It is rare that combat design choices made in FFXIV are integrated into WoW. In the current lifespan of both games, FFXIV has largely taken a lead on combat design from WoW, while the WoW team has used some of the design elements of FFXIV to tighten up their story delivery (story telling on the other hand…maybe copy off of YoshiP’s homework some more, yeah?) with more cinematics including the player character and more cinematics in general.
But those aren’t what I’m here to talk about today.
In FFXIV, one of the things that feels most different from WoW is the way that combat centers on a damage meta regardless of roles. In cutting edge Savage and Ultimate content, you often take tanks and healers not based on role-specific indicators like survivability, healing throughput, and the like, but instead, damage output. FFXIV’s model is a predictable, proactive one, so as players gain understanding of mechanics in a given fight, the goal is to not be caught off-guard, but instead to be prepared so that you take as small of a break from doing damage as possible in order to handle unavoidable damage or to mitigate attacks.
What this means is that FFXIV healers are often jokingly called “green DPS,” in that their primary role is doing damage, with triage of the party’s wounds being far-off in second place. Tanks get this designation a little bit less, because tank DPS is a thing in a lot of other MMOs with holy trinity design – hell, in WoW right now, part of why some tanks feel underpowered is a lack of damage output compared to other specs!
So I want to discuss the FFXIV healer game and how it is leaking into WoW.
WoW is a more reactive game, and thus healers tend to be less able to weave DPS into their spell selections, instead needing to remain available to cast groupwide or large single-target heals in response to mechanics. In a dungeon, you might need to keep a tank alive where their mitigation fails, to keep the party alive at the same time as AoE damage stacks up, and to mitigate debuffs through careful use of dispels. In a raid, you’re often given lots of healer “busywork” – unavoidable AoE damage whose sole role is to make you as a healer do work, while also having things like the Tarragrue’s awful ticking DoT that requires stronger single target focus on random players. There is little way to fully prepare for these spikes in damage, so you might pre-HoT the raid or pre-cast an AoE heal to sync up with the ability and then focus in on the task at hand.
FFXIV, on the other hand, is very different due to that reaction. If you (and your co-healer in an 8-player setting) are prepared for a mechanic, you can often spend as little as a single GCD casting the recovery spells needed to set the group right again, allowing you to resume nuking your chosen target immediately thereafter. It is a very different model, but one that I find rewarding, as it means that you can better fill your GCDs with damage spells and it allows a way for healers to further distinguish themselves – you can look at a healing parse, check for overheal, but also then check the damage output on a healer and tell the good ones from the great ones. It gives you a goal to work towards as you learn the various healer jobs, and while the healer DPS rotations in FFXIV are very bland and generic (you get a DoT, a cast-time nuke, and some form of higher MP-cost AoE, joy), they at least tend to look cool (WHM Glare is pretty, Afflatus: Misery is extra-pretty, and it seems like Sage will be full of fun on that front!) and it means that there is a core skill that can be learned and transferred between healing jobs. Each one also has their twists (WHM has Holy stun and the aforementioned Afflatus: Misery which comes from Lilly management, Astrologian has cards and the corresponding buffs, and Scholar has Chain Strategem and the synergy that can have with Ninja Trick Attack and other party-wide DPS buffs), so there is a layer beyond to learn, but as you get good at the basics, the rest comes with playtime.
