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Master of Illusions

Today, we explore the early leveling experience of the mesmer.  Both San and Star have some experience with this class, running both modified shatter builds and mantras on max level characters.  This test gave Star an opportunity to further explore a class she had only recently started playing while San, who has a love affair with this class, got a chance to put the class to the test and see what adjustments veteran players might have to make in the new leveling environment.

New mesmers begin with a sword instead of a scepter as they did previously, giving them a straightforward, basic attack, and also one of the most popular and powerful melee weapons of the class.  The initial heal skill has also been changed from Ether Feast to Mirror which offers the shortest cooldown of all the heals and foreshadows some of the later power of the class, reflecting projectiles and healing the caster.  However, Star and San both found Ether Feast to be more practical at the earliest levels because of its higher heal value, and think Mirror might be more useful in later levels for certain play styles.

Phantasmal Duelist, the pistol unloading illusion.

Phantasmal Duelist, the pistol unloading illusion.

One of the features of mesmers are the illusions they create from weapon and utility skills to distract, damage, and inflict conditions on enemies.  If a player new to the class isn’t aware of this feature, their sudden appearance before level 5, when the first profession skill opens, may be confusing, as Star’s newbie friend, who’d initially played Guild Wars 2 after the September Feature Pack brought this New Player Experience, found during her recent experience with mesmer.  Given that illusions aren’t explained beyond the tooltips on skills, their mechanics can take a bit of getting used to. Because of this, Star felt that illusions were little more than a novelty early on, serving only as distractions during encounters.  Once the profession skills begin to open, however, their usefulness becomes clear to players new to the mesmer.

Star felt that the methodical pace of NPE would serve players well the first time they tackled this profession as the variety of weapons and the creation of illusions leads to a slow unfolding of new skills and tactics.  However, veteran players may be likely to find the lack of utility skills and off-hand weapons in early levels limiting, perhaps to the point of boredom.  San, for example, found the NPE’s hand-holding excessive and took to swapping weapons out of her inventory as the situations called for in order to assist her mesmer’s survivability.  Once again, armor and weapon drops focused on +power stats making her low-level mesmer glassy and prone to taking more damage than during the old leveling environment.  To help her mesmer’s success, then, San often opted for the sword/torch combination before weapon swapping opened at level 15 primarily for the stealth ability that The Prestige affords.

Managing illusions.

Managing illusions.

Another key mesmer mechanic is the use of shatters, the profession skills that open at levels 5, 13, 17, and 19 respectively.  These introduce additional direct damage (F1, Mind Wrack), condition damage (F2 and F3, Cry of Frustration and Diversion), and a mesmer unique boon (F4, Distortion).  While it’s understandable why there’s an eight-level gap between when the first and second profession skills open, given that the NPE tries to gate you away from condition damage, San felt this gap locks new players out of practicing when to use a second shatter which might be problematic.  Moreover, since three of the four profession skills open over six levels, San felt that the pacing here felt unbalanced when compared with other caster classes, like elementalist whose second profession skill opens at level 5. An earlier second profession skill would help smooth this pacing and not later overwhelm a new mesmer by opening three quite close to one another.

Managing illusions can also be important in how they benefit the mesmer’s health since two of the four possible heal skills depend on the number of active illusions a mesmer has summoned. Because San swapped to Ether Feast as her heal skill, after level 13 she began to focus on a combination of utility skills that created illusions as well as offered direct damage, particularly Mantra of Pain, using a hybrid style of her max level mesmers (one a shatter mesmer and the other a mantra mesmer).  The ability to have illusions out in the world allowed Ether Feast to have a greater heal value when needed, and also afforded San the option to use the shatter skills selectively to help her mesmer succeed.  This selectivity itself was very different from her normal use of shatters on max level mesmers, and was different even than how she used shatters in the old leveling environment. Previously, those mesmers could shatter illusions without worrying about whether their destruction would put the mesmer in danger.  Now, San felt leveling mesmers need to time their shatters for effectiveness and to make sure a new illusion can be summoned soon after for consistent and maintained pressure.  This may, however, be another by-product of relying on armor and weapon drops rather than on crafted gear since San’s mesmer was often kitted out in dropped gear that was several levels lower than her mesmer, up to ten levels lower in some cases making her mesmer feel glassy and often underpowered.

The journey to 80 is worth it.

The journey to 80 is worth it.

Beginning story steps at level ten, Star became acutely aware of how glassy the mesmer can be and detoured from the story in order to purchase additional weapons and armor from vendors.  It is likely that this would not be necessary if players were crafting armor as a way of leveling but for this experiment we did not craft.  With the opening story arc completed, Star retreated to mapping cities as a safe route toward reaching higher levels in order to open utility skills and improve her mesmer.  However, as utility slots began to open, she returned to the open world, working through early level maps in order to collect skill points.  Armed with the extra points, Star found the break between story steps offered her an opportunity to further explore the mesmer’s unique abilities, and she experimented with mantras, glamour and signets, along with the various clones and phantasms that can be summoned.  Despite the possibility that these doldrum levels can be used to improve a new player’s understanding of a class, Star felt the extra time would not be needed for a veteran player, especially someone who is familiar with the profession.  However, to take true advantage of these levels and spend time learning the skills that become available, a player must consciously choose to hunt skill points through the early maps, a strategy that might not be apparent to a new player.  Of further note, due to the level-gating of stat points, a glassy character may be better off waiting until level 22 before beginning the level 20 story steps, in order to take advantage of the “+40 to base” stat reward that hits at that level.  Otherwise, it is quite possible the level 20 steps will prove frustratingly difficult.

Conclusion
As the mesmer grows into its full potential, the versatility of the profession shines.  Armed with illusions and their shatter skills, they are deadly opponents in any situation.  Their ability to pass boons and conditions to party members and foes respectively, and their wide array of area-of-effect barriers and reflections also make them invaluable support in group situations. It may be a challenge if you’re new to the class or not as familiar with how they play to keep them alive if you’re not used to using the shatter skills.  Still, players in map chat continue to recommend mesmer to others, noting that mesmer can be challenging at lower levels but are still a lot of fun.  Like thief, mesmer has multiple stealth skills available to it as well as condition damage, crowd control, and illusions to distract and confuse enemies.  Given the stat slump periods, the NPE will require veteran players to adapt and change tactics while leveling a mesmer, but the class is still very fun and rewarding to play which only grows more rewarding once all profession skills and utility slots are open.

Next time, we gallivant with guardians!

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