Wisdom of Nym: Checking the health of Final Fantasy XIV’s healing metagame in Shadowbringers

    
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It's actually fine.

One of the stated reasons for not getting a new healing job with Shadowbringers is essentially that the development team wanted to work on the overall balance of healing jobs in Final Fantasy XIV. Whether you like the end results or not, it’s not possible to argue that didn’t happen. Indeed, every job other than White Mage saw some major changes to its skill layout, and White Mage also saw a massive reworking of its job-specific resource and how it’s meant to be used.

This did lead to the meta being a little messy at first, but with 5.05’s healing changes, it feels like most of the momentary rage has subsided and people are back to playing the various healing jobs and seeing how well all three of them hold up. This raises the question of whether or not the approach ultimately worked very well. Did all of the healing changes actually produce a better healing metagame emphasizing more play on the part of healers beyond “green DPS?” Or did it just basically knock around the numbers at the top?

Light party.

The biggest change that was made to healers as a category was to significantly reduce the number of damage options available to all three healing jobs. They’re now pretty unified; healers have a DoT spell, a single-target damage spell, and an AoE damage spell. The AoE spell varies somewhat in terms of execution; Astrologian is the only job that can use it at range, White Mage is the only job that adds the ability to stun (and thus shield the tank) to the spell, and so forth. All three also get at least one additional source of damage, with White Mage’s Assize and Afflatus Misery, Scholar’s Energy Drain, and Astrologian’s Earthly Star.

Equally worth noting is that these “additional” forms of damage all tie into healing in some way. Earthly Star is another AoE that heals those in the field. Energy Drain heals and tops up the Scholar. Assize is a party heal and AoE that also restores MP, and Afflatus Misery just deals damage but relies upon you healing more to trigger it in the first place. Your optimal DPS rotation is going to involve at least brushing against your need to heal the party.

All of the healers also have some unified tools, too. Everyone has a way of healing extra amounts during damage-heavy phases (Plenary Indulgence, Emergency Tactics, Horoscope). There are always pre-pull tools for tanks that won’t generate threat but will help the tank stay alive while grabbing aggro (Divine Benison, several barrier tools for Nocturnal Sect or Celestial Intersection in Diurnal, and Excogitation/Adloquium). There’s also a healing potency boost for all jobs in some form along with a few modes of AoE healing.

Add in the fact that every healer has a raise spell and it starts to sound like healing is pretty much uniform. But with the potency bumps? It actually does wind up feeling very different between all three jobs.

y u mad tho

White Mages are currently seen as the “best” healers simply because they maintain a higher level of personal DPS and have an excellent ability to sustain a group. The focus on regens and several instant-cast 700-potency heals allow then to keep the tank sustained while sparing only a little time for direct healing away from DPS. Their biggest weakness is that they do have to be reactive rather than proactive healers, and so they contribute little to the overall performance of the group in terms of damage.

Scholars, by contrast, are almost entirely designed around proactive healing. Planning ahead allows you to start a fight with Recitation, Adloquium, and Excogitation all on the tank, thus freeing you from having to actually heal for a prolonged period of time; making good use of barriers to nullify incoming damage allows you to focus instead on spot-healing where necessary. You also have the rather potent Chain Stratagem for buffing your party against bosses. Unfortunately, you suffer in terms of your instant healing resources, which are also used for damage, which means you have to ration out your Aetherflow stacks and rely on MP or save the big bursts for the right moments.

Astrologian has the flexibility to go with either regen effects for long-term sustainability or barriers as necessary, plus the party-wide damage boosts of cards and Divination. Played well, your cards bring a lot of benefit to your party’s overall DPS. Your biggest weakness is that your instant healing options are the weakest, making it harder to respond to immediate shifts, and your point-for-point healing is usually weaker than that of other healers. You have a wider toolkit and your party kills things faster, but you have to choose between sustained boosts and proactive defense based on the pulls.

But here’s the fascinating thing: Right now, none of the three healers looks inherently worse than any of the others. It’s possible, for example, that the barriers of Scholar and Astrologian will start looking a lot better than White Mage’s regens later on, but White Mage also has really aggressive instant healing tools that allow the job to keep pushing through as needed. Plenary Indulgence, Medica II, and Afflatus Rapture can bring a party up quickly with only two GCDs, comparable to a Scholar’s Succor and Indomitability or an Astrologian’s Aspected Helios and regular Helios. It’s a significant change from the days when White Mage was basically stuck hard-casting everything without any instant tools beyond spot healing.

This is good, because gosh, do Gunbreakers ever need the heals.

There’s also the definite sense that healers are still able and expected to do damage, despite the stated goal of the changes being to ensure that healers are healing. I went on record at the time stating that the goal there was not “healers should not do damage” but “damage is not the focus of healers.” Scholar lost the most out of this exchange without its AoE DoT effects from Bane and Miasma II, but once you get used to that change, you get used to, well, thinking with tactics. “My damage rotation is simple, but how can I keep the party topped up without sacrificing time not needed on healing?”

