Let’s start with an assertion that some people may or may not believe but is still true no matter what: Dungeons in Final Fantasy XIV are not terribly difficult.
That’s not to say that FFXIV is bereft of difficult content, although your standards on how difficult it actually is will vary. Savage and Extreme, for example, are meant to be difficult but not that difficult; there’s a learning curve, but it is assumed that a reliable group should be able to clear these things on a regular basis and even packs of randos will be able to much of the time. Ultimate is the real face-smashing difficult, and that’s a decided minority.
If you know only one thing about the blue hedgehog who doesn’t really look like a hedgehog… well, it might be that you know there is a truly unsettling pornographic community out there dedicated to the game franchise, but you are also probably aware of the refrain about “gotta go fast.” And on the surface, yes, that’s true. Sonic the Hedgehog was a much faster game than its immediate contemporaries at the time.
There is an excellent post well worth your reading over on Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster’s blog about how the games really aren’t just about going fast. Yes, you want to go fast, but your main goal is more about cadence. It’s not too hard to reach the end of a level just by holding right. But can you get all of the stuff that’s hidden? Are you making an optimal path through the level? Can you do so while moving at the speeds that many of these secrets require?
It’s in sharp contrast to its immediate contemporaries in that, too. You don’t want to clear the level and get to the exit or the secret exit. You want to find the optimal path through the level. The levels are big, they’re sprawling, and they require a cadence to clear through optimally, much more so than just going as fast as possible.
You probably see where we’re going here for FFXIV, but let me make it explicit. Doing well in dungeons in FFXIV, in the broadest strokes, is about doing maximum damage in minimal time and racing through the whole thing as fast as possible. If they’re easy to clear, after all, it makes sense to just do them as quickly as you can and…
Oh, wait. That’s not it either. Because I emphasized right above this that a more important skill than speed is cadence, and raw speed can actually be counterproductive to that cadence.
Your goal in any dungeon – or alliance raid, or normal raid, or whatever – is not actually to get through as fast as possible. Your goal is to get through as smoothly as possible. And that opens the door to a whole lot of other fine details when it comes to a run.
Consider, for example, the scenario if you get dropped into Sastasha on Paladin. Your healer is a White Mage. Your two DPS are a Lancer and an Arcanist. Clearly, the smoothest thing to do is to pull at least two packs at a time and round them up, right?
Well… no. Because the only person in the party with AoE is you. Everyone else is single-targeting, and by pulling big packs, you’re forcing the healer to spend more time healing you and less time doing damage. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the smoothest run here is to pull as little as possible to ensure maximum DPS on every individual target.
By contrast, if you had a Machinist and Bard, you would want to make larger pulls you could slice down faster with AoE. And I’m using a specific low-level dungeon here as a means of illustration because it’s a stark portrait of the differences.
Pulling big groups isn’t likely to make you fail the dungeon, after all. But it is going to make it take longer and generally be rougher by comparison.
One of the things that I’ve said to people in parties before is that the player who has lower DPS but scrupulously dodges AoE and avoids Vuln-Up stacks is doing a better job than a better-geared player who ignores mechanics. Yes, there are some mechanics you can just power through in certain dungeons, but most of those are either lower-level or things that have been adjusted or nerfed in specific ways to render them irrelevant. Being aware of mechanics more often means that things are going well.
Being good is a matter of paying attention to mechanics, doing your proper DPS rotation, paying attention to what you can do to help the rest of the party, and doing all this with a minimum of extraneous activity. It means tanks making smart decisions about where to fight trash packs and reasonable choices about pull sizes based on the group. It means healers avoiding drawing threat before the pull is finished and balancing healing needs against additional DPS. It means DPS avoiding damage where possible, using AoE intelligently, and not blowing cooldowns frivolously.
It’s also why we all know the “well, we’re clearing it, why would you complain” response when someone is asked to stop doing something (or start doing something) is so ridiculous. The request isn’t about “we’re all failing, please do your job.” It’s about changing the way you’re playing in order to make the content go faster and more evenly. It’s about smoothing things out, so treating it like a pass/fail instead of a matter of proper management is disingenuous in the extreme.
And on some level, I think we all know that to start with. After all, when was the last time you went into a dungeon and couldn’t complete it? I can’t think of a time myself. So if someone is asking me to, say, drag an AoE away as DPS in a dungeon I don’t know, it’s not the difference between clearing and failing. It’s something that makes life easier for the person asking, and thus that’s more important than whatever reason I might have for not doing so.
(I mean, unless it’s the wrong thing to do, but even then my response isn’t “why should I” but explaining how the mechanic works and why it’s a bad idea.)
So what does it mean to be good at the game? By and large, it means being able to work with people and ensure that you’re not frustrating them. It’s not about big numbers from DPS, but about being efficient, scrupulous, and amenable. It’s not about the size of your pulls as a tank but mitigating them. It’s not about how much DPS you do as a healer but how invisible your healing can be in the middle.
Or, in other words, it’s about being a fun party member. And if you focus on that, you’ll find that even a slightly slower dungeon is much more fun.
Feedback, as always, is welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org or down in the comments. Next week, I expect to have preliminary patch notes, so… well, that should be obvious.