A Classtrospective: A Minor Final Fantasy XIV Heavensward Thing

Hello, you might have guessed I have written blogs about Final Fantasy XIV in the past, and you would be right. I wrote a retrospective of A Realm Reborn covering from the launch of 2.0 to the introduction of Shiva in 2.4. and i might as well take the time before getting into discussing what I was going to in this blog, what happened to my plans in talking about this game in the long term. To keep it short and as less depressing as possible, when I was on the verge of completing the original run of Living the Fantasy, I ran into major life issues with a parent suffering from a stroke, from then on it was really hard to sit down and actually write about... well any videogames really and fell into a deep depression. For those who were actively reading those blogs and wondering where the hell the finale went and the other future Heavensward stuff I planned went, I'm gratefully and terribly sorry I let you guys down.

On top of the depression, it just became hard to write the 2.5 blog, because... well if you couldn't tell from 2.4 even if people were doing different things on a patch to patch basis... most of the content is rather the same. Aside from the story wrapping up in 2.5, alot of the content revolved around The Gold Saucer and finishing up progression on Final Coil, which half if that was covered in the 2.4 blog. I am rather glad to announce with the free time I have at the current moment and my living arrangement being polar opposite of what it was a year ago. I felt it was time to maybe try and cover something XIV related, since its a game near and dear to my heart no matter the situation. This time however, we will be covering something that had sparked my interest since the obvious meta changes in groups over the last few patches while making raid statics, is the three new classes added to the game on the launch of Heavensward. That being said I currently raid as a Machinist, but have leveled the other two to 60, and somewhat know where they currently stand in the raid meta of the game. So here we go, starting with what I know best, The Machinist.

The Introduction of The Gun-Mage

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Machinists kind of arrived on the scene with one expectation, if you didn't want to play bard and still be a support DPS, this would be your other option. When announced, they were shown off with one of the more controversial mechanics to ever be introduced to the game, which was the "Gauss Barrel" stance. At the time it was only a thing exclusive to Machinists, but as we got further down the Heavensward hole, to make things even out, they decided to give Bards the similar treatment by giving them a mechanic they never really wanted in the first place. Bards were stuck with a similar ability called "Wanderer's Minuet", which eliminated their ability to auto-attack and all their weaponskills becoming 1.5 second casts. For an entire year, Bards were able to just use abilities on the fly and in most situations, just ignore all the problems of a ranged caster class. People were outraged that because Machinists had to be a support DPS, with this clunky cast stance mechanic that Bards had to suffer as well, leading to alot of people just outright saying "I didn't level a caster".

To make matters worse, when the game finally launched, and as people were hitting 52, which was the level at which your entire DPS kit changed when getting Gauss Barrel or Wanderer's Minuet... the stance actually didn't do anything. It was just the assumption that maybe you used these stances given the correct circumstance like we were told up to the time of release, but as we continued to level, almost every single ability required the use of these stances. So why didn't these stances work? Well... they weren't tuned correctly. The original flat damage increase you got in these stances, which was 20% did NOT actually surpass the damage you would be doing with the stance off and just auto-attacking while using your abilities. On launch, this key ability that nobody really wanted was busted, along with the other abilities you just learned to mesh with this mechanic even further were useless because you were hardly ever in the stance. You couldn't even switch between the stances whenever you wanted because it was originally intended the stances when entering them be a "cast". There was a brief period of time where Machinists could stance dance on the fly with how buggy another cooldown they got, which was Rapid Fire. Rapid Fire made it so your next three weaponskill casts were instant while in Gauss Barrel, and decreased your global cooldown, meaning you could get through your three hit combo faster. Yet Rapid Fire had this unintended glitch to make it so EVERY CAST YOU DID was instant, meaning the original cast time for Gauss Barrel was skipped, and you could unload all of the Gauss Barrel exclusive abilities, then get out of the stance ASAP because of the massive amounts of damage you're losing out on because you weren't auto-attacking. Some people were even convinced this wasn't even a bug, that this was an intended thing Machinists were supposed to do, but that was proven to be utter crap when you could literally cast Rapid Fire, then select a mount and forego the cast animation on the mount and instantly get on your chocobo.

