular skills if you’re changing your build.
PS. Bizz has a great Addon Spotlight video for Combat Metrics that you should check out if you’re unfamiliar with it!
Buff Timers or Srendarr will give you timers on screen for your buffs and ground abilities etc. which is really useful for making sure you cast those abilities right as they’re about to run out. Eventually the timing becomes muscle-memory, but when you’re learning it’s really useful.
Constellations will interpret your Combat Metrics data and suggest the best allocation for your Champion Points based on the amount of damage each of your skills are doing. It’s not super intuitive; you need to remember to click that ‘Import’ button and make sure you set the right physical/spell penetration but it’s a really solid start if you’re unsure what to do with your CP.