FFXI has two tank classes in the game at the moment: the Paladin, which shines against targets that hit quickly and weakly, and the Ninja, which shines against big slow hits. (Then you have classes like Warrior and Dancer, which shine at tanking when you need a tank and you have no other options.) The Rune Fencer is meant to complete the trifecta by bringing something new to the table. Rather than focusing on physical damage, the Rune Fencer is at its best against magical attacks, stopping casters dead and slicing through elemental strengths and weaknesses like butter.
Some of this is evident immediately when you look at the basics of the class. Rune Fencers do not have a shield skill; Great Swords are their primary weapons. They learn several white magic spells, including Stoneskin, Aquaveil, and Shell up to V (compared to their highest Protect spell at Protect IV). They also gain access to the various black magic spikes as well as Flash, Phalanx, Regen, Refresh, and Blink.
All of these spells create the image of a union between a Paladin and a Red Mage, an image further supported by the Rune Enchantment ability that serves as the central class mechanic. When the ability is used, the Fencer builds up a rune, each of which acts as an elemental weapon spell while granting the opposite elemental resistance. So Lightning runes give your weapon additional Lightning damage per hit while boosting your Water resistance, Fire runes add Fire damage and boosts Ice resistance, and so on.
Rune Enchantment has a five-second cooldown and can stack several times, which gives the class some of the flavor of the Dancer when you consider that you can consume your stacked runes for an overall effect. Two abilities allow you to consume your stacked runes for larger effects. Ward allows you to convert your runes into defense by giving you an absorbing shield against the relevant element (allowing you to place a shield on an ally) or increasing your resistance to the element. Effusion allows you to either consume your runes for a large burst of elemental damage or debuff the enemy with lowered resistance against the element in question.
You can start to see the flow right away. An enemy weak to Wind can be made even weaker, or you can shield yourself against the target’s attacks. It’s a flexible system that gives players plenty of ways to stack runes and make use of them whether fighting as a tank or DPS.
Fencers have a few other abilities as well; their one-hour ability functions like Invincible for magic spells, allowing them to laugh off the many bosses that use Chainspell. You also gain a group ability that enhances non-physical evade, an ability that shortens the duration of your next enhancing spell but increases potency, and a self-buff that increases your accuracy and evasion until you take a hit.
The field of classes that hit something with a weapon is pretty crowded in FFXI, but even without the tanking side of things, Rune Fencers bring new goodies to the table. The fact that they can also take hits for the rest of the group just makes them even better.
While Rune Fencers are new to the franchise, Geomancers have a long and storied history of sucking. The only game in which they’ve actually been useful was Final Fantasy Tactics, and even that was debatable. Despite this fact, the new version of Geomancer looks as if it’s going to be quite good, working as a sort of fusion of Bard and Black Mage.
Geomancers are very much focused on positioning rather than terrain in FFXI, with their core class trait changing the effects of elemental spells based on the player’s direction relative to the target. The Geomancer naturally learns some black magic, including elemental spells up to level IV and the -ra line of spells. However, most of the class abilities are focused upon the Indicolure and Geocolure mechanics.
This sounds more complex than it really is. Indicolure spells give the character a buff that extends out around the player, affecting all enemies or allies within the area of effect. Geocolure spells work exactly the same way, except that they summon a luopan when cast. The luopan is a physical object that does not move and can be hit with AoE attacks but is otherwise purely passive, its health slowly decreasing to serve as a timer. One spell of each type can be running at any given time.
In this, the Geomancer can work akin to a Bard, splitting effects between casters and melee characters as necessary. You could easily drop a debuffing luopan among the melee characters and then cast an AoE Refresh on yourself while among the mages. Or you could give yourself a debuffing field and run into range of the enemy while using a luopan in the area to buff the front line. The class winds up playing out in a very technical fashion, especially when you get to the class abilities.
For example, if you need to change your luopan effect before the item ticks down, you can use Full Circle to wipe it away. Or you can use Lasting Emanation to keep it in place longer. Ecliptic gives your next cast a shorter duration but a larger effect, while Life Cycle allows you to sacrifice your own health and heal your luopan proportionally. Dematerialize lets you briefly shield your luopan from any damage, and Concentric Pulse lets you detonate the luopan for an AoE damage effect while giving you the chance to put down a replacement.
Geomancers are obviously not meant as a melee class, focusing instead on their bells (akin to bardic instruments), but they can use clubs and shields for added durability. If you enjoy classes like Bard, Corsair, or Red Mage, it seems that the Geomancer will be just the job for you.