My last post was also sort of on this topic, but I tried to stay a bit away from healing design and instead wanted to talk about Sage specifically. However, there is a lot that can be said about what healer design might look like next month based on the leaked Media Tour tooltips for Endwalker.
Firstly, let’s state the obvious – it’s a leak, which may very well be a “leak,” so these are subject to change. I saw copyright strikes on many of the posts on Twitter that contained them, so it seems legitimate, but even then, until the game is released, all of this is still subject to final design, tuning, and tweaking.
Secondly, I want to start the actual analysis of the post thusly – ability design is only a component of the total design and gameplay interactions we can expect in Endwalker, and thusly, it is somewhat difficult to predict how things will actually flesh out. Most of us will be looking at these through a few lenses – that of the long-term healing trajectory of FFXIV and how the damage meta weaves heavily into that, the shorter-term Shadowbringers meta we’ve had for two years and change now that further emphasizes healer damage output and high efficiency, oGCD healing, and temper our expectations against that. This is the case in every MMO with Holy Trinity combat design – what matters to healers depends largely on what obstacles the fight presents and the timetable of a given encounter for incoming damage.
So let’s dive into the ability tooltips and discuss.
The Level 85 Cast-Time Healing Buff Trait
All 4 healers gain a trait in Endwalker leveling that buffs the potencies of their cast-time healing spells substantially. Most base heals go up to 450 potency, and a few additional spells are also buffed (White Mages get buffed Afflatus heals, for example). This buff is huge and comes in at a point where the learning curve of job design should be backing off for players, when the Endwalker toolkits are much clearer for standard play. When I read it at first, it seemed innocuous enough, but the more I think on it (and given how excited I was for actual information, I have thought about it a lot) the more it seems a nefarious portent for what is to come.
Buffing cast-time heals is a move that stands in opposition to many aspects of the current healer metagame, and for that reason, it signals a bigger move to me. Or, at least, a change in design intent. Current encounters are largely built for healers to DPS, and while certain modes of content can make efficient use of cast-time healing spells (it’s me, the White Mage that lazily spams Medica II in-between Glare-ing mobs to death, and we are legion), the overall design is just not that. At the very least, to me this change signifies a shift towards a need to actively cast heals on the global cooldown more. The potency of many oGCDs are lower than those of even the baseline heal of all 4 healing jobs, and the shift in healing towards well-defined pure and barrier healers likely allows a design space for more specific healing demands, as you no longer will have a healing job pulled in both directions like Astrologian currently is.
At the same time, however, the design intent of the development team only matters to a point, as players are likely to work to crack the code and devise their own methodology for escaping the use of cast-time heals. However, there’s another reason I have some interest in this design…
The Sage’s Kardia/Kardion and Its Value
The Sage’s most interesting bit of kit is Kardia, which places a buff called Kardion on a friendly target that makes your damaging spells also heal that target. What is quite interesting is that all of the damage spells that interact with Kardion have a fixed healing amount – 170 potency. On the surface, this is fine enough – you get to keep DPSing without breaking to heal until damage ramps beyond sustain levels, the barrier part of the Sage toolkit staves off the need for cast time healing, all is well. However, what makes me somewhat wary is this – 170 potency is a lot for a free added healing effect to a damage spell, and you have a buff that can double it for 10 seconds every 90 seconds, so…what is the incoming damage profile going to look like?
The Sage design centering this style of healing seems cool, but for the sake of balance, that means that a Sage has to offer a comparable amount of healing and damage to that of the existing healers. What I find increasingly likely is that 170 potency every 2.5 seconds (minus the benefit of spell speed) is going to be okay enough for some easy sustain scenarios, but will often be stretched. Given that you’re putting up barriers for around 150-200 potency through the various other parts of the SGE toolkit, you can get right around a baseline cast-time heal of value in about 5 seconds of DPS casting and barrier-ing, but the design of content will surely ask for more than that. In fact, I find it very likely that this is a prelude to most healers needing to cast a lot more heals, and that the Endwalker content design is going to find new ways to balance that against the damage meta. Without having seen the full set of potencies on offensive abilities for other healers (I know Scholar and AST are floating around, but I haven’t been able to see them yet), it is difficult to get a read on that. There is one thing we can determine from the Sage abilities alone, though!
Will Multi-DoTting End In Endwalker?
The team on FFXIV has been on something of an unexpected anti-DoT crusade leading into Endwalker. Summoner has no more DoTs, Ninja loses Shadow Fang, and while we aren’t sure of the remaining DoTs, they seem to be getting generally pruned from a lot of jobs – although tanks with them and healers will continue to have them.
Right now, certain trash pack sizes make room for multi-DoTting from your healers, as the potency of the damage dealt over time via those spells ends up being favorable compared to simply mashing your one AoE DPS button (save for WHM and that lovely Afflatus Misery!). This is simple in practice – a DoT ticks 10 times over a 30 second duration for 60 potency each time, dealing 600 total potency of single target damage to the affected enemy. Stack that up per target, and assuming they’ll live long enough, the damage is well worth considering.