WoW is now starting to get in on a damage meta, however, more than it traditionally has. In Legion, healers had their damage spells buffed a fair amount to make sure that solo leveling a healer role was not miserable, and each healer was given a mostly-expanded repertoire of DPS abilities to flesh out their kits, or had existing abilities sort of filled in to fit and give each spec a unique flavor of DPS. Both priest specs have unique twists, with Holy priests having a simple Smite/Holy Fire/Holy Word combo that is expanded via Holy Fire cooldown removal procs and the cooldown reduction synergy of the Holy Word system, while Discipline builds healing and DPS together, relying on healing spells to place Atonement buffs, then healing those targets for a portion of damage dealt, while giving a renewed mix of Holy and Shadow spells for flavor, with the unique friend or foe targeting of Penance rounding out the kit. Holy paladins get Crusader Strike as a melee attack which works well with their mastery to make them strong melee healers, which then gives Holy Power and that be used either on Shield of the Righteous to do damage, or a couple of different heals – choosing between single-target or frontal cone AoE. Shamans get their Lightning spells, both Bolt and Chain, and a sampling of elemental Shocks and Lava Burst, designing the spec’s strongest DPS around keeping Flame Shock on a target and then using Lava Burst charges, getting additional charges via proc, and filling the space between with Lightning Bolts. Druids have all sorts of options and can choose a preference via the Affinity talent row, opting to stay casting and go Balance Affinity, being able to use Moonkin form to empower damage spells while giving them a very basic version of Eclipse, or Feral Affinity, to catweave and play in melee. I suppose you could go Guardian Affinity as well, but that is more of a weird choice that you either take for damage reduction on yourself, or a weird situation where being able to off-tank temporarily is a suitable play. Lastly, there’s Mistweaver Monks, who in 9.1 got some substantial damage buffs that make them reasonably good at melee DPS with a normal Monk rotation of Tiger Palm, Blackout Kick, and Rising Sun Kick, with Spinning Crane Kick for AoE.
So this has been the way of things since Legion, and while the damage meta hasn’t fully crept in to World of Warcraft to date, Shadowlands has changed the game a bit in that direction. The issues come in largely through, who would have guessed it, Covenants! Because the Covenant abilities are class-based rather than spec-based, all of them have components that work with the roles given to a class, which means that often, you can use a Covenant ability to either heal or do damage, or in some cases, do both together simultaneously. Night Fae Druids get Convoke the Spirits, which is an RNG spell selector that casts based on the Druid’s current form, selected talent affinity, current target, and range to said target. If you have a hostile target and are Balance Affinity as a Resto druid, it will throw at least a few DPS spells at your current target, some of which may be single-target, DoTs, or AoE. If your target is friendly in that same scenario, you’ll get at least a few heals on that target at some point in the channeling. If you have a hostile target and are within melee range, you’ll throw some Balance spells but might also hit a few Feral druid abilities as a part of it.
The big focus in the WoW community right now is the most recent race to world first, and the fact that Echo’s winning raid composition on Mythic Sylvanas was 4 healers – two Holy paladins, two Discipline priests. The choice is easy enough to explain – the 4 healers on the winning attempt collectively did about a DPS players worth of damage while also keeping the raid alive. How is that? Well, also fairly easy to explain on the surface – the Holy Paladins were both Venthyr, while both Discipline Priests were Kyrian. If you’ve been paying a smidge of attention to healing in WoW, you’ve surely heard of Venthyr Holy paladins and the power of Ashen Hallow – it allows incredible burst DPS and healing on a long-ish cooldown and enables a Paladin casting it to use their Hammer of Wrath on targets within the effect radius, doing even more damage. Stacking buffs for a strong Ashen Hallow can allow a Holy paladin to even exceed most DPS players in raw throughput for the spell’s duration. It is counterbalanced only by the long cooldown, so over the course of a 10-15 minute fight, the spell isn’t exactly overpowering. Some might argue it’s overtuned, and I am likely one of them, but at the same time, it has a high skill floor to use potently and, as many will have seen by now in meta-chasing Mythic Plus groups, it can just as often be wasted in the hands of a less skilled player. As for the Kyrian choice on the Priests, it comes down to damage and healing there as well. While Boon of the Ascended is not as strong as Ashen Hallow in that way, it allows a moment where you can dole out a fairly large amount of both damage and healing, with an eruption at the end whose benefit is directly tied to how many casts of the transformed spells it gives you for its duration. This means you can stack up a lot of damage and healing, and the more damage and healing you do over the course of the spell, the more you do at the end.
