Patch 4.2 - PvE First Impressions
Stormblood’s second major patch, Rise of a New Sun, came out last week. With it came a continuation of FFXIV’s main story, new raids and a primal boss fight — and that’s just the half of it. You can read the ever-encyclopedic final patch notes here.
I’m going to hold off on discussing story content for at least a week to give people a chance to avoid spoilers and enjoy it themselves. Instead, I’m going to talk PvE, after spending a lot of time this week grappling with the new high-level content. Let’s start with the second part of the Omega raid series, Sigmascape, which pits you against enemies from FFVI.
Deltascape deserves a lot of credit — it injected a great deal of life into the raiding community. Even so, it’s hard to state how much of a leap forward Sigmascape is in every other regard. You’re back in Omega, and the overarching plot continues to revolve around the Warrior of Light and the Garlond Ironworks trying to neutralise the threat it poses to the wider world. As before, it’s structured as four separate raids, with a boss in each.
All four normal-mode fights are fun and interesting in various ways: there’s the Phantom Train, which has you jumping between cars and fighting ghosts; Chadarnook, a haunted painting, which has you adding ink to sketches on the ground to avoid debuffs; Guardian, a more traditional encounter that borrows mechanics from several different fights and mixes them together; and, of course, Kefka, the antagonist of FFVI.
Kefka’s interesting — as befitting his psychopathic-jester persona, he toys with the raid group, planting fake AOEs on the ground that you have to stand in rather than avoid. He’s aided by a Kefka’s Tower-esque effigy which stands on the outside of the arena and presents an additional thing to keep track of for the raid group while fighting Kefka himself. It’s a frantic fight, with Kefka throwing huge beams at the party while forcing them to look at (or away) from the tower to avoid massive damage, and there’s nothing else quite like it. The only thing that comes to mind is Thordan EX, in which the Eye of Nidhogg has a similar function.
The fights themselves aren’t just more entertaining, they’re aesthetically much more appealing, too; I felt the music in O1 to 4 was pretty dull, and the visuals (outside of maybe Halicarnassus) weren’t that much to speak of. Sigmascape manages to be really varied while maintaining a solid attention to detail, and the encounters feel like they’re much higher in quality as a result.
What I’ve seen of Savage so far is really good, too. I did Phantom Train blind on the night of release and got it to 3%, then came back a few days later and managed to down both the train and Chadarnook’s Savage-variant. Both fights respond really well to having the difficulty cranked up; the ghosts on the Phantom Train can now push players off the side and onto the tracks below, sending them tumbling into the distance, while Chadarnook forces you to contend with multiple colours of paint as you try and sketch your way through the encounter.
They’re both fairly easy once you know what’s coming (we cleared O6S in seven pulls, which is very fast for week one with no gear advantage), and neither have any real randomness mixed in. This is a double-edged sword — it makes the fights easy to learn, which is great for newer players, but it also makes the fight itself a bit of a chore once you’ve got it locked down. There’s a lot of opportunity for Chadarnook to play out in different ways, even if it’s just the order of which paintings he uses in his attacks, but he sticks to a rigid script and that feels like a missed opportunity. It’s not a particularly hard fight either way, so I don’t think shaking it up would go amiss.
The only other thing I would say is that if you’re not that excited by the Omega storyline, there’s not that much here to sell you on it. I know people have mixed feelings about it (my girlfriend loves it and reckons this patch was a step forward, my static mates don’t know what’s going on), but if it’s not your thing, this chapter won’t convince you otherwise. Regardless of your thoughts, it’s still worth doing just for the fights and gear — and anything with Nero in it is good in my book.
The other major PvE encounter introduced this patch is Byakko, a tiger god roughly based on a boss of the same name from FF11. It’s the first fight in the Four Lords series, equivalent of the Warring Triad, and it’s a doozy. He can throw players through the air, split himself in two, and throws out loads of individual AoEs that you have to avoid like a bullet hell shooter. If it sounds cool, it’s because it is.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Byakko is easily the most interesting Trial in Stormblood, and it probably beats many of the others others that have been released since 2.0. Sure, it’s not hard (it’s probably about as difficult as Susano), but it’s got some new mechanics that set it apart as more than just an alternative way of getting gear.
About halfway through the fight, he’ll toss the party into the air and launch attacks at them as they’re falling to the ground. This skydiving stage transition is something totally new, and has you looking down and to the sides to stay alive. Even the most difficult to please people I play with found it very impressive. It feels like a confident display from the developers, and a strong signal from the encounter design team that they’ve still got ideas left in them yet.
All in all, patch 4.2 has been excellent so far — If you’ve steered clear of Byakko or Omega for whatever reason so far, then they’re well worth giving a shot. Both are challenging enough to be enjoyable without having a high barrier to entry. Equally, I know the large gap after 4.1 left a lot of people without stuff to do, but if your interest has waned and your subscription has lapsed, Rise of a New Sun is a solid patch that offers a lot that’s worth coming back for.