Friday, 24 May 2019

Shadowbringers Live Letter Part 1: or "How Yoshi powerbombed the sound guy"

credit to The_Ganey on reddit for the image
 Well first off Fucking Woof that was painful to watch at times. You could see Yoshi practically start to boil over like a kettle left on the hob too long. The friends i watched the stream with all said some variant of "Oh Yoshi is going to tankbust that sound guy when this is through" and i wouldn't be surprised. Don't get me wrong in the end we got a wealth of information but holy crap did the audio guys shit the bed on this stream on a level i personally have no comparison for. From random bursts of very loud, high pitched screeching static to "uhh, maybe just hold one of your mics up to a tv?" comments while leaving the mic on while going on a break this was bad. Which for us in the west at like 10pm was no biggie. Just kick back and relax, but in Japan where the core domestic audience was going out to work? thats a real social faux pas. They had to give a deep bow apology at the end and put something up on the Square Enix website. Along with a job posting for a new opening in sound engineering for streams. Ain't that somethin'?

 So onto the actual content of the stream. Largely it was job changes. There was some interesting tidbits at the start but not too much. Regardless i'm just going to run through my notes with a bit of input from my worthless opinion on each. Here we go!

General information:

-"14 Million Players": Not subscribers mind you, at this point i don't think any MMORPG including WoW is realistically pushing over 2 million active subscribers for a game as the sub model and interest in the genre in the mainstream is at a low its not been since the 1990's. But 14 million players is a lot of game copies sold. For comparison FFXV -a game that went way overbudget and contributed to the largest fiscal loss since the Square Pictures disaster of the early 2000's- 'only' sold 8.1 million. That means a steady increase in new players and while not all of them will stick around it does mean the game, as mentioned in the last earnings call, is still steadily growing and profitable which for us players just means we don't need to worry about budget cuts or content slowdown in the near future.

-"Pets are no longer autonomous units you must control but largely cosmetic with their abilities tied into your own skillset": This ones a bit sad in a way. Your egi's, Fairies and new stuff like a certain MCH skill i'll mention later are not targetable party members in their own way anymore. Just a flashy effect which honestly i don't think i'm a fan of. It also means Topaz Carbuncle and Titan Egi can't tank anymore as they can no longer count as an entity in combat to hold aggro and will be reworked. Of all the changes shown in the live letter this is the one i just kind of squinted and made a 'hmm' noise at. Maybe it will be an improvement but so far it sounds like one sacrificing major rpg flavour for convenience that i can't say i'm a big fan of.

-"As part of improving combat flow and to add new mechanicas some existing and new skills will have charges on their own external cooldown": So not too alien a concept if you played stuff like Monks in World of Warcraft. You can have a skill on your hotbar that every few seconds builds up a charge at a set rate to a number like 2 or 3. You can use one when you wish or burn all of them in a row instantly. The example given being DNC's no target required forward dash/blink. It can build to a charge of 3. You can burn them all to cover a large distance instantly or use only 2 and save 1 while the charges start to tick back up. Its a simple change that i can say from experience works very well for what its intended to do. If your party members remember to keep track of when you exhaust them all!

-"Main stat materia is gone": This one left people a little confused. Not that its gone thats self explanatory with the stats bundled into future gear. But more the questions of "So what do armour crafters do to make money now?" and "what do i do with the stacks of main stat materia i currently own?!?" because all they said is its being out and out removed. Not replaced by something like Mhatchi matter to trade in for secondary stat materia. Its just creating a vaccum in each servers economy overnight with nothing -as far as we know right now- to replace it. I don't really rely on materia as much as selling my retainer loot for easy money but the stream chat was full of comments like "well there goes my entire revenue source" or "so i guess my crafter job is useless at endgame?" and that felt like half an answer that missed out the most vital information. Maybe they just intend for it to balance itself out over Shadowbringers and it probably will but its still kind of iffy.

