I’ve never done current-tier Savage raiding in FFXIV before Endwalker. In fact, I’d barely done current EX trials, and if I counted up the total number of pulls I got in Shadowbringers between Titania, Innocence, and the Warrior of Light encounters on EX, it was probably less than 20.
For the entirety of my time in FFXIV, I’ve considered myself a healing main, split between White Mage, Astrologian, and now Sage. This is a weird place to drop this tidbit, but it becomes important later.
My Free Company and their Savage progression team have faced some challenges to start off the expansion, mostly around attendance. For the first week, their second healer was out, because she hadn’t been able to get the time needed to finish the MSQ and level before Savage. This last week, a DPS was out, and as a raid-savvy MMO player with (now) every job at level 90 and at least 580 item level, I was the best possible replacement – a pinch-hitter. I have a complicated set of feelings about not being a part of the actual team but instead being asked to come in on short notice to sub-in, good enough to keep the progression rolling but not really a part of the team – but because of my social anxieties, I generally haven’t been super aggressive about seeking out a static of my own or joining Party Finder groups for the content, so I am happy enough to simply be invited to play here and there.
So it began in earnest, my first forays into Savage content that is current at all, and this week, filling in for a DPS player, my first time playing a non-healer in anything current and high-end in the game. My assumptions going in, based on what I had heard from others, were that I would be fine – it’s an MMO raid, and I’ve been doing those since 2006 in World of Warcraft, and I’d likewise been doing the queueable normal raids in FFXIV since 2017. What could go wrong?
The First Week – White Mage Healing Is Less Dull When Damage Happens A Lot!
Right off the bat, there are a lot of cultural differences for FFXIV raiding compared to WoW raiding. WoW’s raiding scene is very much a culture of preparedness, one where most people who do it on even a semi-organized level (normal and up) have watched a video guide, read a written guide, and/or have an updated boss mod like DBM or BigWigs to help guide them through the major mechanics. A lot of semi-organized raids have voice chat, especially in the Discord age – when I was pugging Sanctum of Domination last summer, most groups had burner Discord servers to use for PUGs, and some guilds would even just flat-out invite you to their server so they didn’t have to make a dumpster Discord.
FFXIV has players who, in-line with the rest of the game, tend to think of boss mechanics and even boss identities as spoilers. This means that “blind” prog is a thing – zoning in fresh, pulling a boss with no real strategy or idea of what is going to happen, wipe a lot, and slowly push against each mechanic. This is not every group in the game, but the first couple of pulls on each boss I did with the FC were done this way. Once that is out of the way, the strategic masters of the raid group bust out world markers and break down the base mechanics of the early part of the fight, and actual progression begins.
One of the things I’ve noted about healing in Endwalker is that White Mage feels pretty dull as the whole kit is largely reactive, and while that held true for me on this first week of Savage prog, it was a lot more engaging at that difficulty. A lot of it is because big parts of the mechanical checks of a Savage fight are outgoing damage – where normal has a smaller quantity of raidwide bursts of damage to acquaint you with the concept, Savage, uh…has a lot more! We ended up getting down P1S that week and made some decent progress on P2S – to the first Channeling Overflow, which is a pretty typical wall for fresh progression attempts. My parses on damage were nothing to write home about, but fine enough – and my WoW brain loved that my healing parse was high-blue on FFlogs, even though it is largely meaningless in Savage as the goal is to meet the DPS check of the fight!
I also have video of that first P1S kill, which is neat!
P2S prog went well enough, but no kill that first week. I was not invited for week 2 as the full normal group was there, but no P2S kill there either. That brings us to this week, and where the humor of it all amps up!
Week 3 – Two Kills, Total 0 Percentile Parse, AKA Samurai Is Hard
For this week, filling in on DPS, I had a choice to make. With all jobs at level 90, it’s an interesting one to make and allowed me to largely decide based on my comfort with a given job. The missing DPS was a Bard, and while Bard was the first ranged I leveled in Endwalker, I don’t really grasp it that well. It would have offered a lot of raid buffs so even if my own personal DPS was suboptimal, it could have still worked, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. Machinist was out with one in the raid, as was Summoner, and so my mind floated to…Samurai. I like Samurai, can’t say I’ve really played it at a high level ever, but it was my first melee DPS in the game and the one I had the most time on. Thus, it made some measure of sense to roll with it.
