Welcome to PvMesmer, a new column focusing on the mesmer profession with an eye towards PvP. This first edition will cover the history of mesmers, their evolution from Guild Wars 1 to Guild Wars 2 and the role they play in PvP.
The mesmer soul
The mesmer is a chimeric beast of equal parts substance and style; her unmistakable visual flair is an intrinsic part of the profession. On the battlefield, deception and misdirection are the mesmer's tools as she plays both sides of the game of cat and mouse. Instead of a direct confrontation, the mesmer prefers to leverage her potent illusions to distract and demoralize an enemy, turning the tide of battle in her favor. With her army of phantasms, a mesmer can launch a devastating barrage upon a foe, or hide in plain sight amidst clones. A mesmer on the attack can choose to carve into foes with deadly sword skills or overwhelm them with a host of malign conditions. This complex profession is unique to the Guild Wars series and wholly iconic to its brand of fantasy. So who are these multi-faceted arcane tricksters, and how has the mesmer profession evolved over the last 250 years of Tyrian history?
In the first Guild Wars, mesmer abilities tended to have a meta-magic or meta-skill slant. Many of these took the form of hexes – magical debuffs that clung to enemies and damaged or hampered them in some way. In 8v8 battles, skill builds generally focused on denying opponents' abilities either explicitly through disables, interrupts and energy denial, or psychologically with punishing hexes that trigger when an opponent takes an action. They were part of the 'midline' between the durable professions in front and healers in back. Their heavy handed control abilities tended to make them a favored target, as a skilled mesmer could wreak havoc to an enemy team's offense and defense. The evolving metagame, skill balance changes and dual profession system saw variations of mesmer roles over time; the popular mesmer/elementalist 'Mirror of Ice' build utilized the mesmer's fast cast ability to be more effective with water spells than a water-specialized elementalist itself.
In the 4v4 arena format, a mesmer's degeneration and crippling hexes were also favored, slowly killing opponents while ensuring they were unable to mount an effective offense. In this capacity, the mesmer was a fearsome duelist; a mesmer with the right skill build could seem an unreachable target as it danced just out of reach of an opponent while inflicting punishing hexes.
The other side of the coin
While mesmers held their own and were usually more than worth their place on a PvP roster, PvE was a wholly different story. Mesmers' narrow focus on control and denial abilities meant they could not offer the same amounts of damage, healing or protection as other professions. The art they excelled at, shutting down and punishing enemies, simply was not as effective against monsters and AI. Instead of keeping monsters at bay and disabling their damage abilities, it was more expedient to overwhelm them with damage and heal through their feeble retaliations. As a result, mesmers had a difficult time finding a place in PvE groups.
The release of hard mode in 2007 helped PvE mesmers, as their punishing hexes and armor-ignoring chaos damage became more potent. Finally, in 2010, a large overhaul of the mesmer profession abilities made their shutdown and interrupt abilities equally effective in both modes of play. In particular, panic and psychic instability are the mesmer's signature skills in PvE today.
The mesmer reimagined
We now fast forward 250 years through Tyrian history to a world transformed. The mesmer profession has survived the passage of time, and it too has been transformed. The mesmer's essential quality as a controller and punisher remains intact, but the hex spells that were its bread and butter are gone. In their place the mesmer now commands a host of illusions – visual manifestations of the mesmer's abilities. As a replacement for hexes, illusions' functions are more visual and apparent. A clone that cripples will actively attack its target, while a phantasm that punishes may reflect projectiles at the attacker. These illusions can also be shattered - destroyed intentionally by the mesmer - for other effects such as interrupting or inflicting conditions. With this combination of illusions and shatters, the mesmer's control abilities remain as potent in Guild Wars 2 as their original incarnation.
The visceral nature of these illusions opens up entirely new avenues of gameplay not possible with hexes. Illusions magnify a mesmer's presence on the battlefield, while at the same time disguising her true location. This ability to hide in plain sight plays a large role in the mesmer's ability to survive despite her low armor. Further, the encapsulation of mesmer abilities in physical form extends her zone of control beyond what a single target hex can do. The phantasmal berserker, for example, cripples not only its target, buy also anyone unfortunate enough to get in its way.
A wider role
Beyond the mesmer's considerable talent for control and denial, her Guild Wars 2 incarnation is fully capable of dealing damage and providing support on par with any other profession. Intrinsic to Guild Wars 2's design is the philosophy that every profession be self-sufficient and able to hold its own. This allows the mesmer to fill a greater set of roles in PvP than in Guild Wars 1. The mobile and flowing nature of PvP in Guild Wars 2 also means every profession, including the mesmer, engages in battles with any combination of allies and enemies. Whether single-handedly defending a location against two adversaries, or fighting an all-in 5v5 brawl, the mesmer deals damage and assists its allies while continually playing mind games with and controlling the enemy.
Now while ArenaNet has developed Guild Wars 2 with an eye towards 'every profession can do everything,' some professions naturally excel in specific areas and fall off in others. With the mesmer, their reliance on physically manifested – and more importantly, vulnerable – illusions means these illusions need to stay 'alive' for them to work. In a great pitched battle with spells and arrows flying around recklessly, clones last no longer than a candle in the wind. Mesmers shine, then, in smaller skirmishes and duels, where clones and phantasms can be used to full effect. A captured point guarded by a mesmer is an uphill battle for any single combatant to take on.
A mesmerizing future
As our understanding of this complex profession matures, builds, strategies and roles will evolve. As with the original Guild Wars, balance changes and future expansions will shift the PvP metagame. The mesmer will see nerfs, buffs, skill changes that impact performance in certain roles. Whatever happens, this unique and stylish arcane duelist will be a wily and elusive foe not to be taken lightly on the field of battle.