-"Only one Job quest at lvl.80 with 'Role Quests' replacing them from 70 onwards as you level": This one seems pretty easy to explain. Some job quests get more love than others already and we are getting closer to 30 jobs with each new job released. How many of those would be phoned in like the HW WHM questline nobody enjoyed if the resources got spread thinner and thinner with each major content release? This also explains what the Alphinaux and Ysh'tola segments of the last two patches were teases for. In Shadowbringers we will get quests as we level for your role, not job. But these are very much Role Playing quests comparable to certain sections of past games like FFVI. You stop playing your character and no doubt using the echo or simply by being told a story you take on the role of one of the past heros on The First. This is a really cool idea. We are on a different world so more info on our Job and the characters we know doesn't make sense and at the same time we can flesh out this alternate world more by giving its past some more weight. Making it seem less like a new theme park crapped out to spend time in for an expansion and more like a world that was storywise chugging along right beside ours the whole time. Something that other MMORPG's alt world expansions like the famously disliked Warlords of Dreanor really failed to do and was commonly criticised for it feeling like a side jaunt into a theme park in a vacuum where nothing really felt like it mattered. Plus hopefully this can make the lvl.80 quests be a bit more of a bigger affair comparable to stuff like the RDM battle in the Weeping City and not just filler for fillers sake.

-"Crafters and Gatheres meanwhile will have 4 questlines centered around a location called 'The Crystarium Mean' as they level': This one feels a little more iffy to squash things together. Like maybe Botanist and Fisher are helping catalogue and save some endangered species on the verge of being added to the list of now extinct life wiped out by the Sin Eaters and the blinding light burning off all habitable ecosystems on the surface of The First? we have to wait and see but its strange we still have no news about Rebuilding Ishgard quests huh?

-"Role Skills system revamped entirely": So now you don't pick and choose skills. The days of levelling a alt class just to get a single spell for your main job are now truly dead and gone. Now you will get a silence at a set level, a self heal at a set level and so on. With ranged magical dps having the least and tanks having the most. With a new none magical silence to act as a stackable stun where enough players can shutdown powerful boss abilities. The example given was a Chimeras 'Rams Voice' the bane of Healers and laggy melee DPS everywhere. These skills will now have an orange aura around them to show you can spam stuns from the party to shut down these moves like big aoes, tank busters and buff purges.

-"Quality of life improvements": A range of smaller focus comments like normalising tank gear, reducing bloat on skill lists to make room for the new ones and most interestingly 'making healers refocus on healing'. You can still dps but it should not longer be mandatory. Personally i like to dps rather than standing around waiting to whack a mole but i hope the now uniform 10k mp bar replacing mp and tp bars we have right now in the live game means dps'ing as a healer isnt a huge mp loss to brute force sticking to heals. Beyond that they paradoxically want to "reduce synergy so you don't feel like certain jobs are mandatory" while at the same time calling Dancer "the synergy king they hope isn't mandatory for raid groups". Which feels in hindsight more like they just want the underused classes to get more play, not that theres anything wrong with that of course.

New Job Skills:

