For most of my tenure in FFXIV, I’ve played a White Mage main – I have everything leveled to cap (except I haven’t finished 60-70 on Blue Mage, but that’s not like, a real job, man) but I always come back to healing. Which is why the rest of the time, my “main” job was Astrologian. In fact, I was most excited for Heavensward to finally be able to use that job, only for the MSQ horrible hundred from the original ARR questing to get in the way, and then it was Astrologian time – and by the time Stormblood came out, AST was my main job…and then I came back and went White Mage in the leadup to Shadowbringers, and that’s basically been my main ever since.
In truth, I really like White Mage, and the changes with each expansion have made them more likeable in my eyes, even if, as a pure healer with few utility buffs for the party, they basically set themselves apart on healing throughput and personal damage output (which is high, but the others get close and have utility to increase the group’s DPS). I also very much like healing, and I find the prepared triage model of FFXIV to be a very nice environment to learn healing in – it feels lower pressure compared to WoW healing because the pressure comes from smart preparation and high damage output in the moments with minimal healing, where WoW is a constant fight against incoming damage.
When Sage was announced as the first new job for Endwalker, it had my attention, but not necessarily my interest. It looked cool and the jazzy music in the reveal trailer was nice, but the barrier healer style in FFXIV was not my favorite – I have leveled and played Scholar at endgame content, and it just wasn’t my favorite. Not a bad job, but it just didn’t click for me in the way I would have wanted.
Then last night’s Live Letter came, and I was not prepared.
With the Job Action trailer, Sage looked…pretty cool. The animations were on point, the sci-fi sound effects were sort of appealing and interesting, mainly because of their uniqueness in the FFXIV lineup, and there was a lot going on there. The job gauge is a bit confusing, but that’s because all of this is being shown without context short of the actual gameplay, which we can only guess at since the job is new.
However, a day later, with the context of the later presentation and some translations of skills shown in screenshots, I’m….very much aboard the Sage Hype Train!
Let’s discuss why.
Cardia(Cardea?) and The Allure of A New Damage Meta
One of my favorite specs to heal on in WoW, despite the foibles and high skill floor, is Discipline Priest. I love Holy, but Disc also has this pull of being difficult to master and very strong once mastered.
The biggest component of Discipline Priest in WoW was a thing added as a offhand talent choice in Cataclysm that became a bigger part of the spec over time – Atonement. Discipline has direct cast heals and absorbs (the real powerhouse part of the toolkit), but their core healing comes from Atonement. The first iterations were all smart heals – simply doing damage with select spells caused a burst of healing to pick a low health target and perk them up – but from Legion onwards, the design has been that Atonement is a buff you place on party and raid members through direct healing, which then allows damage dealt with select spells to also heal targets with Atonement, with a conversion factor determined by Mastery to keep the healing amount from being too strong early on.
FFXIV doesn’t really have a healer like that, at least not yet. FFXIV’s damage meta is instead, unlike WoW, one where healers cast to do damage while not otherwise engaged with healing, and where the most efficient and best healers use almost entirely off global cooldown spells to do the healing, saving valuable GCDs for damage.
Sage changes that.
Sage is built with a fairly large healing toolkit, going from the tooltip translations provided by Iluna Minori at the r/ffxiv Discord, but the centerpiece that YoshiP and Foxclon discussed in the Live Letter is Cardia. Cardia is FFXIV’s version of Atonement – you pick a single target to buff with it, and some of your damaging spells on enemies will then also trigger a heal to the Cardia-buffed ally. The tooltip translations show that damage spells that interact with Cardia have fixed potency for the damage and a reduced potency for the healing component, so similar to Atonement in modern WoW, the translation of damage to healing is not 1:1. The flow, then, bears a lot of similarities to Discipline Priest in WoW – you use shields cast prior to major damage events to reduce incoming damage, and then use smart placement of the Cardia buff to heal the priority target while still doing damage.
On top of this, several of the Sage abilities seem to have direct damage reduction components for targets of your healing, and not an absorb – just a flat out 10% reduced damage seemed to be on at least two abilities. There’s a lot of mention of abilities that require certain buffs to be able to activate, which sounds like there might be a combo-style interplay of abilities, which would be pretty cool and fairly unique for healing in FFXIV.
