I wrote my original guide two years ago
and the game changed so much that it’s probably easier to start a new one rather than update the entire old one. When Maelstrom first came out, there were no target dummies, 20K DPS was considered very good, and every class (except Dragonknights) had more potent skills to deal with its challenges. So, changed game needs a new guide.
This guide is meant for people trying to clear vMA for the first time
. One of the big differences between November 2015 and now is that veteran players will have very different builds and capabilities than newer players. Back then, everyone had the same builds (magicka players wore Martial Knowledge + Willpower for PvE, Kagrenac’s Hope + Willpower for PvP). If you watch a Youtube clear by one of the top players with a 550K score and try to replicate their strategy, you are going to be in trouble because they have a build you can’t match and their strategies are dependent on memorizing spawn locations and burning down primary threats.
I heard Maelstrom is for players who mix-max, have max CPs with end-game gear, and beyond the capability of average players
I understand vMA has a reputation of being elitist, but I believe that is a false impression. Unlike most of the content in ESO, vMA doesn’t just rollover and die when confronted by experienced players. It fights back and humbles everyone who tries it, forcing them to alter their approach. This, quite frankly, is a step not everyone is comfortable taking.
Zos did make the veteran version accessible to the ESO masses by including the Power Sigils. These are incredibly powerful, are available every single round of every single stage, and can carry decent players through the challenges vMA throws. The best ESO players are not supposed to use them (and get rewarded with a higher score). Difficulty is not the primary obstacle you will face. Rather you will be challenged mentally because vMA will attack your self-confidence, your patience, and your fortitude. You will die. Repeatedly. You will be humbled. You will doubt your ESO competence. But it's not the difficulty of these challenges that's killing you. It's because you don't know the mechanics and thus lack a strategy to defeat them. You going in deaf, dumb, and blind. If the arena did *not* challenge you under such circumstances, then
it would be a poor design. You've been face-rolling ESO content for probably over a year now. Even the DLC dungeons don't challenge you (provided you get in a good group). You've been bashing a target dummy that doesn't even defend itself let alone move. You aren't used to ESO content pushing back. Don't back down. Don't take the easy way out. Undergo some honest introspection. Have a build that useful against something other than a target dummies. If you are decent player, you can clear this if you do not let your frustration and your ego get the better of you
I heard vMA is all about DPS.
You do need DPS. You can't heal or block things to death. And you gonna need a fair amount of it because there are DPS checks. Not going to lie, it's important because the more you have the easier vMA gets. But it's not necessary to have elite DPS. VMA was cleared way back when 20K was considered a lot. My wrong race healer who used no DPS gear and did not respec has the Flawless Conqueror achievement.
I included a video below of me clearing VMA not using any spellpower potions, having zero "end-game" gear, only using 300 CPs (yes, 300!), and using a build that was not mix-max for DPs (I used a resto staff). It's totally possible and I was kind of surprised that stuff still died pretty quick.
What's more important is learning how to survive Vs. multiple attackers and environmental hazards. By far the easiest, most efficient, and most effective means to doing this are two skills that every player has access to. If you are magicka, that is Harness Magicka (this morph, you need resources) and if you are stamina, that is Vigor. You must get in the habit of using these skills before
you take damage. Other things you will have to do include: "Block-casting" (holding down block while using an ability), Dodge roll (for both damage avoidance and mobility when snared), use skills that DPS and heal you at the same time (even if these aren't your best damage skills).
Why Run vMA?
There's the obvious reason: the two best PvE weapons in the game drop here (Destruction Staff, Bow). I also think the Restoration Staff is a strong option for healers and PvP players who use the Regeneration skill.
But I would not recommend you doing content that you don't find fun because you feel like you "need" one of these weapons. VMA will humble you and if you are doing it for any reason other than the (accepted) challenge, you are going to subject yourself to too much aggravation. Especially since the weapon you want is more than likely not going to drop until you finish this enough times to be good at it.
So run it for that challenge. There really isn't much in ESO that can challenge a high CP player except 12 man trials and PvP. There was once a time when Spindleclutch tested our builds. Once a time when Craglorn was full of delves that players could go and test there their mettle. Once a time when even the questing zones occasionally required players to use their abilities and do things like block. If your someone who like fantasy / progression games whose whole concept is built around overcoming challenges by formulating strategies and using interesting abilities, then vMA is pretty much all ESO has to offer unless you got 11 friends handy who want to run Halls of Fabrication. I have 20 destruction staffs and I still come back to vMA from time to time because I want to stay sharp, want to see if I can do better, want to test builds under real conditions (as opposed to defenseless target dummies), and because one of the reasons I became addicted to ESO in the first place was because I liked having potent character abilities to deal with enemies that were actually threatening (I was in Beta). If you game because you are competitive and like a challenge, that's why you should do vMA.
What class should I play?
The one like and feel most comfortable playing. Just about everybody will say sorcerer is the easiest and best class, but the sorcerer does not make Maelstrom “easy,” rather it is knowledge of the mechanics and the experience of the player.
