Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s healer problem and how it’s kind of unsolvable

    
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Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s healer problem and how it’s kind of unsolvable

I quite like Final Fantasy XIV’s healers. I really enjoy both Scholar and White Mage, and considering that this expansion is one in which I’d really prefer doing anything other than playing Summoner, the former is saying something. While there were some roadbumps early on, healing has settled into its groove for the expansion, and aside from the people still salty over Dancer not being a healer it’s mostly a non-issue beyond the fact that, well, the game works like it does.

Conventional wisdom at this point is that the next expansion will include a new healer, since we haven’t had one since Heavensward at this point. But this also seems like a fine time to bring up the overarching issue that healers do have in FFXIV, one that sometimes still crops up when you discuss healers (especially among progression-minded players), and one that’s not altogether an issue you can solve so much as one you can approach differently. Because, well… yeah, there’s a healer issue. It’s just part of the game.

First and foremost, let’s establish a basic rule for the game as it exists now: healers heal damage and throw in supplemental DPS. This is not really up for debate. Outside of Savage progression, no one is going to criticize exactly how much damage a healer does, but every single healer has DPS spells and space to use them in an average dungeon run. Damage is not your primary focus, but it is there, and you are meant to make use of it.

This is entirely true to other games in the franchise, wherein every single healer has other things to do because otherwise a quarter of your party (or a third of your party) has nothing to do if no one is hurt. This is foundational. Healers heal first and deal damage second, but there is always a point when the healing is done.

The thing is, though… well, there’s a problem with that. See, while the acquisition of gear and power makes every job better at its role, healing becomes better at the same rate it becomes less necessary.

Half man. Half beard. Another half beard.

Let’s use an entirely made-up example. Assume you have a static party that always does the current end tier of normal raiding together. At the start of the tier, the boss takes X time to kill and deals Y damage to the tanks, you kill it, you get your rewards.

Flash forward to the end of the tier, with your entire party decked out in the current top-end gear. As a result of all this work, each DPS player deals 10% more damage, each tank takes 5% less damage and deals 5% more, and each healer deals 5% more damage and heals for 5% more. From the standpoint of a power increase, everyone’s getting better at about the same rate.

But let’s think about this for a second. Based on all of these changes, your party-wide DPS has increased by 60%. That means a pretty significant reduction in time to kill the boss, meaning that the boss has less chance to deal damage… which is also reduced by 5%. So you’re quite easily looking at a fight that takes half as long and doesn’t hurt as much, meaning that you’d have an easier time healing even if healing hadn’t gotten stronger, too.

If all you were supposed to do, this would be a problem. Fortunately for the game’s design, this is a problem with a built-in solution, allowing you to now push your damage further by spending less time healing and more time doing damage. Except… that mostly comes down to meaning that you can now more consistently spam your one damage spell on the boss. And therein lies the actual healer problem.

See, on the one hand… healers are not DPS. They contribute very meaningfully to the overall damage dealt, but their primary function is always to heal rather than deal damage. For that matter, many boss fights have phases in which healers are explicitly being pushed to maximize healing, like the phase transition at the end of Orbonne Monastery or the Absolute Zero spam portion of the Shiva fight. You don’t want to make White Mage worry about maintaining Enochian along the way there a la Black Mage.

On the other hand… there are portions of these fights, often large ones, in which healers wind up with a paucity of things to do. Spamming Broil isn’t inherently more interesting than spamming Physick, to use an obvious example, and healer toolkits are very easy to set up to give you good chunks of time in which you can devote yourself to doing damage.

You do actually need to cast a heal.

This problem is compounded by the fact that… well, there are lots of healers who are not very good as healers. You don’t really want to encourage the “I’m green DPS” dude to not pay any attention to actually healing the tank, especially when his assumption is that the tank will last just fine into three-digit HP based on nothing more than thinking it’ll probably work. Better to lean too hard on healing over dealing damage, then.

Except… there are also people who can absolutely do that just fine. I personally know many healers who routinely let my health drop to half as a tank, and I’m in no real danger along the way. It’s like the difference between watching a parkour video and acknowledging that a human being can do that or assuming you can do that.

Thus, the healer problem. Healers do not need to be healing all the time for a variety of reasons, which means that they can make use of their damage spells… but those spells are generally rather flat and utilitarian, which makes things boring once again. But giving healers more damage or more elaborate rotations causes more friction on the other end of gameplay.

