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Combat: Are We Doing it Wrong?

Combat: Are We Doing it Wrong? – January 10, 2011 7:48 PM (edited 1/10/11 2:48 PM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
Rating: Not Rated
Today I was bored and decided to level the four classes I had left at level 1, basically so I can clear my inventory of all "weathered" gear. (Look, it bothers me, OK?!) With all those classes being Disciples of War, it meant I had a lot of time to play with the combat system. And I realized something... I think we may be going about combat all wrong.

Now before I begin, I'd like to state for the record that even if I'm right, it doesn't forgive FFXIV its sins (much like the fact that you can have fun in FFVIII doesn't change the fact that so many people don't). But I want to get as much enjoyment out of this game, so crazy theories are bound to pop up.

I've heard three main complaints about FFXIV's combat. The two I hear from everyone are "combat is too fast" and "I keep running out of stamina." The third, which I think I've only heard from Airclair, is "there's not enough party interaction." I generally disagree with that last claim, but the fact that it's even being made makes me wonder if there's just a disconnect between the way we play and the way the system was designed to work.

Thinking About Stamina
The astute observer will note that the first two complaints about combat are intertwined. Generally, we all spam whatever abilities we can, as fast as we can, as long as we have any stamina left. There's not much in-game incentive not to, after all. But mathematically, it's not strictly necessary. Let's assume the usual play style is to always use the most appropriate action immediately. You'll run out of stamina, but keep doing things as soon as your stamina recovers, and at the end of combat, you'll likely have no stamina. In all, you used a full stamina bar, plus as much stamina as you gained during combat.

Now, consider an alternate fighting method. In this one, we slow down the pace a bit so we don't run out of stamina, but keep it fast enough that our bar is never completely full, either. When the mob is almost dead, we spam attacks until we run out of stamina. Under this model, we've used the exact same amount of stamina, and killed the mob in the exact same amount of time (assuming we used the same actions). There's really no reason not to do this, but we never do. I think there are two reasons for this: first, combat feels hectic so you want to act as quickly as you can, and second, it's just ingrained in our minds that if you can deal damage, you should.

However, let's assume that everyone uses my proposed model instead of the "spam at all times" model. What does this accomplish? Well, first, it gives you a bit more time to think between early actions. Second, it means that at any time if you want to do something, it can be done immediately. I often see Gladiators failing to Provoke when they want to, because it takes so much stamina and they don't have it (or just can't afford to use it). I think optimally you'd want to have about half of your stamina at any given time.

Beyond that, conserving stamina opens up new options. First, you can do things that require timing without as much stress (since everyone is likely to be ready). Practically speaking, it might be better to use up all your stamina before attempting something like a battle regimen, because it takes long enough that you may recover it all in the interim. But still, practice makes perfect, and there are other actions that require timing. For instance, having stamina available is certainly useful when using abilities that are triggered by enemy actions (such as the Pugilist's Haymaker ability).

Second, you can spend more time actually timing things, moving, and so on. And here, I think, is the root of the problem - there doesn't seem to be any reason to care about timing or position. Yet we know, from things Square-Enix has said, that they should matter. So, what are we missing about the combat system?

Stuff We Don't Do or Worry About
There are a few things in combat that we never do or worry about. First is battle regimens. They're a pain to pull off, but the main reason we never did them is because they didn't actually work until recently. I don't bother with Draethor much because as a mage and a tank, there isn't much we can actually do. But two melee characters can pull off a number of debuffs and whatnot, which is probably worth it in the long run. Not against easy mobs, mind you, but I'm thinking about ways to beat much tougher mobs here, not to scream through easy leves faster.

The second big thing is positioning. This was a big deal in all the pre-release hype about this game. I know Airclair experimented a bit with positioning back when he was a lancer, but without any other melees around he was always tanking anyway. Plus, it seems impossible to play a traditional hate-holding tank anyway. But playing lancer a bit got me thinking. Their alternate attack is a bind, which like other binds ends as soon as the mob is hit. In a spam-happy atmosphere, this is basically worthless. Solo, it is actually very effective to bind from a distance, then pull back and use a TP move or whatever, and repeat while retreating. (Which is also kind of how you'd expect a lancer to fight.) But in a party, the mob is going to be unbound pretty much instantly. You'd need a hell of a lot of teamwork and timing for that ability to be useful in a party, and even then, I'm not sure how it would be useful. But it's something.

