I Think I Like Final Fantasy XIV PvP?

The title says it all, really, but let’s go deeper.

A common statement made about FFXIV is that PvP in the game might as well not even exist. For years, I thought the same, despite never trying it. Over the last few months, I’ve made a couple efforts at trying FFXIV’s PvP and…I like it? There’s definitely something there, and there are negatives as well, so I wanted to use this post today to discuss it in more detail.

Firstly, let me explain why I even tried it, and what my stance on MMO PvP is in the first place. Long-time readers might already know this, but I don’t think I’ve directly said it much before.

I fucking hate PvP. Or, at least, I do in WoW.

PvP is one of those things where the community makes or breaks the mode for me. In WoW, early on in the game, I did do a fair amount of PvP. I was never a PvP main or making a point of pushing progress in the battlegrounds, but I did the Honor grind in Vanilla to Master Sergeant, I’ve played most battlegrounds in the game a handful of times, and I did a few arena matches (like, count on one hand number). When things were less established and more freeform – before ratings and MMR, before established strategies for most maps – PvP was fun and I got a lot out of it. As an old healing Priest main, raids had a very difference cadence to the frenetic combat of PvP – mounting up, running the map, checking lanes – it is a very different experience and one I enjoyed quite a bit. Over time, however, my infrequent, weekend-centered trips into the battlegrounds got nastier. As the PvP community of World of Warcraft became more insular, with their own vocabulary that was often map-specific and not explained in matches, the experience got worse. The worst tendencies of edgelords came to roost – projecting desires to uninstall or self-harm, all-caps screeds about how we’re losing from someone sitting in the base not doing anything, and just an incredible amount of freewheeling toxicity – slurs, homophobia, misogyny – all those things that often bubble under the surface of online gaming communities would boil over. It became fundamentally unpleasant – I’d rather a quiet dungeon group where no one says anything than an average matchmade battleground, and so the PvP community in WoW is self-defeating, in my view – pushing prospective players out so there are fewer PvPers which makes focusing development time on it kinda stupid and thus not often done.

So I stopped PvPing in WoW, and short of around maybe 2-5 battleground matches an expansion, I’ve written off the mode altogether there.

Given that, it seemed to me that FFXIV was likely to have something similar – maybe less out and out vile, but still something of a cesspool not worth dipping a toe in. I sat until the end of Shadowbringers with the same basic viewpoint – PvP might as well not exist.

Then I tried a Frontline roulette randomly.

It was…pretty chill and fun, all told. There was a lot to discuss both pro and con, as we’ll dive into later in this post, but I had a good time. Enough that I spent about 2 hours that night queueing into more matches.

So first, let’s discuss the basics of the current state of FFXIV PvP, knowing that in 6.1 it will be changing fairly drastically, with the Crystalline Conflict mode, calling card UI, and the seasonal model of rewards that keep rolling forward.

FFXIV PvP As of 6.0

FFXIV has 3 basic PvP modes at the moment – Frontlines, Rival Wings, and The Feast. Frontlines are your most casual pick-up and play mode – they’re very much like battlegrounds in WoW, but they rotate on a daily basis with only a single map open per day. There are a variety of objectives, but they all distill down simply to point control. You capture a point, hold a point, or destroy a point. Most of the maps have rotating mechanics, so a given point is only up at set intervals of the match which encourages a more mobile and reactionary mode of play, with groups moving towards points nearing activation and map layouts creating strategic opportunities like pinching or creating obstructed escape routes. Rival Wings is two different maps of MOBA gameplay – while each map has slightly different things happening around the players, the goal is to push lanes into the enemy base and destroy the core there. The Feast is up last, and the only one I haven’t played (it is also going away with 6.1). The Feast is basically your Arena parallel for FFXIV – small teams, confined maps, a lot of focused gameplay at small scale trying to push to an advantage.

The other basics of FFXIV PvP are easy enough – you have to be level 30 to enter, but the jobs all have PvP-specific actions, hotbars, and UI elements. Your multi-hit combos are instead bound to a single button that auto-cycles the combo, and in cases where the combo or overall gameplay of a job is highly involved, streamlining and simplifying takes place (Samurai in PvP, for example, no longer has the Sen resource system, and their PvP single-target combo button is just the 3 finishing moves from each of their Sen combos, granting the effects of their buffs or Kenki generation, while your Sen-spending finishers are fixed buttons with their own cooldowns). There is no leveling trajectory in PvP that affects skills or numbers at all – in fact, gear makes zero difference as does your level going in – everyone gets template stats and the full PvP actions for a given job, with the only customization being a modified version of the Role Actions that let you pick two abilities to use. Lastly, unless you’re doing the Feast, you queue for PvP as a freelancer, which means you can change jobs at the start of the match to any job you meet the PvP requirement of level 30 on, regardless of role. The Feast has fixed party comp by role.

