I wanted to write a post, on a brief retreat from the Blender mines (I’ve been doing a lot of modeling!) and the best topic to come to mind is the FFXIV Live Letter 70 that was streamed yesterday.
In it was a lot of fun stuff to see – the Alliance Raid looks interesting, the dungeon is wrapped in mystery and looks fascinating, Forchenault is armed for battle, the new EX looks interesting, and the general vibe is that a lot of cool stuff is coming in terms of actual content.
However, something I found interesting is the way in which the team is addressing job balance concerns.
Balance in Endwalker is…a little odd, currently. I wouldn’t say, from my perspective, that it is bad, per se, but that it is iffy for where FFXIV tuning normally sits. A lot of the issues are easy enough to identify – Dark Knights are squishy in dungeons compared to their peers and their invulnerability is a fair bit weaker than the others by virtue of requiring external healing (as DRK has minimal self-healing available on a rigid, long cooldown), some jobs are overly complex with lots of button-presses like Astrologian and burst-window weaving on Machinist, Samurai, and Dragoon, and the game’s animation lock system creates particularly bad issues that have been longstanding for many jobs (most notoriously Dragoons, but Ninja suffers a bit as well). The rest are largely down to numbers fixes – White Mages have awful MP economy compared to their peers, with particularly bad balancing of their lillies in high-end content, and other jobs just need a little tweak here and there.
One thing I found interesting in all the discussion, though, is how some of the changes were discussed and theory-crafted, and I want to talk about those a little bit through a few jobs I’m at least familiar with in high-end content.
Machinist suffers from a couple of small-ish issues that have big DPS impact in a negative way. The first major one is that a lot of their big abilities are rather weak on their own for what they do, as the design expects you to use Hypercharge to buff a big burst window, but the duration of the potency increase is miniscule and the potency itself isn’t huge (although used on Wildfire, it creates a multiplier effect from that ability). The second and most pressing in my view is that Machinist is a very latency-sensitive job, where a reduction in ping can often be worth more damage output than a lot of in-game available upgrades. A big part of this is caused by the function of Wildfire and how it works, as well as how it encourages a stuffed window of double-weaving for maximum damage, which is often not possible without some combination of god-tier internet and close proximity to the data center you play on.
The buffs noted in the live letter are…underwhelming on that front, as only potency buffs to Wildfire, Drill, and Heat Blast (with other actions implied to be getting tweaks in this manner) were mentioned. Will these help? To a point, sure. Something hitting harder is an easy buff to target, and multiple things hitting harder is a bigger help on that front. However, it doesn’t really address the underlying issue, which is the flow of the job around buffs and burst windows and how abilities interact with that but also outside of it, where you spend the majority of your play. Machinist is the only “selfish” physical ranged DPS job, where it offers no group buffs (where Bard and Dancer stand apart) and is supposed to offer more raw damage instead, and yet the design often can feel anemic outside of those potent burst windows when done right. A fix is a fix, but does it address the core issue. Not really, not yet at least. Patch notes will tell the full tale.
The only noted change is that Living Dead, when used and changed to Walking Dead, will now also make weaponskills from the Dark Knight heal them. This is an interesting change, but one with a fair number of questions to ask – if you heal to full, removing the debuff, that also removes the invulnerability, which can pose a new set of problems, is the healing based on a per-skill healing amount or does it scale per target hit like Warrior’s Bloodwhetting, and probably more for the DRK mains out there.
For my perspective (mostly as a healer and DRK dreader), this doesn’t solve the core issue I have with DRK tanks, which is meager self-sustain. All 3 other tanks have some form of strong self-sustain through healing of their own – Paladins get healing from most abilities in their spell phase, Gunbreaker has Aurora, Brutal Shell, and Heart of Corundum, and Warrior has…well, a lot, between Shake it Off, Nascent Flash, Bloodwhetting, Thrill of Battle, and Equilibrium. DRK has Abyssal Drain on an absurdly long cooldown for what it is, and…well, that’s it for self-healing, and the cure potency on Abyssal Drain feels pretty bad. Living Dead absolutely needed a rework, and this does solve some of those problems assuming it uses the most elegant implementation possible to avoid other concerns like clipping your own invuln, but the core defensive rotation of the job feels bad in dungeons. The Blackest Night is very powerful, but it almost scales negatively with gear – as you get more health and more defense, popping the shield to mitigate the MP economy impact is harder and harder to do in dungeons.