Then there is the whole "body parts" thing. Admittedly we don't care about that because we're not high enough level to have any of the requisite weaponskills, but the fact that such a system exists brings me to my next point... the whole "attack from the left" and whatnot thing. The game tells you which direction an attack comes from, so presumably that information is important. I know as a mage I've always assumed it makes no difference, but I'm pretty sure I get those messages, too. And as previously mentioned, positioning is supposed to be important. Maybe there's something to that as well.

Conclusion
I have no idea if we actually are missing anything from combat, but I think it would be more interesting in general if we took the time to actually think about what we're doing, and try new strategies. FFXI had interesting combat, but when it comes right down to it, there was only one strategy: have the tank hold hate, then have everyone kill the mob as quickly as possible. It seems like FFXIV was designed for both of these things to be ineffective, yet we still try to play it like FFXI.

--
There is no Mythril Sword in Elfheim
Re: Combat: Are We Doing it Wrong? – January 13, 2011 5:45 PM (edited 1/13/11 12:45 PM)
Draethor (651 posts) Captain Hook
Rating: Not Rated
The body part thing could be very interesting, particularly if weaponskill damage scales well with level, so the main choice between weaponskills is the location of damage, secondary effects and cost, rather than straight up damage. So far, this seems to be the case, although I haven't done any real testing (although one of my highest level weaponskills both costs more and does less damage than lower level ones, but targets "other" limbs).

The direction you attack from does have some effect. I'm pretty sure you can't block or parry an attack from behind. You may not be able to block an attack on your right or parry an attack on the left (the side opposite the hand holding the weapon or shield). Also, accuracy and crit rate seem higher when attacking from behind, but again, I haven't run the numbers on this.

With more people, battle regimens would be incredible useful. The sample ones are all based on 2-3 people and have a lot of interesting possible effects including def or magic def down. They eliminate the timing issues with skillchains from FFXI but introduce some new, potentially worse problems. The main issue is when you have an action queued up, you cannot perform any other actions. So if I queue up an action as a Gladiator, I cannot attack, provoke, or even raise my shield until the regimen has been executed. I've never gone second in a regimen, so I don't know if someone else starting regimen mode affects your actions.

Making regimens more useful would only require a small change. If you hit the regimen button and the next action you perform is queued up, then the any other actions you perform happen normally. Even if the queued action cannot be performed again until the regimen is complete, regimens would very useful. But as they are, there are too many constraints and sacrifices required to pull one off, and if one of the component actions missing, the special effect does not go off.

Tanking

My main combat job is Gladiator, which is clearly designed to be a tank; with job abilities like Provoke and Phalanx (a cheap weaponskill that can only be used after a shield block), there really isn't any doubt. There are a lot of problems with combat that make tanking difficult and, ultimately, pretty futile.

First, most leves involve groups of enemies. Early on Gladiators get Provoke and Circle Slash (an AoE weaponskill) but there is no AoE provoke until War Drums, which is rank 30. This isn't necessarily a problem: the tank can just run in, aggro the group of mobs, and the party focuses on them one at a time. The way the system works, however, mage spells can be AoE with no change to the cost or damage per target, so not blasting away seems like a waste of time. Coupled with the fact that, mages never run out of mana doing leves, at least from what we've seen playing up to level 25, there is no downside other than the fact the everything will start attacking the mage.

This brings us to the second problem, damage mitigation. At level 23, a well geared gladiator (level appropriate normal quality gear) and a well-geared mage have almost the same defense (the gladiator had 8 points or 4% more). Metal armor does provide direct damage reduction, but at this level, it's 3-4%. Finally, it's not clear what, if any, impact Vitality has on defense, since it doesn't change the listed defense value. Vitality does increase hit points though. At this level a gladiator with almost capped vitality has ~50% more hit points than a mage with few points in vitality. Despite this difference, our experience in a one mage one tank party is that if the mage cannot tank the enemies, the gladiator will not be able to tank them well either.

So with one mage and one tank in a party, there is an incentive to keep all enemies on the tank, but what about for larger parties. If there are two mages and a tank, with the mages similarly geared and spec'd, we'd expect a roughly even split of monsters attacking each mage. So if there are two monsters, we'd expect one attacking each mage. Coupled with the fact the the mages can heal each other and blast each other's monster trivially, there is no incentive for the gladiator to attempt to tank. In fact, I'd expect a 2 mage party to perform better than a one mage and one tank party in every situation.

