With nearly 3 weeks of play in FFXIV’s first major content patch in Endwalker, I’m ready to discuss raiding content in the current state of the game. With the exception of the new Ultimate and P4S, I’ve done it all for Endwalker and I think there’s some really interesting stuff there.
(At the end of this post are spoilers for elements of the Ultimate fight, as well as spoilers of both the new EX and the new Alliance Raid – be warned.)
The Good: Aglaia
Aglaia, as the first Alliance Raid of the expansion and the first non-crossover Alliance Raid since Heavensward, had a lot of hype to live up to. It serves as our story bridge to introduce us to the Twelve – the previously-unknown deities of our little star Etheirys. Does the first raid meet the hype?
I think so, yes.
Aglaia is comprised of 4 bosses with wildly different mechanics – Byregot with his theme around hammers, Rhalgr and his punchy-fists, Azeyma and her flames, and Nald’Thal’s…balls? There’s more to the fight, I swear!
The fights are fun for the FFXIV standard, with a good mix of mechanics that involve more than simple movement. Byregot has a knockback with a lightning cross that telegraphs prior to his leap, and then there’s the whole floor-rows mechanic, where hammers alongside the platform knock rows of the floor out of position, which can cause you to fall to your death, or can knock a hammer with a roomwide line-AoE into your path. It’s simple but also one of the more hectic fights as the floor rows mechanic gives just enough time to analyze the pattern and move. Rhalgr’s use of telegraphs via his small portals and the unique shape of his room coupled with a few particularly fun knockback mechanics creates an interesting flow to his fight. Azeyma is a fairly straightforward encounter, but phases where her clones knock fire back and forth around the room create some chaos, and then Nald’Thal’s entire bit is amusing, complete with fakeout stack markers, fakeout roomwide AoEs, and just a fun variety of mechanics that reward attentive play.
All of the fights have interesting telegraphs to watch for that create room for skillful play, and particularly as melee, where knowing how the mechanics resolve creates a lot of extra uptime for you on the bosses. I’ve been doing most of my clears as Reaper, and that means that I’ve had a chance to really push on the uptime aspect, like learning where to stand on Azeyma’s fan mechanic to ensure that I can continue my combos without moving out of melee or taking a vulnerability stack, or the ridiculous fun of a 360-degree melee combo while dodging the fast-moving Thal’s Balls. The scenery is beautiful – the idea that Rhalgr liked the statue the Ala Mhigans made of him so much that he used it here despite it not actually looking fully like him is quite funny, and the raid offers some gorgeous scenes like the oasis paradise that the Nald’Thal fight is set in.
Like a lot of Alliance Raids since ARR, Aglaia isn’t particularly difficult, but it offers a good mix of easy to pick up baseline play, subtle telegraphs to learn finer points of the fight, and then the skill expression of taking that knowledge and using it to increase uptime and performance on the fight. Coupled with stunning vistas and an endboss theme that is absolutely a certified banger, this one is a win for me.
The Bad: Endsinger EX
I want to start with this – Endsinger EX is not bad, necessarily. As an EX trial, it is fine to a point, with a decent mix of difficult mechanics and one of the first fights in a while where players face substantial challenges to DPS uptime. Black Mages have a steep learning curve here in particular, as being stuck in Astral Fire when double or quad-planets comes up is rough. The fight has an interesting mix of interpretations of mechanics from the normal version of the fight.
However, I do agree with critiques I have seen that the fight has a feeling of unfinished-ness about it. Unlike most EX trials, where the fight lasts about 10 minutes with a timeline of mechanics that repeat in a way that mixes up the order and creates new combinations late into the fight, Endsinger EX has about 5 minutes of mechanics and then just goes back and repeats them the same way. Granted, there are random choice elements there – which planets spawn for each occurrence of that mechanic, what heads are safe for 5heads, etc – but the ordering is precisely the same and so there’s just nothing particularly special about it. It would make learning the fight easy on some level – you only need a 50% pull to see everything and get practice with it all, but then comes the kicker – the randomness of the fight coupled with the particularly and picky way that FFXIV’s code handles some things means that certain mechanics are a frustration.
