Wisdom of Nym: The state of Final Fantasy XIV's melee DPS
Regardless, melee is usually sort of my thing; I prefer being in the paint to being out of it. So as I did a few weeks ago with tanking, let's take a look at the melee jobs in the game, what they can do, and what they can't do so well after all. And if you'd like to argue about which ones provide the best DPS in the game... please, do so over there, away from me; I don't actually care. (But the answer is probably "not Bard at the time of this writing.")
There's more to Dragoon than just standing in obvious telegraphs and dying over and over. Heck, there should be very little to none of that because Dragoon has two range-closing abilities and a sudden backstep; it's a very mobile class. Dragoons seem to be just as likely to get caught in AoE fields as any other class, but the joke is there and will never go away because that's the world we live in.
Memetic gags aside, much in the same way that each of the different tanking jobs provides a different style of tanking, the same is true here of melee DPS. Dragoon is the precision approach, all about swinging a two-handed weapon and lining up for maximum damage. You line up the perfect shot, take a deep breath, toss on Life Surge, and watch an auto-crit rip your target apart. Heavensward also gives the class a buff to manage as both a stacking improvement and a resource while adding back in some positional skills, but by and large Dragoon is still about lining up those perfect, powerful thrusts and jumps.
Niftiest Ability: Jump. What else could it be? The new set of abilities actually makes the skill even more potent, giving you good reason to use it as your Life Surge ability woven between other weaponskills. A lot has been done to balance its animation lock against damage and so forth, and it's been the subject of a great deal of tuning, but on a fundamental level, Jump gives the job a great deal of distinctiveness and just plain looks cool.
Lamest Ability: Fang and Claw or Wheeling Thrust; pick one and that's the one. It's not that either ability is bad, it's the fact that they're two routes to the exact same destination, randomly rewarded and requiring you to pay close attention to use the right one properly. Learning the distinction is not overly difficult, but it's a level of frustration that you don't have with any other job, and it's two separate skills which, again, do the same thing in every practical sense.
Biggest Weakness: Here's the problem with building up all your skills toward one overwhelming spike: You can't be spiking all the time. Over time, Dragoon damage evens out to be at reasonable parity with other melee DPS; there are still some uncomfortable spikes and valleys along the way, since you need to do your setup first to hit the spike and then maintain things for when your skills come back off of cooldown. Heavens help you if you use your cooldowns and then the boss goes invulnerable at just the wrong moment.
Mechanically, Ninja have traditionally been defined in the franchise by their ability to dual wield, their penchant for throwing things, and their frequently being overpowered as heck. In Final Fantasy XIV they don't technically do the first, barely do the second, and definitely aren't the last. But they're still really cool and fun, emphasizing the whole stealthy side of play whilst providing a very technical play experience.
As the theme goes, a Ninja is an assassin, delivering high damage in short order, requiring very little time to set up, all while providing party utility against any targets not killed swiftly. Mastering Ninjutsu keypresses as part of your muscle memory is vital, as is managing your cooldowns, the durations on your buffs and debuffs, and all of the little elements here and there that allow you to keep a steady stream of hits incoming. Having Armor Crush in our rotation makes life a great deal easier as it enables us to make use of a wider array of skills without compromising the importance of our main self-buff.
Niftiest Ability: Ninjutsu. Technically this is four abilities, and even more technically this is seven abilities. Sure, no one's using shuriken once you can use two-tap combos, but this one skill functionally contains a speed buff, single-target damage, multi-target damage, a damage field, a bind, and a damage increase for the entire party. What makes it even niftier, at least to me, is that unlike Jump, these skills aren't your showstopping huge hits; they're woven in amid other attacks, allowing you to plan and pace out your attack.
Lamest Ability: Smoke Screen. This one's lame for a few reasons. It's not a threat dump; it's basically a Quelling Strikes effect you apply to someone else, which means that by the time you notice someone's threat spiking, it's already too late to make the most use out of it. Four levels later, you get Shadewalker, which is a far more productive way to manage threat. And it can't even be used on the Ninja, thus it doesn't even catch the thematic impact of a smoke bomb from popular culture. (Yes, I realize it mirrors Goad in that regard; that's not the point.)
Biggest Weakness: Taking out multiple targets is not a fun time; you have two abilities that deal solid area damage which are both tied to Ninjutsu, and Death Blossom is a pretty horribly inefficient AoE in terms of TP. You also can be pretty heavily screwed by network latency, as Ninja is very much a job in which your movements need to be precise and perfect, with a single errant keystroke sending your careful series of buffs, debuffs, and cooldowns into disarray.
If you ever find yourself saying that the global cooldown in FFXIV is too long, play a Monk for a while. This is not a job about waiting for the precise moment to strike; it's a job all about building up your speed and flailing against your target with vigor until something breaks. There's a potential blue metaphor in there, but I'll leave you to construct your own.
While Dragoon has taken some pages from Monk's book this expansion, Monk has taken some pages from Dragoon's book with the addition of a few unleashing-style moves with Chakra and Tornado Kick. The former is there to allow you a buildup between fights or when there's nothing to hit, while the latter lets you unleash your Greased Lightning for heavy damage - and then Form Shift swiftly back to the third stack of Lightning in short order. In other words, it's still very much Monk and still about always doing something, even if that means burning off stacks before they fall.
Niftiest Ability: Form Shift. The overall design of the job very nicely created the image right from the start of a job that is all about shifting parts of a combo, always attacking, never stopping. Adding in Form Shift allows the Monk to quickly weave ahead and prepare during periods of downtime, providing control over the next part of the combo to be activated. It's a workhorse skill, but with so much of the job already being about subtle interplay, Form Shift lets you subtly tweak that play as needed.
Lamest Ability: One Ilm Punch. To be fair, this skill actually does have a great use against enemies who use, say, Stoneskin. In other words, against FATE targets. Most of the time it either won't remove the buff or will remove a buff that can be dealt with anyhow. It's not a terrible ability; it just seems a touch out of place, like a skill created for a purpose that's never actually been implemented in the game.
Biggest Weakness: I hope you like remembering positional traits on skills and moving around all the time because that's vital to playing Monk correctly. You can do a fair bit of macroing to save space on your action bar, but you still need a solid memory of which skills require you to stand where, and woe betide you if you can't get there for whatever reason. Losing your momentum with Monk is like losing your pattern with Ninja; the difference is that Ninja can effectively start the pattern over, while Monk has to build momentum up again.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, I want to share some insights into crafting and gathering, now that I've actually been getting into those once again after a great deal of alt leveling and so forth.