Tuesday, May 26, 2015

[FFXIV] The Aggravation of Aggro

I (finally) have some time for gaming--there'll be a post about that later, but for those curious as to why I haven't had time, check out this article. My boss Ed Douglas has a pretty meaty quote at the end--and so I jumped back into FFXIV. After running a few lowbie dungeons to get back into the swing of things, I took my big swing at World of Darkenss. And roflstomped it.


FFXIV has a pretty old-school outlook on the concept of aggro. Actions generate aggro. Tanks get a bit of a multiplier on their actions, but otherwise it's mostly related to damage/healing output. Monsters will attack whoever has the most aggro (FFXIV calls this "enmity" or "hate").

So, for example, if you pull three monsters, but as the tank only attack one of them, if the healer performs any healing at all, the other two will peel off and attack them. Or if your DPS go HAM on the core...er, mob that you as the tank aren't, they'll get its attention pretty quickly. Thankfully FFXIV isn't like WoW in that such a mob will eat their face off immediately. A DPS or Healer can generally take 5 or 6 melee hits before they'll be in danger; more if they have defensive cross-class skills or self-heals.

FFXIV's enmity system actually works pretty well when all parties are within a certain gear level of each other. Yeah, depending on what level you are and if you're WAR or PLD, you may or may not have the tools to really tank effectively (30 - 40 in particular is a well-known sore spot for PLD), but besides that, if you're good at tab-targeting and using all the tools at your disposal, aggro isn't that big a deal. Occasionally someone will peel a mob off you, but you can get it back pretty quickly--unless of course you have seven people attacking seven different mobs, at which point *throws hands in the air*.

The Problem

My issue with FFXIV's aggro, however, is tied directly to how FFXIV handles group content. WoW's "Timewalker" dungeons are imitations of how FFXIV has done group content since at least 2.0. When you get into a lowbie dungeon, your gear gets scaled down. Except in FFXIV, your level actually gets scaled down, too, so you might be missing some abilities. But you're always generally running the dungeons with the intended skill set, which is actually super cool.

FFXIV's Scaling in action. A set of mostly level 15 gear vs. Synced down to 15 gear. Primary attributes are relatively close, but some of the secondaries are actually a fair bit higher with the synced-down gear.
So why is this a problem? It unto itself is not. The scaling works pretty well. It's not perfect, mind you, but it's decently close. But a super newbie tank with no cross-class skills and dealing with folks who have materia melded and tonnes of fantastic gear is still going to have a bit of a harder time. The real issue, however, is most post-50 content doesn't sync your item level at all, so you end up with tanks who have 60 ilvl gear dealing with 130 ilvl DPS.

When the DPS can outstrip your maximum aggro generation simply by performing their basic rotation on a target that you're going all out on as a tank? That's not fun, that's frustrating. There's literally nothing I as a tank can do to improve my play to avoid that.

Once you have higher gear levels as a tank? You can ignore aggro almost entirely. My Paladin is at 110 ilvl now. Short of me being asleep at the wheel entirely, or a 130 ilvl DPS blowing every cooldown they have right off the bat, nothing rips aggro off me. It's not even a question. For multi-target pulls, I do still have to tab-target to prevent BLM or healers from ripping things off me, but I only need to hit them a couple times each and they're pretty sticky from there.

There's a very small range of ilvl differentials where aggro is actually fun as a mechanic; where it matters and everyone can't pretty well ignore it.

The Solutions?

The above is funny, because WoW decided eventually that they may as well make aggro binary as a whole. Tank never touched the mob and eats the healer? Tank's fault. Otherwise, good luck peeling anything off a tank in WoW.

I don't think aggro as a concept is necessarily bad. It's how tanks and DPS largely interact in the trinity model, and is what tanks use to control the battlefield in the absence of actually being able to physically stand in the way. Aggro is an easy to understand system as an AI. Enemy behaviour is understandable by players, and therefore they can feel in control of the game.

But FFXIV's ability to sync up and down is imperfect, and in cases where they don't sync at all the system breaks down significantly. At high levels of gear, the system is largely ignorable because aggro modifiers scale so well. The immediate "obvious" solution would be to fix scaling in cases where it's broken, and introduce scaling where it's not. But perhaps there's a different method we can use?

What if instead of being tied to damage/healing throughput, enmity was statically generated by actions taken? Cure 1 generates 0.5 point of enmity. Cure 2 generates 1. Stone I generates 1. Fast Blade generates 1, comboing into Savage Blade generates 2 more. Flash generates 1.5 for all enemies in range. So on and so forth.

By decoupling enmity generation from numbers and tying it to actions taken, the aggro game then is not tied to your gear at all. Rather, the game as it exists when all parties are close in gear level is maintained regardless of gear disparity.

Does this lead to odd situations like a lowbie tank ripping threat off a much more geared tank? Sure, but you can do that with Provoke anyhow. Well, until you get flattened because you have so much less health. But it also would make tank swapping a lot more predictable, as in both FFXIV and WoW you have issues where immediately after a tank swap, a much better geared tank would just rip aggro again immediately due to more damage output.

So I don't think we needs throw out the baby with the bathwater, but I think an aggro system that didn't scale might be a bit more fun overall imho. At least, it'd flatten out that wacky curve from struggling to ignoring. #FFXIV, #Aggro, #GameDesign


  1. I love threat as a mechanic. I hate how WoW has evolved away from it, because having to worry about it as a DPS was an interesting feature to me. I love your idea and think it would go along way to helping the solution, but I also think DPS should have to worry about losing threat (to some extent).

    I don't really mind if Healers do not need to bother with it, since they have a ton to manage already.

  2. Well, Heavensward is going to introduce ilvl scaling but I'm not sure if that's going to be automatic or a choice right now by the way they are talking about it.

    Either way, at least we'll get a fist bump emote.