What all of this means is that getting better at FFXIV PvP comes down to skill – learning when and how to push on a given map and strategic scenario, learning the finer points of the PvP actions for your chosen job, and sound strategic analysis of each skirmish to identify how to attack the opposing teams. Because you never have a gearing point where your gameplay changes and you don’t gain new abilities in the mode (save for perhaps between expansions), your progress in PvP really hones in on your play, both at the job you prefer and at the mode in question. Randomness in teams can play a role, but that’s a hand everyone is dealt.

PvP is made rewarding through gear with unique looks – prior to Shadowbringers, this meant PvP sets you could buy over time with stats and power increases, albeit without unique stats. Shadowbringers is where the current model of level 30 baseline and stat templates came into play, and so there is a cosmetic set with cool futuristic Allagan motifs per armor type (the main reason I got into PvP now is because the melee DPS set is a mech suit with skintight nanofiber look and robot features for your arms and legs and the tank set has a really cool tech-aesthetic as well).

So let’s discuss my impressions of the actual PvP gameplay!

The Pros

FFXIV PvP is fun, generally. The way each job brings a unique feel to the table and can be powerful in different ways is something that feels very different as expressed in PvP compared to the normal PvE focus of the game. In PvE, Samurai is a burst machine, concentrating a ton of their damage into two-minute burst windows with multi-hits of Midare Setsugekka, Shoha, Hissatsu Senei, and Ogi-Namikiri, coupled with a refreshed Higanbana DoT that ticks away for damage on the target, and then a smaller 1-minute burst window in-between where you have no Ogi-Namikiri or Senei but can still cram a reasonably large number of heavy hits in. In PvP, you kind of don’t have that – you have to create a much different burst setup around skirmishing, picking a single target to unleash on with a mix of your main single-target combo, Midare, and building towards a Shoha, which comes much faster in PvP. Here are my hotbars for each, to compare the relative complexity of the PvE and PvP kits:

So the simplicity of actions in PvP serves a distinct purpose – trimming the fluff. In PvE, you get piles of situational abilities that rely on larger AoE pulls or downtime, or are built to fit into a raid burst window, so when everyone pops their raidwide buffs at those two minute intervals that are fresh to Endwalker, you have powerful stuff to cram into those windows for maximum damage – hence why so much DPS pressure sits on the opener for most jobs including non-DPS roles, because it establishes the pattern for the rest of the fight. In PvP, you have a ton of short cooldowns and are self-reliant on creating your own burst opportunities and cramming your short burst window full. For SAM, this means building enough Kenki during a skirmish to get Hissatsu Shinten into the fight at least once, it means hitting my 3-step single-target combo to build Kenki and do damage, and it means hitting Midare and Tsubame Gaeshi for the second-hit Midare. It also means fitting in the PvP-only melee DPS action Smite (number 12 on those PvP hotbars above), and if appropriate, using the PvP-ified Limit Break which is called an Adrenaline Rush, which is individualized both in ability (role-based) and gauge (only 1 level, but each player gets it and can use it on a whim).

The map types of both Frontlines and Rival Wings serve to create learnable map patterns with distinct play opportunities, but also end up feeling very similar, which can be a drag but also aids learning. A smart player can have their map up during play to watch for point spawns in Frontlines, and will know which objective to take for maximum value. You can fight back against a leading team and push down their point advantage, as deaths (seem to) reduce the team’s score, which incentivizes actual conflict over just blindly holding objectives and playing passive camp defense. Death respawns you at your team base in 5 seconds, so short of small hits to team score in Frontlines, you don’t suffer a lot from a death – sometimes it can even provide the chance to regroup you need!

Rival Wings is actually a pretty great little MOBA mode in its own right, with a twist of pilotable vehicles and controllable cannons. You can do a lot of extra fun stuff with these tools, and pushing against enemy NPC swarms while slowly advancing on their base has some fun to it.

The PvP armor rewards have distinctive enough looks, some more than others (with the exception of both magical sets, the Lost Allagan armor from Shadowbringers is so cool) and they create a meaningful incentive to PvP in their own right. PvP also rewards decent amounts of value to PvE players if you should choose to try it – you can get daily tomestones from the Frontline roulette, and the experience for alt jobs is nothing to sneeze at, being second only to the MSQ roulette.

Lastly, it is worth calling out job balance in PvP here as well. While PvE FFXIV has relatively solid balance (there’s rarely a job that underperforms enough to be unplayable, save for maybe Ultimate raids), PvP-side FFXIV has exceptionally good balance overall, at least at the modes I’ve played. Physical Ranged DPS roles are monsters in PvP, compared to their relatively low personal DPS in PvE content, healers are fantastic to have in PvP but everyone can self-heal slightly with their PvP medkit action, which recharges over time and holds 3 charges, and tanks have some significant pros in PvP (a Warrior hitting you with Holmgang is a terrifying moment!) and cons (they aren’t substantially more survivable than anyone else, so you can still kill them 1v1 with a skillful bit of play). Physical ranged DPS is the closest to feeling overpowering, but they too have disadvantages to exploit – if you keep eyes on them, close range on them to force them out of comfortable burst DPSing, and apply a smidge of pressure, they will fold.