The reason I noted this was kind of unsolvable is that… you can move the needle, but the same problems are still there. Increasing incoming damage more to force healers to heal more is not permanent; creating more elaborate DPS rotations takes the focus off of healing and encourages worse healers to cause larger problems. You nudge things, but you always are nudging things.

We were told at the start of Shadowbringers that, functionally, healer changes were aiming at healers being meant to heal. That makes sense because it helps bring all three of the healers into the same basic space in terms of how they are designed. Before diversifying further, you want to bring basic efficiency into a comprehensible baseline and get everyone accustomed to what the “core” toolkit is meant to be.

I’m hopeful that the next expansion and our new healer does expand things a little. The Blood Lily mechanic itself seems like a test run for how this could work, giving more damage options for focusing on healing; the inverse would work well also, making your heals bigger the more you invest in damage up to a point. It’s a space to explore more.

But to a certain extent, there’s just always going to be a trace of this issue in the game. Healers have stretches wherein they are mostly DPS, but they can never actually be DPS. All you can do is nudge the direction of where the proper balance lies.

Feedback, as always, is welcomed via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com or in the comments down below. Next week, I’d like to talk about mining the past of the franchise and how this expansion has set us up for a more novel followup.

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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PatriotGamerNYC

healers heal damage and throw in supplemental DPS.

This statement does not apply to FFXIV. It applies to virtually every other MMORPG. Other MMOs require that healers heal for at least ~75% of the time because healers have weaker heals and damage is both constant and largely unavoidable. Groups need their healer as a healer. Those healers are constantly saving party members from certain death!

But FFXIV is unique. It is the only MMO that I have every played where a healer can spend the majority of their time not healing and everything will be ok.

It is the reason why I quit FFXIV.

I don’t want to be forced to DPS as a Healer. The only exception is that I specifically want to do some non-essential DPS on the side for fun. But FFXIV is loaded with scripted (avoidable) damage, very strong heals and very little consistent damage. So that leaves 2 scenarios:

1) the party is either barely hurt (which doesn’t require healing because the party/raid is not in danger of dying) or,

2) the party is dead from insta-kill boss mechanics (which doesn’t require healing because dead players don’t need healing).

Heals are only needed sporadically for the majority of the content.

This is why rather than healing, shielding/SCH is a perfect fit for FFXIV. If 120 points of damage is dealt in 1 hit and a player has 100 HP, they are dead. Doesn’t matter if the healer has 500-point heals. On the other hand, a 30-point shield is more powerful and useful than 500 points of heals as that same player would survive if they had received a shield in advance. Insta-kill mechanics define FFXIV and they make things incredibly exciting! They also throw healers in the garbage and make RDM pay quite the DPS tax because of the ability to chain rez dead players in combat.

In short, FFXIV would need to tone down heals, remove a lot of insta-kill mechanics and increase soak damage to Make Healers Great Again! If they don’t do this, healers will remain as boring DPS.

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Tyler Bochard

But let’s think about this for a second. Based on all of these changes, your party-wide DPS has increased by 60%

Had to stop right there.
Hate to break your math, but if every player (including healers and tanks) had a 20% increase in dps –

Thats a 20% increase in party dps. You don’t compound percentages like that. You need to divide by the player count.

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psytic

I hate healing now. What ever they did to it in this expansion it sucks and I took up tank instead. I dont like the reliance on cool down instant heals. I dont like that cast times are so long people can die in a cast so your forced to use all off cool down instants now. It feels weird not a fan. Ast cards are boring and homogenized now.

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Jessie Jones

Ugh. I miss stormblood scholar so much. They used to be so fun…

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Andrew Clear

Bring back a system like FFXI, the TP system, but only for enemies. That way, you have to balance attacking or the boss could do some powerful move that causes ungodly devastation. Would probably be hard to fit that in, but as a healer main, I am getting annoyed that I only really heal when someone messes up. If the party is good, then dia, glare, and dodging mechanics gets boring.

On the other hand, the real challenge as a healer is being able to look at the health bars, at your skill bar, and still playing attention to boss mechanics. Sometimes targeting that other player with the heal can make you miss the start of a boss’s cast bar.

Kind of like blm, the most difficult part of that job is just being able to stand still long enough to actually get your stuff off.

