I know I’ve talked about this before, but archers have always been my favourite class in video games. If it’s an option, it’s my first pick! And when we started playing Final Fantasy XIV almost three years ago now, that was no exception.
In fact, I was so set on it that Shane, who’s been playing since the beta, picked up a new class for himself just so we could start the game in the same city! He’s a sweetheart.
Even when I started wandering into machinist territory in Heavensward, and dancer territory with Shadowbringers (can you tell what my favourite style is?), bard still held a special place in my heart, and I made sure to keep it leveled with the story as I went. It’s actually my only fully geared end-game class!
So today, let’s talk about bards.
In general, bards in any kind of game come with, well, a bit of a reputation. In D&D, they’re known for their tendencies toward the deadly sins, as it were—and in FFXIV, it’s not exactly difficult to find a group that will talk badly about bards.
Typically, most people choose not to play bards in FFXIV because they’re well-known for being the lowest of all the damage-per-second (DPS) classes. I can relate—I once told Shane I like playing machinist because, and I quote, “I like seeing those big chunks go out of their health bars.”
But that’s a story for another day.
What a lot of people don’t understand about the bard is that its strength isn’t in its own damage, and honestly, it probably never will be. Its strength is almost entirely in its utility and situational abilities.
About 80 percent of a bard’s usefulness, and what makes it extremely valuable for raids, is in its situational abilities. These can do all kinds of things for the entire party; increase damage output, reduce damage taken, reduce cast times, and even heal other players. Each of those abilities has a specific time and place to be used, and a good bard will end up watching the party almost as much as a healer does.
And for a lot of people, that’s tedious and off-putting, so they don’t bother. Which really just makes bards that much more valuable.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk about how they work.
Part 1: The bard’s source of power
Before a bard becomes a bard, it starts off as an archer—which means that while it doesn’t come with a lot of heavy-hitting attacks like a lancer, it has a unique strength in slowly and painfully wearing things down.
Specifically, the archer relies on two damage-over-time (DoT) abilities: Venomous Bite, and Windbite. These do eventually upgrade, and they never, ever leave your kit. They’re the ultimate key to your DPS as a bard.
At lower levels, they deal extra damage on top of your global cooldown abilities, and if used correctly, can put you on par with more intense DPS classes.
At higher levels, they’re an incredibly important part of the rest of the bard’s kit—which leads us to our next point.
Part 2: The bard’s bread and butter
If the bard had a catchphrase, it would be “Let me sing you the song of my people.”
As a bard levels up, it gains three song abilities, which form the foundation for its entire rotation. The kit didn’t change much in either Stormblood or Shadowbringers, so you’ll have everything you need for this part by the time you’re done your lv. 52 quest.
Along with increasing your entire party’s overall damage, each of these songs unlocks a unique effect for you. These effects depend entirely on Repertoire stacks, which you gain from damage dealt by your DoT abilities.
That’s why they’re so important. For every single second each DoT affects an enemy, you have a 50% chance that you’ll get a Repertoire stack and unlock extra fun things.
- The Wanderer’s Minuet unlocks Pitch Perfect, an otherwise-locked heavy-hitting shot that stacks up to three times
- Mage’s Ballad can completely reset the timers for Bloodletter and Rain of Arrows (which is the bard’s best trash mob ability)
- Army’s Paeon speeds up your global cooldown for every stack up to four, and at 78, grants you an extra speed buff for 10 seconds when you cast another song
Each of these songs runs for 30 seconds, and has a 90-second cooldown—which means with the right timing, you can always have one up. And trust me, you always want to have one up if you can, because that’s going to be your biggest source of overall damage for your party.
My song rotations
I have two different rotations that I use for the bard’s songs, and I choose them depending on the situation.
For trash mobs and big group fights: Mage’s Ballad › Army’s Paeon › The Wanderer’s Minuet
For single-target bosses: The Wanderer’s Minuet › Mage’s Ballad › Army’s Paeon
Realistically, they’re pretty much the same rotation—they just start at different points in the rotation. Mage’s Ballad is great for groups because it resets Rain of Arrows, which helps melt groups down quickly, whereas the Wanderer’s Minuet is a good opener for bosses because Pitch Perfect deals massive damage to single targets.
Part 3: The bard’s situational abilities
Along with the general extra-damage-for-your-whole-party thing, bards have a lot of situational abilities that make them incredibly useful in parties and the class that everyone wants but no one wants to play in raids.
I’ll be honest, there are so many of them that there are a few I never remember to use. Some aren’t even on my toolbars. Bad bard.
In general, though, these are the ones you’ll want to keep an eye on.
- Raging Strikes: Increases your own damage dealt by 10 percent. You can save it for big spikes if you want, but in general, you want this up whenever you can.
- Barrage: Triples your damage on a single-target hit. It’s got a pretty big cooldown, so I like to save it for when I have maximum stacks on Pitch Perfect. Refulgent Arrow’s a good option too.
- The Warden’s Paean: Like Esuna, but better. It removes one detrimental effect from a target party member, and creates a barrier against the next effect that party member takes. In general, you’ll want to use this on healers if they get targeted with something just to help out.
- Battle Voice: Increases your entire party’s direct hit rate by 20% for 20 seconds. Its best uses are in DPS races, or when you see a high-damage player use their own spike, like Ley Lines for a black mage or Dragon Sight for a dragoon.
- Troubadour: Party-wide damage reduction buff—for 15 seconds, everyone takes 10 percent less damage. Its best uses are in big group-wide burst damage situations like DPS races, especially when your healer is struggling to keep up with said situations.
- Nature’s Minne: Basically, buffs your healer. It boosts HP recovery from healing actions on a target party member or yourself by 20 percent for 15 seconds. I typically use this for tanks who need a little help in the damage mitigation department, or when something really unfortunate happens to a fellow DPS.
Part 4: The Soul Voice gauge
When I wrote this post, I seriously thought about listing this as a situational ability, because it really is. But I thought it was worth a little more explanation than that.
The biggest change to the bard’s kit in Shadowbringers was the introduction of the Soul Voice gauge. Basically, what this does is unlock an additional bar below your song gauge, which goes up by five every time you get a repertoire stack.
Then, when you have at least 20 in your additional bar, you can use an ability called Apex Arrow, which deals 120 potency to everything in a limited-range straight line in front of you. Much like Pitch Perfect, though, which increases in power the more stacks you have, you’ll want to let this one sit until you have a full bar.
Because when you do, the potency goes up to 600 for everything.
And even when you aren’t in a mob situation, 600 potency is still really great to use for bosses.
So now, you know how to bard!
Obviously, that’s not everything involved in playing a bard, because if I did that we’d be here for years going over every single ability it has. But it’s definitely all the core elements, and a lot of it is stuff I wish I’d known when I first started playing. And I hope it’s enough for you to experience just how fun it is to play!
Have any tips for playing bard in FFXIV? Share them below!