It’s the little things that get you when you weren’t paying attention, according to Jim Infantino (and Jim’s big ego), and this is true a lot with MMOs that seem pretty similar to one another at the outset. Out of our oft-mentioned big five, the two games that most immediately seem like they’re clearly in the same wheelhouse are Final Fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft. It feels like if you play WoW you should probably be able to pick up FFXIV and figure it out in short order without much of an issue, and vice versa. Look, there are hotbars, there’s your tab-targeting, pick a spec or job or whatever and let’s go.
While I definitely would say that these two games are much more similar to one another than any other two given games in the big five, there are a lot of subtle and pervasive differences between how the two are designed that could easily trip someone up and leave you blinking while staring at the screen and saying, “That’s not how I expected that to work.” So let’s dive a little bit into the somewhat subtle differences between the two. The point is not that one is better than the other; just that they’re different. And again, this is just for combat.
1. Global cooldown
Let’s start with the thing that everyone notices. WoW’s global cooldown is 1.5s and is easy for many specs to lower to 1s or so with decent gear and abilities. FFXIV’s global cooldown is 2.5s and while some faster jobs can lower that down to about 2s, many others are actually closer to the initial figure than anything. Especially at lower levels, this leads to FFXIV’s combat feeling just slower; every action takes longer, and while that means they’re more impactful, it does mean you might just be doing one thing for a while.
The flip side of this, however, is that FFXIV is packed to the brim with things on most jobs that you will be hitting between cooldowns, which means that at higher level your overall action profile looks pretty much identical. If your GCD is 2s and you’re hitting a GCD ability, then an off-GCD ability, then another GCD… you’re still acting about once per second. This ties into the next point.
2. Rotation complexity
While there are deviations from it, in broad strokes, WoW’s rotations are mostly based on a priority list. Hit these abilities until they’re on cooldown/you’re out of resources, then so on down the list until you hit your filler ability that you spam endlessly. Generally speaking, most of your specs are going to be moving between five and eight abilities on a regular basis over the course of a dungeon or raid.
By contrast, FFXIV’s rotations are more elaborate; most of them require somewhere closer to 18 to 24 spots on your action bar to make use of all of them, and basically all of them are far more based upon building up over time. This also ties directly into the next point…
3. Ability procs
WoW has a lot of these. FFXIV largely does not. A large number of specs in WoW involve hitting the glowy button when it glows, and when it glows is largely random. By contrast, FFXIV procs are predictable based on ability usage, so you’re always going to be using Mirage Dive after Jump no matter what else is happening. It’s a question of when, not a question of shifting random priorities.
The bright side is that it makes combat a lot more predictable when you know exactly what you will hit and when. The down side is that it makes combat a lot more predictable when you know exactly what you will hit and when.
4. Resource management
WoW has your primary resource usually be something you build up steadily over time and then spend as soon as you get it. Your big management is just in controlling your generation and doing the right thing to maximize gain as you spend things as fast as you can. By contrast, FFXIV tends to be more about maximizing time than anything; you have a lot of things with reasonable cooldowns and you’re trying to make sure that all of them line up for maximum impact for both you and the rest of your party. Resources are a part of it, but if you’re executing your rotation properly, they won’t be a mitigating factor.
5. Battle raises
In WoW, only a few classes have the ability to get someone up in the middle of a fight, and there’s a limited number of times you even can get someone back up during a fight. More often than not, if a party member dies during a raid fight, that’s it for them. By contrast, in FFXIV every healer and even a few non-healers can pick someone back up in the middle of a fight; it’s even one of the major utility abilities Red Mages have.
This is no doubt part of why progression groups are smaller in the latter. After all, if you can expect that someone will die to a mechanic but will be back in the fight a few seconds later, you don’t need to have extra people just in case this mechanic catches two damage dealers and suddenly the whole balance of the raid shifts.
6. Healing work
For the most part, healers in WoW are there to be healing. Yes, there are some variants on this, like how Discipline Priests are going to be dealing damage and healing in the process, but for the most part the focus on healing in WoW is on having a lot of tools to heal.
By contrast, FFXIV healers sometimes joke that they’re damage dealers who occasionally heal their parties. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s not coming out of nowhere. A big part of playing a healer well in FFXIV is learning how to split your time between dealing damage and healing the party, and while you can get through dungeons without the healers weaving both, you will notice the difference pretty easily
7. Dungeon pulling
Fairly simple, but still worth noting: In most WoW dungeons, the goal is to minimize how much trash you fight on the way to each boss, pull small, and burn it down quickly. By contrast, in most FFXIV dungeons there are no skippable packs, AoE has its own involved rotation, and you are generally expected to grab everything up to a given point and then burn it all down with alacrity.
8. Utility balancing
By and large, WoW does not balance its specs and classes relative to utility. The designers try to simply balance everything based on its role, which means that it’s possible for you to have DPS that has very strong utility and very strong damage outperforming pure DPS classes with little group utility. By contrast, FFXIV very much balances utility into the assumption. Samurai and Black Mage as the two “selfish” DPS jobs are supposed to deal more damage than, say, Ninja and Red Mage, both of which have strong group utility.
9. Boss mechanical stacking
Generally speaking, most FFXIV bosses follow a pretty predictable pattern with each of their mechanics. First, you see a simple form of the mechanic that isn’t combined with anything else. Then you deal with the full version of the mechanic. Then you get the full mechanic stacking with other mechanics, so you have to know how to manage multiple things at the same time. There are variants, but by and large this is how boss fights are structured. Simple form, normal form, overlapping form.
By contrast, WoW bosses use their individual mechanics in the full form from the start and usually don’t start unleashing them until partway through the fight. The idea is not that mechanics stack in complexity as the fight goes on; rather, it’s a steady attrition as the mechanics come more frequently and the issues brought about by dealing with them slowly accumulate.
10. Encounter design
One of the things I’ve noted (sometimes with frustration) about how WoW tends to design its bosses is that most of them are built not on that stacking mechanical complexity but on consistent and sustained execution of those mechanics. Sure, you dodged this mechanic one time, but the length of the fight will require you to dodge it about two dozen times, and while the mechanic stays the same your focus and patience may drift. There’s a stronger endurance aspect, coupled with some bosses in older designs very much being pure number races and DPS/healing checks.
In FFXIV, on the other hand, most of the more ornate boss mechanical interactions aren’t going to happen more than twice in a given fight. Failing these interactions can often be a wipe. You don’t need to successfully pull this off all that many times, but you do need to successfully pull it off with a somewhat narrow margin of error. Which is pretty different when you’re used to just executing the mechanic correctly while slowly grinding down your target’s health.