Finally, we come to targeting. In almost every leve, the monsters spawn areas contain "wild" monsters as well. Although they may not be aggressive, one or more will be nearby in any fight. The difficult in targeting the correct mob increased exponentially with the number of possible targets on screen, particularly if the keyboard is used. This not only includes other monsters, but can also other players, such as party members. Unlike party members, there is no easy way to see or scroll though the monsters that are currently engaged with the party. Coupled with issues like the game not releasing a "lock" on a monster immediately on death, means that targeting is slow, making it even hard to hold hate, or even change to a new target after the old one dies.

On top of these issues, there are a host of minor problems. The most annoying, from the point of view of a tank, is the action bar doesn't say whether or not an action can be used. If you have enough TP and MP for an ability it lights up, otherwise it is dark. For most things this is sufficient, but for one incredibly useful ability Phalanx, this is a problem. Phalanx costs 250 TP and must be used within 3 seconds or so of blocking an attack with your shield. Unfortunately, the only way to tell if you have blocked something is to stare at the battle log, since Phalanx will be lit up regardless of whether it is actually usable. Given how much scrolls by in the log, it is easy to miss a block, making one of a tank's best abilities nearly unusable.




Re: Combat: Are We Doing it Wrong? – January 13, 2011 6:00 PM (edited 1/13/11 1:03 PM)
Talraen (2373 posts) Doesn't Play with Others
Rating: Not Rated
I agree with you regarding the action blocking thing. If you let someone stack an ability then act freely, there really isn't any downside I can see. I mean, I guess you can have everyone attack then immediately do a regimen so you're doing damage in a tiny burst but... so what?

As for armor, keep in mind I am a few ranks ahead of you. However I don't really pay attention to defense when choosing gear, so I probably shouldn't be so close to you in defense anyway.

There is at least one situation where a two-mage party would suck: leves that involve imps. Imps have ridiculous magic defense and they're the main enemy I have trouble with solo, usually having to reduce difficulty to defeat them. And they tend to one-shot me with Impish Incantations at low HP, which seems to be much rarer when you're around.

The targeting is definitely a problem - I recently did a full 15-man behest and it was just a clusterfuck. The only reason I was able to do anything at all is because the subtarget for spells skips party members, but even still it was very difficult to find the red target.

I don't know if I've mentioned this here, or in game, or whatever, but I think they should introduce a targeting system based on other Final Fantasy games. What I mean is, literally put up a menu of nearby monsters. Let people target them with the D-Pad like party members, or with hotkeys. This would solve a lot of problems, since the biggest issue is actually finding your target in a big mess. A way to switch targets without closing the command bar would also be extremely useful, though I'm not really sure of a good method for that.

Finally, I suggest opening a second chat window that shows nothing (or almost nothing) except whatever filter shows you blocks. That makes it a lot easier to notice them, I've found. Potentially you could see about changing the text color as well, but I haven't played with that so I don't know if that's actually feasible.

EDIT: And I almost forgot. I actually can very easily run out of MP if I'm not paying attention and using Siphon MP well. And Conjurers don't get a secondary MP restore, so unless they level Thaumaturge they're even more screwed. I've had a lot of problems with Nanawa Mines leves and MP, because there are so many aggro mobs beyond leve targets that you have to deal with.

--
There is no Mythril Sword in Elfheim
Re: Combat: Are We Doing it Wrong? – January 13, 2011 6:05 PM (edited 1/13/11 1:05 PM)
Airclair (1096 posts) Doesn't Play Well with Others
Rating: Not Rated
My advice for Phalanx activations is to listen for the sound of a shield block. It is very distinct (sounds like crunching a 2x4 into a woodshed or something) and as long as your sound is high enough, it's easy to notice it. Also the animation, at least on a Lalafell, was fairly easy to notice as well and in combination with the sound I don't think I missed many Phalanx opportunities.

Sadly this fails utterly for Evasion and evasion based attacks (like the Monk one) on the sound front, but works for the animation (though not as well). The parry one is by far the worst, the sound of a partial parry is very non-distinct and the animation is crap (at least for my 2H axe). I think true parrys sound better (I believe I heard those occasionally) but I didn't get high enough to get many true parrys.

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