Asphodelos Savage was my first-ever Savage raiding tier after 8 years of FFXIV play on and off.
It was an…interesting experience, one that I enjoyed quite a bit, in part because it was very similar to the rush of harder raiding content I recognize and was hooked on in World of Warcraft, but also because it was quite different. I’ve talked a bit about the gameplay side in my capstone post on the topic, and I will be expanding on more of the topics I raised there in future posts, but I wanted to spend some time today detailing the experience and the ways in which it subverted my expectations.
In WoW, I have never been one to PUG. I spent some time last summer on a self-imposed guild exodus pugging the start of the Sanctum of Domination raid tier in that game, found it ultimately somewhat tedious (if also rewarding in ways), and resolved the core issue I had with my guild in order to go back and play to finish out that tier. My PUG experience last summer in WoW shocked me somewhat because it wasn’t really that bad. Over time, the mythology of PUG raiding is that it is dreadful, awful, and the dirt-worst way to progress a raid tier. Yet, still, a lot of people do it. The thing with PUG raiding is that it rarely, if ever, is the best way to do a raid tier, but it functions quite well, in large part because you get to dictate terms. If you have an inflexible schedule that cannot iron out for a static raid group, running with strangers lets you find a group at any hour of the day. In WoW last summer, I ran with east-coast US groups in the late afternoon my time and I ran with Aussies at 3 AM my time, plus anywhere else in-between. It was a far cry from two nights a week, 7-9 PM local, but that was kind of the nice thing about it.
FFXIV’s raiding culture has 3 entry points to the high-end content scene – you find a raiding static, you use Party Finder, or you can queue for the content and be randomly matched with strangers by the game (yes, really). How popular these are depends on region and culture – NA and EU datacenters tend to favor statics and Party Finder formed groups, while JP datacenter has statics but also has a large culture around Duty Finder queues and being matched up with randoms.
The static is the most obvious entry point for those coming from WoW – find a dedicated group of raiders whose interests match yours in terms of pacing and how hardcore you want to be, make sure the schedules line up, and roll out. Finding a static is a little bit trickier in FFXIV than in WoW, since WoW tends to build raiding guilds around that interest solely and has flexible raid sizing to let a group scale up in membership to 30, while FFXIV locks the hardest content to 8 player group sizes. Because of this, while you might find a Free Company (the guild equivalent in FFXIV) that has a raid team, the likelihood of getting on that team might not be too high. Luckily, you can find players from all over – including outside the FC and even with other servers within your same datacenter.
Duty Finder queuing is largely out of the question on NA and EU servers. While I’m sure a non-zero number of groups form that way, I’ve never seen a queue pop for them even when I have tried.
I did Asphodelos in two ways – with 3 out of 4 first kills on fights coming from my FC static with me as a fill-in, and arguably the hardest progression of the tier being done on P3S mostly through Party Finder.
Party Finder pugging is…culture shock to me as a WoW exile, to put it mildly.
PF as a tool is flexible but friendly to a point, in that it has some rails a group leader can put up to limit recruitment and foster a party composition, but it also remains open and available. In WoW’s LFG tool, you apply to a group and hope that the group leader has the good graces to welcome you. In FFXIV, the group lead sets parameters on who can join and then you can simply choose a group and join it freely. There’s less emphasis on things like parsing and log culture for Savage, and even then, the game does not expose certain pieces of data like player item level (the group lead can set a floor you have to meet, but the game doesn’t proclaim your actual equipped level when you join). Almost always, if you meet the base requirements set by the party lead, you’re clear to join and won’t see a boot or interrogation of your worthiness offered.
For party leaders, the controls you can set are robust, locking spots to either one player per job or you can lock spots to a specific job and set a defined party composition. On top of that, you can set a purpose for your party (Practice, Duty Completion, Loot) and you can set requirements for joining like item level or that a player has cleared the fight successfully before. These options go a long way to making the Party Finder an actually-usable and useful tool, because a player looking for a group can filter and search with these flags and a party leader can set a bar for players to clear to join. They’re not foolproof, but they’re functional.
