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Adventurers in Need: What’s Behind Tanking Problem?

Michael O’Connell-Davidson Posted:
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Final Fantasy XIV is a traditional kind of MMO. It adheres rigidly to the holy trinity of tank, DPS, and healer, and making it easy enough to jump into.

But the trinity isn’t a perfect formula and every game that implements it normally falls short in one way or another. It’s no different for XIV, which struggles with tanks and tanking. The issue? There aren’t enough people willing to take up the role.

XIV’s daily roulettes (where a matched party is placed in a random dungeon or trial) offer rewards to the ‘adventurers in need’, the role that’s bottlenecking queues, providing an indicator of what’s lacking at any time. But it’s never worth checking because it’s almost always tanks. In fact, it’s an in-joke universally shared that it’s surprisingly when tanks don’t instantly get matched to a party. Queues only move as fast as tanks line up for them — and that’s a problem.

Given that it’s so easy to level up and gear an alt job, you’d expect there to be a good churn of who was in need at any one time, so why are tanks always the problem? The game’s three tanking classes are all fun in their own right and are all solo-viable.

There’s no simple answer. Lured by quick queues, everyone’s at least tried tanking, so the tank drought isn’t because of a wider lack of interest.

Part of the problem lies in the tanking jobs themselves. Paladin, for example, gets its tank stance 10 levels later than everyone else, making simple dungeons like Brayflox and Cutter’s Cry a total slog. These issues are ironed out by the time you hit 60, of course, but they don’t make leveling up in the first place particularly easy or enjoyable.

Another aspect is the role a tank plays in a matched party. You lead the group and set the pace. Whether you’re a good leader or not, leading will always be harder than following — particularly on Chaos, the European data center, where it’s not uncommon to end up leading a group that speaks three different languages.

Your party tugs at you from all sides. This is unnoticeable if they play well, but if they don’t, as a tank you’re tasked with managing their idiosyncrasies from the first pull. In a four-man group, a DPS probably won’t have to worry too much about what the other DPS is doing, and can probably afford to forget the tank and healer too. By contrast, tanks will have to keep a pretty close eye on everyone else. It’s exhausting, and thus understandable why some players just aren’t interested. But it’s not as though healers aren’t also forced to pay attention to everyone, yet they are rarely in a similar level of demand.

To be clear, it’s not all bad. People like tanking. There are tanks. But it has to be made enjoyable for more people or else we’ll be stuck with five-to-20-minute queues forever when we could have something better. I don’t accept that it’s because the community is lazy, because then nobody would go through slog that is the relic weapon questline. Nor is it a case of ‘git gud’, because the majority of tanks are good — and even if they weren’t, it would hardly matter if people weren’t trying in the first place.

Unless Square Enix pulls out some major changes in 3.5, it’s unlikely to improve in any meaningful sense until the release of Stormblood. So what can they do to solve XIV’s tanking problem in the long term?

Though unconfirmed, it’s overwhelmingly likely that one of the jobs introduced in next year’s expansion will be a tank. With its grim styling, Heavensward’s Dark Knight was a strong draw to the role, but it was still reasonably close to Warrior and Paladin and thus unlikely to draw in that many people who weren’t turned on to the idea of tanking to begin with.

Something different is in order, then. People on Reddit and elsewhere have suggested that they count introduce beastmaster, but XIV’s laggy handling of pets means that’s probably unworkable. Other have put forward some sort of dodge based tank (perhaps dancer), though work would have to be done to make sure that it’s not just a tank with different stat priorities.

From the art that’s been released, a good number of people believe Samurai will make a debut. So here’s an idea: rather than making Samurai another two-handed weapon tank like Warrior or Dark Knight, what about setting up it up as a tank similar to Ninja from FFXI? For those who missed XI, Ninjas used ninjutsu to ‘blink tank’, creating shadows that would absorb hits on an otherwise super fragile player. It was unique, and not too far off from what a dodge tank could be without just being the same.

There are ways to improve the state of tanking beyond throwing another job on the fire. In a recent Famitsu interview, Yoshida shot down the idea of new roles, so you can forget that. He has, however, hinted at skills getting substantial overhauls, particularly with regard to tank stances.

Bringing Paladin to parity with Warrior and Dark Knight in terms of when they get Shield Oath would be a start — but more must be done to make it enjoyable enough for a wide enough section of the player base. They’ve tried bribing people with achievements that reward mounts, but it will take serious gameplay changes to properly address the issue. That’s hard enough, but it’ll be even harder to do that without upsetting current tank mains.

Whatever they do decide to do, it’s worth them trying. If they can ‘fix’ whatever it is that pushes people towards playing healers and DPS without breaking the other roles, then it will potentially slash queue times across the board. Whatever job you main, you should want that.

Commenters: I know you’re not game designers, but you play the game. So what do you think SE need to do to make tanking appeal to more players?

Thanks to Elevenmile on Reddit for translating the Famitsu interview.


Michael O’Connell-Davidson

Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.