Guild Wars 1 has Attributes, alterable point scores in four or five disciplines for each class, which govern how powerful the skills of that discipline are, and also which carry some innate passive effects as well. For the Memser, these would be Fast Casting, Domination, Inspiration and Illusion. One of these would be the Primary Attribute (Fast Casting for the Mesmer), and unique to that class. It was this, and the armour piece stats, which would make a Mesmer/Ranger subtly different to a Ranger/Mesmer, who would get Expertise instead.
Guild Wars 2 has gone with a more conventional Talent Tree style of customisation, often using the same names, but something of the spirit of the Primary Attribute lives on in the Profession Mechanic. This is different for each class and usually involves the F1-F4 keys, and the UI area just above the Weapon Slots. For the Mesmer, this is Shattering.
The Mesmer Class Mechanic revolves around the creation and destruction of Illusions. Many Mesmer skills create Clones and Phantasms as part of their function. The skill bar keeps track of how many of these are in play, using the round purple pips above the Weapon Slots. A Mesmer can only maintain three Illusions, summoning a fourth will cause the first to vanish. While active, these Illusions will go about their own summoned tasks, attacking the target mostly. When the target is dead, all Illusions will vanish, so a fresh set will need to replace them on a new target, unlike the pets of other classes, which stay with you for the next fight.
In important note on nomenclature; Illusion is a term which includes both Clones and Phantasms, and is what the Shatter Pips track. A Clone is a weak Illusion, but often quick and easy to create. They do negligible damage and have poor HP/Armour, but will be able to cause conditions, depending on the skill used to summon them. To you, all Clones look exactly like you, including nametag. A Phantasm is a much stronger Illusion, capable of real damage and with decent HP/Armour. Phantasms appear as ghostly purple versions of yourself, with their own distinctive names; ‘Illusionary Berserker’, ‘Illusionary Warden’, etc. Their summoning skills are often slower to cast and longer to recharge.
This is important for Shattering, as on the whole, Clones are disposable, easily replaced, and ideal for Shatter fodder, whereas Phantasms typically have a defined useful purpose and are generally best kept alive as long as possible so they can get on with it. Shattering destroys them, obviously.
When a Shatter order is issued (F1, F2, F3, F4), all active Illusions will stop what they’re doing and immediately run toward their target. When they come into contact with it, they will… Shatter, turning into a collapsing pile of purple triangular shards, which collapse on the floor. Quite harrowing considering they all look like you! Note that depending what type they were, they are unlikely to all hit the target simultaneously; ranged Illusions take longer to get there than melee ones, creating a staggered triple-hit attack chain of sorts. There is no way to selectively Shatter specific Illusions; pressing the button is an all-or-nothing action, killing all currently active Illusions when you do it.
What happens next depends on the F-key pressed:
F1 – Mind Wrack: This is the most straight forward and in my case, most often used. The Shattering Illusions will blow up and cause decent damage to nearby foes; a point-blank AoE effect. The damage goes up with more Illusions Shattered. Good for spiking particular targets and executing death blows, but it is important to weigh up the damage potential of leaving Phantasms alive to get on with their work. Also consider the time it will take to replace the lost Illusions, especially if using Ether Feast as your heal. The short cooldown on this skill lends itself to a Clone-heavy bar where cycling Mind Wracks is the key tactic.
Useful traits here are Mental Torment (+Shatter Damage) and Precise Wrack (+Crit Chance). For a Shatter-based build, these will be essential.
F2 – Cry of Frustration: This does minor damage, but applies 3s Confusion to the target. I tend to not use this much, because I can generate Confusion quite readily with use of Combo: Field Ethereal (Feedback, Null Field, Time Warp) and Combo Finisher: Physical Projectile (GS: Mirror Blade) sufficiently often to not need this as well. At 30s cool down, this starts to move out of convenient reusability. Other ways to cause Confusion include Sceptre: Confusing Images.
Useful trait: Confusing Cry (+Retaliation to allies) but it seems a bit of a waste of a talent slot for just this.
F3 – Diversion: Something of a panic button at 45s, this causes Daze on the target, and no damage. Each Illusion causes 1s of Daze, but they do not stack, suggesting a mix of ranged and melee Illusions for best overlap. Daze interrupts the target and prevents skill use for the duration, which frankly is not a very long time at all. This skill is further diminished by the Unshakable/Defiant crowd control immunity that Champions and Legendary PvE enemies usually have – Daze is included in that and won’t work in boss fights. Typically anything weak enough to be susceptible is also weak enough to just murder with the Greatsword. Works on players though.
Useful Traits: Imbued Diversion (+AoE targets), but again, an excessive spend of Talents for just this one skill.
F4 – Distortion: Very much a panic button at a full minute of cooldown, this grants you one second of the Distortion effect per Shattered Illusion. This buff makes you automatically Evade attacks while active; Invulnerability, in effect. I should probably use this one more, but the short 3s duration is not often a window large enough to get completely clear of the threat. Works well to augment Sword/Sword melee or Sceptre/Sword defensive builds, but watch out for the cooldown timer, and consider if the Illusions are already protecting you, by holding aggro which once Shattered, will generally transfer to you!
Useful Traits: Masterful Reflection (+Reflection) bounces damage back ala Feedback. Also Blurred Inscriptions grants the 1s Distortion buff when using Signets – nothing to do with Shattering, but a useful alternative to get at the same quite powerful buff.
Generally Useful Traits for Shattering:
- Rending Shatter (+Vulnerability on Shatters)
- Shattered Concentration (-Boon on Shatters)
- Vigorous Revelation (+Vigor on Shatters)
- Shattered Conditions (-Condition on Shatters)
- Restorative Illusions (+Heal on Shatters)
- Illusionary Retribution (+Confusion on Shatters)
- Shattered Strength (+Might on Shatters)
- Illusionary Invigoration (Recharge Shatter skills at 50% health)
- Illusionary Persona (You count as a extra pip for Shatter skills)
Note that Traits which cause things to happen when an Illusion is ‘killed‘ will not trigger when they are Shattered. Lots of ways to build for a Shatter-Heavy play-style there and it really does benefit from dedication if you’re going to be doing it a lot.
Also consider pip replacement. Many Traits produce Clones on particular actions, but my top pick is Deceptive Evasion (+Clone on Dodge); every time you tumble out of the way, which you will be doing a LOT, it makes a new Clone where you were. Every weapon set will give you access to one Clone and one Phantasm. This can then be bulked out with Utility skills; Mirror Images and Decoy in particular. Wield a Sceptre for its auto-attack and add Deceptive Evasion to that and you should have enough Clones in play at all times to power a full Mind Wrack (F1) every time it lights up. Bulk out the remaining Talent Tree with some of the above Traits to make that Wrack really hurt.
It does seem a genuine opportunity to work at a Comedy Mesmer Build, but it is still only one of a small number of ways to play, and usually I go another route, relying on the persistence and power of Phantasms to get the job done instead.
So there we go; you now know at least as much as I do about being a Guild Wars 2 Mesmer, which nowadays seems mostly to be a kind of chaos-based “Fifth Elementalist” rather than the subtle master of interruption, interference and turning an enemy’s strengths against them that I knew and loved from the first game.
Go forth! Mesmerise! If anyone needs me, I expect I’ll be back in GW1, doing it all old-school instead.