Whether you’re an experienced player or the freshest beginner on the block to the MMO genre, odds are one of the first things you will notice and feel the effect of is the keybinding scheme. Some people make due with the defaults, some people choose to click the skills on their hotbar, but a lot of us will opt to rebind those hotkeys to something that better suits the amount of skills we have and the space that we need.
When you start out, you’ve got those great hotbars that fill up with the buttons you unlock. You know the feeling. Usually one, or maybe two of them, starting at 1, and ending on =. At first, it’s no problem. You’ve got three buttons and a cooldown or two, but as you level, those skills suddenly start piling up. You’re in the middle of that fight, you reach for your cooldown hoping to do the most damage you can, and… you get smacked by an AoE because, while you were reaching for 9 on the number line, you had to take your hand away from WASD to reach it. Maybe it just hurts, maybe you die, but in the end it was that the keybind scheme that the game starts you out with is inefficient and cost you your health bar.
Considering your options, there are a lot of great things you could pull out of your arsenal. Many people will look to macros, but those will cost you reliability and ruin your ability to play the game by introducing massive delays. MMO-centric gaming mice are a great choice, but not everyone has $40-100 to spend on one. Plus a gaming mouse requires you to coordinate both hands which may be tricky for those who have a strongly dominant hand. If your mouse has few buttons it may even be undesirable. So, we consider the simplest option available with any person’s resources. We change the game’s keybinds.
By rebinding the default control scheme and taking the initiative yourself you gain a lot more insight into what you want to do and where you want it to be. That skill that you just got that was probably going to stuff itself into slot 7? You can just move it somewhere closer to home.
Rebinding and Why it Helps
Do you remember, probably back in grade school, those learn to type games and programs that were preloaded on every computer? The little lessons about keeping your hand on the home row (ASDF and JKL:) were omnipresent because they position your hands in a way that you can reach the majority of your keyboard quickly. The entire left-hand side is super easy to reach as long as your index finger is on F, but that right hand portion? Not so much. Anything over there is in no man’s land.
The first thing that should be considered for rebinding is everything around the left hand side, near the WASD cluster. Start with 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. It might feel a little bit far reaching over for 5. Then consider everything below it. QWERT, ASDFG, ZXCV and maybe B. No matter how you slice it, you have 15 or 16 buttons right there plus your movement keys, all within just one or two key spaces from a central point on the home row.
The second thing to consider is that, with your class, you may still have more skills than that. So let’s take it up a notch. You can set up two more hotbars, each with a shift modifier and the exact same keys. If you can remember that holding shift for 1 will give you an !, then it isn’t too much for you to remember that holding down shift will use a different skill. That doubles your available keybind space to 30 or even 32 slots! More than enough for most classes in FFXIV.
With your keybinds set like this, it’s more intuitive than learning to type, because you already, at least partially, know how to type. It’s the same thing as normal! Just now you’re kicking some primal booty with it. The hardest part will be finding new homes for the menu functions that you’ve displaced with your new keybinds. It can be tricky sometimes, but hey, you can react to everything just oh so much faster now, and you can dodge while you’re working any of your magic.
Similarity and Why it Matters
Cutting to the chase, at this point, you have TONS of room to bind everything. Now it’s up to you to consider where to put it. None of it is too far away from you, but some buttons will still feel better than others. You’re human, and you probably like buttons in certain groupings. So let’s talk about those.
The four types of buttons that we have are our GCD consuming spells and attacks, our reactionary buttons that we use when we get a proc or when someone takes scary damage, our oGCD attacks, and our cooldowns. Then we have subtypes, like defensive versus offensive cooldowns, primary combo attacks versus secondary combo attacks, AoEs versus regular skills and abilities. If you decide on clusters or areas for these abilities and keep that the same on all of your classes, you will be able to play whatever you want without your muscle memory needing to change drastically when you switch from, for example, scholar to bard.
I can only give you advice to find what is most comfortable, but as a guideline, I like to use the number line for my important skill combos and spells. I like to use the right side of my movement keys for reactionary skills and oGCDs, and I like to use the left hand side for non-damaging abilities or debuffs and AoEs. The lower row for me, which includes B, is used as my buff bar.
