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Guide to hard mode

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This strategy guide deals with the special challenges of hard mode PvE. For a more complete treatment of general PvE tactics, check the Guide to PvE.

Differences between hard mode and normal PvE[edit]

In general, hard mode is simply more difficult than normal mode PvE; however, it is useful to know the exact changes when planning the builds and strategies to be used. The changes are meant to make foes harder to defeat, but they can also be exploited. For example, a 50% faster attack speed means 50% more damage dealt to your party. At the same time, it also means a 50% damage increase from hexes such as Spiteful Spirit and Empathy.


Main article: Foe behavior

Your playstyle should revolve around the AI: counter its advantages and exploit its disadvantages.

  • The AI will kite away from your melee attackers. Bring along snares to counter this if you field melee attackers.
  • Use the AI's fast response to AoE as a means of dispersing enemies (if needed) and do not use AoE if you want your enemies clustered.
    • This means that if using Fire Storm, for example, the enemy will back out. Use it to relieve a party member in trouble.
  • The AI will not focus on one target. Bring skills which protect more than one target (e.g. Aegis or Ward Against Melee) or those which recharge faster.
  • Interrupting with skills like Leech Signet can make a huge difference to survivability, as it is often easier to interrupt a powerful spell (like Savannah Heat or Deep Freeze) than heal the hundreds (or thousands) of points of damage it can do to your party; however, note that the fast casting time foes have in hard mode can make it harder for some professions like rangers to interrupt so prepare your builds accordingly.

Due to their higher level, foes hit much harder. Skills that prevent extreme damage (e.g. Protective Spirit) or such that outright cancel damage (Shield of Absorption or Reversal of Fortune) are more useful compared to straightforward healing. This difference between preventative and palliative skill use is more obvious than it is in normal mode. At the same time, higher monster levels make all skills that benefit from having an enemy with higher health (Spoil Victor) more useful. Similar to PvP, Armor-ignoring damage are much more effective for taking down high armor targets like Rangers and Warriors compared to armor-respecting damage.

The faster casting and attack speed leaves ample room for exploitation. Consider skills such as Empathy, Spiteful Spirit or Backfire to take advantage of it. Reckless Haste loses its IAS, as foes are already attacking at maximum attack speed. You could also simply counter the faster attack speed problem with Shadow of Fear, although this will reduce the effects of the above exploits.

Enemy healers especially can cause many problems for ill-prepared teams especially when there is more than one in a mob as they have no problem in out-healing your own monks. Dazed (from Broad Head Arrow and other sources) and other interrupts can put a stop to their healing.


See also: Tactics (gameplay)

Tactics mostly stay the same compared to normal mode, but "good" tactical behavior is much more important. Having a good puller, a clear frontline-backline structure and party members who know when to run can, at times, be ignored in normal mode, but are essential now. Remember all-time favorite PvE strategies like killing healers first or using pets and minions to block enemies away from the backline and, of course, following target calls.

It should also be noted that using the surrounding environment has become even more critical. Weak members of your team should try to hide around corners or behind bumps in the terrain in order to take cover from very powerful foes such as ranged attackers, allowing melee attackers to deal with them. While this tactic is not always necessary, it can often be the difference between success and failure.

For a more complete treatment of tactics, check the PvE Tactics.

Team build[edit]

See also: Team roles

As a rule of thumb, only the most efficient PvE builds will do for hard mode. Many sub-optimal builds are still able to complete the normal mode missions; however, hard mode is less forgiving. Also, while using one general-purpose build for all areas might do for normal mode, in hard mode it becomes much more important to adapt your build to the special situation at hand. Check beforehand on the type of enemies you will be facing (melee or casters? hex- or condition overload?) and alter your build accordingly.

Since foes have much higher health in hard mode, your party will need to deal much more damage to them. Since you might need more healing and interrupts as well, only the very best builds in terms of damage output should be used. Similarly, to counter the higher damage dealt to you, your healing from whatever source will need to be much more effective. Also, the higher attribute levels and faster casting/attacking that enemies possess make damage prevention more important. Interrupts and all kinds of melee counter skills will become very useful.

