It’s a testament to how well the balancing on Final Fantasy XIV works that none of the jobs discussed this week or last week are useless. Sure, several of them aren’t in optimal meta compositions… but Machinists are, and we know that Dark Knight managed to serve as a tank in the first Ultimate Coil clear. Sure, they may not be the best in the game, but it’s pretty noteworthy that the balance issues don’t make anything non-viable.
There are two problems that get attributed to Dark Knight in this expansion, but the first of them isn’t actually a problem but a trait. See, there’s a lot of hand-wringing over the idea that your blood gauge changes dramatically when you get The Blackest Night, and that this is somehow an issue with the game’s design… but it’s not, not really. You spend a lot of time with the gauge and the abilities triggered off of it, and when you finally get up to 70 you get a lot more control over its flow and input. That’s not a problem, that’s good design. It means you appreciate having a lot more of it to play around, but the job works fine and is fun to play before then.
No, the real problem is that Blackest Night is the job’s only real utility. This means that the job has less utility than Warrior gets with Shake it Off… and less damage to boot.
In some ways, this feels like it’s not quite the designer’s fault simply because Shake it Off was originally designed differently. Specifically, it was almost completely useless. So there was an interesting dynamic, at least from an intellectual standpoint. Paladin had the most utility and the least damage, Warrior had the most damage and the least utility, and Dark Knight sat in the middle with some utility and middle-of-the-road damage. Except that even that wasn’t really enough to make it more valuable; the job’s overall lack of utility meant that it was pretty well lapped by Warrior even without Shake it Off becoming a party-wide barrier.
This was rightly identified as something that couldn’t really be fixed without an expansion, and honestly that’s fair. Dark Knight has a very robust toolkit for a lot of things. It’s got lots of threat generation, great defensive cooldowns, and enough drain effects to make it very self-sustaining. There’s not really any wasted space in its skill lineup. The problem is, well… there’s not really any wasted space in its skill lineup, and in terms of utility Paladin can deliver a party-wide barrier, two ways to mitigate individual damage taken, and a party-wide damage reduction, plus spot healing as needed. And making it deal as much damage as Warrior would be pretty wildly unbalanced.
So that’s the core of its weird nature. It’s a fun job that’s balanced and has an interesting playstyle, but it runs afoul of the environment it exists within. Fortunately, Shadowbringers already offers something interesting by bringing in a fourth tank. Yoshida has mentioned the idea of marking two as main tanks and two as off-tanks, and really either distinction would fit Dark Knight well; it needs some adjustment and some new tricks, but it could easily become more of a damage powerhouse or more utility-based. (Imagine an AoE heal that also damaged the Dark Knight; thematically reasonable, useful when not actively tanking, and a mark over Paladin’s single-target healing.)
I don’t think this one requires quite as much of a rework. I think it needs some nudges to bring it in line, and refocusing the tank dynamic around four tanks instead of three will probably do half of the job as it is.
If there’s a single job that feels wholly complete at 50, it’s Monk. This is understandable when you consider that that’s essentially when Monk’s toolkit just stops dead. You’re still getting new abilities through 70, of course, but you could convincingly argue that Monk’s biggest weakness is just that. Nothing the job gets after it reaches level 50 has a whole lot of effect on the gameplay as a whole, which would probably be fine if Monk didn’t take the central weakness of Dragoon and double down on it.
There are a lot of DPS job elements that are fundamentally on a timer; Black Mage, Ninja, Dragoon, Monk, and Bard all have that element. The difference is that Ninja, Black Mage, and Bard all have more control over the timer. Ninja can re-apply Huton manually as needed between pulls, Black Mage can keep swapping elements to keep Enochian going, and Bard only really needs its songs during a fight (and it can always rotate between them).
Dragoon, meanwhile, has the constant ticking clock wherein it can’t actually maintain Blood of the Dragon without a cooldown slightly longer than the duration; it’s supposed to keep it up through ability use in combat, but if you have too long between times to hit something, down it goes and away go your eye stacks along with it. Bad enough in and of itself, but the effect only applies to Jump and eye accumulation, and you can keep it up long enough with that cooldown that you’re unlikely to lose it mid-fight.
Greased Lightning, on the other hand, absolutely needs three stacks and has no way to really be extended unless you time your hit-absorbing ability correctly… and that’s assuming that the boss leap is timed so that it lines up with some incoming damage. The idea seems to still be that you’ll just burn all those stacks for Tornado Kick, but that leaves you having to rebuild awkwardly.
Monk’s additional abilities from 50-70 don’t really add to its toolkit, and there’s an uncomfortable pressure between its mechanics. It has three stances that you aren’t really given incentive to swap between except for a handful of abilities, and the attempts to give it new tricks like Tackle Mastery mostly do unpleasant things like changing your gap closer into a vital DPS tool. And none of this is addressing the main issues with either Greased Lightning or with the Chakra system.
What you have, then, is a job that’s still waiting for another really fun toy to play with and something to do between pulls, and the solution of “just use Tornado Kick” isn’t particularly fun or satisfying. Considering how complete the job manages to be at level 50, this is partly a consequence of that, but it’s also just a matter of the job seeming to get ulled in multiple directions. It’s akin to White Mage in that regard; it lacks a compelling identity beyond its base toolkit, but it also lacks some utility even within that toolkit.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, let’s talk a little bit about events, the rewards for same, and how much we really ought to get for any given iteration of an event.