I am someone who is on the record as having enjoyed FFXIV PvP prior to the current patch, and so with Crystalline Conflict out and the massive job overhauls that came for PvP in the patch, how is it?
Well…I ground out my Series level 25 before the end of the first week of the patch, if that tells you anything.
So how is it?
Well, there is good and bad worth discussing. To start with, my experience is a mix of high-Bronze ranked CC play, Frontlines, and casual CC play. I’m not a high-ranked PvP grinder or someone with actual advice or tier rankings to offer – just a learner with opinions.
To start with, we have to touch on the job redesigns. PvP in MMOs with large PvE fanbases and components is complicated, because the abilities you design for PvE content can be used and abused very differently in PvP. WoW has had numerous problems with PvP design and balance over the years because of the variety of toolkits used in PvE and by trying to keep parity of abilities such that your hotbars stay the same and the abilities play the same in PvP compared to PvE.
FFXIV’s approach to job balance here was to throw out the PvE jobs almost entirely, whittle down to a core rotation that plays somewhat similarly to PvE, and then layer on a couple of abilities that use PvE ones as a jumping off point of sorts but are drastically different. There are no job gauges in PvP now, because everything is built from combos or cooldowns. The full hotbar loadout of abilities including the baseline stuff everyone gets maxes out at 11 binds total, with most jobs having a single-digit number of buttons to bind. Limit Breaks are back in PvP, but with the added flavor of each job having a totally unique LB all to themselves – from massive healing lasers to charm circles to screaming your opponents into submission, the flavor is off the charts.
This approach actually works really well, because there are two things about the redesign that work incredibly well – each toolkit feels like it belongs to the job based on flavor, and it is easy to learn how to read the flow of combat. In WoW PvP, each spec has like 20 different abilities across 36 total specs, and with subtle animations at that – reading the abilities in the moment based on visuals is a massive challenge and learning curve. It can take a player years to get the flow of things, even as you whittle down what abilities you look for. In FFXIV PvP in 6.1, you can identify the job of another player easily and know what abilities look like with little exposure. A caster with a black or white circle at their feet? That’s a Red Mage. That plate-wearing madman just flipped into combat, crushing an opponent in the process? Warrior there, watch out if he encases himself in crystal momentarily. That enemy caster is trying to line up your team in a straight line from the middle of a pack of their allies? That’s a White Mage and they’re going to try to hit you with their Limit Break, so watch out.
Because the job overhauls are used in all PvP, not just CC, it has drastically changed Frontlines as well. The flow of things is very different compared to even just a couple of weeks ago. Tanks are DPS but less fragile, Healers are DPS but more fragile, and the DPS range in survivability. Everyone has the ability to delete another player with smart play – my highest overall DPS and damage done in most PvP has not come as my old PvP standby of Dancer, but as Warrior and White Mage. Everyone can self-heal and the resource management of that is an interesting game to play, as you have easy self-heals for MP cost but slow regen, and needing more MP means being a sitting duck for 5 seconds to channel an elixir to full heal and restore all MP. Everyone can be defensive too, by popping Guard, an ability that reduces all incoming damage by 90% but halves your movement speed and is channeled, so any other ability will drop the shield and start the cooldown. This creates a vastly more interesting strategic gameplay when compared to pre-patch PvP’s solution to healing.
The new mode of Crystalline Conflict is actually very good, as well. The objective is clear and classic PvP gameplay – get on the payload, and every job is capable of getting on the payload, even ranged DPS. The 5 minute time limit creates a fast and frenetic match pacing where early mistakes can often be quickly redeemed and the overtime rules create a lot of frenzied pushes on the crystal where players scramble to keep the other team away to create their win condition, and the crystal resetting to center if no one is pushing means that progress must be maintained and makes every change in ownership mean something. The map layouts are pretty decent for this, with a mix of ranges, line of sight blocking, and quick recovery options like speed lanes or quick travel to points of the map.
The series reward structure is a good start to making PvP in FFXIV feel more valuable. It is purely cosmetic, with layers of rewards that are both pre-set (the series milestone items like Framer kits, the sunglasses, and the Archfiend armor set) and deterministic (the uprezzed old job armor sets and the new unique weapon models from Trophy Crystals), on top of the existing bank of Wolf Mark rewards that you can purchase and the ability to buy Wolf Collars from the Feast (RIP) to buy the rewards from that mode at a slow pace. The rewards being cosmetic alone has not stopped the Wolves Den area from popping off – I was often the only person in the area prior to the patch, where now the area is so densely packed that it has pop-in as you move because there are something like 1,000 or more players packed into this tiny place. Any design that posits that players only chase power as a reward should learn from this – all the PvP rewards in FFXIV are cosmetic and yet because the gameplay is fun, the mode is packed 24/7!
There is some downside to discuss, however.
Firstly, the job revamp is great, but the balance is not. There are already meta-defining jobs in White Mage, Warrior, Samurai, Dragoon, Machinist, and Red Mage, where the power level is super high and the learning curve is not too bad. White Mage has a bug with Cure II that can lead to limitless healing if played right, and Warrior is so far ahead of the other tanks in throughput and survivability that it is funny. Samurai can, under the right conditions, auto-delete the whole enemy team, as can Dragoon, and the Machinist LB is basically a free kill if you have Guard down. There are a lot of middling and underperforming jobs, and some where the design philosophy is odd – Dancer, my old PvP standby, needs to use their dash to empower their single-target abilities twice to use their actual best nuke, which is odd and sort of cuts against the ideal of CC (get on the fucking crystal!). Parties in CC that hew closer to a PvE group comp (1 tank, 1 healer, rest DPS) generally do better, and matchmaking at random from a solo queue means that is not something you can influence or guarantee, which feels a little bad!