Sage also changes the game here, however. Sage has no dedicated DoT button, a sharp departure from the design of literally all the other healers. This is “fixed” in a way, however, as the Sage ability Eukrasia turns their standard cast-time nuke spell into a DoT that is fully in-line with the other healers in terms of potency (the new max rank in Endwalker for healer DoTs is all at 70 potency per tick, compared to 60 for the current maximum) while also triggering a Kardion heal at that same 170 potency.
This poses a problem for a SGE trying to multi-DoT, you might notice. In order to DoT 1 target, you have to hit two buttons. On it’s own, this scenario is meh – 700 potency over the full duration is probably worth a single GCD casting, and Eukrasian Dosis (the DoT version of the damage nuke Dosis) doesn’t even have a recast timer of the full GCD – just a flat 1.5 seconds. How this works out depends on how Eukrasia works – if my understanding of it as a no-cost, no-cooldown button that can be used on-demand as often as possible is accurate, then there is no trade-off short of a slightly-higher APM for inputs on DoTting. If Eukrasia does have a limiter of some sort (a fixed cooldown, a cost, requires a proc or conditional trigger to be able to cast it) then picking the DoT is not always the smart play, especially since the Addersting gauge for your big baller AoEs also requires using the Eukrasian single-target heal to generate charges. Further, in a situation with multiple targets, the APM increase can be rather annoying, especially in a toolkit with as many AoEs as SGE. Sure, for a WHM or SCH, DoTting makes sense in the face of a single AoE spell with high MP cost, but SGE has so many AoE damage spells (not counting rank upgrades, four AoE damage spells) that would allow you to cycle through them, especially when the big ones like Pneuma have huge bonuses like partywide damage reduction and Kardion healing. So in a pack of 6 mobs, you can cycle through AoE spells with modestly high potencies, or you can hit 12 buttons to put up 6 DoTs. The tradeoff in terms of gameplay feel is one that will obviously need to be seen, but on paper, it seems the idea is to push SGE in particular away from DoTs, although there will still obviously be some value to them (given that all healers get new ranks of DoTs and SGE is right there with them in ranking up their DoT).
In Endwalker content, most tanks (I’ve only attempted to parse Warrior and Gunbreaker) will have some sort of healing capability. Not in the purest sense of targetable, cast-time healing (well, Clemency is still kicking for Paladins) but in that other effects gain healing as a bonus, like the up-ranked Heart of Stone for GNB and Shake it Off for WAR. Individually, each of these is well enough and not necessarily indicative of a shift in the meta, but given that every tank seems to have gained some healing throughput in the climb from level 80 to 90, I’m left revisiting the first section – incoming damage must be substantially higher in Endwalker content. If Red Mage also has a group-wide heal/barrier effect as they seemed to in the Job Action trailer, then we might be in for interesting times – one where a whole group is expected to contribute to healing and survival in new and different ways.
Off Global Weaving and The New Cast Time for DPS Spells
Currently, AST gets to play with this as-is, but all healers in Endwalker get base 1.5 second, GCD-locked nukes, meaning that after they cast, there is about a 1 second lag time before another GCD can be pressed. This space should open up a lot of possibilities for weaving oGCD spells in – and I suspect even double-weaving will be possible depending on DPS kit. This new gap in the GCD feels like affirmation of a need for more healing in Endwalker content – healers have more oGCD kit than before and much larger spaces in the gameplay flow where those abilities can be smuggled in, and when coupled with the cast-time healing buffs, it seems like there is the possibility that Endwalker focuses a lot more on healers needing to heal, using the cast-time reduction on nukes as a way to allow that without taking the damage meta away for those that like it and making it easier for those who hate the damage meta to try and play it without feeling like they’re juggling too much.
Of course, it is also possible that this space is simply there to make oGCD play feel better and like less of a tradeoff, so who knows until next month?
These tooltip leaks have lit a spark under my ass about healing in Endwalker, primarily because the possibility space of the expansion feels much more open and malleable than it did even just a few days ago. At the last live letter, I envisioned Sage being a radical departure with the Discipline Priest-like Kardion mechanic feeling perhaps a bit unfair, and yet now, the possibility space in my head is much more open than it was before. A more healing-focused meta may yield mixed responses, and to be clear, I’m speculating from the leaks and haven’t seen any actual gameplay or content to firm-up these ideas, but I think there is a sea change in process based on the sum total of changes to healing coming in the expansion. Of course, design intent means nothing if the content isn’t there to push the issue and even then, crafty players can still design and implement their own meta based on these changes that denies the full shift.
Endwalker is so tantalizingly close and I am more eager than ever to see just what healing in this brave new (end of the) world looks like in practice.