The Mesmer Experience ™
I admit it, the Mesmer was not my favorite profession in Guild Wars. I had a love-hate relationship. I did love what the profession stood for, what it did, and how it did it. I just never really got into it, mainly because it had ways of making me feel useless. I had fun with it in both PvE and plenty of PvP, but it had enough frustrating times that I never actually got to the point of loving it.
Having experienced the Mesmer in Guild Wars 2, here’s a dispassionate and totally objective assessment of the profession: I loved it. Much more than I thought I would, honestly. It was going to be low on my priority list, but now that I got to play it, it likely has been bumped a few notches. I think they really fixed everything that was wrong with the Mesmer from Guild Wars, and yet stayed really close to what the Mesmer stands for. They managed to stay true to the Mesmer gameplay.
What is the Guild Wars 1 Mesmer?
The Mesmer in Guild Wars 1 was all about shutdown, at least initially. Only much later did the Mesmer get a balance update so it could do significant damage. But initially, the Mesmer was the expert at making sure the foes were useless, making it easier for other players to kill them. They had many ways of doing just that.
Mesmers had many interrupt skills that I loved to pull off, but got frustrating when I would miss. Those skills would stop your foe from performing his intended action (and do additional pain) only if you used it during an action, and often you could only use it on specific type(s) of action (e.g. spells). These skills were reactive in that you had to trigger it often in a 2sec or less time window, very reflex-based.
Mesmers were also experts at stacking weird conditions and hexes on their foes or just sapping their energy away, thus debilitating them. Hex stacks could work as energy drain, punishment for doing anything useful, making the skills fail, or degeneration… depending on the spell of course.
And with fast-casting, Mesmers could spend more time strafing around to avoid damage, which was their main advantage to stay alive. They were duelists of the mind.
Why didn’t I love the Guild Wars 1 Mesmer?
This is where some readers will disagree with me, and differences of opinions are just fine. However, whether or not you agree, stick with me here and it will help you understand what the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer is like.
The Mesmer was very skill-dependent, perhaps too much so. In Guild Wars 1, Mesmers had many conditional skills… skills that did nothing if you used them wrong. Skills that damaged casters only, or skills that interrupted only spells, or that punished you for doing damage but were useless on healers… Stuff like that. So you had to know your opponent well in order to be effective. But not only that, you also had to know their skills, which skill did what, and which skills to shutdown. You have to preemptively shut them down sometimes. The interrupt Mesmer was also too dependent on reflexes.
And even if you were good at all that, bringing the wrong build meant that at times, you had skills on your bar that were 100% ineffective against your current foe.
And while I am all for skill playing a factor in your success rate, it’s hard to feel heroic when you fail so hard that your henchmen are the reason you succeed at all. It’s even more frustrating when the skills you have are useless regardless of how you use them, they are just not useful against your current foe. Don’t get me wrong, I do love skilled gameplay, but the Mesmer gameplay was too punishing, too unforgiving. In my opinion of course.
What is the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer?
I will refer to clones and phantasms as “illusions” for the remainder of the article, for simplicity.
First off, illusions are not summons. At all. Take that idea out of your head, and throw it in the garbage. I love playing summoners like necromancers and ritualists, and popping clones and phantasms didn’t at all feel like summoning. Not even close.
Illusions felt like stacking hexes.
That’s right. Visuals aside, playing the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer felt very close to playing the Guild Wars 1 Mesmer. Those illusions were nothing like necromancer minions, not even minion bombing. Here’s why:
1) Illusions are very short duration. They die if your target foe dies. And clones are relatively easily removed anyway. Plus, you can shatter them, and really, there are plenty of reasons why you should.
2) You can have at most 3. You get three circles on the UI showing how many of them are active, which is good because it can get chaotic trying to keep track of that. Clones are just durable enough so you can manage to summon 3 before you shatter them, but don’t delay too much or they will get killed off.
3) They have no real staying power. They can’t tank. They can’t be pre-summoned. They don’t even carry over from one foe to the next.
4) You can’t enchant them, and they are not summon-and-forget. You need to keep track of how many you have, and whether to shatter them. And so the gameplay is very active and yet not about micro-management.
5) It’s very easy to cast them. The associated skills are generally on short recharge, and there’s plenty of skills that make clones and phantasms.
Instead, casting illusions felt exactly like stacking hexes, except that those were shown onscreen rather than in the UI.
