I’ve done it, and at last, all 4 healing jobs are mine at level 90. I’ve done some dungeons, done some EX trials, and I have what I think is a strong casual opinion on how each of them plays.
Healing has almost-always been my main job in MMOs, because it carries with it a blend of stress and excitement, responsibility without the pressure – tanks often have pressure to dictate the pace of a run placed on them by a group, but a good healer can have just as much or even more control over a run without the group members being as excessively critical as they are for tanks. A great healer can save runs and make a bad tank look like a million bucks in spite of their own struggles.
So a new healing job and a slight tweak to the paradigm of healing in FFXIV means that Endwalker brings a lot of new changes to look at and digest. On the surface (and in truth), the changes didn’t require much, but as I predicted for myself, the lure of Sage was too strong and I now consider myself a Sage main (too bad the Weapon EX won’t give me my damn wings yet!). There are a few reasons for that that aren’t Sage related too, so I wanted to give a sort of brief summary of what I’ve found from leveling and playing each of the 4 healing jobs as they are in Endwalker’s launch window.
My original main and the job I have the most hours on in FFXIV – the only time I wasn’t a White Mage main was a brief window at the start of Stormblood where I went all in on Astrologian. White Mage is an iconic Final Fantasy job that’s been there from the very first game, and so it only makes sense that it has been there from the (new) beginning of FFXIV.
White Mage is, stylistically, somewhat interesting in Endwalker. The design of Sage and the way the other healers play highlights something of a potential issue with White Mage, however – it is, by nature, kind of dull. It is still fun to play to a point, don’t get me wrong, but the job is very reactive and thus tends to have a very simple cycle to its moment-to-moment gameplay. With only a couple of exceptions, all of your response buttons are heals, so you solve all your problems with healing. You have a couple of damage reductions (a 1 minute cooldown single-target in Aquaveil and a full group 2 minute cooldown in Temperance), and you have exactly one damage absorption effect (Divine Benison, which gains a second charge in Endwalker leveling to be more useful) and the rest of your problem-solving is heals.
For dungeons, this works out great – White Mage still gets the best healer AoE damage in Holy, whose stun effect is a great short-term damage reduction on the tank for big wall-to-wall pulls. In raid and trial content, however, the benefit is less pronounced and much of your time is spent using a simple DPS rotation until it’s time to heal.
What this does mean is that at level 90, White Mage is a great healer to learn with, as you need no real encounter knowledge to play to high effectiveness. Just knowing your cooldowns and how to efficiently top a group off will get you where you need to go, all of which can be learned in environments far less stressful than a group setting. However, there’s not a lot past that to learn, which is where the job can start to feel dull – there’s fewer button-presses in playing White Mage, less that you can offer the group aside from healing and your own personal DPS, and in that way, White Mage feels a little flat. However, it is only in comparison to the other healers that this feeling crept into my play, because I leveled and played White Mage first and I still enjoyed it – still do, in fact, but the glee of mastery is a little less present there.
Overall, White Mage is fine – they’ve got a great healing toolkit and they’re able to offer a group exceptional healing and personal DPS, but that is about the limit of what they offer.
(At the high end of play, they are the healer that currently suffers the most with MP issues by most accounts, as the changes to Thin Air in Endwalker take a lot of gas out of their tanks!)
The other of the two ARR healing jobs, Scholar was the subject of a lot of memes and derision leading into Endwalker. Scholar has suffered historically from two major issues – resolution order of heals that offer shielding effects resolving the shield last, which meant a lag time between the heal casting and the shield arriving, and faerie AI responsiveness. Coupled with a level 90 ability that was easy to joke about (an AoE damage reduction that makes you run fast, hooray I guess?), and going into Endwalker, it seemed like everyone was going to be eating Scholar’s lunch.
But then Endwalker launched, and Scholar is…good, actually?
The biggest changes to Scholar aren’t in patch notes or in the job changes, but instead are tweaks to how the game engine handles what Scholar does (which also likely saves Sage from ever having those same issues, lucky new job). The first is a change to how shielding works off of a healing cast – instead of the spell resolving in steps, like before, when the spell is cast, a shield is instantly put up concurrently with the direct healing being received by the target. This changes the timing necessary for shields substantially, making it so that you can now reliably time a shield to hit simultaneously with a mechanic from a fight, providing a ton of immediate damage mitigation in crucial moments and just generally easing the learning curve, as a new shield healer player no longer has to learn the precise timing of when a shield hits to time out a preparatory healing cast.
The other change that helps Scholar is that the faerie is more responsive – she’s much more mindful of casting Embrace on party members missing HP, and responds a lot faster to the commands the Scholar gives for cooldown spells like Whispering Dawn. These changes combine to make Scholar feel a lot better than they did before, and it makes the job more accessible to learn in higher-end content.