Generally, the PUG experience is as inconsistent as you might expect, because a group of strangers each playing to their individual preference, skill level, and comfort is going to have problems bonding perfectly. Practice groups will often list the mechanic or phase of a fight they are working on, but it is variable on if that is where they actually get. Reclear groups marked to require a prior kill can get players in who haven’t done the fight on the role they’re playing, which can in some cases change the fight drastically into something new and unfamiliar to that player, especially with later fights in the tier. At the same time, however, the experience matched my shock with WoW pugging last summer, in that while there are some mistakes and problems from strangers coming together to play, it’s not really that bad and most players just want the kill and are willing to put in the effort to get there.
While FFXIV has a parse culture at the high end, PF groups are not parsehounds and I know that because I spent most of the tier working through bad grey parses, where the boss died but I was not doing so hot. The thing with Savage parsing in FFXIV is that PF has a certain slack because you’re not doing a tightly iterated weekly progression with the same players, and because logging tools for FFXIV cannot do things like see your item level at the time of play, so right now, your rank in Savage on FFLogs is against a self-selected group of the game’s best players, many of whom have week 1 full clears, full BiS on their jobs, and have a lot of individual skill while being in groups that are familiar with each other. That being said, a challenge I have enjoyed is bringing up my performance average week over week, and right now, in Savage I am the 6,573rd ranked Sage, compared to spending most of the tier around 12,000+. Compared to Normal raids, where FFLogs has me at 106th, there’s room to grow, but now that I have BiS and have done all fights on Sage, I have made it my goal to push my logs for the tier into all blue at least – and I got my first blue parse this week on P1S playing Sage, so the skill progression is real!
My experience this tier was quite unique and set up in a way that subtly made things harder than they needed to be for me. To start the tier, I was a substitute on White Mage for my FC static, learning the first two fights on that job. Then the next week, I was called upon to play a DPS to fill in for a missing player, and went as Samurai for P1S through P3S. Then the group’s Astrologian was out for a week, and at that time pre-6.1, Astro was the best pure healer for the fight because of how Life’s Agonies could be trivialized by Macrocosmos, so I went as Astrologian for that fight. In between that, I had been pugging the tier on Samurai and Dancer, before I got locked in on Sage as my main job of choice. I then did the first 3 fights through PF as Sage, including a rough month of groups on P3S before finally getting that kill. I took a few weeks of not even bothering with P4S in PUGs and then did the fight through just the first phase, to the enrage there, on Sage, Samurai, and Dancer, before the FC static brought me in to get a P4S kill as a repayment for my flexibility – on Dancer. So I got my first kills for each fight on a different job – P1S on White Mage, P2S on Samurai, P3S on Sage, and P4S on Dancer. The whiplash!
One big thing that stands out is that strategies vary wildly at times depending on the group. A static will build a workable strategy that accounts for strengths and weaknesses of the group members – my FC static talked a lot of shit about the timer strat for Fourfold Shackles on P1S and used a free-for-all player scatter instead, but when I finally did the fight with timer strat on PF, I found it a lot more predictable and easier. In fact, that was a running theme – static strats I was subjected to were often riskier and done in a way that played with the specific natures of the players involved, while PF strats were formulaic and sometimes felt overcomplicated but were that way in order to be safe. P4S brought this into sharp focus – the PF strategy for dealing with Pinax on phase 1 is to center up on the fire and lightning tiles, positioning for each mechanic relative to those two tiles. It requires a small degree of flexibility, mostly by mirroring poison positions depending on tile order, but it works pretty well once players get used to it. My FC static used fixed markers across the room, which meant that, for example, you could have only a second or two to get to your poison mark if that mark was in a tile that was going off beforehand. It’s “easier” in that people don’t have to mirror or think about position in a relative sense, but it is harder in that it allows less slack room for failure or poor ordering of mechanics.
A theme that emerged over the tier is that a lot of the strategies PF uses are “safe” strats, where players are made to do something in a way that can change fight to fight but leaves little to chance when done correctly and makes assigning blame for a wipe quite clear most of the time. If a P1S group fails Fourfold Shackles on the timer strat, you can see whose debuff went off or that two players went to a single marked spot, where in the FFA madness my FC static went with, the whole thing is a cluster and blame spreads thin across the raid. Contrary to this, however, something else happens a lot in PF groups that cracks me up – players often learn a single spot on one kill and will not budge from it if they can help it, creating some jams in starting a fight because players are inflexible to a point. On Fountain of Fire in P3S, I see a lot of DPS talking about their bird placements in a specific direction, which always cracks me up because the positioning is relative based on where the healer fountains emerge and so it is rare to be in the exact same spot every pull for that job. P4S has this during the second phase, where the Act 2 mechanic’s standard PF strategy has one DPS player of 4 that needs to rotate counter-clockwise depending on a debuff, while the others all go clockwise. If a player learns one direction on their first kill, they can get so stuck on it that if they are given the debuff meaning to go the other way, it will cause a wipe because they haven’t learned and don’t want to be flexible. Each datacenter also starts to build their own strategies over time, so my experience on Aether might end up being very different to that of someone on Primal or an EU server. NA players also love to do marker dances to start fights, making players move to positions and establish mechanics, while EU players tend to use text macros with people simply calling out their spots.