I read up on the job’s quirks on the Balance, and I started to realize that perhaps, just maybe, I had fucked up. As it turns out, Samurai is one of the most complicated melee jobs, if not just jobs in general, in the game – at least at the high-end content level of play. A lot of jobs have basic openers or even complicated ones with timings down to the GCD, and then you just hit your one and two-minute cooldowns on the nose when they’re up while repeating your basic combo. Samurai…has to line things up perfectly to benefit from their own buff flow, maximizing use of Tsubame-Gaeshi, Ikishoten, and Ogi-Namikiri, all of which dictate the flow of play, but then also have to fill out their rotation with a cooldown phase while waiting on raidwide buffs and top it off with filler GCD’s based on Skill Speed in order to ensure that their big hits line up with said buffs. To that end, the graphical rotation chart from The Balance is a massive image with an opener, a cooldown phase, different burst windows for even and odd minutes of the fight (yes, really), and then how to use filler GCDs based on if you need 1, 2, or 3 of them per minute to sync up with buffs. Here’s what that looks like:
On it’s own, it isn’t completely awful – it’s a lot to remember, but it basically breaks down to a specific opener and burst windows, an easy-enough filler spot (you only need to do the filler once a minute and it’s based on your GCD, which doesn’t really change during the fight unless you let one of the Samurai self-buffs fall off), and the cooldown is just two full loops of your 3-combo sequence with a finisher to spend the generated resources.
Where things get heavy, however, is in managing this all while doing mechanics. On a target dummy, all of this would be easy to remember and execute on, but with a boss who requires you to move in, move out, stack, spread, know when to interrupt or delay your rotational flow for pauses in the fight where a boss is unattackable, and to maintain base melee uptime all simultaneously…it is a lot!
So in the end, yeah, I zero parsed my way through two kills – and it is interesting, because while I do feel a little disappointed in zero parsing, as a Samurai, a zero parse is still a lot of DPS and it was enough to get a new kill on P2S and make meaningful P3S progress while also repeating the P1S kill with relative ease. And I have video of both kills – P1S and P2S!
Overall First Impressions of Savage
It is funny to me now, that while I used to parse Savage from other people’s accounts as “somewhere between Heroic and Mythic raiding in WoW,” while also being different in its own way, the firsthand experience has been invaluable for teaching about the high-end play of FFXIV.
In WoW, melee is generally one of the easiest jobs to play, because your rotation flows smoothly and most movement mechanics do not require massive shifts in position – much of your learning of the role is built on learning how to move efficiently. Meanwhile, in WoW, healing is among the hardest jobs – with the difficulty scaling based on your raiders, but with a lot of damage going out both on focused individual targets (the tanks or a debuff-addled player like the Tarragrue huge DoT) and via raidwide mechanics. WoW’s overall raiding philosophy centers on individual effort, but generally skews such that a few underperformers won’t break a winning team (save for some random target mechanics where poor handling can cost the run). In more recent WoW raid designs, this has started to change, but in a way where it just exposes people who are learning and can breed toxicity – making people mad at someone for getting smacked by something that is purposefully very difficult to avoid, like the arrow-chains on Heroic Sylvanas.
In FFXIV, the smaller raid size and nature of mechanics creates a more team-vibe, where your individual performance does matter a lot more, but you also need a full group executing against mechanics with synchronized strategies to succeed. This is a part of why boss mods aren’t really as much of a thing in FFXIV – some such addons do exist, like Cactbot, but the group still needs an agreed-upon strategy in FFXIV on how to handle specific mechanics, where in WoW, the individual responsibility is to resolve mechanics that mostly directly impact you alone, with potential snowballing to the full raid (mechanics that render patches of ground unusable, etc). At the Mythic level in WoW, this does change slightly, but Mythic is still largely smashing together the highest personal-skill players and giving them a team framework, where in Savage in FFXIV, the skill floor is lower but you need to be cohesive with a team. Savage content is pugged far more than Mythic raiding is in WoW, and I think a part of the reason for that is that you can put 8 people on the same page in relatively short order, compared to 20 in WoW.
Another interesting thing I found about Savage is how the balance of the game impacts the scene. Endwalker balancing of jobs is abysmal depending on who you talk to, but it’s only abysmal by FFXIV standards, where the spread between top and bottom of total rDPS (raidwide DPS which counts contributions made by your buffs as your damage) on FFLogs is around 15%, which, this early into a tier, is impressive. WoW currently has a 15% spread top to bottom in the same basic setup on WarcraftLogs, taking the last two weeks of SoD at 95th percentile into account, and that is a raid that has been out for over 6 months and has players in it now who are playing for parses, optimizing rotations, and intimately familiar with the fights, compared to 3 weeks of the current Savage tier in FFXIV and the first major content drop since a new expansion mixed things up (and the new buff windows and the like are a shift for players to acclimate to). In spite of the gaps that FFXIV players so often don’t get, something interesting happens anyways – the content is clearable by all jobs even still, so short of really bad tryhard PF groups, you’ll see Paladin tanks and White Mage healers being brought to content, and while the closest thing FFXIV has to support roles in Bard and Dancer are lower personal DPS, they are often brought for their raid buffs, and their rDPS is still quite reasonable all considered (definitely near the bottom, however). This is a refreshing philosophy, as Blizzard often internalizes that specs have a cycle of being in the spotlight and then not being there, and that leads the game to frequent and abrasive meta-shifts, where players trying to optimize will often exclude underperforming specs just because and that matters a lot more in WoW where you cannot just change to a totally different class and spec on the same character. In FFXIV, were that meta-shifting a part of endgame, it would be easier to manage, but it also isn’t really present short of a minority of groups, so you can play what you enjoy and clear content, and that is a nice feeling.