And I feel like that’s something that gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Just healing is easier than it has ever been. Now more than ever, healer skill is determined by how healing is balanced against doing damage and managing the party’s health and buffs. If you play an Astrologian and just want to keep your party alive, it is staggeringly simple to do now.

If, however, you want to play an Astrologian slinging cards properly, keeping the party topped off, and also contributing your own damage? That becomes a lot more tricky, but manageable. Your goal is to just use healing as the point to navigate by, first and foremost.

So we do actually have a decent parity between the healers. You have your healer that does damage, your healer that requires planning but shelters the party accordingly, and your healer that’s flexible and support-oriented. And there are places for more healers to go from here, too. Our next healer could easily focus more on triggered effects and buffs, or on ground effects, or on debuffs to serve as the opposite number of Astrologian. There’s space for healers with more intricate resource systems or ones that excel even more than White Mages in instant heals but suffer a lot more when they need to hard-cast something.

In short? It was a successful change, overall. Even if it did require a second balance pass after launch to get here.

Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week? Well, it’s about a year too early, but let’s talk a little bit about those next jobs anyhow.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.

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Toy Clown

I main White Mage and play Astrologian as a side class. I’m extremely happy with WHM’s changes, which thankfully weren’t ridiculous, and AST is much better as well.

Devs turned most classes into Whack-a-mole fests, which did away with any semblance of rotations and it’s honestly why I returned to WHM, because it’s a straight-forward class with very little in the way of bells and whistles. I’m happy with that… my hands are happy with that.

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Krista Allen

So, Energy Drain is not a heal, it restores mana and does damage. We use it to burn our Atherflow stacks.

Andy McAdams
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Andy McAdams

I believe it also does a small self-heal

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Krista Allen

No, it does not

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Daniele Casale

I think healing has got far more boooring when not in savage. Enemies hit harder, but it just mean that during dungeons i have to spam more the single target GCD heal, and even during trials (at least the first ones) they don’t hit that much and most of the time I just have to spam Broil or whatever.
It gets very interesting during savage, because bosses hit VERY hard. Like, during quietus and the enrage phase of Titan I often don’t have much time or mana to dps. Yeah, during the other phases I could just concentrate on healing and nobody would die of collateral damage, but if you want to optimize your DPS it is going to be difficult to use every resource at the exact timing to have them again when healing (like Seraph or Lilies). It is much more fun than before, I think, and I think it would be difficult to achieve this result by saving also the Stormblood dps skills.

Anyway, I think that Energy Drain, more than healing yourself, helps by increasing the fairy bar, to use for tether or AoE heal. Furthermore, whoever uses emergency tactics nowadays, if the other healer is decent? I used it just during o9s. Finally, I think you can’t actually cast Exco pre-pull ’cause you need aetherflows.

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Ryan Allgood

I’m fine with the idea of wanting to increase the amount of GCDs spent on healing (though I don’t think it should be healing only).

But reducing the number of DPS spells available had absolutely no impact whatsoever on that. It just means we hit more of the same button mindlessly (Broil, Glare, Malefic) instead.

Honestly, they almost hit a good balance of it with White Mage and the Blood Lily mechanic. I think if they had left in the AoE Aero DoT, they’d be almost perfect. Tying their DPS into their healing with the Blood Lily was what they should be doing.

If Scholar just got Shadow Flare and Miasma back, they’d be pretty solid too. Still would rather something to connect their DPS and healing more, but they felt fine before, so they’d feel fine now. (Albeit a bit more awkward due to the pet changes)

Not sure what to do with Astrologian. They kinda got royally screwed by the card changes. I haven’t played it since Heavensward.

I’d also rather the DoTs go back to being like 18 or 21 second duration. Sure, 30 second duration makes them easier to maintain, but it also means you have to spend more time spamming the same cast time spell over and over. Having the instant DoT used more frequently actually gives you more mobility. =p

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Kurt Shadle

I haven’t had a chance to play Shadowbringers yet, having a kid right before launch shot my game time into the ground, but I’m very curious how going though the story plays now for Scholar.

My favorite thing about maiming a scholar was I could play a healer but still be close enough to passable in solo content with my dps. Some of the instances story questing could get really drawn out before and reading this I’m worried about that now.

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Java Jawa

In short healing now is LESS fun than it used to be. Now we are just wack a health bar.

After being a healer main since ARR the design change causes me to switch mains to tanking, at least that is fun (for me).

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Psi

I definitely feel like my Scholar is less interesting to play than he was before. I don’t feel like I fall behind the other healers in terms of healing, but man it’s certainly a lot more boring to be a Scholar these days.