Secondly, CC as a mode has some kinks to work out. Overtime can lead a match to a conclusion vastly different from what the match to that point had led to – I’ve had matches where my team won after a match that saw the timer end with the crystal only a pixel out of our goal! The maps are all mostly fine, but I think that the volcano map has too many LOS breakers which makes being a caster on it an exercise in frustration, and Cloud Nine’s turbulence mechanic just flat out sucks – the black Chocobo feathers have a hitbox smaller than anything in the game, needing to burn Guard if you can’t get a feather sucks, and the tornados hit way too hard for a simple map obstacle that is often somewhat a challenge to see.
Thirdly, the ranking system and matchmaking need improvements. The tiers of each metal being something you can fall down from sucks – I had one bad streak where I got to Bronze 1 and then fell to Bronze 3, because the system isn’t as fine-tuned as a proper ELO or MMR system. Depending on the queue situation, you will often be matched with a mix of players either a tier up or tier down from you, and not like in the same metal tier, but different ones. This makes being Bronze and escaping it feel pretty bad, because you can get on a streak of being matched with Silver teammates and having strong matches only to end up with a boatload of newbies and that will cost you any progress you made over the last handful of matches. As more people hit proper ranking points and the mode becomes more familiar, I expect some of these problems will work themselves out, but they are prevalent in the here and now.
Fourth, I have a love/hate relationship with the limitation of Quick Chat in CC matches. On the one hand, ranked play makes a lot of toxic assholes rise to the top, and nothing pushes me out of a game faster than having to play with selfish pricks that have no consideration for their teammates as people (see Warcraft, World of). For that reason, I vastly prefer Quick Chat. On the other hand, quick chat is limited in what you can convey, and while the team has done a good job of building chat prompts that work quickly in situations (based on your current target, MP or LB values, etc), you can’t communicate a nuanced strategy or pivot quickly with the options on offer. The best you can do is call out your current target to create focused pressure, encourage people to get on the crystal or fall back to regroup, and offer basic social utterances like greetings or apologies. It also doesn’t prevent assholes from doing stupid things – I’ve still had to blacklist idiots who spam “nice match!” or “good job!” in QC when mistakes are made (and these people uniformly are bottom of the stack in the team rankings at the end of the match). I think quick chat is still the right compromise here, because it is usable on console with ease, but the options could use a little more fleshing out – being able to call out ability cooldowns, Guard, and map hazards would be good additions, and some sort of spam prevention that locks the same quick chat for like 15 seconds if you spam the sarcastically-used ones would be nice.
Next, abilities need some responsiveness tweaks. Guard and Purify both feel like they have big startup delays that mean they often activate too late to be useful, and Purify’s seconds of immunity post-usage don’t seem to work at all, creating a scenario where you can still be locked down in spite of having used the ability properly. Crowd control in general needs some tweaks, as there are no diminishing returns, which means that the White Mage polymorph and other such lockdown choices can be spammed on cooldown and are useful every time. Granted, these effects last significantly less time than their equivalents in other games, but it can still reach a point where a strong White Mage can keep a player locked down for a substantial chunk of time without a lot of viable counterplay.
Lastly, I have concerns over the long-term viability of the content here. The mode is great and I have never enjoyed FFXIV PvP more, but right now it is popular because of a confluence of things – it’s new, the Garo rewards are back for new players who missed the first implementation, and the Series rewards are worth getting in my opinion, but as people start to get to the win counts needed for Garo titles and mounts, finish out their Series progression, and buy the rewards they wanted for Trophy Crystals, I do think that you’ll see people start to thin out of the mode again. I already have not played a Crystalline Conflict match since this Monday, because I got the Archfiend armor I wanted, and while I have been doing Frontlines and will go back for more CC to finish the Garo stuff up, I’m not sure that it will be my main play at any point. I like it, but I don’t see myself pushing rating higher than maybe Silver or trying for the ranked reward grind to get the special Framer kits. I don’t think that PvP will go back to the status it had pre-patch, where almost no one played it, but I also don’t think FFXIV is ever going to be a PvP-contender MMO for most folks.
But overall, I find Crystalline Conflict and the revamp of PvP as a whole to be a great start on making the mode more interesting and more populated. It’s the first time in my active FFXIV time where it feels like the dev team has really focused in on PvP gameplay and offered players something novel and enjoyable there, and it has a lot of strong incentives to play it. Issues aside, it is also fun, and it is precisely engineered in a way that reduces the drag of PvP to me in other games – CC matches are short so any tilting or salt I could experience is very contained and locked-down, and the readability of abilities is something that makes learning it and getting into the mode more completely accessible to more average players. The way that the job revamps have changed Frontlines is interesting and fun to me as well – it creates layers of unique gameplay within even the same job and team comps.
It’s a promising start and something that I hope they continue to iterate on!