I don’t generally like “ranking” classes. The best tanking option in Final Fantasy XIV is the one that you like playing the most, and if you don’t enjoy tanking, none of the options here will turn you around on the idea. But one of the cool parts about Heavensward is the way that you have three tank options, all distinct, yet all more than adequate to tank pretty much everything the game has to offer.
More simply – there might be optimal configurations for Alexander Savage, but pretty much everything else it won’t matter.
I do really enjoy looking at differences between classes, so this is just the kick-off to something that will likely be a regular thing. Let’s take a look at the classes currently sitting in the tank role, see what they specialize in, what their tricks are, and what weaknesses you have to know about in advance before you play one.
When the revamped Final Fantasy XIV relaunched, Paladin was designed as the basic tanking class. Not the only one, but the one that was clearly meant as the point of comparison for any and all other tank classes. And it hasn’t become all that different in Heavensward, either – it lacks the mechanical management of the other two tank classes and focuses more heavily on just being a solid defensive option.
That having been said, there’s no other tank that’s so party-focused. Paladin can produce solid, appreciable threat without doing damage, can cut damage on party members with Cover, heal allies with Clemency, and solidly avoid damage all the way along. They lack the mechanical complexity of their fellow tanks, but they work well just the same.
Niftiest Ability: Sheltron looks boss, but it’s also kind of a poster child for Paladin as a whole. It’s not mechanically complex, just an automatic block with a bit of MP restoration tied to it – and yet that makes it useful when you’re using Clemency on your party members, spamming Flash in big group pulls, or even just intercepting a big boss attack. It’s a solid workhorse ability that requires little understanding to use properly, but when it is used properly it has great returns. That’s Paladin in a nutshell.
Lamest Ability: Awareness. Yes, it has situational use, and in the strictest sense it’s a damage cut. But it’s not fun to use, and it comes surrounded by so many other Paladin cooldowns that it’s hard to be even remotely affectionate toward it. As a Gladiator skill it gets more use when playing Warrior than as Paladin, even.
Biggest Weakness: Paladin is the most solidly defensive of the game’s tanking options, which also means it’s the most incapable of mounting any sort of offense. Heavensward helps this a bit by giving the class a couple of offensive combos, but it doesn’t match Warrior or Dark Knight in this category. Its relative lack of central mechanics beyond rotating cooldowns can also feel a bit bland compared to its fellows; the start of some mechanical identity focused upon healing spells can be found there now, but I wouldn’t say that’s really a central thing at the moment.
Welcome to being the most fragile tank! Dark Knight lacks the solid defense of Paladin or the huge HP soaks of Warrior; what it has instead is avoidance, lots of modularity in its abilities, and the ability to produce very solid AoE threat without much effort. It also makes great use of mechanics designed to claw back health, which combines with its draining-but-vital MP to make the tank a perpetual emptying cup that the healer struggles to refill.
The trick to playing the class well is to embrace that, to use its short cooldowns and flexible options to fight a constant battle against yourself as much as your targets. One of the central methods of doing so, of course, lies in what I would honestly call the signature ability of the class and one of the niftier mechanics in the game in general.
Niftiest Ability: Dark Arts. It’s not just that the ability is a very short cooldown that applies a buff for about a quarter of your max MP, it’s the fact that this ability modifies so many of your existing abilities in a significant way. Dark Arts turns your two biggest defensive cooldowns into big defense boosts, makes your threat combo much more aggressive (and allows you to rely more heavily on your Souleater combo), even completely changes one attack between MP recovery and a big damage burst. It basically allows Dark Knight to operate in two different modes, and it’s a single press.
Lamest Ability: Sole Survivor. This skill does have utility, especially in boss fights with lots of adds dying, but it doesn’t actually wind up being much fun to use and it’s not reliable or fast enough for its restoration mechanics to feel impactful. If I were being harsh, I’d say that it’s a kludge to fix how quickly DRK can run out of MP while dealing with big packs of little things if Blood Price is on cooldown, never mind that an intelligent DRK wouldn’t be in that situation in the first place.
Biggest Weakness: Oh, are you ever burdening the healer. No other tank empties and refills like DRK, and while you mitigate as much as you can a lot relies on parries, knowing whether you’re facing magic or physical damage, and the occasional dodge. It doesn’t help that you can empty your MP really quickly if you’re using most of your big tricks, which means that you’re always dancing on the edge.
Warrior’s status has altered a lot over the course of its life, but the fundamental design hasn’t changed too much – it’s the soak tank. Instead of relying on damage avoidance or high mitigation like DRK and PLD (respectively), Warrior just has incredible amounts of health, gets bigger heals, and otherwise tanks through dogged refusal to ever run out of HP.
The big mechanic of the job is managing your stacking buffs between your tanking stance and your damage stance; the fifth stack allows you to unleash a variety of powerful abilities, and while you could theoretically keep it on there for a higher critical chance, in practice you probably want to burn it promptly. And with good cause.
Niftiest Ability: Equilibrium. It’s a little thing, just a small functional cooldown on a one-minute timer, but it so perfectly works with both sides of a Warrior’s goals and it’s useful no matter what. The modularity of it means that it gives Warriors reason, while tanking, to swap between Defiance and Deliverance smartly, meaning that the whole Deliverance line of skills and abilities doesn’t simply become “off-tanking or soloing skills to avoid you being bored.”
Lamest Ability: Decimate. Oh, look, it’s an AoE for use in Deliverance! Except most of the AoE situations you would encounter will be when Defiance is all but mandatory, and its potency doesn’t make up for the fact that Steel Cyclone is functionally close enough. Any AoE situations where that extra potency is vital from the tank are probably situations when the group is dying anyway. It’s not a bad ability, but it’s kind of lame, and it sure doesn’t manage as a spiffy 60 ability.
Biggest Weakness: My wife mains as a Warrior, and I have lost track of how often I hear her ask me for a Goad as a Ninja. TP is your only resource, you burn through it at an alarming rate, and you have no ability to restore it in Defiance. Resource management in general is problematic as a warrior, and it’s very easy to run empty and be left just holding the bag.
As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below or by mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Unless that feedback starts and stops at arguing over class/job terminology; in this case, it doesn’t really matter, because no one in the world is tanking as a Gladiator or Marauder post-30. Next time around, we’ve got a new event running at long last, and thus I want to talk about the event, anniversaries, and the history of events as the game has used them.