It’s here! Well, if you pre-ordered.
Upon first logging into Stormblood, I was greeted by this very prominent window explaining the new Song Gauge for the Bard job.
“Here we go,” I thought, sighing heavily. This was exactly what I was afraid of: Huge changes to my class that will require mental energy and work to learn. The FFXIV equivalent of a talent point respec. I skimmed the window but didn’t really absorb any of it, so I took a screenshot, closed it, and hoped that, by ignoring it completely, it would magically go away. That didn’t work, so a bit later I decided to bite the bullet, picked a spot in the world, picked some random mobs, and started attacking them.
I was very relieved to see that the basic function of the Bard seems roughly the same. The base rotation that I worked out in Heavensward still mostly works: T-R-4-5-shift V-V. (Everybody uses those keys, right?)
The big difference is in the Ballads, which changed from passive buffs that you turn on at the beginning of a fight to long cooldown damage abilities that you have to repeat periodically. It’ll take some time to get used to it, but it’s not as bad as I feared it might be.
Also: Bards can move again!!
I’ll have to redo my hotbars, though. Eight of my abilities appeared to be obsolete right off the bat. That’s good though because I’ll need to put more Ballads on there for easier access.
The other most obvious change to the HUD (other than all your hotbar abilities being crossed out) is the addition of a prominent reminder of where you are in the Main Scenario in the upper-left corner.
It’s a not-so-subtle reminder that if you’re not doing Main Scenario Quests, you’re probably falling behind the power curve, drifting back into the obscurity of the dreaded “casual player population,” where you won’t get to do much of anything cool on the launch day of the next expansion.
Another visual change I noticed was in the map. I’d be hard pressed to tell you what actually changed without seeing the new and old side-by-side, but something is definitely different. I think they added details instead of making it an artsy-style hand-drawn map.
Samurai and Red Mage
I can’t look into any new Bard stuff until I finish the Heavensward story, so I went looking for the new Samurai and Red Mage jobs. Unlike the previous expansion, you can access the new jobs right away without any gates. You do have to be level 50, though.
I started with Samurai. When you talk to the job-giving-guy, you get the usual soul crystal thingy and a samurai sword, but you also get a chest with level 50 gear appropriate for the samarai. That’s a fantastic new feature that I don’t think they’ve ever done before. Previously I seem to recall you had to scrounge around in your inventory to find job- and level-appropriate gear, or walk around nekkid.
The problems begin when you go into your first Job Duty because, since the job begins at level 50, you have a whole slew of hotbar abilities that you don’t know how to use. Maybe everyone else has been studying Samurai guides for weeks, but I was looking at it cold for the first time. I just pressed keys and flashy effects happened on the screen and eventually I won. (Against a supposed master no less.)
Despite not knowing anything about how to play a Samurai, I was very surprised to find that I liked it. (I expected to have zero interest in it.) I love the starting Samurai gear set, and you look cool as hell running with the samurai sword out, so that’s a big plus.
Then I found and unlocked the Red Mage. (Both of them unlock from Ul’dah, incidentally.) This is the one I expected to like more, but I’ll be honest, I was a little underwhelmed. It seems to be considerably more complex than the Samurai, what with managing “white mana” and “black mana,” and since I again didn’t know how to use any of the new abilities effectively, I felt pretty useless and underpowered and thoroughly confused. I even failed the first Job Duty because my instructor went and got himself killed on the last boss. (I am sure it was entirely his fault, and it had nothing to do with any shortcomings on my part.)
I didn’t really care for the default Red Mage gear, either. So at least on first impressions, I have to award the win to the Samurai.
On a side note: While in the first Duty for the Red Mage, I got really annoyed at how many flashing spell effects my character was doing. Every time you do anything, melee or spell, there’s a huge bright effect centered on your character. It completely obscured the character and most of your target, so I finally went into settings and set the spell effects to partial, which helped a lot. (I tried no spell effects but it makes ranged casts look very weird, since nothing travels from your character to the enemy.) I don’t remember ever being so annoyed with the spell effects before. Maybe it’s always been like that and I’m only just now noticing it.
After playing the Red Mage I went back to the Samurai. I learned that both of these new jobs are pretty complex. I went into Palace of the Dead to try to work out how to play Samurai from a simpler starting point (a tip I learned somewhere on the Internet but I can’t remember where) and thought I had a decent handle on it. Then I went out to fight some level 50 mobs in Coerthas Western Highlands and got thoroughly confused again. It’s a bit like the Dragoon in that there are a lot of combos and you have to use them in the right order to maximize your potential. It’s not a 1-2-3-4-5 rotation, it’s more of a 1-2-1-3-1-2-4-1-5 kind of rotation. The kind that takes a lot of practice to get it in your head and your muscle memory, in other words. The kind that would be great if you could start from level 1 and slowly build up the rotations over time, instead of having the whole thing thrown at you at once.
As for the inevitable launch issues, I had some queues and got kicked off a few times, but that was about it. Certainly not the worst launch I’ve ever seen. There’s apparently a quest in the new area that’s completely broken though. I imagine the only people who care about these kinds of issues anymore are the ones who are trying to zoom through everything and finish first, or the people who are trying to be the first to post guides, or the game sites who are trying to post something controversial so people will read it.