I can also assume that you’ve probably grabbed the Heavensward benchmark by now and played with it, which I certainly have (Extremely High on Maximum, for the record). So let’s talk about that marvelous program with its character creation, and let’s also discuss a bit of that lore we got on the official site not too long ago. It’s all fascinating stuff.
Let’s get something obvious out of the way: There are some issues with the gender split for the Au Ra. The fact that the character creator even calls out the gross sexual dimorphism between the genders is kind of telling. It’s not the best setup in the world, with the men perfectly poised to create big scary demonic dudes and the women apparently deviating pretty far from the existing demonic options for ladies (looking at you, Amandine) to make sure that they’re petite and cute.
Hey, I said I would reserve judgement until we got to the character creator. It’s here; no more reservations.
That being said, the Au Ra fit pretty nicely with the other races, and the options that you do get are pretty great. I’ve been playing with the creator quite a bit just to see how I’ll want my Au Ra to look, and she has a variety of styles available to her. We don’t get the full range of poses available, but there’s a definite style and energy to the race, and much like other races they feel appropriately non-human without being wholly alien. I like them.
The other big thing to do is to play around with the new hairstyles, which I haven’t done much outside of the Au Ra. I’m pleased that we’re seeing more and more styles ported between races or made universal; there are still some styles I’d like to see more widely available (a Hyur midlander style springs to mind as being an obvious fit for every race but miqo’te), but that message seems to be gotten.
Benching and suggestions
Deriving conclusions about what the game will look like solely from benchmark videos is tricky. We see animations and moves in action, but nothing is locked in stone, and as a result we’re given just enough of a hint about what comes next that we know something is changing.
There’s also the temptation to read something into the zone screenshots, which is almost certainly a bad idea, since by the standards of the original benchmark that should mean we’re fighting Ifrit out in the open world.
The Paladin skills are the ones we seem to get the clearest view of, and there are two tricks there, one obvious and one less so. The little armored wall effect is interesting, and it seems as if it was enhanced for dramatic effect, but I do wonder how that one’s going to work. I don’t think it’s a limit effect; we know that the Dragoon level 3 break was on display, but nothing else. So it’s likely a skill. Part of me wants to hope it’s something bonkers like a party-wide absorb or making a safe zone behind the Paladin, but more realistically I think that it’s going to be another defense boost of some kind.
Of course, PLD doesn’t lack for defensive cooldowns as it stands, so maybe I’m wrong. It would be really cool if the effect were something along the lines of a one-shot absorb shield, taking the hit from the next attack and then dissipating no matter what.
Equally interesting is the sudden Paladin upswing after a straight stab. The first time I watched it, I misread that as Spirits Within, but it appears to be Riot Blade preceding the swing. That would give PLD a second three-hit combo, which is an obvious extension the job has needed for some time; part of the reason people perceive the class as boring is the fact that you spam the same combo over and over while rotating your cooldowns.
A lot of other new tricks are on display, but many of them aren’t readily apparent due to the fact that they’re being used in the midst of huge battles without obvious cues. I’m curious about the Ninja in the opening dungeon using a palm strike on an enemy; based on that scene, it looks almost like an execution effect, but obviously Ninja doesn’t want for those to begin with. What could it be?
We also still need to find out what the “solution” will be for the fact that there are no classes in existence with loads of empty slots on their hotbars. Still need to wait for that, apparently.
Oh, right, the lore
I have to admit that I was intensely satisfied with the huge unloading of lore on the official site recently for largely selfish reasons. After spending a great deal of time setting up my characters to play certain jobs in Heavensward and expecting that I’d have to fudge some details, I find out that Machinist and Dark Knight are exactly in line with all that character prep work. I guessed right, hooray!
The addition of Skysteel Manufactory particularly intrigues me because it speaks to an obvious and awesome element of the game that’s been danced around without being stated outright. Ishgard has engineers that haven’t ever intersected with the Ironworks or the Garleans, but that knowledge came from somewhere. Perhaps – and this is wild theorizing – the reason that there are vague hints of Goblin aesthetics among this equipment is that that’s the point of origin? Might we be learning a bit more about those masked beastmen?
Or they just figured it out on their own, sure, but the game loves having intellectual osmosis as a plot point. See also: Garlond Ironworks, the Ixal beast tribe quests, the Black Mage questline, and so forth.
Dark Knight’s lore nicely tanks rumors that a major NPC from the end of 2.55 would serve as the class trainer; there would be way too many story developments that would need to happen for that to make sense, and given that we can apparently pick up the new jobs just by walking into Ishgard, there’s not enough time for that. I do like the idea that they essentially serve as a “who watches the watchmen” for the nation’s knightly orders, with the implication that they’re tacitly accepted even though they’re technically criminals.
Last but not least, we have the Astrologians, which… I’m going to be honest, I still have no strong feelings about these guys. I totally get why they’re in the expansion, even discarding the need for a new healer, because I’d be dollars to doughnuts that Ishgardian Astrologians are derived from the pure art. But so far they just don’t feel as connected to what’s going o. They’re an aspect of Ishgardian culture that we already sort of knew about that’s tied more heavily to a nation we’re not visiting yet. They look cool, though.
While I’m not as psyched about the Au Ra dimorphism, I do like that the Xaela in particular have strong shades of Mongol culture, right down to riding horses on the steppes. Raen seem to be more Tibetan/Bhutanese, although we’ll likely have to wait until we head to Doma to get all the details.
I can wait, though. I’ve got some Dark Knight action to get on.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; I would prefer if you keep the comment section largely spoiler-free this week, as I’m going back to a general spoiler blackout for those who are still working through that story. Next week, assuming we haven’t gotten another big unexpected infodump, I’m going to talk about cross-class abilities, what we can expect in 3.0, and whether or not the Armoury system is still serving its intended purpose.