Personally, for me? I really like Savage raiding, more than I expected to. It is, however, surprising in the ways that it was different compared to WoW raiding for me, even having looked at it academically from the outside and inside. Healing a Savage is very interesting, in large part because you are absolutely trying to minimize time and GCDs spent healing, and while even up to EX trials that is a thing, you can spend a lot of that content healing and still be fine, while Savage absolutely needs you to be pumping DPS when you get the chance. In that way, however, healing is actually fairly simple, as your DPS rotation isn’t that complex and doesn’t have combos, positionals, or other forms of gameplay checks. You just put up your DoT and hammer that nuke, and where the complexity comes from is in the healing needed, where you want to save utility oGCD healing to weave between DPS casts to keep damage high.
Melee DPS on the other hand…well, it was a lot more stressful than I expected, but good stress. I spent the whole day prior to that first Savage run on Samurai practicing the opener and rotation on Stone, Sea, and Sky dummies for the Pandaemonium fights, I made sure to get my pentamelds in order, cooked up tons of raid food and tinctures to be ready for the run, and after seeing my 0% parses, went through the logs and xivanalysis to figure out what went wrong. On the P3S attempts, despite no kill, I was on-track to at least get a parse – still pretty low, but not bad for a second night of attempts at Savage when it as a mode is new to me, Samurai is less familiar and way more complicated, and when all of that combines to create a high barrier of learning. But that first night of Samurai created one exceptionally funny story I will share here, because I’m not afraid of being self-deprecating or sharing my genuine fail moments.
Always Read The Fine Print, Folks
So on the day I knew I would be raiding as Samurai for Savage, I did a lot of prep – practice, food and tincture making, and of course, farming some new glamour pieces to have the perfect raid look (the real endgame!).
One of the big parts of that had been checking The Balance Discord and figuring out what to meld to my Samurai set for Materia. The top-listed stat in the priority was Skill Speed, so okay, cool, and it had ranges that indicated getting a much-lower GCD would be a substantial DPS boost. Alright, cool, I’ve done gear optimization in the days of AskMrRobot in WoW, so this makes sense – I melded all Skill Speed, getting to pentamelds of it. The gameplay felt fine, and in casual content, I was doing fairly well, so hey – good job me, I really got this, and how great is it that no other job I’ve melded for makes such use of Skill Speed?
After the zero parses, my check of xivanalysis was interesting. I expected it to tell me that I had catastrophically fucked up the rotation, that I was missing buffs, mistiming my buff windows, overcapping resources left and right, and worse. But the analysis wasn’t too bad, in fact. I had made several errors, but they were mostly down to uptime and the rookie move of trying to overstuff my weave windows full of abilities between GCDs, which is a big no-no. So why’d I zero parse?
Well, during the first raid night, one thing was starting to become clear – I looked at my raid-drop BiS list for Samurai and saw something that stood out to me – not a single Skill Speed meld in sight. It started to dawn on me at that point that I had fucked up, but how bad wasn’t clear until the next day, where, after the 0s, I checked the pre-raid BiS list….and, sure enough, not a single skill-speed meld. I had not only incorrectly melded, but I had so incorrectly melded that I was about 700 Skill Speed above where both the pre and post-raid BiS sets were. Oops!
I corrected the mistake before the second night of raiding, being forced by my own desire to do better to acquire a fresh boatload of Critical Strike, Determination, and Direct Hit Materia and to attempt re-pentamelding my gear, a correction that ended up costing me about 2.3 million Gil by the time I was done. (?!) It did, to my credit, improve my performance notably the second night, and I am quite happy that I did it for that result alone, but man, I was a real idiot for not having read the details.
In a way, it was what I call the “WoW brain” – I have grown so accustomed to minimal or no gear customization to a point where a preferred dump stat being listed on a stat priority guide just means “get as much as you can” and so I just went and did it, not questioning why. When I saw that my GCD had lined up with the max filler GCD setup, I thought I was good to go, excited to see how my raiding performance would be, only to then discover that I was too fast, although in actuality, that much Skill Speed still didn’t push my GCD below 2 seconds and the gameplay flow was not noticeably faster between the first and second nights.
So to close on, I give you this – Savage raiding is worth a shot and definitely scratches that progression itch from WoW better than I expected it to, but also make sure to really read the details on how to meld and build your gearset before you run off!