Guild Wars 2
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.
I wanted to ask about the idea of "mantras." These are basically longer cast-time spells that are meant to be cast before battle to give the mesmer an advantage going in. It sounds like an interesting mechanic, but the idea of a long cast time has me a little worried. What will prevent that from being similar to the long out-of-combat time that you have to spend waiting for your magic bar to refill in older MMOs?
JP: I think there’s a distinction between "long" and "loooooong." We don’t do things like an eight-second cast time. For us, that’s too long. I don’t think we’ve settled on it, but I think mantras are about three seconds.
That is a pretty big difference!
JP: Yeah! That’s painful! The interesting thing about mantras is that our game is balanced around opportunity cost. When you’re casting a mantra in combat, you’re not doing anything else for three seconds, which is a long time. But the converse to that is that they have really short cooldowns, and you cast them while other things are happening. You can be in the middle of casting chaos storm and then just pop a mantra and daze a guy. They have a trade-off. You can do things before combat, but when doing them in combat, the opportunity cost goes up and up the further you go.
One of the more interesting mantras is the heal. If you use this mantra, you start the fight with an instant heal that you can cast at any time, including when you’re knocked out. At the same time, when you want to cast it again, it’s easier to interrupt, and you have to make a time investment where you’re not doing other things.
I was wondering about the healing capabilities for the mesmer.
JP: Every class has their number six skill as a heal skill. I think a thing that’s important to understand about Guild Wars 2 is that’s everyone’s primary healing method. Every profession uses that heal skill to heal. The mesmer has ways to support their allies, but they’re a little bit more putting a choice on the enemies to not attack.
They have a condition that other professions use but that we haven’t actually talked about or shown anywhere, because we didn’t want to give away the mesmer. It’s called confusion. It’s a stacking condition that does damage when you start casting skills. Instead of a guardian giving allies protection, which increases armor, the mesmer will cast confusion on an enemy, forcing them to make the decision of whether it’s worth still attacking. Instead of putting up a shield or an aegis like the guardian does, the mesmer will create a veil in area and tell allies to come there, and it will cloak them. That’s a big Guild Wars 2 thing: The way he does stuff is different, not what he can do. Everyone can do damage, but it’s about how you do it.
Continuing along that line of thought, how does the mesmer’s damage-dealing potential compare to other classes? Is a mesmer at the top of their game going to be able to deal as much damage as a more traditional DPS-focused class?
JS: Yes. Going along with what Jon just said, anyone can basically spec into different styles and roles with different weapon sets and different traits. The mesmer’s damage potential is right up there with anyone else if you build the right way – especially if you always remember your ability to shatter illusions. You always will be able to have that area of effect attack from three different illusions if you need it. Some of the weapons, like the great sword, that’s really dedicated to ranged damage. He can dish it out with the best of them.
JP: He deals a lot of damage. Obviously armor makes a difference in how survivable you are, right? The mesmer is one of the lightest armor professions. The elementalist has some fairly active defense in his earth attunement or mist form, and the necromancer has passive defense in his death shroud, where he can basically have a second health bar he builds up. Mesmer has no such thing. In that way, in theory, he seems like this guy who’s so easy to kill. But the problem is that you don’t know if you’re killing him or killing an illusion. You don’t know when you’re shooting if the illusion will block the attack. He ends up utilizing those illusions for his defense, and it actually works fairly naturally, which is nice. It requires us to give him a lot of damage because if you can get rid of those illusions and focus on him, he will go down fast.
I’m not certain what your philosophy is on professions and races – can every race play as the mesmer?
JP: Yes, absolutely. It’s basically one of those things where…. Playing against type isn’t enough of a justification. Sure it might be confusing that there’s a Sylvari engineer or…well, I can’t think of anyone that actually doesn’t make sense for the mesmer. They’re actually one of the more benign classes. Anyone could be an illusionist. There are certainly some that make more sense than others, like humans. But for us it was enough to say that if players want to play against type, then that’s just what they do. That’s enough of a justification to not say things like, "Sorry, you picked a Charr, so you lose out on these three professions."
The reason for this is kind of philosophical. It’s tied into the reason why our whole story is based on race as well. You’re making two very important choices at the beginning of the game: your profession and your race. We want your profession to impact how you play – your combat, your skills, your weapons, your traits. We want your race to have no impact on that essentially. We want it to impact your story. Similarly, there are no profession choices that really happen in your story. We don’t want people to say, "Oh, I should have picked warrior, because I like their story." Those are decisions that I think players make very differently. One of them is a very story-based role-playing decision, and the other is a very character-based role-playing decision. We completely separated them on purpose for that reason.
Could you briefly describe your vision for end-game play as a mesmer? What are you doing in your groups or in PvP at end-game?
JS: You’re basically moving around the field and creating havoc, creating chaos. You’re attacking multiple points at once. Let me give you some examples. You have a utility skill that’s called "portal." You can create an opening and an exit. I could, for instance, if I’m going up a hill to attack a capture point, I can place my first portal at the bottom of the hill. Then I can storm the hill, use my illusions, create some chaos storms, help some allies by turning them invisible with a veil, and then if I’ve popped my illusions and I’m getting overrun by enemies and don’t think I’ll make it out, I can throw out the other side of the portal. Then I can jump into that, and I can go back to where I started.
From there, foes will always be wondering, "Is this really the right mesmer that I’m fighting?" and "If I see another portal somewhere, where is he going to be showing up later?" You start to get really strategic about how to use those utilities and bouncing around and creating chaos. You might not be as strong just standing in a spot like the warrior or the guardian would be, but you’re really good at just creating havoc and chaos on the field and getting people to react to you or pay the consequences.
JP: There’s even some extra duality to that. If you’re losing the fight, you pop your portal in the middle of it, and you get out of there. If you’re winning the fight, you finish winning it, capture the point, then turn the portal on. Then you and all the allies that were there with you go through the portal, and you’re halfway to the next point. There’s a lot of intricacy.
Here’s a real thing that happened to me the other day: We were playing against some high-level creatures, and I was using a scepter with my mesmer. He has a skill that blocks attacks and teleports me a little bit and creates a clone nearby. There was a guy who was taking a pounding from some dredge. They had this one really powerful sonic rifle attack that you could see them charging up. After the fifth dredge, when he had been downed a bunch of times, and I kept rezzing him, I said, "Wait a minute, when they charge up that rifle attack, I can dodge roll in there, put up my block, block the attack, and create a clone." When they got ready to do their next powerful attack, I could block it again and create another clone. Then before the next attack, I shattered all the clones and put a bubble around me to reflect the attack back and kill the guy. It took me about half-an-hour of playing to realize that was a really good thing to do against these dredge, but at that point we stopped fighting dredge and went to fight something else. But next time we fight dredge, I totally know what I’m doing to do!
[ArenaNet will be having a Q&A session on Reddit later today where they will answer more questions about the mesmer and Guild Wars 2 in general. Watch the Guild Wars 2 Facebook page for more info. For more of my impressions of Guild Wars 2, check out my hands-on report from Gamescom earlier this year.]