So I've seen a lot of footage for the female bard and have been wondering what happened to the male bard in 4.0. I was lucky enough to be able to find out this weekend when I went through levels 1-20 on the KR PTS server on Saturday. Please keep in mind that this is the PTS server version and so it's possible that some skills may slightly differ from what's on retail in Korea right now.
Right away upon seeing the entry screen, I knew what kind of character I wanted to create.
I figured I could do the perfect maestro type character and even gave him the little wings. Yes, I know they don't carry over into real character creation, but they looked cool on the character creation screen.
Of course, that didn't really prepare me for what I actually did get upon character creation. Why is my bard wearing weird burnt orange pedal pushers? Another oddity that I discovered was that while the female bard has all sorts of interesting and girlish flourishes, the male bard apparently shares the same animation set and ummm... yeah... let's just say that it gets a little bit awkward when your manly maestro is wandering around and flourishing all over the place like a girl.
Bard Skills from Levels 1-18
By level 18, I was pretty used to the odd animations and had gotten into the swing of playing a bard. The bard had 2 buffs by this level. One was a shield buff similar to what mages receive (called Shield Buff I) and the other was an HP increase buff (Health Melody increases HP by 10%). The bard also had a skill that restored mana (Mind Melody I) enabling me at this level to grind mobs without really stopping. Additionally, there were 2 heal skills where one heal chained off of the other one (Healing Melody I and Gentle Melody I).
The following video shows the skills as I level up. Please forgive some of the odd pauses as there's some skill lag caused by my extreme distance from the Korean servers. The only skills not used in the video are the slowing debuff (very similar to what SM's have and called Heavy Song I), the mana restoration skill, and the secondary heal skill that chains off of the heal that is shown.
The initial skill that all bards receive was a wind throwing damage skill (Windy Song I). I was surprised that bards get the penguin sleep skill by level 5 - though sadly it only turns 3 things into penguins (I never saw it go over that up through level 20) and it's rather awkward to use since it's a direct aoe around where you're standing. I admit that I managed to kill myself once by running around and gathering mobs to try and get more than 3 of them to sleep.
Throughout all my levels, the skill that received the most use was Battle Song as it's the main dps spell that bards have at this level. I always started out with it due to the long charge up time as it's the spell that charges up to 3 times. That spell could then be followed up with the couple of other dps spells I had at that point (Frost Song goes into Flame Song) . The first bard DP ability (Siel's Fury) is a DPS skill that hit the first boss in Haramel pretty hard as shown in the video above. I started adding the slow dot Cutting Song I into the mix in order to kill just a bit quicker.
Bards receive a reasonable number of CC abilities for this age range - I was easily able to CC enemies using root and the penguin skill that I had received by level 18. There's also a slow that I could have used if I was grinding elites. Unfortunately, I had many times where regular mobs just resisted my skills (mob hatred QQ). I found the bard a little harder to use for kiting than an SM, since most of the bard skills have cast times and some of them are very long for max dps. It does look like bards get more CC later on though, so I'd expect them to be good at kiting.
But is the Bard Fun?
So the male bard looks rather funny, but is he fun to play? I actually thought he was and the one charge up skill was a pleasant surprise. Rather than a regular 3-5 second cast nuke, it gave me a choice to leave the cast early and do something else at the penalty of less damage done. I have a feeling at higher levels this will be worth more, especially when things break CC, although sometimes I admit that I did double hit the attack and end the cast before I wanted to during my play on Saturday.
Through level 20 I used most of the skills I obtained and could see the utility of the ones I didn't commonly use. The penguin sleep isn't as useful as I first thought it would be due to how close things need to be to you for the aoe, but then it turns things into penguins and it's just funny because of that. As a class, the bard seemed to share more in common with the mage archetype than the healer archetype. At this level it's very definitely a dps class with a couple of buffs and heals.
I can see why the bard would be a strong PvP contender even with the skill mix I have at this level. Maybe I'll get more of a chance to check this out at some point.