Because it's so difficult to continually learn a game's idiosyncrasies, I was a bit wary of last week's Choose My Adventure polls. Having just grown comfortable with our Miqo'te Pugilist and the basic rotations that power her damage, I found the thought of taking on an entirely new class fairly intimidating. Aren't Thaumaturges hard to play? Don't they have confusing ability combos and weird buffs?
Luckily, Final Fantasy XIV understands the challenge in switching classes and isn't afraid to babysit you while you re-learn the ropes.
Fire and ice
Thaumaturges are Final Fantasy XIV's elemental magic masters, using fire and ice to obliterate their foes. The core role isn't all that different from any other mage you've played in any other MMO; Thaumaturges are glass cannons with high DPS and low survivability. However, there is a twist to the way the Thaumaturge operates that makes it more interesting and engaging than just standing around tossing frostbolts. A Thaumaturge casting fire spells gains the Astral Fire buff, which increases the damage of fire spells as well as the mana cost. A Thaumaturge casting frost spells gains the Umbral Ice buff, which increases maga regen while reducing the damage and mana cost of fire spells. Each buff increases in power as an additional frost or fire spell is cast, but switching from fire to frost causes the buff to reset.
The trick to playing Thaumaturge, at least according to the Final Fantasy XIV wiki I turn to when I'm totally confused, is to chain fire spells until your mana runs out and then switch to frost spells to get your mana back. In between, you use the Transpose ability, which swaps your Astral Fire or Umbral Ice buffs so you can continue without losing your stacks. Thus, my basic Thaumaturge rotation went like this: Fire, Fire, Fire (out of mana!), Transpose, Blizzard, Blizzard, Blizzard. Most things I have encountered so far are dead by that point. It's definitely a fun new layer on traditional mage sensibilities.
Switching classes was much cleaner and easier than I expected. I stopped by the Thaumaturge's guild, spoke with the receptionist, and bam --I'm learning extremely dangerous magics. In Final Fantasy XIV, classes level separately; our Pugilist is level 15 or so, but switching to Thaumaturge dropped me down to level 1 again. Since each class has its own storyline, I was able to begin my adventures anew with the same character I've been playing but a host of fancy new skills.
Switching it up
There are a couple of downsides to this class switching mechanism. One, it's not all that easy to level a second class so early in the game. The core class quests have massive dead zones without the support of all the other side quests, leaving you to grind out the gaps between level-locked class quests (this might be better if you switch in a new area). For example, the next Thaumaturge quest I can access is locked at level 10, but my Thaumaturge is only level 5. And two, since most of your early gear is class or level locked, you can't keep using it when you switch over. Imagine my surprise when equipping the Thaumaturge's starting staff made all of my other clothes disappear -- it's a good thing I hung on to my starting set!
Overall, though, the experience is solid. It's remarkably easy to pick up a class and test out its abilities, and I'm certain players appreciate not having to start a new character every time they want to shake up their playstyle. Even though Final Fantasy XIV gives you the ability to save your favorite character designs, there doesn't seem to be much reason to start a new character unless you're hoping to explore a different race's origin. Just take the one you have and keep learning new stuff.
It's important to note that Final Fantasy XIV's class system goes even deeper by giving players more specialized roles later in the game depending on their class combinations; for instance, a level 30 Thaumaturge who levels the Archer class to 15 can become a Black Mage, while a level 30 Pugilist can become a Monk if she levels the Lancer class to 15. It's the perfect amount of optional complexity. I doubt we'll have enough time to explore this particular option, but I would be remiss to not mention that it exists.
Moving forward, I'm fairly sure I'll be sticking with Pugilist. It feels a bit more dynamic than Thaumaturge, and since we've made the most progress with the Pugilist, it seems the most efficient way to get deeper into the game on our tight timetable. I don't know that I'd choose Thaumaturge as my personal class (those cast times are long). Then again, I probably wouldn't choose Pugilist, either. I'm more of a Lancer, myself, and after this CMA I'll likely return to my fledgling Lancer character to finish out the story from behind her polearm. But I do have to admit that Final Fantasy XIV has found a way to making punching monsters in the face a viable combat option that only occasionally feels ridiculous, and it's super fun to boot.
With all that said, it's time to see where we go next. First, how do you folks feel about Ul'Dah?
Next, what should I focus on during my next week of play?
Get your votes in by Friday, November 21st, at 11:59 p.m. EST. And don't forget to tune in on Friday, November 21st, at 7:00 p.m. EST to see the results of last week's stream poll. Catch you in Eorzea! And don't worry, folks -- next week we'll be polling for a crafting profession.
Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.