Rotation, rotation, rotation.
Every class in FFXIV:ARR has something called a “rotation” – a series of skills in a specific order that optimise the output of damage or healing that it can do. Some rotations are more obvious than others and the game gives you a hand by highlighting the follow-up skills with a small yellow dotted border around the next skill in sequence. Others, however, require a small bit of study (or one good look at a guide!) to understand when they should be used, and what skills to use them in conjunction with.
The other important thing to remember about the skills in this game? The vast majority of them work on a “Global Cooldown” basis – which means when you use one skill, they all go onto a cooldown. A few select skills are “Off Global Cooldown” and can be used even when others cannot be, and they’re often equally important.
So then, shall we dive in?
Final Fantasy XIV is a pretty casual friendly game, despite what it might appear as. You can get by without knowing the entire intricacies of your various class rotations, as long as you always remember the basics, and you’ll generally do okay. So to start with: take this entire post with a little grain of salt (or a big one if you’d prefer.) While this information is interesting and might even be useful to some of you, it isn’t Gospel and you won’t need to worry about it for most of your play.
You can and should learn these at your own pace. And please, whatever you do, don’t feel intimidated by guides if you look them up. Because some classes have very intimidating guides, like the Dragoon class, where your full-on level 60 rotation is over twenty skills long and requires some pretty immaculate timing on your part to never mess up. You probably will mess it up, several times, due to several reasons. And that’s just fine.
With that out the way, let’s take a look at some of the basic rotations and what they do on each type of class.
On your tanks, your basic combinations will help you generate enmity, which basically helps you hold onto monsters and keep their focus on you. (You might also know it as threat, hate or aggro, but it’s important to know the term FFXIV uses for this mechanic so that you can read your skills and know immediately what each do.)
On your DPS classes, especially melee DPS, your basic combinations increase the potency of your skills, which basically means that they do more damage to the things that you hit. This is another important term to remember: the “potency” of a skill is naturally how good the skill is at doing whatever it does, be that damage or healing.
On your healing classes, your basic combinations aren’t quite so obvious. Instead, as a healer your combinations will be more situational than they will be basic. You have skills that you can trigger in a certain order to increase the healing potency of your cures, for example, but you don’t need to be using them all the time. At higher levels, some of your skills also have a percentile chance to combo together with another skill (normally, for example, an Astrologian’s Benefic has a percentile chance to buff your Benefic II so that it is a guaranteed critical heal on whoever you cast it.)
Because healers don’t have traditional combinations or rotations, we won’t be focusing on them too much in this post, but do keep in mind that they still get combo skills and they still benefit from applying certain buffs on themselves before casting other skills in order to get the most out of their heals.
I main a Dragoon in FFXIV:ARR (although I also have a Black Mage and an Astrologian levelled to 60 at this point.) So I’ll use the Dragoon as an example, but it’s good to know that these mechanics will come into play on almost all of your classes!
Dragoons, once they reach level 60, have two basic combo chains that they will use. I call them “basic combo chains” because they are combos that the game indicates you should use, by highlighting the next skill in line with the aforementioned yellow dotted border around that skill on your hotbar. It is very good practise to always use skills that have outline, and there’s generally never a reason not to. Thus: these are your very basic combos, the ones the game even highlights for you to use. Melee classes get these more so than casting classes do.
However, we also have some skills that give us buffs or special effects, so we don’t just rely on these two basic combinations to do our damage. Actually, we have a lot more than that. We have a skill called “Heavy Thrust” that increases our damage by 10% for example, so as soon as you get this skill, you will always start your attacks with Heavy Thrust for that damage bonus. We also get a skill much later on called Blood For Blood – a special buff we can apply to ourselves to increase our damage dealt at the expense of increasing the damage we take. The problem is, however, that Blood For Blood only lasts for a certain length of time, and because of the Global Cooldown system, if you use it at the very start of a fight, you don’t have it for when you use your most damaging skills. We also get a special buff called Life Surge, which guarantees the next damaging skill we use will be a critical hit and lets us get a percentage of that damage back as health. But this is only good for one skill, so the timing is important.
So, the simplest rotation for a very, very, very basic Dragoon consists of nine skills. I won’t bog you down with the order, either, because the main point I’m making here is that while basic combinations are simple enough, they often have other skills woven inbetween to improve the damage they do.
It is easier than it probably sounds right now, I promise! It can just take a bit of practise to understand, but as long as you enjoy your class and you double check what your new skills do as you acquire them, it should become fairly obvious where you should use your skills and the order you use them in.
What about casters, I hear you ask?
Casting classes, healers and DPS both, work on a slightly different but still otherwise similar level: some skills chain together into others. However, unlike melee combos, where they chain together innately, a lot of casting classes tend to have combos that require procing. What that means is your combos only have a chance to “proc” (as is the term used) and become usable.
Black Mage is a perfect example of this: at a certain level you gain an innate passive bonus to your Fire I skill, called Firestarter. This passive bonus gives your Fire I skill a chance to give you the Firestarter buff, which lets you cast Fire III for no MP cost and with no cast time. You also even later on get a skill called Sharpcast, which guarantees your Fire I will give you the Firestarter buff.
So as you can imagine, while Black Mages do have a rotation, the rotation depends on whether their special buffs (such as Firestarter) ‘proc’ and make their relevant combo skills available. (Of course, at the time you hit level 60 and get all your skills, the only thing you’ll care about as a Black Mage is keeping up your Enochian buff, which gives you access to Fire IV and Blizzard IV respectively – each your most powerful skill in the fire/ice lines.)
The same goes for every other casting class: there is an order to your skills, which honestly normally comes in the way you gain your skills to begin with. As you become more powerful with more skills, there will be buffs you can use that either give you access to more skills you can’t use otherwise, like Black Mage’s Enochian, or buffs that you’ll want to cast because they improve the skills you do use.
Of course, the natural tradeoff between melee and casters is that casters must be standing still to use their skills, while melee have the freedom to move and rotate around monsters and AoEs as necessary. While casters might have “smaller” rotations overall, they have to more carefully juggle their buff timers around cast times and the chance that they might have to move and thus be unable to cast a skill they need to.
None of it is rocket science, and it really isn’t as complicated as it can be made to sound (I promise!) but as you can clearly see, there’s a level of depth to the Final Fantasy XIV combat system that makes it a little bit more engaging than most basic MMORPGs out there. You don’t just run one skill after another skill after another skill until things die, as you might have to change your rotation slightly to fit a specific fight that you’re doing. Maybe you’d be better saving that buff for after the boss does his big AoE move you have to move for, so that you don’t cast it only to have to move away from the boss, and lose the buff before you get back to him.
It’s a fun system, easy to start learning and interesting to try and completely master. And again I’d like to reiterate something important: you’ll probably mess it up sometimes. Maybe even a lot of times if you’re like me: I don’t claim to be any amazingly good at any of my classes. Don’t worry if you don’t get the hang of it too quickly, and if you ever meet a naysayer, just ignore them.
They probably lose their buffs and break rotations sometimes, too. They just don’t like to admit it. And honestly, unless you’re doing the absolute most punishing of the game’s raids? It doesn’t matter.