Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s ability customization
This is relevant because the Armoury system, as we’ve seen so far, doesn’t emphasize the mix-and-match nature of Jobs (which we also see in other games with similar systems, from the aforementioned main series titles to the various Final Fantasy Tactics installments and more peripheral derivatives like Bravely Default). It emphasizes roles.
And I think it’s interesting to consider this fact in light of the fact that Stormblood, in many ways, has kind of put nails in the coffin of cross-job pollination. And all of that kind of centers around understanding the shift in PvP.
Pretty much everyone playing the game now probably remembers how PvP used to be, but it’s important to state the nature of the changes and how they speak to a design focus. At this point, the jobs you play in PvP aren’t really related to your jobs except in being what amount to theme park versions of the same. The mechanics are broadly similar, but I’ve seen people compare the setup more closely to a MOBA in terms of the individual jobs. You have a few picks of action and activity, and that’s it.
You also wind up with a bit more customization than you do in other areas of the game, though; you have a choice between two actions and three traits, with the traits actually affecting your gameplay in various ways. It’s a far cry between that and the cross-role system you see in the PvE side of the game, where you pick between a handful of actions only… and you only “pick between” a handful of options, as three or four of your actions are pretty well fixed.
As a Machinist, for example, you have 10 choices, but realistically you’re going to pick Tactician, Refresh, and Palisade. They’re more or less a foregone conclusion. That leaves you with two slots to choose between, and neither of those choices is going to alter your fundamental rotation.
Final Fantasy XIV has always had a short list of choices to make, and an even shorter list of viable choices. That in and of itself bears observation because while Stormblood technically removed a choice, in practical terms it didn’t. Attribute bonus points gave you a choice, but it wasn’t a viable one.
You could, for example, put all of your points on Ninja into Strength. That was a possible choice. But it didn’t offer any actual improvements and thus wasn’t a viable choice; the only jobs with actual viable choices were Summoners and Scholars, and that choice just discouraged playing both in any serious capacity. Similarly, you technically have some choices with the cross-role system, but you really don’t. More than ever before, a Dragoon is a Dragoon is a Dragoon.
This is where it becomes very important to note that the game doesn’t have itself slotted as the Job system, but as the Armoury system. Because in the Job system, this would seem almost anathema. The whole point is being able to mix and match, to find unusual abilities on one job that you can use on another to great effect. Final Fantasy XI has a very constrained version of this, but it still has the same net effect; you wind up using Samurai abilities to fuel different gameplay on other jobs, or using Dancer’s unique steps to make Samurai’s boundless TP generation get more utility, or whatever.
Not so in FFXIV; at this point, the only advantage to having another job leveled is the ability to play that other job. You get no benefit from your 70 White Mage when you start in on leveling Warrior other than additional gil and experience. No abilities transfer over, no benefits are shared between jobs, and so forth.
This is for two reasons, both of which are entirely commendable at face value. First, Yoshi-P wants to make sure that players can jump in and play one job exclusively if that’s all they’re interested in playing; you don’t have to level five different jobs to play one job, in other words. Second, he wants the game to avoid having flavor-of-the-month combinations or strictly optimized custom choices in content.
The problem is that when it comes to the second, that hasn’t so much been fixed as changed. No, you don’t have a situation wherein every Bard is working on leveling Dragoon for a powerful combination with this balance patch; instead, you have a situation wherein the flavor of the month is more about which jobs are best for running content at all. Right now, White Mage and Astrologian are the flavor of the month in terms of healer combinations. The problem still exists, just in a different context.
As for the first… well, it’s definitely working that way. In fact, it’s working that way so well that there’s no longer any particular reason to touch another job. Instead of making sure that you aren’t forced to level something else to level what you actually want, the net effect is that you have pretty much no motivation to level additional jobs beyond idle curiosity.
I suspect some of the glut of Red Mages and Samurai is simply that if you already have a higher-level healer or tank, those DPS jobs are the fastest options to get to the level cap. If there’s no overlap with your existing abilities, what does it matter?
At the end of the day, this is the big problem that the game has right now, that it functionally feels like the split between jobs is sharp enough that you have no real need to level another phsyical DPS job once you have one leveled. (Unless, of course, you’re a weirdo like me and want to cap everything on one character, but I don’t consider that a design element.) It’s trading one problem for a slightly different one.
Given all of this, it’s no real surprise that the new PvP mode puts players into teams piloting vehicles, because that’s basically what the jobs are at this point – vehicles. Cross-pollination is all but gone, and thus two Scholars are distinguished only by the skill of their individual players, not by different choices ore attribute focuses.
Realistically, this is something that’s probably going to remain in place for the rest of this expansion. It may well remain from here on out, in fact; certainly this seems to match the stated design goals of the team at the moment. And the benefit is that the individual jobs have a very tight design and gameplay; there’s nothing extraneous in, say, the mechanics of Red Mage, or places where players can choose to have incongruous abilities that might otherwise unbalance things.
For that matter, having a game with fifteen different viable builds is pretty good in and of itself; it’s just that those builds were made by designers, not by players. You only choose how you slot your materia, and even that is a pretty straightforward system with cut-and-dry right or wrong answers.
Personally, I still want to see a little more option for crossover, even if it’s purely aesthetic. Something I proposed to a friend a while back is that an obvious way to give players motive to level other jobs is to allow cross-job glamours, so your Dark Knight can be tanking in White Mage gear if you so desire. Heck, you could even make weapons into cross-role glamours, so your character could be a Paladin mechanically while using a great sword. The original reason for having each job tied to a single weapon has been thoroughly lost by this point, having pretty well slipped away once we moved past 1.0.
Another solid possibility would be giving players a choice of different customization paths based on other jobs leveled. For example, you have Dragoon, and if you just level Dragoon you can play Dragoon as it currently stands, but if you’ve also leveled a ranged DPS job you could choose to play a version of Dragoon with a wyvern a la FFXI instead of Blood of the Dragon. Mechanically, it’s similar, but it looks different and offers a slight mechanical wrinkle (maybe your wyvern auto-attacks to boost your overall damage but doesn’t have the Jump damage increase of Blood of the Dragon, something along those lines). That would ensure that you don’t have to level another job, but you do get something for exploring other roles.
I don’t think it’s absolutely, violently necessary for something to be done about this, but I do think it’s something that needs to be addressed. It’s a weird state of affairs when the restrictive and limited system from FFXI gave more incentive to cross over into unfamiliar territory, and considering how much fun the plethora of jobs in FFXIV really are, I support opportunities to reward people for leveling several. Even if it just comes down to visual customization.
Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments or via mail to email@example.com. Next time around, we’ll probably know a little more about patch 4.1, so it’s high time to talk about that.