The Cons

FFXIV’s janky and weird netcode strikes hard in PvP, such that getting used to it is one of the core measures of skill. More than in PvE, you will notice the oddity of how the game handles attacks and damage dealing – there is sometimes the appearance of rubber-banding of players, I’ve had cast-time melee attacks like Midare that start casting with someone in range end up still hitting when that target evacuates over 10 yards (yalms, sorry) away, which has resulted in their now-corpse rubber-banding back to my feet (a trophy!) FFXIV’s iffy tab-target logic also strikes hard in PvP – a lot of my matches still have me fidgeting to find a target to attack, and the auto-target a nearby enemy does not have a 100% success rate. Expect to have wholly underwhelming PvP performance for hours of play until you get the hang of it down.

While Frontlines are fairly straightforward and the spawning nature of control points means there is a certain ease of knowing what to do even if you are new, Rival Wings can be a bit tricky, because there are resources to gather, MOBA logic of what lanes to push but with a ton more people, and if you use the vehicles (which are limited resources) and don’t know what you are doing, you will get some grief for it. The team discussion is easier to decipher than much of WoW PvP’s map jargon, though, and you’ll generally be okay following others or applying a smidge of outside MOBA skills.

Lastly, in their current form, PvP doesn’t really have a long-tail reward structure to chase. Once you have the glamours you want for Wolf Marks, you basically can only really chase PvP Experience, which rewards new titles every handful of levels with an accompanying achievement. The changes to come in 6.1 should aid this, as replenishing seasonal rewards will likely mean more things given to PvP over the course of each expansion. However, as of today, at a certain point you’ll either be playing solely for love of the game, or for the daily rewards you get from Frontline roulette – tomestones to help cap and experience to help push an alt job higher.

The Community

But the biggest fear I had is that the community veneer of FFXIV in-game would wash away once PvP was on. Did it?

Well…not really, actually.

PvP chat tends towards being saltier, which is a trend in any game of the sort. Once it feels obvious a team will lose, you may see some small amount of commentary on that. In Rival Wings, you’ll get a smidge of MOBA salt – questioning laning choices and the like in passive-aggressive and sometimes just aggressive ways, some shouting about pushing, and more.

However, as is the case for the rest of FFXIV, the community standards reign, and thus the worst elements of chat are far more constrained and tolerable compared to the outright bursting sewage pipe that is BG chat in WoW. And comparing Rival Wings team chat to League of Legends is like day and night – Rival Wings never gets anywhere near the level of outright hostility of LoL chat.

For me, that is perfect – because I can take a bit of passive-aggression and a small amount of saltiness before I start evaluating if I like the play enough to continue with it, and the core gameplay of FFXIV PvP is reasonably good enough that I find the experience, as a whole, enjoyable.

In Conclusion

I wrote this because I wanted to share my authentic enjoyment of FFXIV PvP, first and foremost, but also because I think the game gets a bum rap for having “bad” or nonexistent PvP gameplay, and that isn’t really true. Is PvP in FFXIV a janky, held-together mess that is constrained by the spaghetti code that birthed A Realm Reborn into the world? Yes. Does it have the polished gameplay modes and long-tail reward structure that draws people into WoW PvP even in spite of that game’s balance issues that also affect PvP? No. Is it fun and enjoyable enough in spite of those things? Yeah, it is to me, at least.

PvP in FFXIV is actually a fun diversion from the main game that makes you think differently about your chosen jobs, and it has a genuinely rewarding skill climb that includes personal gameplay, team gameplay, counter-play, and overcoming the limits of the game engine. Is it worth an eSport league or focused attention? Not really, not yet – and even Square Enix agrees, having tried to push The Feast as a spectator event at Fan Fests in the past, before deciding to retire the mode from the game altogether in 6.1. In a way, though, that makes it more fun, at least for me.

WoW PvP suffers for me in part because of something that also crept into my Mythic Plus experience – streamer play-along. A lot of people want to run routes in M+ that they saw on a high-level stream, and they want to play PvP matches in that game in a similar way – a streamer did this, so it must be good and correct, and I am surely capable of the same. It creates a lot of pressure to play at a level that most of the groups you’ll see, including the people pushing for those ideas, aren’t ready for.

FFXIV PvP is a delightful island unto itself. I’ve seen maybe 2 content creators show PvP anything, and the lack of ratings, MMR, or treadmill mechanics to keep you running on the hamster wheel means that there is far less incentive to mimic insane plays or strategies, and thus everyone in FFXIV PvP tends to just vibe and do what they can in the moment. That is the kind of gameplay I really like, and why I find the PvP gameplay in FFXIV actually fun and enjoyable.

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