This is potentially disruptive to the current healing metagame in FFXIV, which is, again, largely focused on doing damage and then triaging incoming damage with as few GCDs as possible – 0 being the target. Any GCD spent on healing where an OGCD would have sufficed is wasted potential – at least when you’re pushing high-end content or doing something new at minimum item level. Sage upends that, potentially, because with Cardia, a damage GCD can also be a healing GCD, albeit only on one target. While I say “disruptive” I think that is a positive – it provides a different style that is great to see, and with proper balancing (something the FFXIV team is generally quite good at) it could fit quite well into a stable of healers (although I am seeing a lot of Scholar mains up in arms over how little their job has changed).
For now, eyes will turn to the Media Tour for Endwalker as the point where we will likely see actual ability tooltips in something closer to a final state, and I am not 100% firm on switching to Sage right at the outset of Endwalker – but it is damn sure tempting.
Why The Weight on The Decision to Switch?
If you haven’t played FFXIV for a new expansion launch, the new jobs are always pretty popular, but they come with a sort of built-in drawback – leveling to catch back up. With Heavensward new jobs as the exception (starting at 30 against a prior level cap of 50), jobs added since then start at 10 levels below the prior expansion’s level cap. Stormblood’s Samurai and Red Mage started at 50, and Shadowbringers’ Gunbreaker and Dancer started at level 60, with Sage and Reaper in Endwalker starting at 70. That means playing one on day 1 entails grinding out 10 levels to get back to 80, and then starting in on the new content. There’s a certain appeal to that – if there are any day 1 issues in the vein of Raubahn EX back in Stormblood, you get to kind of wait out the rush, and gaining 10 levels in FFXIV with a job already higher means Armory bonus XP, so you have a lot of choices on how to handle things – you can FATE spam, grind out Bozja (starting at level 70 means both Palace of the Dead and Heaven-on-High aren’t viable), do roulettes, beast tribes, hunts, or any combination of these.
So picking a new job to start the expansion off means a certain amount of trade-off – you get to play the new flavor and have some fun with that, but it also means getting behind friends and free company mates in the MSQ, which opens up potential spoilers (the community at large is mindful of this, but you might have friends who spoil elements of the game – I wouldn’t know, since I’m usually the spoiler friend, but I’m aware of that and am good in FFXIV!). Because the raiding content in the base expansion usually opens a few weeks post-launch, there’s not an endgame component to be worried about missing, except for acquiring some quantity of the new low-end tomestone in the time between Early Access launch and that first reset day on the actual launch, but because those tomestones can also be easily farmed, it doesn’t really hurt unless you take like two weeks to get those 20 levels.
But it is a trade-off all the same, and it depends largely on what you want from the expansion in those early weeks. To be fair, I’m torn right now because I am super excited for the MSQ in particular – I want to see the new bits, the ending of the Hydaelyn and Zodiark saga, and knowing all of that is there day 1 with no real cliffhangers to that plot element is a tantalizing lure. There’s also a very real benefit to leveling an existing job 80-90 first, in that the Armory bonus to alt-job XP would then be in effect for 70-90 on Sage, which means leveling all the way through would be faster, especially since I could then also use Hunts in the new zones for leveling, alongside FATEs, roulettes populated with players pushing through 80-90 (the one time the leveling roulette is far more likely to give you current dungeons, or at least dungeons in the 70-90 range for those leveling Sage and Reaper and then the general population leveling their existing jobs 80-90), and then new sidequests for that 80-90 stretch as well.
So I guess I’m still not really decided on Sage main, but man, I am very tempted. In either case, my likely path for Endwalker launch is going to be either WHM or Sage first, and if Sage isn’t first, it will then be second. If Sage is my first, I’ll probably splash out a little bit more – level a tank to 90 (probably Warrior) and then move to a DPS of some sort (either my current preference of Machinist or we’ll go Reaper early and see how it feels).
But I went from being not that hyped for Sage to being intensely excited, and all it took was a tiny bit of gameplay context.