Wisdom of Nym: Looking for support in Final Fantasy XIV

    
6
Teamwork.

Final Fantasy XIV does not have a support role… technically. People have been asking for a dedicated support role for years, of course; people always ask for a dedicated support role, even though they haven’t been common in MMORPGs for years now (though they were once very common, and there’s a whole non-FFXIV article to be written about that and older roles at some point). But FFXIV definitely does have a concept of support wired deep into its DNA even with the existing three roles.

Obviously, there are support and less-support options when it comes to healing (Astrologian gives up White Mage’s pure damage dealt for bolstering the team, for example) and all tanks offer some degree of support even if some offer more than others. But it’s with DPS where we see the largest spread, and when Dawntrail releases we’re going to see 13 different DPS jobs… 10 of which have some degree of party support built in right from the start.

Yes, really, I counted it out. Across all of the DPS jobs, there are only three that don’t provide any sort of support options within Dawntrail: Samurai, Black Mage, and Viper. Everything else provides something, although the degree of support varies wildly based on the job, from Dancer being primarily about supporting your fellow DPS to Reaper only providing peripheral bonuses.

All of this raises the question of what actually counts as support, though. It feels a bit odd to call Monk a support DPS when only a couple of its abilities actually offer anything supportive to the party. And can’t every melee job reduce damage with Feint? Yes. But that’s not really the point.

In broad strokes, I suspect FFXIV’s developers see support as a concept as extending into three basic fields. The first is damage support, in which the job helps the rest of the party deal more damage even if this is also something that can be used by the job in question. The second is endurance support, which reduces incoming damage or makes it easier to recover from damage once it has been applied. And the third is healing support, which allows for greater recovery from damage and can often help healers spend less time actually healing.

That might sound kind of silly – a healer’s job is to heal, after all – but it’s a question of degree. Pulses of healing from having Phoenix summoned means that the Summoner might free up the White Mage from having to throw in an extra cooldown and can instead focus on dealing damage or cleaning up if someone gets clipped by an AoE. It also extends to making sure that if a party member dies, it’s easier to pull things back together with two people who can raise.

AMERICA, EFF YEAH!

It’s also important to note that of these three, each damage type has a “preferred” sort of support. Melee is generally the damage support option; every DPS with support options can buff the party’s damage in some fashion. Magic tends toward offering healing support, and ranged tends toward endurance support. These aren’t strict limitations, however. Reaper offers damage support as well as healing support, while Dragoon and Ninja offer just damage support while being far more support-oriented than Reaper is on a whole.

The trick is also that a lot of the time this support comes as part of what you’re already doing. Phoenix offers bonus healing to the party just by having the summon out, but there’s no scenario wherein a Summoner doesn’t have Phoenix being summoned along the way. Monk and Reaper both get direct benefits from buffing the party with Brotherhood and Arcane Circle, respectively. Mitigating damage is another matter, but it’s on an Ability, so you can usually hit it in the middle of your rotation when it’s coming up.

All of which kind of raises the question: Is there really any meaning at all to having “support” as a designation in the first place, given all of these conditionals? If most DPS jobs provide it, if it’s usually along fairly understandable and minor lines, and if it’s not an active choice to be support over dealing damage in a straightforward fashion… does it even matter? Isn’t it all just passive?

I think there is an importance to it, though, even without digging too deep into the weeds on things like how much Dancer runs on being primarily support-based. And that’s for two reasons, one of them more metatextual and the other being much more about balance.

The former is understanding that while you may not be choosing during a solid run of a dungeon on Red Mage to be doing healing or the like, you did choose to bring Red Mage. You brought a job that you know can raise people if needed (very helpful during new and/or tricky fights), can offer defense against big raid-wide attacks, and can even spot-heal for a moment if necessary. And that’s kind of important in a game that, as mentioned, has 13 different DPS jobs.

Lots of games have multiple options which all deal damage, and most of them do so in basically the same way. There are, honestly, only so many ways to structure a skill rotation. We’re not out of options by any means, but the number is finite. Understanding “Red Mage lets us recover more than playing Pictomancer because it can heal more and raise” is pretty important in context. It lets you tailor your playstyle and choices based around that.

Chomp.

But what about balance? Surely if you can beat a dungeon with your DPS being a Samurai and a Black Mage, the support doesn’t matter at all? And that’s kind of true… but it also ignores that if your DPS was instead a Dancer and a Ninja, more weight also shifts to the tank and the healer and how they play. It gives the developers more knobs to tune in order to make sure that all of these different jobs feel good to play while also making sure that the jobs are dealing an appropriate amount of damage.

Giving players a larger toolbox and thus more approaches to taking on the game is, ultimately, a good thing. I think it is a very good thing that you don’t just choose between ranged, melee, or magical DPS (each of which has its their own broad strengths and limitations); you also get to choose between those fields to decide what’s most important to you. Do you want to primarily deal damage at range? Do you want to support your party while doing so? Or do you mostly want to support someone else while bolstering the other players most actively?

It’s not a question with a right or wrong answer, and it helps all of the jobs feel distinct. And if the cost of that is making the game sometimes a bit more difficult to balance, on a whole… well, I’m all right with that.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I’m going to be responding to what should presumably be the last new Live Letter before Dawntrail, which should be a fun additional preview and hopefully not a repeat of the last expansion’s last-minute delay. (Something Yoshida has kept saying isn’t going to happen again, but you know how anxiety works.)

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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