Final Fantasy XIV Dawntrail media tour: Hands-on with the Pictomancer and Viper


It’s Stormblood all over again when it comes to Dawntrail because Final Fantasy XIV has once again handed us a new melee job and a new caster DPS job to enrich our rosters. Of course, back in that expansion the whole gimmick was that our caster DPS was still pretty melee, but this time around we have a pair of jobs that are most definitely split along more traditional lines. Pictomancer is more of a traditional caster just from the Live Letter preview alone.

But how do the jobs actually feel in play? That’s the real question, and it was definitely a major focus of my gameplay at the Dawntrail media tour. We didn’t get a really great explanation of how Viper would play just from the live letter, and while we knew Pictomancer was supposed to have some support elements, it wasn’t clear exactly how those went hand-in-hand with the job just from the preview. So let’s take a look at both jobs in action, based on a combination of open-world fighting, dungeon runs, and FATEs.

Here's looking at you.


Let’s start with what seemed, at least to me, to be the most pressing question. How does this job provide support? And the answer appears to be with a combination of healing and absorb shields. If you were hoping for damage buffs from the job, at least during my investigation, I did not find any; that may be because they do not exist, or it may be a failure of my own insight. The forces that bred and control me regret this error.

In terms of actual gameplay, Pictomancer actually has two “main” rotations that it goes through. The first is its single-target and AoE cycle, which goes through three spells in order and culminates in adding color to your Palette Gauge. When that reaches a certain level, you can swap to Subtractive Palette, which opens up much, much more powerful rotations that are functionally the same but deal way more damage.

Cutely enough, your basic rotation is an RGB rotation, while the Subtractive Palette options are CMYK instead. I hope this is very funny to people who know anything about color theory.

The other main rotation of the job is through Motifs. Your Creature Motifs are the main thing you’ll fire off, rotating through a fixed set of abilities and letting you summon a creature for a big attack every two rounds. Weapon and Landscape motifs are slower to recharge, with the former giving you a melee option and Landscape giving you a big damage cooldown for burst phases.

Now, I admittedly have not yet fully refined my gameplay on this job I got to play for one day, but the general feel I had was far from my guesses that the job would be a DoT-focused experience; it was actually more akin to playing Machinist in a way. Build up a gauge, then unleash a more powerful version when it’s sufficiently full, weaving in your oGCDs periodically and trying to sync up your biggest bursts to a two-minute cooldown window. It definitely has more of a caster-based weakness, though; when you can’t stand still to cast, you don’t have many options outside of your motifs that you’ve already banked, which makes the weapon motif particularly useful. That is in and of itself an interesting dichotomy; unlike Red Mage moving in to deal big damage, Pictomancer needs to move in when it can’t be standing still.

It’s going to take some practice and analysis to make the most out of this job, and I think dedicated casters will be taking the front on this. I was hoping for a little more support for my money, but I do think it feels distinct from the other casters on a whole, even if the support side is a touch lacking.

I'm stiiiiilll in a dreeeeeeam


Some people are going to be disappointed by this fact, so I am going to put it front and center so you calibrate your expectations immediately: The sum total of the Final Fantasy IX references in this job is that you will stick your swords together. That’s it. The ability names in no way reference anything within that game; indeed, most of them are snake-related names, right down to your gap-closer being named Slither. It is also not a job in which you swap between having two swords and having a bladestaff as different states.

What it is, however, is a very active selfish DPS job. And you can tell that it’s selfish because it’s all about maintaining a debuff on your enemies and two buffs on the player to improve your speed and damage. This is, well, a very Samurai/Reaper sort of thing, and that extends to not even having a party damage buff of any sort.

Viper’s core gameplay is centered around what I’m going to call your Rattling Combos and your normal combos. Both of these things exist in both single-target and AoE variants, so it doesn’t matter which one you’re talking about. Your standard combos are bifurcated in a unique way. You start with either an ability to apply a damage taken debuff or a different opener that deals more damage; from there, you can pick either self-buff from either combo as the second hit. That opens up your third hit, which also gives you two choices for what to hit, but either one will buff the other one for your next combo.

This sounds a bit confusing, and it is what the whole dual-sword interface is displaying, but if you just keep an eye on your two main buffs and keep up your debuff on your target, you can follow the buttons that light up. It’s actually very intuitive in gameplay, flowing back and forth between two different combo sequences and hitting an oGCD at the end.

The Rattling Combo, meanwhile, starts off by applying a charge of Rattling Coil and lets you apply both buffs and the debuff in quick succession. This combo is a little more freeform and expects you to double-weave a pair of oGCDs in the middle, and it has limited charges. Rattling Coil, last but not least, is a long-range weaponskill that deals heavy damage and allows for another pair of ranged oGCDs as well; it’s useful for stages where you need to keep your distance, but it doesn’t maintain your buffs at all.

Last but not least, when you build your Serpent’s Ire gauge sufficiently (the Power Juice gauge), you can unleash your special blue-fiery spam of abilities in sequence along with extra attacks. It’s your big burst of damage during burst windows, but you can hold it for a bit to use it during large burns as necessary.

The major weaknesses to Viper are obvious: You have to maintain buffs that require melee range, you have no party utility, and it requires a very active playstyle both maintaining your buffs and frequently double-weaving. The up side is that it’s a very fast DPS that can maintain its damage even at range for brief stages, and that makes it feel very satisfying to play. While it’s far too early to really guess at where it will wind up in terms of DPS ranking, I found it a lot of fun to play and look forward to it in practice.

Travel and lodging were provided by Square-Enix as part of our coverage. We also got a goody bag, as is tradition. I had a fair bit of fun. Let me have this.
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