List of Primary Profession Guides[edit]

This is just a very short overview of what parties expect from certain professions. For more information, read the articles and guides about the respective profession.

Warrior Warriors (frontline) are the usual tanks and often the pullers. Your party will expect you to bring a bow for pulling and at least some means of staying alive under fire. If there is more than one tank-worthy character in the party, agree beforehand on who will tank; non-tanking warriors can focus on damage or condition inflicting.

Dervish Dervishes (frontline), despite having low armor, are a melee profession. Therefore, you will be expected to soak up some damage on your own. Bring a decent self heal, but don't neglect your damage output, unless you are the designated tank. Dervishes can use a multitude of enchantments to either boost damage or defensive capabilities.

Assassin Assassins (frontline) are typically hit-and-run experts, and usually avoid staying in melee range for extended periods due to their lower armor. Assassins can employ shadow steps or speed boosts for hit and run tactics (commonly to quickly gank an enemy healer or simply get an early kill), or use defensive skills and self heals if they intend to stay in melee longer. Some Assassin even use ranged weapons to stay out of melee range but still benefit from Critical Strikes; there's even a crit-based skill designed specifically for non-dagger assassins. In high-end areas, assassins focused on Shadow Arts can make very efficient tanks.

Elementalist Elementalists (midline) in a party are usually expected to do heavy damage. Fire Magic is most typical in PvE for its high damage AoE spells, but other builds will still generally be accepted as long as they have a high damage output. Elementalists are also sometimes used for snaring, using Water Magic spells to prevent mobs from dispersing away from AoE damage. Elementalists function in some rare cases as frontline tanks themselves, using Earth Magic-based enchantments to increase armor. When facing areas full of high-armor melee enemies, remember that they can support the party by spreading generous amounts of damage mitigation or amplification: Blindness, Weakness, and Cracked Armor, as well as ward spells from Earth Magic line. With their high energy reserves, Elementalists are sometimes combined with a Monk secondary to become powerful backline healers.

Mesmer Mesmers (midline) are more situation-specific, and should know the enemies beforehand in order to plan their build accordingly. Because they are more difficult to play effectively, they are also a rarer PvE profession. Mesmers shine when it comes to shutdown, via interrupts and hexes, although other builds are viable. Inform your group of your role in the upcoming fights.

Necromancer Necromancers (midline) are usually expected to play a straight damage dealer (e.g. with Spiteful Spirit) or to boost the frontline via being a minion master. They can also be a party battery through a Blood is Power build, where they power spellcasters with high energy regeneration. Tell your party what you plan on doing, especially if there is another necro around. Necromancers not falling into one of those two builds will often have a hard time finding a group; be prepared to explain why you use another build if you do so.

Paragon Paragons (midline) can produce decent damage, but shine in a support role, bringing skills that benefit most of the party members (mostly damage reduction via "There's Nothing to Fear!" and the warrior skill "Save Yourselves!", but also Arias for spell casters, Anthems for physical damage dealers, "They're on Fire!" if the party can cause a reasonable amount of burning, etc). Bringing Signet of Return or "We Shall Return!" can also help the party, as they are reusable resurrection skills. Paragons also have a niche in party-wide movement speed boosting with Incoming and Fall Back.

Ranger Rangers (midline) are often expected to either deal damage via Barrage (or similar skills) or to shutdown spellcasting via Broad Head Arrow or other bow attack interrupts. They are the most common pullers in the group as they can use their bow and run back to bring back a small group of monsters while tanking fairly well with their high armor and efficient defensive stances such as Whirling Defense or Lightning Reflexes. If you play a non-bow ranger (e.g. touch ranger or trapper) tell your party before starting. Also inform them if you plan on bringing any spirits.