-Ninja: Kage Bunshin no Jutsu summons Shadow Clones that double your attacks, essentially a much stronger Duality. Visually neat and i hope it changes it enough that its not the playstyle in SB i hate but i remain skeptical.
-Dragoon: Building up the SB version of the Dragon gauge now lets you use moves like Nidhogg possessed Estiniens Flashy dive attack. Looks cool but mechanically seems very similar. Shame we didn't see anything of the rumours saying DRG would get their Dragonling pet like in FFXI, so far at least.
-Summoner: Can Summon Pheonix, not a demi or egi but finally at lvl.80 Summoners are starting to summon actual Summons. Egis are now more visual effects than pet characters and can be changed instantly on the fly even in combat to combo into various 'Egi attacks' as part of the Summoners rotation. Not much to say about this. Shame the pet aspects gone but Summoners finally getting their FFIV/IX/X Job fantasy have been patient and deserve it.
-Dark Knight: Inner Darkness literally rips out your Darkness which once again takes the form of Fray from the HW questline to fight alongside you. Effectively a Jojo style STAND ability which might just be Duality for tanks but if theres some form of intentional move delay you could drop a taunt then focus on more dps as Fray then taunts again. Given the overall 'you shouldn't need to spam to play well' focus of Shadowbringers this feels like a neat, unique way to get around it for the job.
-Black Mage: Now can hold Astral/Umbral stacks for longer and has a new single target Flare -but don't call it Ver-Flare or the RDM will get jealous!- that you can build up two casts of on your new gauge. Simple but its a simple job really. You build up fire for the big boom but now its finally got a single target option which as a job that was basically the aoe trash pest control is a nice addition to its toolset which gets very samey on single target fights.
-Scholar: Gets a new Titania Egi named seraph for super heals as a cooldown. Honestly as the healer summoner its been a long time coming for that to get some love. For a class fantasy based around 'finding lost arts of healing summoning' it felt way too focussed on being 'The Tonberry loredump job' and this is a nice addition to the flavour of the job.
-Astrologian: Complete card system rework. Honestly a bit wary about this one and i will have to wait till just over a month from now to get my hands on it myself. AST is my go to healer job and i hope its not just a buff turret now. We will have to wait and see for this one.
-Gunbreaker: Uses attacks to build a bullet gauge, sorry MCH its not yours anymore, to buff and defend party members while having an off cooldown mechanic to crit like Squall's R1 on attack mechanic from FFVIII
-Red Mage: A new AOE spell to follow up Ver Holy/Flare called 'Scorch' which is an element free explosive spell. Bit 'eh' but as one of the last new jobs i didn't expect many changes when it just had a rebalance for the last patch in the live game. Dull but if it ain't broke right?
-Monk: Greased Lightning now stacks to 4 for more raw dps and is easier to maintain. It feels -and theres more coming later- that Monk is the new Machinist and they don't know what to do with it but just know the hardcore Monk players aren't happy with it. I expect a lot more changes for this job as the expansion unfolds.
-Paladin: A new gap closer and part of their rotation makes skills like Celerity instant cast. Like RDM very safe changes but again 'designed so you don't need to spam abilities' which is nice since Flash Spam to salvage an overeager dps'es mass pull is stressful/annoying to deal with.
-Warrior: Very little new stuff. Only one stance now with higher dps rolled in as baseline. Effectively the dps that can taunt everyone joked it was but now thats officially its role. I have yet to hear a WAR complain about this.
-Dancer: Rarely attacks themselves but moves around the arena to input directional based combos to fill their guage and buff the party while building up for powerful high damage finishers or heals. Effectively Final Fantasy's version of the Monster Hunter Hunting Horn support role and as a RDM main i find the concept fun and i'm eager to play it but its core mechanic they get to later sounds like a nightmare for players with bad ping.
-Machinist: Gauss Barrel and Bullets gone, in its place we have all of Edgars tools from FFVI and the ability to summon a Magitek Knight to fight with us including a pile bunker finisher. If you look back at my last post i said MCH needed the most love and in this liveletter it really explains why we only got two new jobs. Because technically Machinist is the third. I've seen nothing but positive reactions and a lot more people starting to level MCH in time for the next expansion because of it.
-Bard: At level 80 unlocks a new 'Soul Voice' gauge for new, more powerful spells. Basically just a new power tier to replace older outranked, or in a few cases removed, songs. More of BRD being BRD. Nothing bad but nothing too interesting either.

Overall the new abilities range from Cool to just kind of 'eh' as a baseline but nothing thus far has gotten a bad reaction from the playerbase so they are clearly doing this right on paper. What holds up in the live game remains to be seen of course. Right now however it looks neat and what followed was some more info per role that is pretty interesting in terms of significant changes to the dynamics of gameplay.

