For the more relaxed and traditional kind of arcane spellcasting Mesmer of the old school, the Staff is a solid choice. Nothing bellows “WIZZZARD!” quite like a big long stick with a knob on the end and Staff is available as a two-handed weapon option for the Mesmer class. Initially unimpressive compared to the high-octane, hanging-on-for-dear-life of the Greatsword or the sheer Errol Flynn of dual wield rapiers, in the hands of the Mesmer, the Staff is a surprisingly subtle and effective set of weapon skills.
Our Staff auto-attack #1 is Winds of Chaos. This fires a rather sluggish and unintimidating blob of purple sparkles which lazily drifts toward the target at not much more than running pace. It hits for a fairly low amount of damage, applies a randomly chosen Condition and then bounces to the closest other enemy or friend, debuffing or buffing them as appropriate. As with Greatsword: Mirror Blade, a further bounce can be added with traiting. Of note is the bolt, which seems to have a fixed duration of flight, meaning that the closer you are to a single lone target, the more time it has to get in extra bounces, as it needs to travel less distance to do so. Try standing at various distances from a destroyable item; barrel, weapon rack etc, while firing to see this in effect. The closer you are the better for this skill, which is a bit odd. Also, shorter travel time means that conditions can be stacked up and refreshed on the target more easily. The damage is disappointing, but the liberal condition application is the most useful thing here.
Slot #2, Phase Retreat, is a useful utility skill. When used, it will teleport you about 300 units backwards, away from your current target. This has zero cast time, so can be done while knocked down, etc. When you teleport, it will leave behind a Clone who also uses #1 Winds of Chaos as their autoattack skill. As a Clone, it does almost no damage with this attack, but does do the conditions, suddenly making two of you stacking up Burn, Bleed and Vulnerability on the target. The skill has one of the fastest cooldowns in Mesmerdom, making it eminently spammable, adding further Winds of Change volleying Clones to the fray and further removing you from melee troubles. To cap it all, it is also a Combo Finsher: Leap – if you use it inside an Ethereal Field, you’ll get a bonus burst of Chaos Armor for free! A handy all-purpose skill, but watch what is behind you before hitting the button; you can easily reverse yourself into new monsters, and in rare cases, I’ve had this teleport me outside the world geometry, requring a relog! Harrowing!
As seems to be the general case for Mesmer, the Phantasm seems to be the real key in this hotbar; #3 Phantasmal Warlock summons a Phantasm with a scepter that stands at the back and uses its own special and unique ability on the target. This nameless ability does respectable base damage, but for each unique condition on the enemy (a possible max of 11), the damage is increased by 10%. Pushing beyond four or five conditions starts to cause very high DPS indeed. This makes the iWarlock the lynchpin of any Staff build; everything else you do should cause one or more conditions to be applied to the enemy. A decent amount of these can be caused by simply auto-attacking with #1, and making sure to generate and replace #2 Clones frequently. There are many other ways for a Mesmer to add more conditions as well, and Utility slots should try to complement this. Then, just make sure to have the iWarlock up as consistently as possible to reap the most benefit. As with most Phantasms, avoid shattering it where possible – it’s more use alive.
#4 Chaos Armor is a rare Mesmer defensive self-buff. It creates an aesthetically pleasing purple dome around you for five seconds (which I tend to call ‘The Zorb’). It doesn’t do anything to directly protect you, but if hit will randomly buff you or debuff whatever hit you. Interestingly, the list of Conditions caused is different from the list dished out by #1 Winds of Chaos, helping to stack more unique conditions beyond a total of three for the #3 iWarlock to feast on. I often hum the Super Mario Star Theme when using this skill, and I suggest you do the same. Trust me, it helps!
(Note: This Chaos Armor is basically the same thing as the one given out by successful Ethereal-to-Leap and Ethereal-to-Blast Combo pairs, so clever use of Combo Field: Ethereal type Utility skills with #4 Phase Retreat can give you several chained ‘goes’ at the Zorb, rather than just having to wait for this one skill to cooldown. I like to bring my friends zorbing too, so get Warriors to Blast Finish into them where possible for a fantastic Jean Michel Jarre style lightshow!)
Slot #5 is Chaos Storm, a highly spectacular Mesmer party-piece which uses a large AoE template and sets off a whacking great purple lightning dome on use. The dome lasts 10s and randomly buffs/debuffs occupants and moderately damages and briefly dazes enemies inside. It isn’t very devastating when used in isolation, looking a lot more scarey than it actually is, but can be very potent when used with other skills. The condition lists it picks from is different again to the #4 Chaos Armor and #1 Winds of Chaos lists, meaning that all three used in concert on the same target can cause nine or more +10% Damage boosts for the #3 iWarlock to melt faces with. The Storm is also a Combo Field: Ethereal of prodigious size, allowing large groups to open up with a satisfyingly huge number of Finishers, if they know it’s coming. Being the size it is, it is also very good at tagging during big PvE events or the densely packed kinds of open-air festival one so often sees being held outside a frontline Keep Door in WvWvW. If you’ve only got time to throw one skill over the parapet before having your little crime-fighting mask burned off, make it this one for maximum aggressor shock and awe. Downsides are a lengthy cooldown and the characteristically random nature of the effects, making planning a bit tricky.
(Note: With traiting, you can opt to have one of these go off whenever you take falling damage. It’ll also halve the damage taken. It goes without saying that this looks extremely cool indeed. Be sure to be wearing shades and a trenchcoat and/or catsuit as appropriate, and to perform a flawless three-point landing for maximum effect, as kindly demonstrated by Scarlett Johansson, here.)
The Staff is a pretty viable main weapon, and a much more subtle and intricate thing than the Greatsword. It’s greatest problem is that at first Wind of Chaos glance, it just looks and sounds a bit damp. Staves are for the long game, so be sure to stack for +Condition Damage if specialising in it, rather than +Precision, as the whole approach is practically akin to Necromancy, and good for killing things without them noticing they’re dying. It offers good survivability, healthy Illusion generation and a slow but steady and sometimes eye-widening damage potency. Most of all, the Staff’s continual rolling Condition-work very much reminds me of the bread and butter of traditional Guild Wars One Mesmer work, and is probably the closest available thing to the play-style of the first game.