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First off, I am an FF fan but no, definitely not a fanboy. I was one of the people that was eager to get 1.0 in the hopes that it would be just like FFXI but with better graphics, but quit after the first few weeks simply because the game was atrocious.
I came back shortly after patch 1.19 when the game was in a playable state and I agree with the majority (speculation) of legacy players who consider the patch 1.23 and onwards battle system to be superior to the current system (personal opinion).
However, I do see a lot of posts from people coming off other games mostly criticizing how the current battle system is too simple, too spammy (I agree to an extent) and too WoW-like (somewhat true). People ask if it gets better at later level or if it stays the same as the basic gameplay you start of with from lower levels.
I'm here to try and provide somewhat of an insight as to how it improves at later levels and especially when you're 50.
First off, I'm not gonna deny the fact that the current system is more similar to WoW that it is to the 1.23 combat system in the way that you are governed by a global cooldown (2.5 sec in this case) that affects almost all your abilities with very few exceptions. Most of the personal buffs, stuns, and special class-themed cooldowns are exempt from the gcd but almost all damaging and healing abilities are tied to it.
At first it may seem very simple and straight forward for all classes, you use the most powerful ability currently available to you as fight an enemy, may it be in or out of combos. This is especially simple for casters and archers who have no such combo systems in place and might fight it even somewhat boring, I can see that.
However, all this starts changing as you progress with your levels, and it's a trend of increasing complexity which will start becoming apparent around the time you reach level 30.
Before I had access to my legacy character I was a pretty big detractor of the current battle system. I thought it was boring, that it lacked depth compared to XI or 1.23 and was inferior even to WoW's system because of the lack of individual cooldowns on abilities. However, after playing around with all the classes at level 50 and doing the level 30+ dungeons I can see now that there are nuances to the combat system that wasn't readily apparent when I was playing a lowbie beta character.
Below is a somewhat rough overview of how each of the classes become more interesting as you gain levels. Please be reminded that this is only through limited testing, and we're only in beta, with more revisions to come later. If you're only interested in a specific class, feel free to scroll down.
Warrior - let's start with tanking. Warrior honestly is fairly basic and doesn't get much more complicated than when they started. The main reason for this is because of the new engine, they're able to implement dungeon encounters that are much more complex than before. Since the tank is almost always the one in charge of handling mechanics (dodging/stunning boss' special moves, moving the boss out of bad areas etc), the added complexity of the role comes not from the class but from the boss encounters themselves. Stunning is an almost essential part of tanking, and for that you have to watch out not only for the red aoe circles but also for long cast abilities. You also gain access to the whole defiance/wrath stacking mechanic, which is fairly simple but if you're tanking a boss, timing when to use Inner Beast and utilizing the heal effect is a nice added element.
Paladin - somewhat similar to Warrior in the sense that you're still in charge of boss mechanics and dodging/positioning but with an additional resource to worry about: mp. Unlike Warriors who can tank multiple mobs and hold aggro just by spamming Overpower, Paladins rely on Flash which is very mana-intensive. Normally this isn't an issue since normal combos have innate threat-generating quality but when it's time to tank multiple mob, you better have some spare mp. Thankfully Paladins get access to another combo that while it doesn't generate any additional threat from damage, it restores mp. And this is where Paladins have an extra mechanic to get used to, knowing when to expend and actively replenish their mp. Add to that a wide array of defensive cooldowns they get access to and it becomes more reactive and tactical that what it starts off as.
Dragoon - now I'm gonna be honest, the physical dps classes are probably the most basic ones compared to the others, but hey, that's always been the case in every MMO. I played a Hunter in WoW and it was never any more complicated than following a simple priority queue of your most powerful abilities (rotation is a common but inapt term for this priority queue of abilities). With Dragoon it's mostly a small matter of position yourself correctly to maximize the damage potential of your weaponskills. You get access to 2 main combos, the second of which is started from behind the target and used only to put up the DoT effect from Chaos Thrust, otherwise you stick to your main, more damaging combo. You do get DoT/Slow weaponskills to use when appropriate but otherwise it's just a matter of cycling through your combos and using your Jump cooldowns to maximize efficiency. Sure it's simple and if you really wanna play badly you can stick to just pressing 1,2,3. But if you're even half a decent player you'll be utilizing at least 10 keybinds not including your stun and personal buffs.
Monk - somewhat similar to Dragoon with the exception that your top priority is keeping up your Greased Lightning buff, which provide an excellent increase in damage and, unique to Monk, a fairly significant increase in Skill Speed. This means at level 50, with proper gear and full Greased Lightning buff, your global cooldown would be closer to a flat 2 seconds instead of 2.5 seconds. This may not seem much but it is very noticeable in combat. You have less time to decide what your next action will be, and since Greased Lightning wears off in just 12 seconds if not refreshed, it's top priority to be able to execute a skill that refreshes it before it runs out. That's in addition to other abilities you may want to perform outside of your normal combos, which is again, like Dragoon you get 2 main combos, which are even more demanding in terms of positioning for maximized damage.