Tank changes:

-"All tanks are now designed as both Main and Off-Tank viable": This is one of those things that needs to be seen in game to see how effective it is but on paper its a sound idea. There are jobs -particularly during Heavensward- that were seen as MT or OT exclusive and would not be taken for raids if they weren't the right job. Which frankly sucks and this is a change to combat that. You want to Tank then you play the Job you enjoy. End of story and thats really all we want when we tank right?
-"All Tanks will now have some skills that buff the rest of the party or grant them defensive skills": I can see the players that just want to lay back and tank something simple as an aggro magnet for the party finding this a chore on paper alone but personally i like it. The Tank is the vanguard. The forward leader of the rpg party. So the idea of them inspiring their party members is really cool and since i'm used to AST throwing out buffs i won't have trouble doing the same as a Tank.
-"There is only a Tank stance now, the DPS one is gone and that is all baseline toolkit all the time": I guess this also makes you question why keep stances at all then but maybe its just some way to balance the levelling curve or something. They said themselves people stuck to the stance that was the greatest DPS gain so they just made it the norm so i guess the only change is less tanks losing threat because they stance danced too long?
-"Enmity generation combo's are removed": so effectively more passive threat gen and less doing the same 3 moves to fight with the other tank before the tank busters. With some moves changing to compensate. The Example given in this case that Paladins Riot blade no longer combos to build enmity but combos to give a instant cast proc for things like Clemency. Which gives you a wider variety of things to do without interrupting the flow of combat which is a new way to make it feel more like an rpg and less like an mmo, a genre i love but is not know for its smooth gameplay flow across most of the genre.
-"All Tanks have a baseline 20% damage reduction/Enmity generation stat": Inb4 'tanking for dummies' comments but this seems to be part of the role wide normalisation. If you tank you are basically the DPS that holds threat and takes less damage. Again more 'play the job you want rather than whats meta' which as someone that accepts but hates the concept of rpg 'metas' at all i like the sound of but know numbers are numbers and the new meta will show up not long after.

Overall some interesting changes that look to simplify the role as a whole while allowing each individual job to have more flavour and fun stuff to do. Which when you are playing should be how it goes. You want to play a Job because its fun without worrying how other jobs do your job better the whole time.

Healer changes:

-"Healers all being unified to refocus on healing first, dps second if ever": I like to dps so i'm a bit wary of this making healers boring but they are following the same design as tanks to make them all feel unique without any feeling less mandatory so maybe it will work in the longrun? things like Protect being removed are a bit sad from a nostalgia point of view but its really just a pointless, mandatory upkeep buff at this point so i can understand in the name of making room for cool new skills per job.
-"New actions to balance out each jobs repetoire": The examples given being a new instant cast heal for WHM and SCH having more active spellcasting and less bubbles. Essentially so you dont have moments where you encounter situations where you dont have the skill for the job but others jobs do. The jobs will still have their niches but you wont find people going "i wish X other Job was here instead" because you couldn't do something. To use a DPS example the fact RDM will now have a silence like every other dps means it wont have moments where any other job could stop a nasty spell cast while it just stands around and takes it because they have no options. Same thinking applies to healers here and downtime as a healer is the most boring part of MMORPG combat for me so i hope this reduces that.
-"For WHM Lillies accumulate at a fixed rate automatically with skills proc'ing a Black Lilly for a new damaging skill": So the focus now is less on "oh i guess i generated some lillies, neat" and more having a fixed rate of lillies and knowing when and where to use them while the Black Lilly appears to trigger a proc to cast Holy 2 which damages and heals or buffs the party. Its a small change but makes Lillies feel like a part of the job rather than a tacked on side thing you don't even really have to notice at all.
-"SCH is mostly the same with some more active spells to cover the changes coming to pets in Shadowbringers": So with Eos and Selene literally just being a cosmetic now -they even do the same thing since one was numerically, objectively superior in 100% of situations for years now- the only fairy that matters is the new Titania Egi 'Seraph' which is basically the new 'oh shit' big aoe heal for Scholars. Overall its a just thats lagged behind in player interest in terms of healer jobs and maybe managing the fairies was part of that and the dev team had the numbers to prove it. Personally i think its a 'fine' job but just 'fine'. This didn't sell me on it but hopefully makes it more active as more than a heal turret for people who love the job but found it growing stale in Stormblood.
-"AST cards are now all straight buffs with each suit for a specific role, at lvl.80 they can change stances at will during combat for a limited time": So in terms of healing AST is my main job so this was a little worrying. It looked at first glance like losing flavour and complexity for the sake of others not playing the job because they couldn't deal with the gameplay i enjoyed. That could still be the case but it looks like they are focussing more on AST being the hard buffer healer rather than a cobbled together blend of ARR versions of WHM and SCH. Which could be great and i hope it is. But as someone who loves the current state of AST this does worry me some. The new lvl.80 skill however may seem a bit underwhelming but boy is that going to be useful in Alliance raids i can tell you that right now!