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Reginald Atkins

I’ve been a healer main since ARR, SCH to be specific… and yeah, you pretty much hit the nail on the head. Honestly I wasn’t salty that dancer wasn’t a healer in stormblood, I was salty about, once again, nothing new in my preferred wheelhouse to play with and learn. Heavensward did bring us AST and it’s pretty cool…. then nothing…. and… nothing again. It’s about like seeing the other kids get the cool toys at christmas and you open your box and it’s socks. I think if anything pushes them to release a new healing class it’s to curtail the healer mains sensation of being the red-headed stepchild. I’ll admit I don’t login like I used to cause why? healers are all 80 and geared and the other jobs don’t interest me as much, so they’ll get leveled when they get leveled (maybe).

Honestly i’m not convinced that the next expansion will bring us a new healer, I think healing class wise they’ve kinda backed themselves into a corner and are not quite sure how to get out of it. AST = buffing healer, WHM = mega healer, SCH = mitigation healer, doesn’t really leave room for much else. Honestly I hope I’m wrong and very likely may be, I’m no game designer afterall, but yah no clue where they could go.

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psytic

They need to just look at other games. Hate to mention it but Wow Misweaver, Holy Pally and Shaman all feel good they could look at that. Scholar is your disc priest, Ast your Druid and Whm your Holy priest. They can do a quick cast time burst healer like HPal, they could do a mobile channeling healer like monk they could do a chain healer like Shammy and call it Green mage etc.

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Gigaguy777

The fact that healers have to DPS is why I unsubbed, as I find MMO combat to be so boring that I don’t want anything to do with it. Healing is fun for me though, balancing the HP bars of the team vs my mana, off cooldowns and any aggro I happened to get. If the problem is that DPSing isn’t fun due to a lack of tools, why not remove damage from being a key component of the class and instead focus on fleshing out healing even more, making the class both more involved and more unique compared to the DPS and tank roles.

Deep-Object
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Deep-Object

I haven’t played in ages myself but I remember just letting everyone’s health get as low as possible before trying to heal them just to keep it fun. I’m kind of tired of the whole tank healer dps mentality. Group content needs to evolve into more dynamic systems to keep everyone engaging. Healers and those types of specific functions should have more RP specific functions but as far as combat mechanics making everyone be able to carry out almost every role seems more fun. I love how FF7 Remake made everyone play completely differently but still could have load outs that could do whatever you needed. It gives a reason for you to still play the character you like but also let’s you tailor things to your engagement. And for min/max style gameplay there are still some characters are better but it’s the specific abilities that provide team synergy.

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Andrew Clear

And, for the most part there isn’t really any real mana issues to deal with. With the piety stat improving my gain, and abilities that give you mana or let you cast spells for no cost, running out of mana isn’t an issue.

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Simon D'Amico

If all four of your DPS deal 10% more damage, and the other four members deal 5% more damage, that is NOT a 60% DPS increase across your party. That is NOT how math works, and you shouldn’t try to sound fancy and like you know math to try to add validity to your article if you know nothing about it.

Assume your DPS deal 100 DPS normally. Your healers, 25. Your tanks, 75.
That’s a party-wide DPS of 600.

Your DPS now deals 10% more damage, and your healers and tank, 5% more.
Your DPS is now dealing 110 DPS, your tanks 78.75, your healers 26.25.

Your party-wide DPS is now 650.

This is a 8.3% increase.

Now, these numbers could change depending on what the exact ratio of DPS between tanks, healers and DPS is; I made numbers up. But point being, the number will NEVER go above 10% for your party-wide increase, because 10% is the maximum any individual member went up in damage.

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Ryan Allgood

I think you’re right about only being able to move the needle so to speak. But I do think they moved the needle too far

Not only did they take away at least one DPS spell for each healer, but they lengthened the DoT timer on the one they kept, meaning we spend even more time spamming one spell.

I really like the dynamic of healers being able to competently DPS. I like that it shifts the success condition of the role from “I guess no one died so I’ve hit my peak?” to “let’s see how much damage I can do while keeping everyone alive”. I like that it makes it feel more like you’re helping to kill the boss, instead of just playing whack a mole with green bars.

I also think if they integrated healer’s DPS and healing kits together more, it would help solve the problem. As you mentioned, the Lily mechanics start towards this. I don’t think reducing the number of abilities in a healers DPS kit does absolutely anything at all to encourage more healing. The “Green DPS” will still do the same thing, they’ll just be pushing less buttons to get there.

Lighthope
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Lighthope

You took an awful lot of paragraphs just to say that healers have very little DPS tools in their kits for when they need/can dps.