Final Fantasy XIV Guide - Combat Mechanics, Duty Categories, AoEs and Markers

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Final Fantasy XIV is a complex game full of different combat categories, fighting mechanics, and strategies to take in these fights. The process of learning a fight can be vexing, to say the least, but it pays off for sure after you succeed to defeat these foes and obtaining the precious loot in these challenges, called Duties.

However, since familiarizing yourself with the various fighting mechanics can be overwhelming and stressful, we thought you could use a little bit of help at understanding the many fighting mechanics and categories of attacks across the various Dungeons, Trials, and Raids in FFXIV.

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FFXIV Duty Categories - Dungeons, Trials, and Raids

FFXIV Dungeons
These are instanced areas full of enemies, with multiple bosses that have to be fought by a party of 4 (Light Party) or 8 players (Full Party). They need to be unlocked through Quests and they have minimum level requirements. Players below the level requirement cannot enter the dungeon, and the ones above it have their level synced to the maximum level permitted for the dungeon.

FFXIV Trials
Each trial consists of a single, very powerful boss fight that rewards players with story progression, tokens, or rare items of sorts when it’s defeated. The more early Trials require a light party of 4 players, but most of them need a full party of 8 players. High-End Trials are harder, massively difficult versions of these fights, usually giving better rewards.

Raids are the endgame, optional content that poses the greatest challenges within the game, usually offering the best loot. Unlike the other duties, the highest-tier raids have limitations on how much loot you can receive per week. These limitations are removed once the new tier releases.

  • Normal Raids
    Normal raids are fought by 8 players against a single boss, similarly to a trial, but they tell a story across various fights, released in episodic groups of 4. Each Normal Raid also has a higher difficulty equivalent called a Savage Raid, which creates a new challenge by ramping up the difficulty of the fights and adding new mechanics.
  • Alliance Raids
    These are fought by 24 players against a sequence of numerous bosses and enemies in a large-scale dungeon. They’re themed after a certain topic, like Ivalice or the most recently released NiER raids.
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FFXIV Combat Mechanics - AoEs

Now we talked about the different Duty categories, it’s time to talk about what you will see inside those. These mechanics start as basic attacks with the minimum variation between them in the base game, and quickly ramp up the difficulty in the subsequent expansions, becoming real exercises of speed, reaction, and positioning, something that can be a nightmare if you don’t even know what to expect.

What’s an AoE attack?

The AoE abbreviation stands for Area Of Effect. As the name indicates, these attacks cover a specific area in different ways, and you must avoid them by taking different actions or movements depending on the AoE you’re facing.

How to react to an AoE?

To put it simply, you need to stay cool and be as fast as possible. FFXIV introduces AoE attacks slowly, so you have time to learn the fights and get accustomed to these attacks the more you play and practice. Don’t beat yourself if you fail, we all have been there, it may take some time to actually succeed at it, but once you learn how to proceed in the fight, it’ll be easier to face other similar combats and predict mechanics in them.

Basic Ground AoEs
These are the most simple incarnation of the term “AoE”. It’s just a delimited, usually circular area of effect that you will need to move out to avoid damage or debuffs. You will know when it’s triggered, since focusing on the enemy using it will show you the casting bar.

Donut AoEs
These AoEs are round and always have a safe spot in the center for the players to step in. It’s also possible to dodge it by moving out to the cast range as well, but it’s usually easier to simply move in the safe zone.

Sequential AoEs
These come in all shapes and sizes, one after another in a specific pattern. They will usually overlap each other as they make an arc or straight line across the arena.

Chasing AoEs
Very similar to Sequential AoEs, these will drop AoEs following a specific player's movements instead of having a specific pattern. It’s recommended to move as far from your group as you can.

Targeted AoEs
Similar to a Chasing AoE, these will target players and follow them as they move and stick to the ground after a certain amount of time as a single AoE marker, instead of multiple. This allows the targeted player to move out of the AoE before it goes off.

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FFXIV Advanced Combat Mechanics - Stacks, Tethers, and various Markers.

These are more complex and dedicated mechanics that can show up the more you progress into the game’s Duties. In FFXIV, they’re usually paced in a way that comes naturally as you deplete the Boss HP, with the more tricky ones in later stages of the fight.

Stacks are AoE attacks that split damage among all the players, represented by an orange arrow popping up over the targeted player. It usually requires for the whole party to stack together, otherwise, the targeted player will die, but later content will mix things up by having some special stacks that require them to not stack with the group or multiple sets of stack markers where the party should split up equally.

