Tanxiety Through the Eyes of a New Game

I’ve been tanking in WoW for around 5 years as my main role now, but yet, the job is still somewhat scary. Not so much in WoW, but when I try to apply those skills to other MMOs.

Tanking, regardless of the game, is one of the more stressful roles of the holy trinity model, and usually is the one that gives most players stress. The reasons for that are many, but we’ll dive into this a little bit today.

Tanks are, largely, expected to lead most groups – especially in pickup groups and randomly assembled ones. Tanks, even if they are not the defacto leaders of a group, tend to control the pace of a run – their ability to manage larger pulls and to keep moving between enemies towards the end of the dungeon/raid/other piece of content largely sets the speed, barring any overzealous DPS or bad healers.
Tanks are also usually the least represented role in a group – because they’re less commonly played, most MMOs tend to pare down tank requirements for most content. WoW needs 1 tank for dungeons and 2 for raids, which means they are anywhere from 20% to 6.66 (repeating, of course) % of a group composition. Final Fantasy XIV has 1 tank per group for dungeons, making them 25% of the group composition, keeps them at 25% for 8-player Full Party content with 2 tanks, and brings the total to 3 tanks for Alliance Raid content, still keeping a double-digit percentage composition at 12.5%. This is largely due to the pressure of the role, because fewer players play tanks, so there are fewer spots for them to reduce matchmaking bottlenecks, which maybe unintentionally makes playing one more stressful, since your failures are more pronounced with fewer players to share the blame.

Tanking has gone through a lot of shifts in WoW over the years, moving from being largely about threat management in the early years of the game, to being mostly about survival in the middle years, now settling on a sort of hybrid where initial threat matters and survival is still the main gameplay focus. Legion had one of my favorite models for tanking in the game, where each tank was capable of keeping themselves alive through most damage spikes through a mix of mitigation to smooth incoming damage and self-healing to recover lost HP. Battle for Azeroth has settled on removing a lot of this self-sustain, as for all the good it did for showcasing a great tank over a less good one, it also had the side effect of removing a large amount of the work done by healers.

The main reason I am writing this today, however, is not because of WoW tanking, but because I think I am learning something rapidly about tanking and the dreaded tanxiety – no matter how good you are in one game at tanking, you can still fear it in a different MMO.

This week, I decided I wanted to level the new Gunbreaker job in Final Fantasy XIV. It was a huge fit for me – Final Fantasy VIII was the first FF game I played all the way through, and the job is based on that game’s protagonist Squall and antagonist Seifer, both of whom used the gunblade weapons. The job has a lot of abilities to play with and has cool poses with their weapons and fun, intricate designs on their job-specific armors and weapons. It also starts at level 60 out of the current cap of 80, meaning that in my desire to complete all of the role quests for the special bonus quest, it was the best way for me to get there, as my other tank jobs in the game are all in the low 30s.

The thing is, because of those other tank jobs being low, I haven’t experienced real tanking in FFXIV. Not to say that level 30 isn’t “real” but most MMO vets know the gameplay at those pre-cap levels is not the full experience. You don’t have a full rotation, defensive ability set, cooldowns, and the like, and the content you are able to enter at those levels features smaller packs of enemies, simpler bosses, and less need to adapt to mechanics. So, given that Gunbreaker starts at the game’s first-expansion level cap, it has a good cross-section of the abilities and toolkit that you would have at endgame – you have your temporary invulnerability, which every FFXIV tank has, you have a full rotation of short-term mitigation cooldowns to reduce incoming damage, you have a full DPS combo and bonuses for increased enmity (a fancier word that just means threat), and you have a job gauge that matters (sort of) as it tracks that you have your tank presence on (an enmity increasing buff not unlike WoW’s old buffs like Defensive Stance, Righteous Fury and the like) and also your cartridges, a resource generated through your DPS combos that is spent to do high burst damage.

Given all of this, I was both excited and full of dread. Excited in that it would be my first time tanking for real in FFXIV, but also dreading what mistakes I would make. As my main role originally in WoW, I leveled a healer first in FFXIV, and through that, saw a lot of really bad tanks. The problem in FFXIV is that a really bad tank can be really well masked by a good healer. Healers are mainly a third DPS in most dungeon content who only occasionally heal as needed, provided that the group isn’t taking avoidable damage and thatthe tank is managing and smoothing their own damage intake through smart pulling and chaining of their defensive cooldowns. While tanks in FFXIV have around 4-6 short-term defensives, the tricky thing is that they are on 90 second or more recharges, so you simply can’t have reliable, on-demand mitigation like WoW tanks. Part of the reason pulling dungeons wall-to-wall is so popular in FFXIV is exactly that – it often makes more sense to grab as much as you can, chain through your defensive cooldowns while the group AoEs it down rapidly, and then using boss fights (whose incoming damage is often easier to manage) to recharge your longer-cooldown defensive abilities, so that you can grab the next full set of trash and repeat the process.

So I was fighting two voices – the logical voice that said that pulling wall-to-wall and smartly managing cooldowns was the right way to go, but another voice that said that using fewer cooldowns per pull and more pulls would be better. The thing is, neither of these is wrong necessarily, and when you don’t have a pocket healer with you, you might take it slow to avoid meeting an untimely demise. However, my healer instincts watching bad tanks kicked in, and so I’d often pull slow, blow too many cooldowns on a given pull, and then be left with my weakest but most available defensives for the next pull, taking a sharp increase in damage for no really good reason and nullifying any goodwill I might have earned on the prior pulls for overstacking cooldowns and taking drastically less damage.

The other funny thing is that at higher levels, the Gunbreaker job has two major cartridge consumers – a single hit ability that does a spike of damage, or a combo that starts with using a cartridge and ramps a lot of damage very quickly, but is on a short-ish cooldown. Frequently, I’d start this combo, get flustered by tanking duties, and then drop out of it to get Brutal Shell (the core light sustain ability of the job) which would cause me to lose the combo, denying me the later steps of it which would cause higher damage and kill enemies sooner, reducing damage intake. Argghhhhh!

But, after a full run of daily roulettes, I had a lot of fun and felt my apprehension about tanking in FFXIV fading away. I main tanked one of the Alexander raid fights and one of the bosses in Syrcus Tower, I had two successful dungeon runs, and overall, I felt really good about where I landed at the end of the experience. Until I went through all of that, though – the experience was still nerve-wracking, and I found myself constantly worrying about little details like my positioning, my defensive utilization, and my damage output – none of which were awful or game-breaking, but all of which felt like I could make tweaks.

That, for me, is a good start to getting over that tanxiety!

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