Scholar’s core gameplay is distillable to single word – strategic. Your goal is to use spells in advance of major mechanics and to plan for when things will happen so that you have cooldowns and resources available ahead of them to cast what you need. Shield healing in general is proactive, but Scholar is especially so, as your resource mechanic (Aetherflow) is available in sets of 3 every 60 seconds, but a lot of your best abilities spend it. The faerie covers a lot of the basic, low-demand triage healing, so what you are left with is preparing for and covering the big spikes – shields to brace the initial impact, Lustrate and Indomitability for healing after a big spike, Aetherpact for sustained healing on a tank, and maintenance healing from the Faerie for quieter times. You also help with group DPS strategically, through the use of Chain Stratagem to make exciting burst windows for your DPS players by increasing crit chance on a target enemy.
What this functionally means is that Scholar has a higher skill floor to meet, and that some measure of your best play comes with understanding of an encounter – knowing when to pre-shield and if that shield itself needs buffs like Dissipation to further enhance it, knowing the DPS burst windows to maximize use of Chain Stratagem (especially if you also have a Ninja with Trick Attack), and knowing when you can lay out and save your Aetherflow for a big burst of incoming damage (since you can burn a stack of 3, use Aetherflow the ability to get 3 more, and then use those too). The changes under the hood help towards learning in an encounter, since you can often see when a big damage spike is incoming and respond with a shield cast before the big group damage AoE hits, resolving the mechanic.
The only things I dislike about Scholar is that the low level play is exceedingly dull (I got Halatali on leveling roulette two days in a row on SCH, and I cast a single heal myself between BOTH runs) and that doesn’t really start to change until level 40 and higher content, and the other issue I personally have with Scholar is that the job has a lot of layers to learn, with each layer peeling back to reveal more. Mastering use of Aetherflow charges means peeling back to find the minutiae of managing when you cast the spell Aetherflow itself and how Dissipation feeds into that, and now you’re looking at the faerie and managing Seraph transforms and those abilities – it is a lot. What makes it great and engaging is that nature, though – there’s a lot to learn as you peel back the layers. There are higher-actions-per-minute healers (the two we have left to discuss today) but Scholar is a fun and interesting healer to master for that strategy element.
Astrologian is both the most changed and most unchanged of the 3 existing healers going into Endwalker. It changed because it no longer has Nocturnal or Diurnal Sect and instead just heals, with the Aspected spells now being the HoT versions they were under Diurnal Sect, more or less. Astro continues to stand out on their cards, which, while they carry the simplified card system from Shadowbringers forward, comes with wrinkles of its own.
Firstly, Astrologian can be hectic to learn because the ideal state for the job is one of flow – you weave spellcasts with card draws, card plays, and oGCD healing buttons. When you’re first working to master it, the job is somewhat more difficult to learn for it – the core of baseline competency with AST is to be playing cards consistently while doing DPS consistently and not letting anyone die, and that is a juggling act to learn at first.
Once you get there, however, AST is a very satisfying play experience (probably my second-favorite in Endwalker for healers) because mastery over the basics gives you this flow state where you’re constantly engaged with something, and there is a rhythm to playing AST that is quite satisfying. You have a lot of great buttons to use to fill multiple roles – your cards help buff the group, but you have Minor Arcana, which either gives you an oGCD AoE heal (Lady of Crowns) or an oGCD big AoE nuke (Lord of Swords), you have Divination to buff the whole group, the seals mechanic is now folded into a new spell Astrodyne that gives you an MP restoration buff and other effects depending on how many unique seals you got from playing cards, and there is the sheer delight of the newly embiggened Earthly Star, which is a set-and-forget AoE that both heals and does damage.
What makes Astrologian stand out as a healer from their pure healing counterpart in White Mage is that their toolkit feels a bit more cohesive and diverse – there are big heals, but there are also shields, damage reductions, and longer-play abilities. The new level 90 spell, Macrocosmos, is a fascinating min-max play like Earthly Star duration or Horoscope usage – you can use it to get a burst of healing quick and trigger it early, or let a group DPS through the duration and up the healing amount it gives, and like the Sage level 90 spell, it has an interesting hook of being both damage and healing. Neutral Sect continues as it was in Shadowbringers, more or less, giving you a potent preparatory ability for big incoming damage that actually works really well with the shield changes, since you can Neutral Sect into Aspected Helios to give a group a decent shield that has a HoT still ticking after the shield burns up. This is balanced by not being able to do it on every damage spike, but it’s pretty damn useful when it is available!