You probably going to doubt what I say here when you get to stage 5 for the first time and get Rekt repeatedly and then again on the last boss, when he kills you dozens and dozens and dozens of times. It’s not your class that’s getting you killed, it’s your unfamiliarity with the mechanics. The first time I did this on my sorcerer, I got Rekt and stage 5 and the final boss killed me time after time after time after time, and that was when sorcs shields lasted 20 seconds, critical surge could grant 20K heals, and Overload was OP. What people mean to say is that sorcerer has the potential for a little higher score than a dragonknight, which is a very different thing than being “easier.”
What about my build?
You're going to be better off with a more versatile and well rounded build than the DPS glass cannons who get a 550K score. The easiest way to go about that is to use damage oriented sets, have some extra regen, and add a few utility/defensive oriented skills on your bars. As for what specifically to go for, it doesn’t matter too much. The differences between many DPS sets and Mundas stones are so slight and situational that it’s not going to make or break a vMA run. As long as you avoid the many bad or overly specialized gear sets available in the game, you’ll do just fine. Julianos is strong for every magicka class, it’s a good default. Hunding’s the stamina equivalent, though if you can get your hands on Vicious Serpent Set (I always though it was Vicious Ophedia?) is a really good and versatile 5 piece.
No matter what you wear, you want to have at least 17K health (preferably 18K) and somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300ish magicka recovery
(I’m not much of a stamina player so I'm not sure of the sweet spot). The most efficient means of doing is to use Witchmother’s Brew / Dubious Camlorn throne drinks and to get some health somewhere else. Valkyn Skoria is great for this because it is a good DPS set and has the health bonus you need. Best stam monster set don’t have a health bonus, that’s fine, enchant one of your big armor pieces for health.
Supplement that with a couple skills that are more geared to keeping you alive than damage (such as Inhale, Funnel Health, Healing Ward, Leeching Vines, Reflective Scales, Refreshing [Instead of Twisting] Path, etc.) and don’t fret too much because it really doesn’t matter. Whether you use Lover, Mage, Apprentice, or this damage set, that damage set, infused or divines, the differences are in the grand scheme of things are so marginal it’s not going to prevent you from dying until you learn the mechanics.
Aren't you oversimplifying? Yes, but not really. That extra 5% you're going to get from min-maxing isn't going to be the difference between you beating the final boss. You rotation is way way way more important for your DPS than your gear. Your ability to shield, dodge, interrupt is way way way more important to survival than your resistances. In short, it's not your build that's going to get you a clear, it's your skill as a player. You'd be better served practicing a DPS rotation or going open world in Cyrodiil than calculating the minute differences between two solid gear sets.
- I would not go double destro staff. You are not doing a DPS parse Vs. a stationary target dummy that doesn’t fight back. The more difficult the content, the more kiting you have to do, the more incoming damage you take, the less and less that other destruction staff is helping you. It's not like you can't slot Elemental Blockade on your front bar and equip a damage glyph on a backbar resto staff.
- Harness magicka is on your front bar. It is up before you take damage. Often it is recast as soon as it drops.
- Elemental Drain is very handy. Drain anything elite or higher. Drain single mobs when not under threat.
- You want to kill things with your Destruction Staff because of the Destruction Mastery passive that returns magicka on a kill is key to sustain. On the last add on a pull, consider Elemental Drain + Heavy attack kill + Destruction Mastery = your sustain.
- Inferno or Lightning is personal preference. Most of your attacks are going to be single target (favoring Inferno). You’re going to be heavy attacking a lot (favoring Lightning). For DKs, I’d go Inferno though.
- Elemental Blockade is 1000% the best skill you have, it is always down.
- I’m going to be blasphemous here: I would recommend not using Inner Light because the extra skill is going to help keep an inexperienced player alive more than 7% extra magicka. When you stop dying, then consider putting it back on.
- You don't need Trap Beast. You do need skills like Reflective Scales, Healing Ward, and Elemental Drain.
- If you are not under pressure and your magicka pool is under 60%, a heavy attack is almost always better than a spammable skill.
- Your DPS ultimate is always Elemental Rage. Yes, even you DKs. If you PvP and use Eye of the Storm, that’s still better than anything else. A DK with Eye of the Storm might consider Banner, though I still think Eye is superior because its AoE is larger and it’s burst.
- Sometimes you’ll need a heal rather than a shield, so...
- I recommend your off weapon to be a nirnhoned restoration staff with a spell/weapon damage glyph. You’ll have some damage skills here you want to hit hard and are not doing a predictable DPS rotation, so I like setup because it’s always good as opposed to potentially the best. Healing Ward is an amazing skill, such that even Templars and DKs who have strong native burst heals are going to consider running it. Of course, you always want to use destro ultimate, however Light’s Champion is a great “oh crap” button.