After that whole little spiel, Square did admit they kind of screwed up the whole stance idea, and proceeded to fix it. Stances were no longer a casted ability like Cleric Stance (Which was one of the first stances in the game that did stance dancing, how Square managed to mess up stance dancing for a class that actually DPS'd was beyond me). On top of that the potency of your attacks were also buffed to 30%, which means it was now officially a DPS loss to not be in Wanderer's or Gauss Barrel 90% of the time. I mostly wanted to cover this part of the classes history first, mostly due in part of how much it actually effected an existing class, as well it being one of the most controversial parts of Machinists. However, this wasn't the end to their woes, aside from having one of its core mechanics busted on launch, Machinists on initial impressions became one of the most hated/underused classes in the game from the period of 3.0 to 3.2.

The Machinist Dilemma (Before Gordias Savage)

So the class was already underperforming before the buff to Gauss Barrel, but even after the buff to the stance, the class was being hit with a lot of hatred and disapproval from the community as a whole. It seemed like every dungeon had a Machinist in it nowadays, and for every machinist you got in your Dungeon Finder queue, you could add another 20 minutes to when you were going to get out of it. People GLOBALLY thought that Machinists did shit damage compared to even its support class counterpart. When people met Machinists in any form of content, they were met with groans, disapproval, and even kicked from dungeons. Some people were even quick to ban them from doing any endgame content because, hey, why is the warrior doing more damage than your bad class you decided to level to 60. It was a disaster, and even when people were figuring out the class, they still weren't putting up the numbers to justify bringing along a Machinist to do anything.

Final Fantasy XIV is no stranger to elitism and parsing people against their will, I mean it just comes with the MMO territory. Yet, when it comes to this game, there still is no official way to track DPS numbers without being considered a "cheater" in the terms of service for the game. Most of the problems Machinists faced however actually came from this very issue. One of their most important cooldowns, and the way it was being tracked in-game did NOT show up on the third party plugins we use to track DPS in Final Fantasy. Wildfire is one of the most interesting abilities in the game even today, it is a fifteen second dot that is applied on your target. Once applied, all damage that you do while Wildfire, up to 20% of it upon the falling off of Wildfire will be applied to the target. Meaning once your damage spike is over, you will do one last huge burst of damage at the end of it. The way this damage was applied though was new and foreign to both the programs and the game itself. Final Fantasy didn't even track the damage itself in the combat log, later upon some hotfixes, they were able to get this ability to be tracked properly, and even display the amount of damage on screen so you yourself can see if you hit a really huge number.

Another issue with people mistaking Machinist's possible damage potential was the fact most of the fights at the start of 3.0's endgame pre-raid environment were terribly designed for the class. At the end of the leveling process for Heavensward, there were only two extreme trials to do, Bismarck and Ravana. Bismarck was a bane to all Machinists as a fight in general. Machinists excel in fights with a target that will be alive and targetable for more than 15 seconds. This seems like a very silly concept I know but for Machinists its kind of important, as again, Wildfire needs to be ON the target for atleast 15 seconds and fall off properly to record any of the damage its going to do. The Bismarck fight is essentially 8 adds, the two intermission mini-bosses that act as a DPS check, and Bismarck's back for small amounts of time. Here is a visual aid:

Most of the fights in the game were these very... awkward encounters that really didn't display the right numbers for the class. Even Ravana being a more traditional boss, alot of his mechanics just didn't properly time with Machinist cooldowns. When playing a Machinist or Bard, proper cooldown alignment (meaning when you have the right cooldowns up at the same time at all times) is the most important part of keeping your damage up. Its a class of extreme highs and very bad lows. It has improved since Heavensward has moved along with some class changes here and there, but back in the initial launch, being able to do this huge burst of great damage was all we had, and the fact these fights kind of downplayed that aspect of our class really hurt peoples perception of the class in the long run. Yet we didn't exactly redeem ourselves in the next example either.

Battle of Utility (Gordias, Alexander Savage)

After the time I spent with Machinist, and the buffs being what they were for the class on the initial launch of Alexander, I myself was even skeptical of Machinist's viability in progression raiding. I even leveled Bard to 60 and grabbed a bow from Ravana just in case shit hit the fan and I would become a detriment to my raid group just because I wanted to play the cool class with the robot pal that's dumb as bricks (to be fair the turret doesn't have an AI, Square gave up on AI controlled pets after they abandoned summoner pets). To be completely honest, I still question my decision to raid on Machinist back then for Gordias. I was able to clear every floor, but despite that Machinist was considered a significant downgrade compared to Bard in nearly every fight.