At the same time, DRK is in a weird spot because in dungeons, they’re the worst tank (still capable of clearing, but I grit my teeth as a healer when I see one) but in raids, they’re the best, because they do the most tank DPS and their defensive kit is well-matched to higher-end content. Especially in EX trials and Savage or Ultimate raiding, a lot of boss abilities will eat a TBN alive for full effect, and self-healing is not an issue there as healers pick that up by design, not to mention that the damage intake in a raid environment is much more predictable.
So in isolation, I think the Living Dead change is a good start on fixing DRK’s problems and trying to align their viability in content a little closer, but I would stress the word “start” there. I think a big thing that does need to be untangled in the long term is that DRK is functionally quite similar to Warrior, and where it is different, it has mostly worse things comparatively. The visual kit does a good job of masking that slightly, but it is only a slight mask.
This one was the first one I saw out of context and I thought it was an April Fools joke.
So Ninja is a weird one because the job is fine enough right now, mostly – it could use a little more damage, its group utility is good but also somewhat difficult to master for newbies (I still often fail at getting Suiton up to use Trick Attack because I blank on the mudras more often than not!), and the core mechanics of the job are fun, but clunky to a degree. Its level 90 ability is two separate abilities with the same potency, with one being a gap closer and the other a flat melee attack, and for a fast, fleet-footed DPS, it feels slow to me compared to Samurai or Monk.
The changes they announced are…odd, through this lens. The big two are that Trick Attack’s debuff for increasing damage on a target is being moved to the oGCD ability Mug. Mug is a 2 minute cooldown currently that has a fun flavor effect but is used at the high-end of content for your normal, expected oGCD weave. With this change, Trick Attack will still increase the damage you do against your attacked target and will still be on a one minute CD, with the presumably still-present requirement to use the ability from stealth or with Suiton active.
On the one hand, this is actually logical in a weird way. A lot of FFXIV jobs have self-buffs they use for their own burst windows, which tend to come on 60 second intervals, and Trick being a group buff on that cadence was weird (and potentially quite powerful). Balancing the Ninja job required keeping that benefit in mind, one that has increased in Endwalker with the 60/120 second buff windows and burst windows. On the other hand, it feels a smidge weird as a change. I personally would almost rather see the abilities just switch cooldown durations instead, putting Trick Attack as it currently stands at 2 minutes to line up with the Endwalker buff philosophy, setting Mug to 1 minute, and you could then even give it the personal damage buff. Trick Attack is a surprisingly interesting and challenging mechanic in its current form, as you have to ensure you will have mudras up for Suiton every minute to hit it, which detracts from your use of mudras for other damaging abilities like Raiton or Doton, and getting it right without drifting the cooldown too much or delaying unexpectedly due to mudra cooldown is actually kind of a challenge. Keeping that as a personal challenge is interesting to a point, but it also likely means that potency of some Ninja actions will go down, because the expectation will be that you have 2 buffs to your damage on even minutes of a fight and 1 buff on odds, so as you’re learning the job, the punish for failing to keep buffs up could be harsh. Waiting for notes on this one!
Reduced animation lock on Jump might actually be the biggest buff to DRG ever, lol. It should make the job’s high end play a lot easier to learn and plan around, and it should remove DPS losses where you have to make safe choices to avoid becoming the mythological floor tank.
You no longer need to have Carbuncle out to cast Searing Light, which is a good QoL change, but at the same time, it further undermines the flavor of the job. Having Carbuncle is cool and all, but at this point he has no attacks of his own and isn’t even needed for the biggest buff whose icon shows him, so it starts to feel like he’s weirdly vestigial. I feel increasingly like Summoner is heading towards a minor second rework, as the job feels somewhat simple and also oddly piecemeal, like it took these pieces of the old job, bolted them to the new one, and it kind of doesn’t have a consistent flavor to it. For gameplay however, Summoner is great (I actually like that they get the majority of their rotation at a very low level) and the output is good.
White Mage has two big listed fixes directly for it, and one that is sort of vague to all healers but applicable.
Firstly, the radius on both Cure III and Asylum are going up, hooray. Those abilities are quite strong, but the small radius hampers them, especially Cure III. I have to believe that the team saw the process of struggling with WHM through P3S Life’s Agonies progression compared to Astrologian with Macrocosmos and needed to fix it at last. The next big change is that Liturgy of the Bell, the new level 90 spell, can be cancelled by the WHM to immediately burst the remaining healing stored in the bell. This is also a good change that I cannot help but feel was influenced by P3S prog on Life’s Agonies, where WHM has all these neat tools that work in a lot of situations but just don’t quite sync up right with this specific mechanic.