Planets on Normal are just point-blank AoEs that cover most of the room, while on EX they are either insta-gib AoEs or knockbacks that send you across the room. What this functionally means is that messing up a red planet means you’re just dead, while you have to place yourself incredibly precisely for the blue planet knockback in order to avoid center head or getting launched off the platform to your death. Because the planet is random, it creates an interesting strategic tension, but also a lot of frustration – you can’t really preplan or get ahead of the mechanic until the first planet spawns, at which point all 3 versions of the planets mechanic (1, 2 and 4 planets) becomes clear and adjustable.
The rest of the mechanics I do sort of like – the puzzle solving of 5heads is interesting because it asks you to untangle a lot very quickly, and the sight-puzzle of the 6head songs is one that is forgiving enough to be learnable while still offering some interesting gameplay. My major complaint with the fight besides the chaotic nature of things is that unfinished feeling – a lot of the Normal mechanics don’t come back at all and so it feels like a very rare case where the Normal version of the fight has more mechanics. If we count the neutered version of 5heads from Normal as equivalent to the EX one, then we’re missing feather AoEs, center knockback (arguably the blue planets cover this but still), add phase, Tank LB3, Protean line AoEs on all players, head lasers, and the random targeted AoEs during the final phase of the normal fight, and all of this is traded for…a towers mechanic, flare rewinds, and 6heads.
I’ve gotten 15 clears on it across a ton of roles (healed as White Mage and Sage, ranged physical as Dancer, magic ranged as Summoner, melee as Samurai, and tanked it as both Dark Knight and Warrior) and I do enjoy the fight to a point, but there is a feeling that it could have been so much more. I had a headcanon based on prior endboss EXes that we’d see a Zenos phase with the solo duty with him worked into the trial, that the addphase would be some unique and special thing, that the tank LB3 mechanic would be there and the second iteration for phase transition would require the party to put up a shit-ton of actual mitigation to prevent a party wipe, and instead we got a very neutered, watered-down version of the fight with less actual mechanics than Normal, and what makes it an EX is that each mechanic is instead incredibly punishing in a way that is somewhat out of the norm for the casual-accessible EX trials of FFXIV.
Also, it is one of a few fights so far where it feels like one deadweight player can ruin the run reliably every time. We tried it two nights over around 4 hours with our Free Company, and the first week was killed by a Summoner that couldn’t out-perform either healer at damage-dealing and was very slow to respond to mechanics, while the second week was killed by a healer having a controller malfunction and not using KBM but instead trying to live troubleshoot the issue with 7 people waiting. After the first week, I went into PF and did a PUG run immediately after and one-shot the fight – not a clean or tidy effort by any stretch of the imagination, but it worked out all the same. It is still early days, and I remember spending hours on clear parties for both Hydaelyn and Zodiark EX about a month after Endwalker launch, so I suspect that this fight will get very clean over time, but right now you are chained to your freshest progger and unless the rest of the group plays like absolute champions, it will create a level of frustration at that player that is largely avoided by the game in most EX content.
So in short, I still enjoy the fight to a point, but even now, clear groups are rough and take a pull or two to find their bearings, and the fight feels like it could have been so much more than it is.
The Unchanged: Pandaemonium Asphodelos Savage
P1S-P3S, my reclear comfort zone, has largely felt the same post-patch. I haven’t seen a drastic DPS rebalancing away from Samurai (most reclears still have them around) and the fights themselves aren’t drastically impacted by the job changes made or the new levels of gear easily accessible.
The only real exception that I can call out is that Life’s Agonies on P3S no longer feels terrible without an Astrologian. Granted, I am two pieces away from Sage BIS gear at this point and I have practiced how to carry my own way through that mechanic as Sage, but where prior to the patch, it felt necessary for me to kitchen-sink the mechanic with all my best Sage buttons (my secret sauce is Physis into Eukrasian Prognosis into Pepsis with Zoe active, Ixochole, Taurochole, Holos, and then topping off with a Panhaima just in case while prepping a Pneuma to hit shortly after the massive groupwide, and it is definitely overkill but I prog in PF so you can never be too safe), but now when paired with either pure healer, it works out fine as White Mage now has good options to hit to keep things safe, especially while I’m over there hitting my buttons like a gorilla and hoping for the best, haha.