One of the main reasons why can be blamed entirely on both of the classes utility at the time. Bards synergy with casters went pretty far with groups picking them over Machinists for their compositions. Bards have a song called Foe's Requiem, which while the song is up lowers all enemy target's magic resistance by 10%. Paired with another ability they get, Battle Voice, which doubles the effectiveness of the song the bard is currently playing, meaning all magic damage done to the target in that timeframe is increased to 20%. Not only did casters benefit from this, but your scholar offhealer who mostly DPS'd also benefited from this as well.

Machinists on the otherhand got a move called Hypercharge, and Hypercharge depending on what turret you have out at the current moment, increases physical or magic vulnerability by 5%. The Machinist had no other ability to go with this, it was a flat 5% physical damage with the Rook turret, or 5% magic damage with the Bishop turret. Naturally in the raid environment there isn't much to AoE down in Final Fantasy unless its a fight like the Cuff of the Father where there is no actual boss, but a wave based survival mode disguised as raid content, so using Bishop which does 20 less potency on a single target compared to Rook was almost never worth it even for your casters. On top of that Battle Voice could be used to buff the Bard's resource spells if you really needed to, even if its considered a DPS cooldown. On the other hand Hypercharge can do the same thing, but it was wasteful to use Hypercharge in such a way because of the fact it was alot of damage you were potentially missing out on otherwise.

The only real utility tool that Machinists had over Bards was the abilities Dismantle and Rend Mind. Both of these cooldowns essentially do the same thing, they lower the targets damage by 5%, Dismantle lowers Physical and Rend Mind lowers magical. Its been a personal belief of mine that even though mitigating damage is huge no matter what the small percentage, that having these two separated into two different buttons has always been ability bloat. With a class that already has alot of buttons to boot, I hope one day that these two abilities could just be combined, but I guess that would be too similar to what Astrologians offer. Luckily near the end of Gordias progression, the DPS numbers for both Bards and Machinists had caught up to each other pretty evenly, even though Bards were still being picked over Machinists for raid groups at this point in time. Atleast on Leviathan, Machinists were kind of a rarity to see clear past Arm of the Father, aka The Pepsi Man, but maybe we go over that story in another blog.

Here and Now (Midas, Alexander Savage)

Upon discovery that Machinists were maybe under utilized at the endgame spectrum, Square in its vast knowledge of class balance, decided to make one of the most important changes to the class since the stance dance debacle. It was maybe a simple change in hindsight, but it was a welcome one at that, by merely upping the damage increase on Hypercharge to 10% instead of 5%, it practically changed the utility game in favor of the Machinist this time around. On top of that, because of the huge gear increase from 210 to the new 220 crafted set and some 230 pieces, the machinist overall DPS percentile completely overshot Bards by the hundreds. Meaning for the first time in the classes history, it was able to outperform its counterpart class by a large margin. On top of that, the overall damage increase from a Hypercharge turret was nearly incomparable thanks to the fact that 5 members out of your normal group are doing physical damage. When put up against a Bard using Foe's Requiem while boosted by Battle Voice, the Machinist still has the edge in damage output increase by 10%.

After the huge player influx to Machinist, Bards were slowly being phased out of the meta, with alot of top bard players recording their first kills on bosses in Midas first on Machinist. During the release of 3.3, to help balance out the difference again, Square delivered probably one of the biggest buffs to a class since the 2.0 Warrior changes. Bard had nearly almost all of its weaponskills potencies increased by some amount. Increasing potencies on well... anything pretty much went against the Square Enix way. In short, Bards eventually caught back up, but the good news is both classes seem to now strike up a good balance between them, and both now finally co-exist in all endgame compositions.

The Wrap-Up (For the forseeable future)

So there we have it, the entire history of the Machinist class up until now. Going from one of the most reviled DPS classes in the game to finally shaping up to be one of the prominent members of the gang, Machinist is definitely the middle of the road class when it comes to the three that were introduced. Yet there is a trend all three of these classes share, and that is how they were all thought to be... really bad, compared to their actual counterparts. This was a topic that was racking around in my brain for quite a while and I just wanted to share my thoughts and what I tended to see from the community during the heyday of Heavensward up until now. Next time, we will be covering the Dark Knight, and how it dealt with the overwhelming challenge of proving itself to be able to tank with the likes of Warriors and Paladins. It was fun to write about my favorite game again, and I hope to keep doing it this time... instead of disappearing for over a year. . (again I'm really, really sorry for anyone I bummed out). Until next time, I'll just be living the fantasy.