Bard - mainly straight-forward in most cases with the exception of utilizing songs which I have to admit I haven't had the opportunity to test out in a party setting because of the lack of level 50 party content. The dps part of Bard seems very simple and doesn't change much from what it is at low levels. You don't have any combos, you do get access to 2 strong DoTs that are essential to keep up on bosses. You get Straight Shot that grants a 10% damage increase self-buff but your main weaponskill (Heavy Shot) also has a chance to proc a buff that makes the next Straight Shot a guaranteed critical hit. You want to take advantage of the proc not only to score a critical hit but to refresh the Straight Shot buff on yourself. So it boils down to a proc-based gameplay which is more reactive than a straight combo-based playstyle utilized by the other physical dps classes. The simplicity of this part will be (I'm guessing) augmented by the role that songs will play later on in end-game situations.
White Mage - people who say healing in this game is so easy and simple that Conjurers should be nuking mobs half the time to help dps simply haven't tried healing in later levels. This is the most hectic and stressful role in the game, period, even more so than tanking. Sure at lower levels you can spam heals as much as you want and then nuke when the tank is in the green. But at higher levels there's an issue: mp management. Simply put, despite getting access to different tiers of healing spells, this role is not like other MMOs where it's just a given to use the highest ranked spell you have access to. You try spamming Cure II to your heart's content? You'll be oom halfway through a boss fight. Instead SE decided to inject an element of luck to healing. Much as Bard employs a proc-based dps style, White Mage is also dependent on procs to save mp on long fights. Each lower tier of Cure spell has a chance to proc a buff that lets you cast the next Cure spell in the ladder with no mp cost. This is in addition to keeping everyone buffed up and dispelling ailments on party members. The most traditionally reactive-style of playing in MMOs just got even more reaction-based.
Black Mage - again, like Bard this is a proc-based style. In a sense this is most interesting class to play simply because there are a few different ways which it can be played. For people who don't bother looking into their abilities this would seem very simple: simply spam Fire or Fire III until your run out of mp, then switch to Blizzard/Blizzard III. For the min-maxers that have been testing the dynamics of Black Mage it's not quite so simple. You get access to tiers of Thunder spells in addition to the usual Fire/Blizzard exchange and in most cases, stacking all 3 Thunder spells provide excellent damage in addition to providing a high chance to proc (5% per tick per spell) a buff that lets you cast your next Thunder tier spell instantly and with no mp cost, plus having the normal DoT damage added to the initial damage. While your watching for that proc you can also spam your basic Fire spell for a 30% chance proc of making your next Fire III spell instant cast and cost no mp. All of this makes for a very hectic gameplay when trying to maximize your damage in addition to your usual CC duties in a party.
So there you have it. The combat does get more interesting at later levels. This matter of opinion will differ from person to person and I'm not even gonna try to persuade someone who thinks the combat sucks even at 50 into thinking differently. But if you're one of those unbiased testers truly wondering if it gets more interesting later on, then I say it definitely does. Unlike other MMOs that have very straight-forward learning curves, where what you need to do to play your class well is fairly obvious even at high levels, the system currently in place may seem simple, but obscure elements and mechanics start presenting themselves are you gain more level and acquire more traits.
My request to each of you is to get to at least level 30 and test out group content before deciding what you think of the combat system and party dynamics. This is a more traditional MMO in the sense that the lower levels are very basic and somewhat boring but become more interesting later on. As opposed to the newer generation of MMOs where the combat seem revolutionary at first even at low levels, but remain exactly the same throughout the rest of your journey towards the level cap, essentially giving you the impression that you have acquired no newfound powers but simply get decked out in prettier gear. Here's hoping that FFXIV delivers the old-school feeling of character growth and depth while presenting it in a more accessible, mass-friendly package.
Edit: Some additional info regarding the class/job systems.
In regards to classes being able to split off into different paths, this is only partially true. While each class have their own specific skill set, some select skills are accessible by other classes by means of the cross-class ability system. This means that depending on your level, you may "equip" abilities from other classes and use them as long as they are "equippable" by your class. At level 50 you have access to 10 cross-class abilities from other classes.
For example, as a Thaumaturge, I have 17 skills in my Thaumaturge skill set at 50, but I can also pick and use 10 abilities from other classes. This makes it more flexible when soloing as I'm able to use the healing skills from other classes.
In addition to the "class" system, there's also the "job" system in place. For each of the 7 battle classes, there is a corresponding job associated with them as follows:
Class name > Job name:
Marauder > Warrior
Gladiator > Paladin
Lancer > Dragoon
Pugilist > Monk
Archer > Bard
Thaumaturge > Black Mage
Conjurer > White Mage
The purpose of the jobs are more specialization in parties. Jobs are more focused on their particular role and sacrifice the flexibility of the cross-class system for more effectiveness in party situations. Instead of having access to 10 cross-class abilities from any of the other classes, you only gain access to 5 cross abilities from 2 specific classes pre-determined by your job, in addition to 5 new job-specific abilities.
For example, I use my Thaumaturge for soloing, but in parties I turn my Thaumaturge into a Black Mage. I lose my healing skills from other classes and I'm limited to just the Archer and Arcanist class skills. Instead I get specific Black Mage abilities that enhance my role in parties as a pure damage dealer. Sacrificing the utility of self-heals for enhanced damage potential.
At first it may seem confusing because it works much like "specs" or "talent trees" in other games. So why the additional names? Simply put, each job have their own specific lore and quest lines distinct from classes. You unlock them through questing post level 30 and acquire additional skills through each job quest line.
Furthermore, while currently each of the 7 classes are only able to take on one job. Come release, Arcanist will be the first class to branch off into 2 distinct jobs, Summoner and Scholar.