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Do Damage Buffs Need a Rework?

Michael O’Connell-Davidson Posted:
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Stormblood, FFXIV’s latest expansion, built upon much of the game’s core systems — in particular, many jobs and their roles were significantly changed. This feels particularly impactful in terms of utility buffs; Bard now applies passive crit damage up to everyone in the party, while Dragoon is even more essential than ever thanks to Dragon Sight. Even Monk — traditionally the most selfish DPS job in the game — gained something, with Brotherhood, a physical buff that feeds power back to the caster based on their critical hits.

Defensive buffs are prominent, too. But it’s really offensive buffs that have the highest impact, and dictate the raid ‘meta’ — the ‘optimal’ group compositions in the eyes of the endgame community. Unlike other games, FFXIV features relatively small raid groups of eight, meaning everybody has to contribute or risk being dead weight. Because the meta is so influenced by buffs, it means selfish jobs that focus on their own output tend to be omitted in favour of running a tight team.

I want to talk about this for this week’s post, being spurred on by discussions I’ve had as a Dragoon main and posts I’ve seen recently on Reddit and elsewhere. XIV is a game that encourages people to have itchy feet and switch from job to job, but one of the problems with the way the meta has developed is that it has drastically reduced the scope to try new things if you want to raid.

Let’s break down Dragoon’s utility abilities. You have Dragon Sight, a buff that boosts your own damage and a tethered partner; Battle Litany, which buffs the party’s crit rate; and the piercing damage debuff provided by Disembowel, which increases damage dealt to a target by 5%. The others come up every now and again and are undoubtedly nice to have, but piercing is active 99% of the time as it applies as part of DRG’s rotation. That means just having a DRG around is a boon, before you factor in player skill.

Piercing damage is done by four jobs. That includes DRG, the two ranged jobs (Bard and Machinist), as well as the damage done by Red Mage’s melee abilities. If you’re taking a DRG, you’ll maybe want to consider taking one of those jobs, too, and vice versa. This is where it starts to become an issue: ranged DPS provides huge utility of their own, particularly Bard, in that they can buff their party’s DPS as well as replenish the party’s MP. You’ll always want to take a bard, so you’ll never turn a Dragoon down. In a game with eight-man raids — four slots of which are taken by tanks and healers — the fact that two spaces in a raid groups DPS are basically spoken for by default is a real point of contention.

It’s not sustainable, in the long run, for one job to be unable to truly shine without the support of another job. If I want to play Machinist, then all things equal I’m going to do worse than another who is paired with a Dragoon. I don’t really know how jobs can be balanced in this environment. A nerf to Dragoon mandates changes to the way ranged works, or else it nerfs them too; the same is true for buffs. All the while, jobs that operate independently kind of languish on the sidelines.

There’s a reason why the DPS meta in the latter stages of Heavensward became NIN/DRG/BRD/MCH: not only are these jobs strong in their own right, but they all mesh together in a way that a group with, say, the same group with a Summoner instead of a Dragoon would not. Giving the ability for ranged DPS to apply a piercing debuff themselves is a potential solution that would break DRG’s position as being absolutely essential, but here’s another: Why not just do away with specific vulnerability debuffs altogether? 

They’re not the only problem — for example, the ninja ability Trick Attack provides a whopping 10% damage buff to a party every minute or so, and plays a huge part in the way people build rotations and use their buffs. It’s arguably the best ability in the game, but at least it benefits everyone. Piercing only benefits some players and not others, so raid leaders might as well try and get the most out of it.

It’s problematic because while resultant DPS numbers are significantly better, in the vast majority of cases, job choice will not make the difference between a static being able to clear content or not; producer Naoki Yoshida and his team are open about their desire to balance content in such a way that any combination of jobs will be able to clear anything. A good group of players will get results pretty much regardless of what they’re playing — there might be a 1% wipe along the way, maybe holding you up a week at best, but that’s really it. If you’re not a world first group, what does that really matter?

Yet still we’re in a world where running a Bard or Machinist without a Dragoon is seen as sacrilege, even though it probably doesn’t matter outside of raw numbers. Other class combinations are less crucial, though Warrior’s slashing debuff is something no co-tank will ever decline, especially if the group doesn’t run a Ninja or Samurai (which also provide, and benefit from, the debuff).

I’d much rather play a game where all jobs were capable of meshing together in interesting ways, rather than one where a few key synergies pushed everybody else out. Though it’s undoubtedly a very powerful tool, Trick Attack could exist in that sort of game; damage-type buffs simply can’t. True, it’d still take work to bring jobs like Samurai and Black Mage into the fold while Dragon Sight and other buffs exist, but at the very least, you could sub jobs in and out without worrying about hamstringing particular members of the group more than others.

If nothing else, reworking the system or removing it entirely would serve to dispel the notion that a static with an unorthodox composition — and to some people, even running a Dark Knight as one of the two tanks is a transgression — is somehow doomed to fail. It’s not true, and it means there are many people out there who don’t get the opportunity to play jobs they might enjoy a great deal because groups think they’ll be held back. There’s an opportunity ahead as SAM and BLM get buffs in next month’s patch — but there are deeper issues here that mean for the foreseeable future, at least two DPS raid spots will never be free for experimentation.


Michael O’Connell-Davidson

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