One last thing to serve to introduce my goofs is how much the bosses can change if you change roles fight to fight. Several of the mechanics and the standardized strategies that emerge change drastically for role swaps. Fountain of Fire is a very different mechanic for everyone in the raid that isn’t a healer on P3S. Akanthai Act 2 on P4S has unique differences for each role and depending on which random debuff you get and what safe zones start the mechanic. Intemperance on P1S is the most overwrought and overthought mechanic I’ve seen in a while, taking something very simple and turning it into a pop quiz of movement for at least 1 tank and DPS pair. Channeling Overflow on P2S requires you to get to a very specific spot quickly while also managing at least one other mechanic at the same time that requires space to resolve and not clip other players.
So with that, let me summarize my oopsy uh-ohs that stood out:
-Playing Samurai in PF, told a tank I would flex. Did the flex wrong, ate a damage down
-Playing Dancer in PF group, forgot the line on Intemperance between tiles kills you in one hit, died
-First night with FC static, had a 0.1% enrage wipe
-Playing Sage in PF group, dipped a toe in the dirty water, had to spend 4 GCDs healing myself to not die to the debuff
-Icarus-ed myself into the water on another pull
-Hit Surecast on the knockback as it was going off, obviously didn’t stick, into the wall and my death
-Stole tank tethers approximately 4 times on second Channeling Overflow
-Stood just on edge of the marker at sides for Kampeos Harma, clipped another player, dead
-Forgot to rotate on body crush for Kampeos Harma at least twice, obviously died
-Lots of deadly hugs on each iteration of Channeling (Over)flow
-Target facing while casting Toxikon on the move led me to walk into dirty water at least twice
-Had to square-dance with people on Darkened Fire positions a handful of times
-Failed at counting past 4 at least 3 times for Brightened Fire
-Took about 40 Great Whirlwinds during adds prog
-Walked into the wall on Devouring Brand
-Ate puddles on Devouring Brand
-Cinderwing got me at least 5 times
-Poorly timed the runout on Experimental Gloryplume everytime I played Samurai, ate enough Damage Downs to last the expansion
-Tried to save the group before dealing with twisters by hitting healer LB3, everyone dies within a minute (this happened about 4 times, including once in the last month)
-Ashplume Spreads and death (if you know, you know)
-Yeeted by the bird (only twice ever, but that’s one too many for me)
-Degenerate Icarus usage for stacking or escaping mechanics (one time I definitely caused myself and another to die to spread Ashplumes this way!)
-Overhealing (the DPS check on the door boss in particular is tight)
-Pinax memes (my personal best is using knockback immune for a cape when water is about to also hit, positioning for cape, and then having water nudge me at the wall to my death)
-Rot memes (ironically, the role call/tether mechanic was the hardest part of most door boss progression groups I ran with, while Pinax memes are mostly a thing in reclears so far)
-Akanthai Act 4 premature movement (the other tether phases require a lot of immediate positioning, so needing to stand and wait for a raidwide before moving throws me)
-Personally causing a group to disband because I sucked at doing Akanthai Act 2 as heals (this week, in fact – learned the fight on dancer, read the mechanics for heals, had a poor grasp on the timing, failed it like 8 times in a row and got some testy chats from the tanks – haven’t fucked it up since though!)
-Forgetting to knockback-immune the water spray on Akanthai Act 3….and living, because it’s a baby knockback and I was close enough to center that it didn’t get me to the wall
So in closing, if I can make this roster of mistakes and still get groups every week, I’d say that pugging is working as intended and if you are at the level of doing Extreme trials and haven’t tried Savage yet, it is worth a shot! It goes surprisingly well and you might find some fun in the process!