For Healers it feels like a lot of trimming and shaping to fit an idea of what each job should be without putting them in the same position they are trying to get Tanks out of. It feels experimental and honestly could go either way. But as long as we get to something that works i'm hopeful for it turning out okay. Thats the beauty of MMORPG's. No mechanic or class is ever truly set in stone and nothing thats unpopular or anti-fun has to stick around forever.

DPS Changes:

-"Some jobs, effectively everything but BRD, DNC and MCH have had their rotation conditions made less strict": Effectively dealing away with the "I missed this one button due to lag or having to move to avoid a plume or something and have to startup my buffs and mechanics all over again fresh" stuff that made us all at some point or another eat a one shit kill because we chose to risk trying to pull off that finisher before moving. I've done it, you've done it we've all done it. At first i assumed they just meant making things less complex but when you see the changes below its more of the 'balance the jobs out so none consistently outshines the others in theory'. Which lots of MMORPG's try as their 'bring the player, not the class' ethos but it rarely means more than a numbers shift which changes a meta at best in the long run. I can't complain as long as there are fun jobs to play but again we gotta wait and see on this idea.
-"Lots of MNK players complained about the state of the job in SB so even though the developers didn't want to they added a 4th greases lightning stack for dps increases": This one came out strange and feels like not nearly the rework the job needs. But its a start. Albeit a very small one.
-"Heavy Thrust is gone to streamline DRG's combos": No complaints from players i've seen. Its an annoying upkeep that can interrupt and totally screw up the flow of your rotation. It should have been gone in Heavensward.
-NIN's enmity moves are gone as Tank changes make them redundant": Well i hope they are sure about that. I don't know how many times back when i was a NIN main that i had to save a healers butt when the tank had trouble holding aggro off them using the NIN's skills.
-"Moving between combat as RDM slowly depletes your gauge": My knee jerk reaction is "aw shit, this sucks man" but really if i'm saving a verholy or flare its because we are already nuking our way through packs anyway and it appears to decade very slowly so it seems more for saving it to cheese fates or something rather than in dungeons so maybe its just to compensate and balance their new Scorch spell being a big numbers opener to steal threat or something? god knows in SB i can steal threat all the time as RDM if i get a good string of procs going.
-"No significant changes to BRD and SMN rotations": Somethings got to be the safe option i guess. But i see it more for BRD than SMN based on the previews thus far.
-"Nobody liked the gauges, gauss barrel or ammo mehcanics so we effectively redesigned MCH from the ground up": Like i said this is really our third new job this expansion. With GUN taking up the focus as the bullet using rooty tooty slash and shooty job -and MCH being abandoned en masse as the objectively worse job in the game in Shadowbringers- they are shifting focus to bring Machinist back to its engineer/magitek routes more in line with Magitek Knights and Machinists of past games. I liked the reload flavour but overall it felt like trying to add complexity for the sake of it. Of the three HW jobs it was always the stand out sore thumb that felt unfinished and hopefully its going to get the love it deserves. The devs sound happy with it, MCH mains sound finally happy about anything and its sold a lot more players in picking the job up after dropping it months or years ago at this point. I hope it works out.
