Yesterday, the news was a murmur in FFXIV corners of the internet – someone on Media Tour had leaked screenshots of tooltips, with full assortments of tank abilities and the full Sage toolkit, in English and ready to read.
Today, most of the tooltips have been ethered, and while I saved the ones I was most interested in, I’m not going to link them here (god forbid Square Enix cast a malevolent gaze on my site!). Instead, I want to discuss some of what was present in them and talk about how Endwalker seems to be shaping up from the combat and gameplay perspective.
For starters and easy analysis, the tanks. Tanking in FFXIV is such an interesting role because it feels like a hero tank can take on damn near anything in most content, while the balance of the jobs only really comes into heavy questioning at the raid level. Warriors right now are a hot button topic, with the prominence of Warriors posting no healer challenges, and I’ve even heard of a Warrior soloing Pagal’than, the most recently added (and thus most difficult) dungeon in Shadowbringers, thanks to strong self-healing and the power of Nascent Flash. In Endwalker, Warriors are taking something of a nerf, with their self-healing converted from percentage values to potency values. This means they’ll likely be strong at low gear levels, but will taper off as you gear up, where today, they flatly increase in value with more health due to that meaning much higher incoming healing.
Most of the tanks seem to get some fancy AoE in their toolkits on the way from level 80 to 90. Of particular interest to me was Gunbreaker, whose capstone ability for Endwalker is an AoE with 1,200 potency and only 20% damage falloff to targets after the first. At two cartridges to play, it is a bit spendy, but the other changes to the rotation should buffer that a smidge. Dark Knight gets a less exciting AoE but they also get buffs to existing AoE abilities and so it seems like the cumulative effect is around the same, and while I haven’t looked at Paladin tooltips, the job action trailer showed about 8 variants of Confiteor hitting, so yeah!
But what I really want to discuss is Sage, because it is the one I read the most and tried to parse out, and I think what is revealed there is interesting.
Firstly, from the Sage tooltips and a grainy White Mage capture I saw, it looks like all healers will get a big healing buff at level 85 as a trait, enhancing the potency of several of their healing spells. What I found interesting from the WHM side of things is that a lot of the buffs are to cast-time, GCD locked spells – Afflatuses were also buffed with this trait, but perhaps this is indicative of a different design direction for healers? Right now, the name of the healing game past level 50 is to only touch a GCD-locked heal under dire circumstances and to use off-GCD abilities for healing as much as possible to maintain DPS efficiency. Buffs to cast-time heals seems like the intended design direction is pushing towards needing to cast more, but at the same time, players can often find their own ways around the intended design and I think they will. Wall-to-wall pulling is clearly not the design intent in most dungeons, and over the last few dungeons, Square Enix has used artificial walls and progress blockers in dungeons to prevent tanks from pulling a Sprint, AoE, stop, pop CDs, and nuke strategy as effectively – it also has just changed the cadence of said pulling strategies, but the intent is clear.
Secondly, the changes to cast time on DPS spells for healers are in, with healers having a base 1.5 second cast time to their primary nukes while the spells remain GCD-locked to FFXIV’s 2.5s GCD. This will functionally mean that on the DPS front, every healer will play like Astrologian on the DPS front, with a primary nuke that leaves an opening of around 1 second after completion where you cannot queue up another GCD-locked cast. This allows room for more functional oGCD weaving, as you can use that second as reaction time to load up an Afflatus, Assize, Lustrate, or whatever your group damage intake calls for. Currently, non-AST healers have to weave very carefully and it can hamper DPS if weaving is done poorly, so this change will mean that weaving is easier and average healer DPS output should be higher.
Speaking of high DPS output healers, let’s talk about Sage.
The full Sage toolkit looks amazingly fun, and also like the localization team took a prop bet on how many ability names they could end with -sis. The basic flow is there very early on – you start with just a base nuke, and by level 4 you have a cast time heal (with a reflected 450 potency, but the tooltips seem to reflect the level 85 healing buff trait) and Kardia/Kardion. Sage does not have a DoT in their normal toolkit. At level 30, they get a self-buff spell called Eukrasia which can be used to buff certain spells, including making their main nuke a DoT, but they are the first healer to break from the model of having a separate, bound DoT ability. Eukrasia buffs the main damage spell, Dosis, changing it into a DoT but otherwise leaving the healing effect and potency of that heal unaffected, while it also buffs two healing spells. There is no cost or recharge time listed on Eukrasia’s tooltip, and an indicator for it is built into the Job UI (it’s the one that looks like the Nouliths are lit up!) but there’s no clear indication from the leaked screenshots as to what the limiter is there. If it is truly an unlimited use ability that just tweaks existing spells, I’m unclear what the intention is from a design standpoint – especially given that Eukrasia introduces a tradeoff to all the spells it buffs, like reduced potency in exchange for a barrier component, or reduced damage in favor of a DoT while still triggering a full-potency heal.
Next up to discuss is Kardia. As mentioned in the Live Letter, Kardia is an infinite-duration buff that makes the target heal from your damage-dealing abilities on other targets. What is confusing is this – the tooltip for Kardia says it buffs you with Kardia and buffs the target with Kardion. What this means is unclear – the DPS tooltips all call out that your Kardion-affected target is healed, but no mention of what the Kardia buff on you does. The tooltips for spells that heal on damage don’t indicate an interaction with the Kardia buff, so my first instinct is to say that it’s just a system tracker to enable that interaction on the Kardion-affected party member, but the complete lack of mentions of things that interact with Kardia is interesting. There is a low-level cooldown you can get to double the healing potency of your damage spells for 10 seconds, which seems like a good bit of kit for dealing with heavy tank damage in dungeons while not having to resort to cast-time heals, while the Sage kit still has oGCD options for dealing with that as well (which can be easily woven into that gap between a nuke casting and waiting on GCD!). I kind of wish Discipline Priests in WoW had a similar button, although I suppose you could always grab a Mastery use trinket for a similar-enough effect.