The downside to not much changing is that there hasn’t really been an observable resurgence of Savage clears, at least not when I check PF. Finding a fresh P4S party has been damn near impossible (I’m probably going to bite the bullet and just run my own this week), and while the worst elements of PF runs have responded to the patch gearing options by upping base item level requirements, there doesn’t seem to be a ton of new interest. In fact, I think most people are at a point of gearing alt jobs or reprogging the tier after having done it as a single job – certainly, I’ve been funneling most gear I get into alt jobs just because I don’t need it for Sage (my two remaining pieces for BIS are both P4S drops, so I am officially done on Sage with the first 3 fights) but I’m nearing a point of progression where even the right-side slots of my alt jobs will have mostly item level 600 pieces. That’s not a complaint, to be clear – I’m delighted to be able to indulge in clearing on different jobs and I’ve done reclears on Samurai, Sage, and Dancer – but I feel like I’ll be actually done well ahead of the likely August patch release for 6.2 with a new tier, just in time for the item level 610 normal raid and crafted gear!
The Fun to Watch, Sort Of: Dragonsong Reprise Ultimate
I have always thought I was not going to want to be an Ultimate player, but the current Ultimate fight has some incredible stuff.
Firstly, Ultimate interests me a lot academically coming from WoW, given that the biggest appeal of Ultimate, the pinnacle of hard raiding in FFXIV, is cosmetic gear – the weapons from Dragonsong Reprise are literally the same item level and substats as the Asphodelos Savage weapons, but with a lot of layers of glow visually and a title for your character. There’s no power reward in it, because doing it requires clearing P4S anyways, so you likely already have and need an item level 605 weapon to step into it.
Secondly, this fight has caught my eye because it is the Ultimate that, as an outside observer, plays the most with the theme. The basics of Ultimate is that it is a minstrel’s retelling of the story of the game, with embellishments. Given that this Ultimate focuses on the pivotal events of the Heavensward MSQ, including the death of Haurchefant, it was bound to have a fun twist, and the twist here is something else – you play an Ultimate-difficulty straightforward retelling of events as they happened originally, with a rapid-fire sequence of fights with the Knights of the Round, King Thordan, Nidhogg in both Estinien and Dragon forms, before the Minstrel then poses the secret twist of the fight to you – what if, back in the Vault dungeon, Haurchefant doesn’t die – you save him and carry on the conflict from there with how things might change?
And…hoo boy, it is dark. Saving Haurchefant means that Thordan is left unchallenged in Azys Lla, that he gets the Allagan technology he wanted, enslaving and ending the dragons and becoming more powerful, so you fight a more-powerful Ultimate Thordan before having to fight both Hraesvelgr and Nidhogg together, with the fight seemingly culminating in Thordan fusing with the two dragons to make a super form that is brand new. So the fight makes you save Haurchefaunt with a tank LB3, only to find out that saving him creates a world that is catastrophically worse than his noble sacrifice. It is….actually one of the coolest fucking things I’ve seen in endgame raiding in any MMO, and that’s just from watching streams of it and also watching and reading a few strategy breakdowns for the early phases of the fight. In a way, it is the most FFXIV an FFXIV ultimate raid fight has ever been – the focus and theme is all driven by the story, using one of the story’s most often recalled moments as a focal point to answer a question players have asked since Heavensward back in 2015, and it is epic for it. The fight itself has so many layers of mechanics done interestingly, with a pacing that makes things comprehensible to a point but also creates these moments of marathon-running, where you are constantly on-the-clock against the fight for prolonged periods of time before getting small reprieves, like the ability to slow up on DPS and create some recovery cushion at the end of P2 Thordan so that you’re ready for the immediate transition into P3 Nidhogg.
And thus, I felt the itch to maybe try Ultimate raiding getting a little bit more intense. Just a little bit more, but if I can get my BIS soonish, well…we’ll see.