That being said, Astrologians suffer a smidge for RNG, as the card system means that some tools are unreliable. Depending on your group comp, the cards you pull might not be as useful (sure, there will always be an applicable role in any group content, but if you have no ranged DPS, you either use the card on a different role for the reduced bonus or use it on yourself which feels weird), Minor Arcana randomness is iffy (if you really want/need a Lady of Crowns and pull a Lord instead, hope you have other AoE healing tools in reserve), and seals for Astrodyne are random, which tends to mean getting 3 uniques is a rare event and thus you almost never have the healing/DPS potency boost from Astrodyne. Redraw is fine for the main cards (you can still get a dud for your group comp, but at least it still offers something), and I’d love to see a Redraw for Minor Arcana and some form of Seal manipulation as an ability in the future.
But Astrologian is great fun and probably one of the most active healers in the game, with a lot of APM filling those moments in-between healing spikes, and with a great and varied toolkit for handling whatever comes your way.
The Sage level 90 ability, Pneuma, is a big healing laser that can top a group off in one-shot and is damage neutral to your DPS throughput. I could stop there (I fucking love Pneuma, folks), but let’s discuss more.
Sage, the new kid on the block, had to establish some cred to avoid being Scholar – not because Scholar is bad or anything, but because the game’s first new healing job since Heavensward needed something big to set it apart.
The hooks for Sage are many – it has an FFXIV version of the WoW discipline priest Atonement mechanic via Kardia/Kardion (although this is more of a replacement for baseline Faerie healing from Scholar than a completely new and radical transformation of healing mechanics in the game), it has the modifier button Eukrasia that changes a handful of abilities to new forms (including triggering shields for the two affected heals), and it has mimicry of the White Mage lily gauge through Addersgall and Addersting, although Addersgall accumulates outside of combat as well (or when you’re dead in a fight!) and Addersting has one specific trigger (a single-target Eukrasian Diagnosis shield being consumed fully by damage).
Gameplay-wise, Sage is a little less preplanning heavy compared to Scholar – the reactive tools are many and strong for Sage and the shield potency for Sage is slightly lower than Scholar – but strong preplanning is still a key to higher performance. Much of the gameplay revolves around smart use of the Addersgall resource – you have 4 spells tied to it, all of which burn a charge to do a bit of healing and/or damage reduction, and each use of an Addersgall ability gives you back 700 MP, which means that a part of staying MP-neutral or positive as Sage is burning those stacks. You also get Rhizomata every 90 seconds, which you can hit to give you 1 Addersgall to use as you see fit. All of the Addersgall heals except the oGCD single-target flat heal have their own cooldown timers in addition to requiring Addersgall, so you can’t really stack charges to burn through big AoE healing, for example – although you can use Ixochole and Kerachole together to triage up the health of a group and then reduce incoming damage for a spike, or use Taurochole to heal up a tank and reduce their incoming damage, then use Druochole to top them off. (I had to look up the spell names, because the similarity means I often forget which is which by name alone!)
Sage, like Scholar, is at its best when preplanning is engaged, though. If you keep shields on your tank, make smart use of the separate shielding abilities Haima and Panhaima, and cycle through your Addersgall damage reductions on a tank, you can make a zero mitigation random tank that you would hate on other healers feel tolerable by bringing their cooldowns to them! Sage can struggle a bit with bringing back a party on the brink – like Scholar, their best AoE burst tool is tied to a limited resource and on a short-ish cooldown that means spamming an oGCD is out, but you can always hit Ixochole to burst a group to livable standards, then use something like the Physis HoT, Holos, or even a hard-cast Prognosis to bring the group to topped off.
Sage also gets close to the APM of Astrologian (maybe slightly below it) due to Eukrasia. Your main DPS DoT requires Eukrasia being active first, so there’s a flow of hitting Eukrasia, letting its 1 second cooldown resolve, and then casting your Dosis augmented by Eukrasia before spamming unaugmented Dosis for damage. Shield healing has the same flow – you have a cast-time, GCD locked pair of spells in Diagnosis and Prognosis for single-target and AoE respectively that turn to GCD-locked instacasts with shielding via Eukrasia, so you spend a lot of your play hitting two buttons for a single effect alongside weaving, something that gets very close to the feeling of drawing and playing cards for AST.
Sage has a few points of pain right now – the Haima/Panhaima shield duration is very short, so it is unlikely you’ll find a ton of situations to burn all 5 shield charges before the duration ends, their AoE DPS core ability is basically a cooler-looking laser version of SCH’s Art of War (which, I mean, lasers, but also AoW isn’t much fun and making it look cooler doesn’t tweak that), and I’ve found mastering their DPS uptime to be a little trickier thanks to Eukrasia (the way they make a Eukrasian abillity fit the GCD window is interesting but it has thrown my pacing off a smidge).
Overall though, I find Sage great fun and it has become my new main job for that reason. It has high-APM, a lot of different ways to engage with a fight, and a solid mix of proactive and reactive toolkit that feels really satisfying to play and master.
And that summarizes my thoughts on the healer jobs!