The core of the very-complicated Job UI for Sage is actually pretty easy, upon review. Called the “Addersgall” gauge, you build charges of Addersgall every twenty seconds to a maximum of 3, which are spent to use powerful oGCD healing spells that also restore 5% of your MP, giving it a flow not unlike that of Aetherflow for Scholar, but without the clumsiness of needing to hit a stack generator. The second component is Addersting, which builds when your barrier from the spell Eukrasian Diagnosis is consumed, and has a max of 3 charges. Note the “Eukrasian” in the spell – this means you need to use Eukrasia to buff Diagnosis in order to build those charges. Addersting is used for one spell – Toxikon and its upgraded rank 2 version, which is an AoE damage spell that hits for a reasonable amount of damage while also triggering Kardion healing.
With all of that, the flow of gameplay for a Sage becomes fairly clear, with a few outstanding questions. Basically, in dungeons, it seems like the name of the game is straight DPS – put Kardion on your tank and let’s get it done. You cast your nuke to heal and so short of major incoming damage, there’s little need to put up much of any healing. It seems like with no CD or cost, you’ll use Eukrasia on demand in order to maintain your Sage DoT and then again to put a barrier on your tank, both to keep them alive but also to build Addersting charges for AoE damage output. In between all of that, you’ll have oGCD abilities to heal very early (the first oGCD is a 60-second cooldown AoE heal at level twenty) which means that the weaving flow of gameplay will be there even at low levels in leveling roulettes, which is a very nice thing. The gap closer, Icarus, comes in at level 40 and can be used on both allies and enemies but requires a target. You get actual barrier spells without using Eukrasia much later, at level 70 and 80, the first of which buffs a single target with a shield that can auto-refresh on expiration up to 5 times in 30 seconds, which is damn powerful. Each shield is 150 potency so that single cast means up to 900 potency of absorb. Don’t worry, if the shield expires with stacks of the buff left on the target, they get healed for the same potency per remaining stack, so 150 times the number of charges remaining. This also applies to the partywide absorb shield, at the same potency and everything. You cannot cast both together, and they are both on a 2 minute CD, so it seems the barrier effect mostly leans on Eukrasian Diagnosis and Eukrasian Prognosis, one of which also has the job gauge interplay discussed above.
Addersgall doesn’t come in to play until level 45, with Addersting waiting until level 66, so there is a basic instant-cast, GCD-locked AoE at level 46 that also triggers Kardion and a charge-based AoE with Kardion interaction at level 26 (and hold up a minute, you can do big AoE DPS as a healer that low?).
I started writing the above paragraphs while reading over the remaining tooltips, and now that I’ve looked at them all, holy shit, Sage is strong. They get very early oGCD interactions, strong AoE that gets stronger as you go, all of which provide healing to Kardion targets (and their mega AoE is a line-based skill shot that heals and reduces damage taken for allies within 25 yards?!) and for Endwalker content with multiple healers, they have a buff they can self-target or put on a party member to buff that target’s healing. You can use it to buff a healer in your group (seems like the intent is to pop it on a pure healer like WHM or AST) but I wonder if it will work with tank healing actions, because that could potentially be an interesting interaction (also probably not as good as using it on a healer, but in dungeons it might be worth a shot!). There’s every reason to believe that they’ll be good training wheels for getting into the damage meta of FFXIV for new healers, because they can do damage and healing simultaneously while not being particularly bad at either.
The remaining questions I find myself with on Sage are simple enough, then. What is the effect of the Kardia buff on yourself, what is the intended play for Eukrasia, and given the buffs to cast-time heals at level 85, how accommodating of oGCD healing is Endwalker content going to be anyways?
However, I am very hyped for Sage, and any fence-sitting I was still doing internally is over. One of the key things I find that I dislike at times about healing in FFXIV is that scaled content, especially early leveling roulettes, Guildhests, and the like make the healers feel vastly different than they play at endgame, almost like totally unique jobs unto themselves. Sage has such a strong focus on maintaining flavor throughout the toolkit that it really seems like playing one won’t feel that different, from Sastasha all the way to the snowy fields of Garlemald, and the maintenance of that flavor is such a refreshing thing to see. In fact, without knowing fully how the other healers change (I still need to review the grainy screens I do have of the WHM tooltips!), I’m actually almost mad for the healers. The game has this design issue for healers where everyone is locked to an old ARR-era design for the first 50 levels, meaning minimal oGCD interactions, little or no AoE damage dealing, and a slow pace of gameplay. Sage, meanwhile, is turbo-awesome early on, it would seem. You have AoE oGCD healing by level 20, castable AoE at 10, AoE damage by 26, and a meaningful job gauge interaction by level 30 (for Eukrasia, which seems to be the least important part of the Job Gauge itself but still). There’s a load of flavor loaded in to that gameplay and it seems like even doing leveling roulettes and getting stuck with a batch of sprouts in Toto-Rak will be pleasant, given how much fun stuff you have to play with.
And so, provided these tooltips are near-final and have no major changes going into Endwalker, my mind is 100% made up to run Sage to begin with.
Guess I better get that level 70 healing set locked in and figure out how to turbo-level 70-80!