The combat flow
Let's just lay down the basics so we're all on the same page. In essence, combat in Final Fantasy XIV is a game of resource management. On the surface, the system looks like City of Heroes' system, which is all about cooldown management, but the four different resources you haved to handle in FFXIV are far more important than the generally short timers on ability recharges. And yes, I did mean four -- HP, MP, TP, and Stamina are all resources to be handled and shepharded accordingly, because you will inevitably take damage, and your HP is used as a resource by several abilities.
HP is used mostly by on-next-attack abilities or on-next-cast abilities, and it's a useful buffer between you and, well, dying. It regenerates out of active mode and through various spells or abilities. MP is used for spells and a few of the nastier weapon skills, and it does not regenerate except via a handful of abilities. TP is used for weapon skills and several smaller abilities, but it starts at zero and is slowly generated during combat, dropping back to nothing once you leave combat. And Stamina starts full and quickly refills during combat, mostly acting as a governor to prevent you from spamming things too quickly.
I had originally drawn a comparison between Stamina and Energy for World of Warcraft's Rogues, but it doesn't quite work. A good Rogue uses all of his energy at every moment, so he's waiting on it to come back around so he can use his next attack. This is sub-optimal in FFXIV -- you want to have enough Stamina to break out a heal if needed. It's TP that you want to be dumping as soon as you generate it, since there's a hard cap of 3000, and it builds up awfully quick when you aren't using it.
MP, on the flip side, should be held close and conserved carefully. Disciples of Magic get a decent-sized refill every 10 minutes, but the short version is still that you don't want to be hammering through your MP faster than you can recover it. Disciples of War don't get anything to regenerate MP, at least until they can start porting over skills like Damnation. Don't be afraid to heal yourself out of danger, but don't just cast spells on everything you see and then wonder why you can't heal yourself when it matters. Unfortunately, this kind of marginalizes debuffs early on, so life isn't fun for Thaumaturges.
Tricks of the trade
Once you understand the basics, you can start looking at some of the bigger-picture issues. For starters, you can realize that any class engaging in combat will want to have some sort of TP dump -- an ability with a fast recharge that costs a reasonable amount of TP, and preferably one that also has some benefit from multiple uses. Concussive Blow and Skull Splitter are both fine choices within the first 10 levels, although you can go with something a bit less stacking and a bit more general-use. Moonrise only applies its effect once, but it's a blessedly useful effect.
There is more to the mechanics of a fight than just beating things to death, however, and position is an important part of keeping control of a fight. Not only do several abilities affect cones or lines rather than blanket areas, but attacks from the side or rear are more damaging and harder to dodge than attacks from the front. Needless to say, this means you want your enemies in front of you at all times, and if you can get them to turn their backs to you, so much the better. Casters and Archers will likely find themselves unable to step around, but melee characters should take the opportunity to strafe to one side and try to attack from the rear as much as possible.
Oh, and that preponderance of conical or straight-line abilities? Yeah, that isn't limited to you. Dodos, for instance, can ruin lives with a Rancid Belch, but that only works on someone standing in front of them. Duck behind them and they wind up blowing the attack altogether. I believe there are other abilities that work similarly, such as Thousand Needles, but several of them have a very short cast time, which makes it hard to dodge them conclusively.
Disciples of Magic get the ability to turn every spell into an AoE whenever they want. This doesn't change the MP cost of the spell nor (to the best of my observation) the potency of same. For harmful spells, this is a time when it would be wise to ask yourself if all of your targets and only your targets will be hit by your cast. Beneficial spells, however, might as well just always help everyone around you.
The first 10 levels of a discipline are not terribly hard to earn, and they provide you with a wide set of useful abilities. While you're under no obligation to pick up all of these, it's not a bad idea to consider some combination of them for your character's overall well-being.
Second Wind: Yes, it's only a decent heal every minute. But boy, does that heal come in handy when you consider that it uses TP instead of MP. It won't be your sole source of healing in all likelihood, but it helps greatly with controlling MP costs and keeping you alive.
Shadowbind: There are a lot of options for rooting targets, but it's hard to beat Shadowbind's direct and to-the-point work at minimal cost. Lancers won't need it, but other disciplines might find use for it, especially if you're all about casting at range.
Damnation/Radiance: These are essentially the same skill dealing different sorts of damage, in both cases allowing you to regain MP if the skill hits successfully. If the idea occurs to you that Scourge or Banish would combo nicely with these two weaponskills... well, now, that's just crazy enough to work.
Concussive Blow: Not just a great TP dump with a stacking debuff, but a skill you'll pick up anyway on your path to Second Wind.
Red Lotus Blade: OK, the MP cost is a bit off-putting. But what if your character has the extra MP and could use a high-damage skill to help burn through excess TP? It's low in the tree, and because it deals Fire damage, it's improved by your Fire attribute. A nice damage boost as you level a new class.
Cure: If I have to heal a party, I'll go with Sacrifice. If I have to heal myself, though, Cure provides more bang up-front and a better overall effect. It's an easy skill to unlock, at that.
Brandish: Yes, you do have to be careful with AoE effects when doing guildleves, especially since several low-level quests involve a bunch of non-aggressive red targets just wandering around blithely. But when you can cut loose with a big smash, it helps to weed out unwanted targets quick.
Moonrise: Inhibited cuts enemy TP gain, and when you realize that most enemy abilities are fueled by TP, this essentially slows down several really dangerous attacks. Plus, it hits like a truck.
I can only hope this has helped you see the violence inherent in the system just a little more clearly. Next week we're going to move on to discussing the first steps toward making a character build, which is even unsteadier territory for me... but that's clearly not stopping me. Liked this? Hated it? Let me know in the comments or send a message along to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please note that "it" does not refer to FFXIV in this instance. We get it. Let's move on now.)
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.