Lich "Backbar" is not a bad option at all. (If you are a DK, Templar, or Warden, you can use a sword and shield, relying on your native burst heals (Honor the Dead, Dragon Blood, Mushrooms) instead of Healing Ward. Could use a Willpower "Frontbar" to squeeze out a bit extra damage.
- I am a sorcerer, watch me shield spam! Yes, that works when you have memorized the spawn locations and have a strategy. Shield spam is resource intensive and it's easy to die when you need an actual heal and your crit surge is only getting you 3K instead of 40K from Healing Ward. Use the Twilight if you are really adverse to using a resto staff. Though, if you any good at PvP, use your restoration staff as you would in Cyrodiil until you actually know the mechanics. Then use your double destro target dummy build if you are so inclined.
. I now have beaten this with a stamina build. So, this advice is not just theoretical, though I'm not a great stam player.
Some general principles:
- Bow is your back bar because Endless Hail is your best skill. Poison Injection is also fantastic.
- Caltrops is strong. Vigor is necessary. Zerg surf in Cyordiil for a weekend to get these skills.
- A really good stamina player told me that Vigor should be used exactly the same way as shields. Preventatively to ensure 5 seconds of survival.
- Although dual wield is stronger DPS, a player used to and likes the two handed can certainly clear the arena (stun, execute, stam on kills, and Rally heal are all good).
- You need to make sure you have incoming healing active at all times. I would take the healing options of the dual wield weapon skills or use Rally and even then, top this off with vigor.
- Ballista, Dawnbreaker (Smiting preferred) are legit ultimates.
- If you feel incoming damage is really high and at certain points it is, use the defense or heal power sigal at the trouble points until you get better at the arena.
- If you are overly defensive, you will die. You really need to be disciplined and kiting stuff inside your endless Hail and Catrops so the bad guys die.
- Don't listen to people who say ESO favors ranged magicka builds. It's kind of like when people say Communism favors healthy economic development: outdated and wrong assumptions based on a different era.
OK, Joy, I'm trying this but it's getting too expensive
- Every stage is "hard" until you get accustomed to the fights, opponents, threats and develop a strategy for defeating them.
- Learning this will make you cry and want to quit ESO. We've all been there. You're not alone. That being said, every stage becomes considerably easier once you are knowledgeable of the mechanics.
- Once you develop a strategy, you will wonder how it was you died so many times before.
- Target recognition and prioritization is absolutely essential. When you are dying, you will get frustrated, but it is critical you objectively assess what is killing you. You *cannot* clear these stages without recognizing priority threats.
- You should take breaks. You will get frustrated. Don't compound the problem playing mad. Eat lunch, call a friend on the phone, stretch out, etc., just move your mouse every 5 minutes or so and you will be fine.
- I highly recommend using generic blue magicka potions instead of spellpower or tri pots for every round until you get to the final boss (and even then keep using blue magicka pots until you can at least clear the crystals consistently). This will be an EXPENSIVE undertaking and you don't want to waste your resources when you are wiping because you have not developed a strategy yet. Use your good stuff when you actually get good at the arena.
- It is generally better to burst down single targets than trying to AoEing them all at once.
- Let me say that again: burst down single targets rather than AoEing them. Seriously, Pulsar is a suboptimal skill that only works in easy as pie overland PvE content.
- The Best DPS skills are Ground DoTs, then AoE Dots, then single target DoTs, then DPS skills that heal you, then last and certainly least: single target spammables. If you do not heed this advice, you will run out of resources
- Use the power sigils. When you master downing a Crematorium Guard while the final boss is channeling a necrotic storm that kills you in two seconds, then go ahead and practice getting that higher score without using the power sigils. All of them are strong and useful.
- Don't waste your soul gems. Just rez at wayshrine. Your PvP healer friend would love those Soul Gems, trust me. Besides, the amount of time you’re stuck in ghost form and for the arena to reset is about the same as if you rode your horse from the wayshrine.
- You're overly complex super duper killer combo that works on target dummies won't work in vMA. Keep it simple.
- I shouldn’t have to write this, but I will. vMA (and for me all Instanced areas) begins to lag noticeably the longer I am in it. It is bearable for me because I can finish it in under an hour. When I was first learning this, when it got so bad, I found it necessary to restart my client (back then no save feature, so I would Task Manager force shut-down rather than log out).
- Stop wasting your soul gems and repair kits. Rez at wayshrine.
- Stop using expensive spellpower and weapon power potions when you are dying trying to learn a strategy. You can get 90% of your DPS without them and that extra 10% is not going to make you learn the mechanics. Use these after you've nailed down a successful strategy, not before.
- You don't need to respec your CP points doing the arena coming from other ESO content. I PvP, heal, and do vMA with the same setup and it does fine.
- Don't gold out anything (except your weapon), thinking it will give you that extra edge you need. Difference between gold and purple on everything but weapons is tiny. Gold should be reserved for absolutely 1000% sure I will use this build for a long time.