Clones actually felt like hexes that make your attacks miss, and when you see 4 identical Mesmers all over the place and not know which one is the real one, you will understand what I mean. I liked the mind game involved in trying to fool your opponent (in PvP) into attacking the wrong you. Once in PvP I saw a mesmer attacking me by himself, but it turns out it was a clone, and I loved being fooled by it.
Phantasms were more like hexes with a specific effect depending on the specific Phantasm skill. Some do degeneration. Others punish given actions. Others still provide protection or return attacks.
Also, stacking clones and phantasms adds a significant degeneration. If your target foe ignores your clones and phantasms (assuming he even knows which ones of your identical copies is you) he’ll be getting some consistent damage over time. Some hex removal is in order here, and in Guild Wars 2 terms, that means actually hitting the illusions on the head using whatever trauma method you prefer. AoE is usually effective in removing illusions, but a skilled Mesmer can also easily make new ones.
Shatters are fun and easy to use. Stack up to 3 illusions (preferably but not necessarily on the same foe) and hit F1 to F4. The illusions then run in next to the foe, and blow themselves up. There is a bit of delay as they run in, especially for the ranged ones. Melee illusions blow up very quickly. I do wish that they would run faster though.
My favourite shatter was the damage one (Mind Wrack), because when activated, the clones and phantasms run next to your foe and blow themselves up, taking a chunk of their life as well as the lives of nearby foes. Very satisfying.
What I loved (and didn’t love) about the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer
What I loved about Guild Wars 2 Mesmers is that they retained the shutdown gameplay, the hex stacking gameplay, the duelist aspect of being able to dodge more, and improved on every single one of those. And they made the noob Mesmer not feel completely useless, even though clearly a skilled Mesmer will vastly outperform a noob Mesmer. It is skill-based gameplay but unlike some other games, it refrains from calling you a retard and yelling “fail” all the time, and instead provides a more gentle learning curve.
The hex stacking and shatter gameplay was satisfying for the same reasons as hex stacking and removal was satisfying in Guild Wars 1. You get to mess up with your foes, play with them, confuse them, make them feel useless. You get to literally outsmart your foes, because you have a lot of decisions to make, you need to always be thinking and making choices.
Those who liked the reflex-based interrupt gameplay will also find it in the Guild Wars 2 Mesmer, but not as much. I was able to pull off an interrupt (oddly, using an Engineer) and so clearly the Mesmer can do it too. There are skills that interrupt actions, but (1) you don’t get a skill activation bar and it’s hard to tell when foes activate skills in the middle of combat, and (2) much of the interrupts come from the stun from the Diversion shatter, and shatters are neither immediate nor quickly recharging. I can see some players getting good at interrupting, but it will be more of a pro skill than a natural occurrence.
I think I’ll learn to love the two shutdown shatters, but for now they did not feel satisfying because their effects were delayed and more subtle. But I guess Mesmers were always more about subtle gameplay. It’s easy to see that a foe took damage, it’s harder to see that a foe’s effectiveness has been reduced. Though I do believe the shutdown shatters made a difference, this was the first character I played and it was hard to tell.
Illusions are also very well adapted to Guild Wars 2’s mobile and position-dependent gameplay. Casting illusions closer to your foe means that the shatter effect will be more immediate. Running away from illusions means the shatter effect will be delayed. Likewise, illusions will run after you if you try to escape. The illusions might not have much permanency, but they are far from static. And since you naturally tend to move around a lot, it means that your illusions also tend not to be clustered into a convenient spot for an AoE to remove them all. It’s not uncommon to see many copies of a Mesmer all over the place.
The new Mesmer is great fun for many of the same reasons that I loved the old Mesmer. But the new Mesmer also didn’t carry over many of the things I hated about the old Mesmer. In my opinion, they kept everything fun about the Mesmer, and changed the frustrating parts. They definitely kept the shutdown and degeneration gameplay, and the skill-based gameplay. And they emphasized messing with your foe’s mind. And the gameplay is definitely unique, it is nothing like summoning. The only real fault I have with the new Mesmer is that the reflex-based interrupt gameplay is harder to pull off, and not as easy to include in your bar (aside from that one shatter). The shatters do involve a short delay, you need to have illusions already set up, and there is no skill activation bar, meaning it’s a lot harder to interrupt foes properly. But for all the improvements they made, this is a minor loss at worse.
In short, the Guild Wars 2 was made for people who loved to play Mesmer in Guild Wars 1. It is not a reskinned Necromancer, it is instead a graphics-improved Mesmer. And it is more accessible without sacrificing the skill requirement for being a pro.
For a more detailed review of the skills, I recommend Thalanor Thornhale’s article.