News that the mesmer would be returning as the eighth and final class in Guild Wars 2 leaked earlier this week, but you may not yet understand the complex mechanics that make this such an interesting addition to the GW 2 roster. I spoke with ArenaNet game designer Jon Peters and system designer Jonathan Sharp to get a better sense what makes the mesmer special.

Why don't we start with a rundown of what exactly the mesmer is?

Jon Peters: So, the mesmer. This is the super-best-kept secret, eighth and last profession for Guild Wars 2. He is a scholar which means light cloth armor like the elementalist and necromancer. It’s kind of a hybrid of magic and melee – a fencing, dueling, finesse, mind game profession. We’re trying to keep a lot of what was there with the first mesmer in Guild Wars 1. We felt it was a pretty iconic profession for us.

The big things that he does to carry over that tradition – the Guild Wars 1 mesmer controlled the resources of the game. There was energy, skill interrupting, and all that stuff. The mesmer manipulated and controlled those resources. That was how he fit into the puzzle.

Guild Wars 2’s mesmer does  a very similar thing but in a very different way, as the game is very different. The game is a lot about positioning and seeing things in the world and movement. The mesmer does that in a Guild Wars 2 way. The best way to describe that is through his main mechanic, which is these illusions that he summons. In Guild Wars 1, we had hexes. You just put them on guys, and they just sat on their interface. They didn’t know what it was unless they moused over it and read it.

In Guild Wars 2, you summon these illusions in the world. It’s stuff that you actually have to deal with. At the same time, it means that everyone can deal with it, and everyone can look around and see what the mesmer is doing, but they don’t necessarily know what it is. A lot of these illusions are just clones of the mesmer that look exactly like him, and you have  to attack them to find out whether or not they’re real. Then you have ones that are a little bit more specific called phantasms. They do something special. For example, on the great sword there’s a phantasm that spins around with a big purple great sword in his hand and cripples guys. He forces you to deal with him. He creates a situation that you have to deal with.

So we already put creatures in the position of, "What am I fighting? Am I fighting an illusion? Is it the mesmer? What should I do?" As soon as they make the decision about what to do, you can destroy the illusions and do new things with them. There are four skills called "shatter." Each one will shatter all of your illusions that are out there and do something different. One of them does damage. One of them puts a debuff on your enemies called "confusion" that makes them take damage when they start casting skills. One of them will stun enemies. The fourth one will actually put this mirror around you that reflects attacks that come in on you. So you have access at all times to these different roles in combat. One of the ways the mesmer becomes as versatile as our other professions is through his shatters.

What would you say is the stand-out element that separates the mesmer from the previously announced seven classes?

Jonathan Sharp: A lot of the control, which Jon just talked about. The illusions are a unique mechanic that nobody else has. They’re not really minions like what the necromancer has. They’re not permanent like what the ranger has. A lot of times they’re one-offs, because as soon as they get hit once, they dispel. That’s his really unique mechanic, and he uses those to great effect. They play an integral part in all the things the mesmer does. The illusions and manipulating those illusions in the battlefield are really what he’s about.

JP: Yeah, I think to sum up, it’s all about using illusions to buy time and to confuse enemies. One of the things that sums up him best – on his main-hand sword, he has two skills: a skill called "leap" and a skill called "illusionary leap." If he presses leap, he creates a clone at his location that points toward the guy that he’s leaping at, and then he leaps in and stabs the guy. The clone looks exactly like him and has his name. If he uses illusionary leap, he points at the guy while simultaneously creating a clone that leaps at the target and stabs them.

That pretty much sums up a lot of what he’s about. It’s the only time where you don’t necessarily know what to do. The mesmer is the most proactive in enforcing his playstyle on other people.

Looking at these abilities and hearing this description, it sounds like a fairly cerebral class – like there will be a lot of strategy figuring out when you summon illusions, when you shatter them, whether you’re going to summon an illusion at your spot or send an illusion to their spot. How does that more thoughtful gameplay work with the more action-y pace of Guild Wars 2 compared to other MMOs?

JS: What’s cool about it is the way it’s set up so that very casual players can summon these illusions, and they’re still going to get great effect out of them. It’s really easy to jump in with the mesmer and see yourself as very effective very quickly. Having said that, like all of our classes, they’re very easy to pick up, and the core mechanics are easy, but there’s a lot of layers on top of that of all these cool tricks you can do. There’s a really high skill ceiling to this class – just like with, for example, the elementalist – a great player can actually have a matrix in their mind of all 20 skills they can use. They can bounce back and forth to the specific skill they need at the specific time. While you can be really good at the beginning, just like the other classes, there’s definitely a high skill ceiling.

It seems like a fairly complex class as far as the mechanics go. Will there be anything in the game to help teach people how to play it?

JP: We do this for all of the classes, and we’re always improving these things. These are the things we’re improving the most right now, in fact – the polish and making the game understandable in every way and teaching players the things that most particularly are in our game that aren’t in other games, like blocking projectiles and dodging out of the way of things and switching weapon sets. Those are the things we’re finding important to call out and just as important as these illusions are. We’re trying to do the same thing with the mesmer.

That being said, as Jon said, there’s absolutely a very high ceiling to this profession, but it’s a surprisingly low barrier of entry. We’ve been revealing the classes slowly as more and more complex. There’s a lot of complexity and subtlety here, but there’s also a lot that’s okay if you don’t know it. If I summon an illusionary pistol, it’s still going to shoot at a guy and kill them. We found that players that have a lot of expertise love manipulating those things, but players that are casual have really taken to the mesmer so far more than we thought they would.

In the original Guild Wars, the mesmer was more of a support class. What specific steps did you take when you decided to bring this class to Guild Wars 2 to move it away from being a support class?

JS: We did a few things. In our game, you can still do the support. You can call up a chaos storm with your staff that puts up random conditions on foes and random boons on allies. You can still support in that way. In Guild Wars 1, we found that while the class was great in PvP, a lot of times in PvE it had a really hard time. We designed the mechanics with the illusions so that the mesmer on their own in the world of PvE is still very effective.

They’re able to take care of themselves, deal out damage, and also support allies. And you’ve still got the control that you had from the first game. You’ve still got the stuns and the dazes. Those act as interrupts in our game. You can still interrupt key skills from opponents. You’ve still got all of those things that you had from the first game in addition to being able to do damage on your own if you need to.