  • Line Stacks
    These work exactly as regular Stacks, but instead of a circle around the player, it's a line that fires from the boss through the target, and to the end of the arena.

This is a line between a player and an enemy that can have a variety of meanings. For some enemies, this simply means they will target that player for their next major attack. In some other cases, players can steal the tether by standing in the way, which you will need to do depending on the fight.

  • Proximity Tethers
    Similar to the former above, this one is indicated by a purple tether pointing both ways from the middle, indicating that this attack will do more damage the closer you are to the enemy.

This mechanic will give two players a tether between them, with the appearance of a chain. This chain will inflict continuous damage to both players, until they run away from each other, thus breaking the chain. The distance required to run to make it disappear is determined by the distance between the players when they received the chain.

Towers or Meteors
These are the same mechanic, the only difference being aesthetic. At least one player will need to stand within the area of the attack to take it, otherwise, the entire party will take massive damage and debuffs. While there’s no specific role required to stand in them, some of these hit hard enough for a tank to be the ideal choice.

This mechanic shows up in the form of a purple eye marker on the enemy who is casting the ability and requires players to turn away from it, to avoid various debuffs. Sometimes, this will be accompanied by an AoE indicating that players outside it do not need to turn away.

A marker displaying three white arrows in the shape of a giant triangle around one or both tanks that deals damage to the targeted players and should be mitigated or healed as necessary, since it acts as a Proximity Marker for the rest of the party.

Proximity Markers
A small orange circle that emits a pulsing rainbow circle spreading from the center, with its colors changing the further away it is. The closer that players are to it, the more damage they take when it goes off, almost always being fatal if you stand in the very center.

This marker is indicated by a large red orb and a rotating red circle over the head of a player, as well as a red debuff with a crosshair on it. It means that the targeted character will be the target for an upcoming attack. Sometimes this debuff can be passed to other players, allowing the tanks to take it to endure the worst of it, but you need to be careful when trading it off since it can be tricky

  • Prey Tethers
    It is exactly like the former but with a tether instead, allowing players to walk over it to take it from the current target.

Ice Floor
This ability turns the floor to ice, and any movement action you take will cause your character to “slip” in the direction you’re facing, often causing players to slide into AoEs.

Earth Shaker
A conal AoE that shows up in the form of an earthquake. Bosses often spam numerous Earth Shakers at once on different players.

Conal attacks in front of the boss enemy, are usually triggered without a prompt or warning, and deal damage to all targets in range, not just the targeted player.

  • Shared Cleaves
    Like the ones above, these inflict massive damage that can be shared between players, generally the tanks.

This is a massive hit on one of the tanks. Sometimes it requires players to use role actions to mitigate damage, some other times it comes without warning and you need the healers to be ready.

Knockback/Draw In
These are mechanics that pull players toward the boss or push them away, often accompanied by other AoEs that require the players to move back to their former positions.

Forced March
Forces a player to move in a specific direction for a few seconds, usually accompanied by a debuff or an indicator of what direction you would be moving in.

Prison Mechanics
Renders one player helpless, others must break them out by using different methods. You need to be fast on these since they may overlap with different AoEs.

Boss Gauges
Depending on the boss you’re fighting, this Gauge may count down to 0 or count up to 100, and once it’s full/empty, the boss uses an ultimate attack that will deal massive damage, very often killing everyone. Almost all Trials and Raids have some variation of this gauge.

Ultimate Attack
Triggered by the (unsuccessful) ending of a Boss Gauge, these attacks usually wipe the whole group, forcing the players to start again. To counter this, you need to execute specific mechanics correctly, which means that the boss will deal less damage the less that the gauge it's filled/emptied.
In the rare cases when this isn't paired with a Boss Gauge, the ability is often accompanied by a DPS check to cancel the ability or lower the damage dealt. Sometimes the boss will use the ultimate attack at a specific moment in the battle, and you will need to counter it with damage mitigation abilities like the tank Limit Break.

Active Time Maneuver
Sometimes there will be a moment in the fight where the boss will leap away and your character is unable to move. During this time, an additional message saying “Ready” will pop up before a button, a bar, and a timer take their place. Players will have to click the button on their HUD manually or assign a key to it in the settings. Failing to do this mechanic correctly usually means a party wipe.

And that's it! While you're here, be sure to check our guide about the current event, A Nocturne for Heroes 2021. We also have an FFXIV Class roles guide, useful for both newcomers and seasoned players!

For more articles like this, take a look at our Final Fantasy XIV and Guides page.