The more vague change is actually probably the most impactful, which is the note that all healers will see MP cost reductions to their spells. This one actually sort of feels weird to me – right now, White Mage unquestionably needs the MP adjustment because the MP economy of the job is absolutely awful, so it makes sense there. However, the other three healers are largely riding high on their supply, with Scholar and Sage both feeling fine once you figure out when to hit Lucid Dreaming and when to use their other MP recovery tools in tandem, and Astrologian is sitting on the absolute goldmine of MP, with Lucid Dreaming, the base 1-seal effect of Astrodyne giving strong MP regen, and card drawing still giving a substantial hit of MP (due to the job being the one with MP economy issues back in Shadowbringers).
I say weird though because for me, managing MP is one of the few resource juggles I actually kind of enjoy in MMOs, and the thing that draws me to healing in particular. Resource management in most modern MMOs is often just simple cooldown management, where any resource bar you have can often feel secondary to the actual play at hand, but most healing roles still have some form of meaningful resource to play with. Managing MP in FFXIV is not hard, but it is something to learn and get better at, and a way you can set yourself apart on skill. White Mage does need help currently to get there, but I’m not sure that all the healers do, as the small skill gap that MP management creates is, I think, a fun and interesting space to learn to work around and creates a bit of positive friction.
This change, however, also leaves the issue of lily damage being a loss compared to Glare-ing the whole time, but that is a simple potency buff to fix. Yet, I would think that it would be on the slide as an easy win to announce, but that doesn’t mean anything until we see patch notes, so here’s where we leave it.
This one I want to talk about a lot because I think it is indicative of an interesting way of balancing, and it is the one that sparked the most discussion and debate in places I hang out that discuss FFXIV.
Firstly, the Samurai rotation has a pretty lax ordering of actual gameplay, as most of the focus is on the burst windows every minute. In filler times, you just need to get 3 Sen to hit Midare Setsugekka, and what order you take to arrive there, while theorycrafted out, is also largely not important. The most important part of the filler cycle is knowing when to correctly use Hagakure to eat a Sen for power and how to keep the rotation on-time without your burst window or Ogi Namakiri drifting. The burst window is the busiest the job gets, but even then, it’s busy in that you have a fair number of single oGCD weaves to do and one or two double-weaves to maximize. Into those windows steps Hissatsu: Kaiten, an oGCD that buffs your next weaponskill potency by 50%.
The biggest part of the burst window is setting up on resources and flow such that you’ll have enough Kenki to hit Kaiten 3-4 times per burst – 3 when you don’t have Ogi-Namakiri, 4 when you do. As a button, Kaiten is both fairly unexciting and also a pillar of your performance – missing a Kaiten can tank your DPS, but hitting it doesn’t really feel like anything. You get a cool little electric sizzle effect when it activates, and that’s about it – big damage number notwithstanding.
So the first change to discuss in this context is the removal of Hissatsu: Kaiten in 6.1, which takes one button off the bars of your local Samurai player and eases the double-weave spots in the rotation’s burst window. It’s not necessarily a good or bad change, it just creates a slightly different flow. However, it leaves you then wondering – what comes to fill the void of performance, as you now have 3 rotational abilities (Midare Setsugekka, Ogi-Namakiri, and Higanbana) that are missing a buff they’ve had all expansion and that is pivotal to them maximizing potency?
Well, the solution proposed is what caused most of the arguments I saw!
The developer solution to this is to make Midare Setsugekka, Ogi-Namakiri, and their Tsubame versions all auto-crit. Currently, a large part of damage fluctuation on pulls as SAM comes down to whether or not you crit on your big hits, and the potency of these actions is so high that not critting them constitutes a DPS loss. If it happens enough, your DPS can be offset by a fair amount – not necessarily enough that a skilled player cannot overcome it, but it is a limitation nonetheless. My take on this change as a sometimes-Samurai main (I’ve locked in on Sage for progressing P4S and once Sage is geared to BiS I’ll probably go back to Samurai) is that it seems pretty okay – with these abilities auto-critting, there’s still a benefit to having Crit on gear (since FFXIV crit rating increases both chance to crit and the damage multiplier for a crit), it probably enhances the value of Direct Hit (since getting a double exclamation-point hit would be a pretty good damage increase on those abilities) and keeps the value of Determination high (as it has been since Endwalker launched).
