The GCD in FF14 is 2.5 seconds. It can feel like molasses as compared to pretty much any other game on the market. And yet, given the mechanics, I can’t really see how that goes faster without a whole bunch of compound issues. Most MMOs are so complex and intertwined, that one change in in an area can have multiple consequences elsewhere.
First to me is the sheer volume of choice in any class toolkit. Take a look at a Dark Knight guide, in particular the opener’s list. I get that this is super optimized and FF14 really doesn’t requite that much planning in general, but the volume of buttons is the big one. With that many choices, it takes time for the human brain to process which one should be used in a given situation. Dropping the GCD turns this into more of a twitch-based gameplay, and some choice paralysis. It’s less optimization and more plain ol’ survival. As a White Mage, I have 2 full bars of things to press, often things that do similar things but on different timers. Compared to my Monk in WoW who had half that total that mattered.
Folks that are running multiple jobs/classes, hats off on the toolbar management!
The second bit that’s been covered a lot is the “don’t stand in the fire” structure of the game. FF14 tripled down on the AE attacks that are telegraphed well ahead of time, and often they are constructed in such a fashion that they are 1 hit KO effects. In most cases, you want to stop any cast/wind up activity to get out of there, potentially using another one of your buttons to absorb that attack. Assuming you are avoiding those attacks, and you’re not a tank (tank buster moves can do 40%), there are very few cases where people should die in combat. I forgot how much I enjoyed this model, where it actually removes ownership of player death from the healer and moves it to the individual players. The core here is on damage avoidance.
I need to compare to WoW here, on this particular topic. True, a lot of damage can be avoided by brain power on the DPS, but the game is also constructed in that most difficulty curves are based on unavoidable damage. And the mechanics of the game are such that this fact doesn’t become evident until you’re 2 steps from the finish line. The core here then becomes on damage mitigation.
The third bit, the one that isn’t truly evident until you’re well into the game, is that the game forces you to adopt a slower pace and it reduces the overall stress level of the game. You are rarely presented with more than 1 problem to manage at a time. and then a good chunk of time to digest the situation, think of options, make a decision, and then execute that action. If you die quickly, the feedback is instantly related to a telegraphed area attack. It becomes more intuitive and less on hidden mechanics where you need to consult a combat log to make sense of events. By dropping the stress levels, that has massive impacts on the group dynamics. It’s the difference of fighting a grease fire in your kitchen and painting your walls. If the doorbell rings, you are likely to have a much different reaction given those 2 starting conditions.
From a game design perspective, FF14 really is an interesting case study in looking at a given state as inspiration, figuring out how it could map to your design principles, and then consistently apply that thinking forward. It’s like a foundational bit here is “make sure people get along”. Oh there are plenty of bumps in the road, no question, but jeebers it’s fun to see a different set of answers to the same sort of problems.
“First to me is the sheer volume of choice in any class toolkit”
I don’t really know what you mean by choice, but if it’s thinking about what to press next, FFXIV completely lacks it. All the classes are super straightforward and designed for one single unchanging rotation. Complete lack of RNG or customization and strict order of casts provide the design where active gameplay is muscle memory rather than thought process.
Your White Mage example with two hotbars of abilities is in conflict with what you noticed about most of the damage being avoidable. At high levels most of the time (like 90% of every fight) you are only hardcasting exactly two spells: Glare and Dia. Rare incoming damage is dealt with by a few instant cast spells. You never need most of your abilities.