-"SMN relies far less on Aetherflow, you shouldn't be focussed on saving a full stack for boss fights": This seems like a nice way to cut down on complexity. Its very much felt like there are three stages of ramp up to get SMN to a solid 30 seconds of its peak potential before burning out and having to start the ramp up again. It feels like only being a full contributing member of the party for like a third of the time and from a design standpoint that just sucks. You shouldn't spend most of your playtime in combat trying to get to the fun part. Its not some massive dramatic change but should be one that makes SMN mains enjoy their experience as much as the other dps which honestly should never have gotten to the point its at now to begin with. This was a longtime coming.
-"With Job synergies scaled back across the board certain songs are now gone with new ones to replace them, meanwhile procs will occur more often and build up new effects": Again simple but welcome. BRD is a solid job but its core rotation can leave you starved for procs and just wishing for a single proc while you watch the RDM and BLM of the party burning through them at a breakneck pace. BRD has always been a funny blend of "Yoshi likes bards but also wanted to be an Archer" thats left it thematically a bit confused but with some of the changes in the last few patches an the new 'Soul Voice' gauge i hope its more in line with BRD's of previous games like some of the other job changes. Also lets hope DNC doesn't make it feel totally redundant. Speaking of-
-"DNC chooses a player to be their 'Dance Partner' and they move together to build up 2 step basic or 4 step technical dances to buff the party in general and each other to a greater degree as your partner builds YOUR gauge for you. DNC also is the first 'PVaE' dps. With the same attacks doing different effect, e.g single target or AOE, based on distance to the enemy": Hoo Boy did they end on a strange on. First off we have a really neat idea for a Hunting Horn style support job, but how does it compensate for if their dance partner lags or DC's? thats going to be interesting to see in practice. The new adaptive combat abilities however is very interesting and it would be cool to see other jobs get some of this sort of thing as well. As a guy who likes support roles like Hunting Horn in Monster Hunter this job as me excited much more than MCH does. Its a shame its another dps rather than a healer but overall the more i see the more i want to get my hands on it and try it out.

 They finished with the new Benchmark trailer -which interestingly may have teased TRUST Npc's in the open world rather than just squadron reskins for dungeons- a reveal of a left handed gaming peripheral Yoshi worked with famed fighting game controller designer Hori to create and news of a Titania challenge at their E3 event where the second half of the Live Letter including the patch notes will be shown.
Overall, massive tech support screw up's aside of course, there was a lot to get excited for, a little to worry about, and more general build up of excitement.
 It feels like without being divided between two major workloads like Ala Mhigo and Doma we are getting a more focussed but experimental expansion which can always go bad as easily as it can be good but from what we have seen there is nothing that worries me that can't be fixed in a patch so far. I'm excited for the new mechanics like Role Quests and hope they give just as much love to Crafters and Gathers so they feel less like being a collectibles bot.

 Now we just wait for the final live letter and any last minute big reveals (please not another Diadem/Eureka Yoshi!) and beyond that its time to start counting the weeks if not days. Its currently May 24th at the time of writing this and the July 2nd release date -not counting early access of course- is getting real close already. Boy has Stormbloods last few months really flown by!

1 comment:

  1. My understanding of the tank stance change is that it's enemity only. So you activate it if you are actually tanking something, and leave it deactivated if you aren't. So you'll have it on all the time in dungeons, and if you are main-tanking the boss in a raid. But if you're the second or third tank in a raid, you would leave it off until you actually need to pick something up. Basically, MT = tank stance on, OT = tank stance as needed.