Ritualist Ritualists (midline or backline), as a versatile profession which can support damage and healing both, make sure the party knows what it is getting. If you plan on using spirits, such as those summoned by the popular Signet of Spirits, you may want to bring Summon Spirits to keep up with your moving group. If a party has more than one ritualist, they need to check the builds and exclude any duplication in binding rituals.

Monk Monks (backline) normally have a focus on keeping the party alive. If you are not the only monk, coordinate with the other monk(s) whether you use healing or protection. Usually it is easiest to have one of each. Definitely tell your party if you plan to be a non-healing Smiting Prayers monk.

Professions comparison[edit]

Profession Damage abilities Pressure abilities Support abilities Control abilities Utility abilities
party members
Warrior Warrior Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Ranger Ranger Yes2 Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Monk Monk No Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Necromancer Necromancer Yes3 Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No
Mesmer Mesmer Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No
Elementalist Elementalist No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No No
Assassin Assassin Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No
Ritualist Ritualist No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Paragon Paragon No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dervish Dervish Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Yes — lots of skills support this ability
Yes — ability is somehow limited or only a few skills support it
No — ability is not available

  1. With profession-dependent skills (other than Resurrection Signet and Sunspear Rebirth Signet)
  2. Only with a pet
  3. Only with minions and a few touch skills

Much of the information in this area is geared toward playing with other players, particularly strangers. If you're with a group of friends who you know, or if you decide to play solo, with just heroes and henchmen, you can experiment with various options that others in a group might not immediately accept. The fact is, in normal mode, which is where you start the game, the entire game can be soloed. For many players, the enjoyment of creating unique and effective builds is one of the great joys of the game.


Main article: Vanquisher

Death penalty[edit]

Main article: Death penalty

Fighting in explorable areas in hard mode is mostly the same as in normal mode, with one essential difference to remember: the party will be teleported back to the last visited outpost if the party wipes when all party members have 60% Death Penalty (DP). This makes strong defensive play more rewarding in hard mode. There are several ways to avoid accumulating DP: have the same person designated to run (and res) in case of partial wipes or make use of DP-reducing items. Another successful method for removing DP is to take advantage of experience bonuses such as experience-boosting scrolls, blessings or bounties. If you are struggling against a mob due to high DP go elsewhere in the zone and clear easier mobs until you have recovered and then return to the harder mob. For this reason it is advisable to leave easier mobs until nearer the end if possible to keep this option open. When properly handled, popup mobs may also be employed for the same purpose. Experienced parties may choose to leave the sections on a map that contain popups as a last resource to clear death penalty when vanquishing.


See also: Boss

When trying to vanquish an area, it is also useful to know the bosses it contains and their location. Bosses are important because they recharge your Resurrection Signets when killed. Typically, the healers in your party will carry hard resurrects. If you have used up all your signets, each time they die the party loses the bulk of its defense and will eventually be wiped, resurrecting at the nearest shrine and accumulating death penalty. This is particularly true when party size is limited to four, since your group will most probably contain a single healer.

Managing bosses becomes then a significant strategy for vanquishing. When possible, groups will typically clear the path to a boss but leave it alone to be killed only when a recharge of resurrection signets is needed. In areas that do not contain bosses, parties may also choose to bring hard resurrects instead of signets.

Also, unlike most foes in Hard Mode, bosses have the same skills as they would in Normal Mode. This makes them very valuable when vanquishing areas where elites are rare or not present in Normal Mode.

Increasing party size[edit]

See also: Vanquisher#Larger party sizes

Many areas have a party cap of 4 or 6 instead of 8. Using a method known as caravan vanquishing, vanquishing some of these areas can be made much easier. Here parties travel from 8 capped areas without stopping at outposts until they reach their destination (often vanquishing along the way).


See also: Mission

Hard mode missions have the same enhanced enemy AI and higher monster level as explorable regions, so all of the above advice applies for missions too. Friendly NPCs are set to level 20. For most missions, the basic mission goal and bonus stays the same; however, for most timed missions, such as the ones in Factions, the time is extended. Each mission article has specific notes on how to beat that mission in hard mode.