When it comes to my shift modifier keys, I like to pair similar skills together. For example, as a bard, if my Q button is Quick Knock, I would pair it with Wide Volley. For a white mage, Medica and Medica II. For a scholar, Succor and Whispering Dawn. It’s like having a lower case letter and a capital letter. Similar button and effect, so you know exactly where it is when you need it.
Here’s a practical example:
Keys in the background represent shift modified keys, while keys in the foreground represent buttons simply bound to that keypress.
My buffs (Z-V) are damaging buffs and they are in the order that I will most likely pair them in during rotation (RS+IR, HE+B4B). My secondary buffs are also in the order that they will probably be used (Quelling -> BV), then Minuet and my resource management abilities.
F1-F4 have skills that I will only use maybe once a fight, so they can be kept out of the way. I like to keep tank stances, healer stances, songs, and turrets up here.
My left side contains my extra AoE, my party buffs and enemy debuffs. Bard isn’t so heavy on these, but healers have a whole lot.
My right side has oGCD reactionary skills and damaging skills. I love R as my reaction/proc button, so all of my healer abilities like lustrate and tetra, as well as the proc buttons like low blow, shield swipe, bloodletter and the like go there, surrounded by other oGCD damaging abilities and, of course, reactionary tank skills.
My number line has my primary weapon skills and spells, ordered for greatest personal comfort. Usually, if your class uses them, you would consider placing them in the order that a combo requires.
Considering extra skills
While the majority of your abilities will be used during PvE, many games, FFXIV included, have special buttons for particular circumstances. Limit Break is infrequently used by healers or tanks, and each class has a unique set of PvP abilities. You also have things like sprint, your mount, potions, food, waymarks, and other quality of life improvements.
Skills that are important for battle, but only situationally usable can easily be placed on an alternative hotbar using a modifier like control, or alt. I have one alt hotbar split between my 1-5 keys, and my Z-V buff bar to keep my PvP abilities, limit break and potion organized in such a way that I will practically never click or press them accidentally.
Skills that are unimportant for battle, such as your mounts, sprint, and possibly waymarks can go on alternative keys. I personally use the middle mouse button to mount, and shift+middle mouse to sprint, then have a dedicated key to bring up party marks and waymarks set to 0.
By keeping these abilities out of your main skill slots, you allow yourself a greater buffer if you accidentally mess up. No more ‘oops! I just used my potion instead of bloodletter, guess I can’t use that again for five minutes’. Instead, you probably just activated another one of your damaging abilities. No harm done, except to that poor enemy. And well, you were going to use that button sooner or later anyway, unlike something you would potentially want to save for an opportune moment.
Keybinds on ‘Normal’ Mice
You may not have a mouse with a hundred buttons, but chances are that you do have a mouse that has an extra side button or two. Some people will intuitively map these to situational keys, like their push to talk buttons, but there are a number of other noteworthy uses for them.
AoEs with circular targeting fields require you to target them with your mouse, or macro them which is inefficient but convenient sometimes. It makes sense that, if you have a few of these, they could be placed on a mouse button.
Modifier keys can often be bound to mouse buttons. You could use the button on the left or right side of your mouse to simulate pressing alt, control or shift if you have small hands. This can greatly reduce the burden on your main hand, but does require a little bit of extra coordination. I do this with alt and control because I just really don’t like pressing those buttons manually.
Mouseover macros naturally fit extra mouse buttons. Have you, for example, thought about setting up a macro for Warden’s Paean? If you did, you could use a mouse button to cleanse any player you wanted on the user list without needing to target them. If you have multiple warriors in your party, or a monk that just loves to stand in bad, it can be super helpful. Just point and cleanse them of all their magical troubles.
Hopefully, whether you’re new to MMOs in general, or even if you’ve played for a good long time, this article has given you a little bit of insight on one potential way to organize and bind your skills. While, ultimately, the idea of keybinding is up to the user as a measure of personal comfort, organizational methods can greatly improve your efficiency in any role and allow you to do more for less effort. The defaults may seem okay at first, but we all understand that feeling when just one or two hotbars is no longer enough, or things start to escape your reach. It feels pretty good for me when I get past that problem, and maybe it will now for you too.