Now, the first point of argument I’ve seen is that this change feels bad outside of Samurai, where a lot of DPS jobs are impacted by abilities not critting. Black Mage quite famously has a fair bit of DPS variance depending on how much critting you do, especially on big abilities like Despair or Xenoglossy, and a lot of DPS jobs would kill for auto-crits on some abilities. Hell, Dancer is my PvP main job and one I like to mess around with in Savage prog and other content and if the Step finishers were both auto-crits, I think Dancers would be beasts (maybe too much so given the way that job is balanced around buff contribution to others, but I digress).
My thought on that part of the argument is simple – if these abilities, the main non-Tsubame versions of which were your main Kaiten targets, are auto-crits, then it follows that they will need less potency increase in balancing to get to a similar-enough point. By not having to factor crits into the balancing math (or more specifically a chance not to crit), these abilities can be fine-tuned more to hit a specific target of damage, at least theoretically. Now, on other jobs, sure, some more auto-crits would be lovely and could fix some problems with those jobs (Black Mage comes to mind as a pretty specifically direct parallel to Samurai in the “pure DPS no utility” camp), and while Samurai can feel somewhat bloated on buttons, Kaiten isn’t really the source of that in my opinion nor is Samurai suffering the most with button bloat (Astrologian would like a word). On the merit of the change itself, I think it’s fine and could even potentially be good with the right balancing – the burst window for Samurai will still be very busy and there is a flow to the job that you have to master that won’t be changed by this. Yet I think that other players with non-Samurai main jobs are going to look at this change and wonder if they can get some of that auto-crit, and that is fair, in my view.
The other argument I saw against this, one that is more silly in my view, is that doing this now is a mistake because we’re “in the early tiers where crit isn’t valuable which means Samurai benefits too much.” This was actually funny to me because it’s a thing based on two prior expansions of behavior that hasn’t held true in Endwalker.
In the past, since the introduction of Direct Hit in Stormblood, in fact, DH was a phenomenal early-tier stat to stack, such that the value of it outstripped Crit and Determination for many jobs by a wide margin, until later tiers where the value of Crit reached a point that the damage multiplier was too good to ignore. The difference, for those unaware, is simple – Crit as a stat scales both the chance to crit and damage multiplier, while DH only scales the chance to Direct Hit – a Direct Hit scored always has the same damage multiplier. This functionally means that DH can have a lot of value over Crit early on, when Crit is still aiming upwards to reach the same damage modifier, but once the Crit multiplier outstrips DH, you start moving your stat budget from Materia melds and food in that direction.
In the past, this was the way of things, such that even healers would meld for DH in bulk, because the damage checks on a fight were more important than a stat that buffs healing (DH has 0 effect on heals), and short of a few jobs where the design devalues DH (warriors, mostly), most jobs had a smattering of DH materia melded. In Endwalker, two things seem to have hit this paradigm right on the nose – the increase in value of Determination and general stat scaling for ratings after the values squish benefitting Crit. Most job guides on the Balance I’ve read (I’ve done Savage fights on about 5 jobs so far and read the guides for around 12 jobs in total) nearly all value Crit and even Determination over DH, because the scaling value is just better in current gear.
For fun and to see how true this was, I turned to AkhMorning’s player stats overview, where they helpfully break out rating by tiers of value, which is large steps of rating for Crit and Det and smaller steps with more tiers for DH. I compared a tier breakpoint that is theoretically possible with mid-Savage gear, using my own Sage set at item level 595 as a guiding point. My current stat breakdown is 1932 Crit, 1839 Det, and 580 DH, so I went with the Det value at 1839 as a midpoint. The nearest tiers for all 3 stats were pretty close – 1843 Det is the tier breakpoint there, while 1844 is a tier breakpoint for both Crit and DH. The damage multiplier broke down to 10.7% increase for Determination, 11.1504% increase for Critical Strike, and 10.475% for Direct Hit. The challenge here, as ever, is that while DH and Det both scale linearly, meaning that stacking up more of it has diminishing returns, Crit does not suffer this and gets better the more you have. In the past, the glib observation of “too early in the expansion to stack Crit” would be true, because that value increase at high breakpoints would be unreachable in even Savage gear. However, today, even in low-tier gear, Crit has generally won out, hitting a high-enough breakpoint that you can already start piling it into your gear on most jobs. Further, of the linear function improvement stats, for a lot of jobs Determination has either won out over DH or is functionally equivalent for them, meaning that the value of DH has plummeted relative to where it has been in the past.