These two specs in particular are changing the game a lot on how WoW’s healer meta is interpreted. Even in Castle Nathria, where Discipline was pretty valued, it was for Spirit Shell and for healing and proactive damage mitigation, with the damage being a nice cherry on top. In Sanctum of Domination, however, the reverse is true, and the healer meta looks very similar to FFXIV, with Echo’s world first kill using the highest DPS healers possible, the highest DPS main tank possible, and then an off-tank whose role was to buff the damage output of the rest of the raid via the Mystic Touch monk debuff. So it leads to an obvious question – will WoW end up with a full damage meta in the near future?
I think it’s certainly on the table for the rest of Shadowlands, at least – barring any significant changes to Covenant abilities in 9.2 or new systems that devalue the damage portion of several healer and tank Covenant abilities, things like Ashen Hallow, Convoke, and Boon of the Ascended will remain potent and likely fixtures in most raids as well as most high-end key pushing groups and the MDI. The impression I’ve gotten from the developer’s public statements is that they may not necessarily be fans of that, but at the same time, this team is loathe to make major changes in patches, especially when the primary culprit is itself an expansion-locked system. I suspect that any attempts at fixing the problem will just involve nudging numbers on the offending Covenant spells until they feel more or less fine and then, oh hey, 10.0 is coming out and those things are going away anyways!
In the future beyond Shadowlands, however? That is harder to say. I get the impression that Blizzard isn’t a fan of an all-damage meta, and that trying to make modern WoW work in that way would require a lot of tweaks to the way raid and dungeon fights are designed that would take away some of the threat of things like scaling damage in Mythic Keystones or various groupwide AoEs designed into raid fights. A big part of WoW’s difficulty design paradigm is centered on chaotic gameplay – random targets, unpredictable elements, things being able to overlap and change timing in ways that force groups to handle each pull differently. FFXIV can have a damage meta because the fights are about choreography and learning the dance – once you learn it, there just isn’t that much that changes between pulls, provided your players are sharp and on-point.
Now, the flipside of that coin is a different direction for the question – would FFXIV ever stop having a damage meta in favor of more reactive healing? I think there is some possibility of that – the development team has sort of danced around the idea in answers to fan questions over Shadowbringers, and Endwalker is bringing a major overhaul of healer jobs by codifying them into fixed camps of Pure healing and Barrier healing. It would, however, similarly require a pretty huge overhaul of the way fights are designed to be satisfying. Part of what makes FFXIV healing satisfying in its own way is that it is full of these moments and plays where you can set yourself apart through maximizing healing efficiency in order to then increase your DPS. It’s not for everyone, and that’s fine – but there’s a bigger risk of alienating the players who already love that playstyle by switching it up. The same is true for WoW healing – make a big change like that and you risk pushing out people who enjoy reactive healing and aren’t big on weaving DPS into their healing. You can argue if that is a valid concern or not, but generally, I think that both games have their audiences for healing as-is, and it is a challenging role to get new players into – maybe not as bad as tanking, but still challenging all the same, and the players that are settled into that role on both games are there because they like something about it. Change the role duties, and you risk pushing players out and disrupting group finder and matchmaking.
That being said, I do see WoW taking more moves in that direction, and if anything, I think they’ll settle somewhere similar to where the game is today – where healers are designed and balanced around a baseline capability of healing with some damage output, and if a player can particularly strongly min-max to do more damage in that space, it ends up being a fun little perk that comes with a lot of work. Neither Discipline Priest nor Venthyr Holy Paladin are particularly easy to play, as both have fairly high skill floors before you really start being able to do the cool tricks that a healer in a guild like Echo can.
Either way, seeing the design direction for healers in both games over the next few years should be fascinating, as there are a lot of possibilities in the space already outlined, and more design space I’m sure that we can’t even imagine yet. (I still think a Mage spec called Chronomancer that heals via rewinding time would be amazing, and I don’t think I’m alone in that!)