Much like melee DPS, ranged DPS is near and dear to my heart simply because one of my main jobs is ranged DPS. I play a lot of Machinist, although part of that admittedly derives from the period when no one could tell the difference between a good Machinist and a bad one. I was looking forward to Stormblood just because I wanted to see what was coming next.
The answer, in short, is that ranged DPS has probably received the biggest overhaul of all the roles in the game. Rather than having its support role kind of cobbled together based on what players should want, it now has a whole lot of abilities players actually will want to use. And all of the fun gun-or-bow action you’ve come to love regardless.
Ranged DPS in general
Yes, the cast bars are gone. As someone who never minded them much to begin with, I’m a little bit torn, but I think the overall changes to the ranged DPS/support role have been for the positive.
Among the universal skills now is a Swiftsong equivalent (Peloton), a mana-restoring effect (Refresh), and a TP-restoring effect (Tactician), thus freeing both jobs from having to jump through hoops to make that happen. You also have access to Leg Graze, Foot Graze, and Head Graze, making these heretofore universal mechanics actually play universally. It’s more useful to inflict Heavy or Bind while solo than in groups, but the option is there when you need it.
There’s also Invigorate, Second Wind, the new Palisade ability to defend a party member, and Arm Graze to stun a target. Overall, it’s the same support-happy useful stuff you already have had access to in the past, just compressed into a more universal format.
Let’s make something very clear – Bard is a lot more mobile now, but if you think the job has changed from being a proc-based support job, you will be sadly disappointed. It’s just that the job is much better at providing that support now, and it does so in a less obtrusive way.
Your three main songs – Wanderer’s Minuet, Army’s Paeon, and Mage’s Ballad – are all attacks now. Each one hits for reasonable damage and then starts the song bar. Each one also has the same effect so long as you’re singing, boosting attack damage and critical rate. So far, so good. Each song also has a secondary effect along the way, improving some element of performance whenever your DoT effects get a critical tick.
Regardless, your core gameplay remains the same insofar as you want to keep your DoTs on, keep Straight Shot on, and wait for procs as you pepper your target with arrows. It’s just the effects of those procs that have changed, and the fact that you now have no reason not to be singing at all times.
Also worth noting is that both Windbite and Poison Shot have upgraded forms, so your DoTs will be hitting for more damage on top of everything else. That’s not really a change to the gameplay, but it’s welcome. There’s another new big attack that triggers on Straighter Shot, which is the arrow-swarm-of-doom trick you see above.
Bard has always suffered from a big mechanical problem and a big cultural problem. The mechanical issue was that bard songs were never hugely beneficial despite being a core part of the job, while the cultural one was that Bard players were split between people who wanted to never have to sing in the interests of maximizing DPS and those who wanted to mostly just sing and play support. This strikes a decent balance. The job is still meant to be singing and supportive, but your means of ensuring that support is by doing DPS, and you don’t have to pick between the two.
If you’re still waiting for Ranger, though, you will be sadly disappointed.
One of my suspicions when I first saw the Flamethrower ability was that Machinists would be able to choose between different attachments at last. That is not the case, but the ability still speaks to a major element of Machinists at this point in the form of heat.
Those of us who have played Machinist extensively in Heavensward know that it’s a job all about maximizing your use of Wildfire and getting in as much damage as possible during that cooldown’s active window. Combine that with our utility, and it’s a good job, but it also means that it’s a job which is more vulnerable to bad timing than any other. Throw Wildfire right before the boss becomes invulnerable and you’ve just wasted your damage for a minute and a half.
Machinist is still going to be a job about maximizing your window. It’s just going to be a different sort of window, and it’s one intimately tied to your current heat level. As you use most of your abilities, your heat level rises. When it hits 100, your gun overheats and you wind up doing much less damage until it cools off. So far, so simple.
When your heat level passes 50, though, several of your skills suddenly become turbo-charged. Remember those nifty-looking weaponskills you see in the class ability trailer? That’s all the result of being past 50 heat. Straight Shot, Split Shot, and Clean Shot turn into much more powerful tricks, and your instant-cast Cooldown shot gets turbocharged as well.
Thus, your struggle is made clear. You want to hang out in the 50-95 heat range as long as possible. Of course, you also have to make sure you don’t trip over into the 100 mark, or you’ll be doing much less damage. So you have to carefully manage Quick Reload, your Cooldown shot, and your weapon skill usage to keep your heat within the safe zone.
Machinists can also use a special attack to detonate turrets, and you’ve still got your ability to apply vulnerability and a damage cut to your target. Maximizing your window is going to be just as important as it ever has been, but it’s going to be less about inadvertently getting screwed over. I count that as a positive shift.