Now, that isn’t to say DH isn’t worthwhile, as the increase it offers is real and worth getting, but at the same time, the change to Determination creates a different flow where that stat proves more valuable more of the time and where you don’t need to stack DH on a job where it feels weird to do so, like a healer, because Determination will help you do your core healing job better AND improve your DPS, while DH only improves your DPS.
But in the specific context of the Samurai change, I both see the problem the person arguing about stat tiering was maybe trying to get at but also don’t. Ultimately, Crit still has value for Samurai both now and as the tiers move forward, although how much so remains to be seen. This is because Crit also effects the damage multiplier, so having a guaranteed crit on a couple capstone abilities in your rotation doesn’t mitigate the need to stack the stat, especially since more of it will benefit the damage of these abilities minorly but affect the rest of your rotation in a major way. On top of that, the third ability most would use with Kaiten, Higanbana (the Samurai DoT) is not an auto-crit and while we don’t know if it will be adjusted in potency, it will be hit by not having Kaiten around. For Samurai, it will likely shift priority of stats more over to Determination or even DH, but there is still value in Crit there and it doesn’t mean that Samurai can just stack Det and DH endlessly instead now.
FFXIV also mitigates big moves to single-stat stacking anyways, because Materia melding always has an upper-limit per stat on a piece of gear which is capped and includes the base secondary stats on a piece, so a Samurai cannot dodge equipping Crit gear just because even if they wanted to. The game will still have systems in place to enforce a spread of secondary stats, and Crit will still be valuable to Samurai on top of that – how much so depends on potencies and the actual patch note details, but there’s a lot of crittable hits in the rotation outside of these changes.
For other jobs – I mean, I get it, because I’ve been getting into Black Mage a little bit and it can feel godawful if your big booms don’t crit on top of the juggling act that the job can already be, and changing anything to auto-crit raises the question of what the Crit stat is valuable for, on top of complicating the process of someone building a single Striking/Slaying set that likes playing Samurai on top of other melee DPS jobs (this is already a problem at the Striking level as Monk has a different stat priority with a GCD target to hit that requires some different melding). Samurai performance is also already pretty high – they’re in-demand for melee spots in a fair number of Savage groups and I’ve never had problems finding groups in PF as a Samurai, especially given that the rotation’s relatively fixed structure and lack of notable drifting cooldowns feels easier to get into the groove of compared to Monk and Reaper (who both have larger main rotations with moments where you have tight windows to pack stuff into and group buffs to be responsible for) or Dragoon (which has a ton of weaving, animation locks to compensate for, and a much more rigid main rotational track).
It feels like the effort put into helping the poor SAMs out could be better spent elsewhere, and I even say that as a sometimes-SAM main! Of course, the catch is that balancing is not a zero-sum game with all effort spent on one job, and it seems obvious from the slides for this live letter that we are bound to see a lot of adjustments coming into 6.1 across the board for a lot of jobs. Samurai can be quite tricky to learn and smoothing some of that out is a nice move, but at the same time, I don’t know that removing Kaiten really does that much for the button-bloat question, and I’m not sure how I’d go about fixing it either. My lack of skill in finer points of SAM play is a part of that, as my first call would be to pull Meditate or Hissatsu Yaten, but those are both useful to a point, and while Enpi is a funny little button to hit, it has value for uptime breaks to keep to your ABCs (Always Be Casting). The tricky thing with a job like Samurai is that it has a lot of buttons which have powerful niches they can fill, so there’s not necessarily an obvious target for pruning.
Lastly, it should be said that some reaction to the auto-crits are in terms of a total group composition, as parsing parties with a Samurai and buffing jobs like Dancer are common enough, and there is concern that the auto-crit change may devalue that composition or make Samurai less worth taking for groups pushing in that way. It is a niche form of party composition, but such groups often sustain the game in gaps between content and through that lens, I can kind of see the issue. I do think that it is a minority issue, and that the baseline change seems well-targeted at the average Samurai in a Savage setting, which will be a potential benefit, but without potency changes or other job details there’s not a lot more to be said.
That is the case for all of these changes, and about the best ending I can find for this post!