Wisdom of Nym: Classes, job, and the Armoury System in Final Fantasy XIV

Here’s how this column got written. Last week, I was talking about new potential jobs based on weapons rather than on jobs that have existed in Final Fantasy in the past. The very first comment on the article was this wonderful bit by NobleEinherjar, which was a bipartite comment that started off by discussing the sharp limitations of the Armoury System and the whole “weapon = class” system in Final Fantasy XIV. It was a nice digression that I thought deserved a response.

About halfway into writing that response, I realized that I was already most of the way to writing a separate column. So now we have this here.

See, there’s an interesting point to be made about the rigid nature of jobs, the limitations that they impose upon the game’s systems, and perhaps most importantly how we got here in the first place. Especially when you consider that when the game launched, you had a class without any particular restrictions on what it could equip, much less with any jobs at all.

I'm sparing people a lengthy dicussion of why this system was so bad here, but if people really want to hear about what was wrong with FFXIV 1.0, let me know.The Armoury System, as originally conceived and launched, was nothing like the current system. I don’t just mean that in the sense that skills were different or were arranged differently, although that was also true; I mean that the whole functionality of the system was different. There were no combos, for one thing. And there was no automatic use of job actions. What you got was a pool of points to allocate to various abilities.

You always had enough points to equip all of your class skills, of course. But the funny thing is that none of them was actually mandatory. You could completely eschew all of your class actions in favor of skills from some other class, and the game would keep humming along just fine.

This went will with an attribute bonus system that allowed you to literally reallocate all of your attributes as you leveled up. It was kind of absurd.

Now, there were obvious up sides to this system, but it suffered from several downsides that were far more serious. To just point out the most egregious of the bunch, there was basically no reason for your character not to be a self-healing unstoppable tank damage machine, because there was no ability synergy anyway and Lancer was the most attractive chassis for carrying every skill. Different? Yes. But hardly good, lest we romanticize the earliest systems. It was an unpleasant mess.

When Naoki Yoshida came on board, one of his goals was to fix the fact that this system basically did not work at all. Thus, skills were elaborately restructured, and what was put into place more closely resembled what we have now. Classes have a fixed progression with a few spots for additional abilities, which (at the time) were taken from several other abilities available from each job. It was still more flexible than what we have now, but there was actually a reason to play as something other than Lancer when you wanted to get things done.

Jobs, originally, were introduced less as “here’s what you play” and more as “here’s a sharpening in a specific direction.” Using a job meant giving up a lot of cross-class abilities (which was a pretty wide pool in 1.0, even after changes). However, it also meant gaining some other new abilities. The idea was that you’d want to use a Job in group content, but for solo play you would probably want your base class instead.

Now, let’s jump to version 2.0, which was no longer a bandage stuck on a gushing wound that was the game’s mechanics. Now class progression and design had been tightened and improved. Bonus attributes were better-handled. And we had our first class that split into multiple jobs with Arcanist, which could become a Summoner or a Scholar. Obviously, this was the future of the game, with our same base jobs turning into more than one secondary job over time, right?

Well… perhaps not so much.

The list of “additional” actions shrank a fair bit here, and the problem became pretty obvious early on when the developers (and players) realized that there was no real reason not to be in a job at all times. Moving to a job meant gaining five abilities that directly contributed to what you wanted to do, while losing five abilities that didn’t significantly enhance your capabilities anyway. If you’re killing things significantly faster on Dragoon than on Lancer, the slight drop in defensive ability doesn’t matter, much less not being able to use Cure on yourself.

Arcanist also had some issues with the urge to stab things. That's unrelated.Arcanist also showed off some weaknesses with the system right from the get-go. It had been designed from the ground up to split into two separate jobs, but that made for serious problems for players who wanted to do both, especially because bonus attributes really forced you to specialize on one or the other. Respecs were important, expensive, and also frustrating, since they were just for attribute bonuses.

By making the jobs more well-defined (something players had wanted) and giving more reasons for players to stick with them (another thing players had wanted), the game had gutted the diversity it started out with. It was telling that no new cross-class actions were added to the game after the 2.0 relaunch; while Rogue had a couple of actions other classes could use, no jobs could use them.

When Heavensward rolled around, classes were killed. Not functionally, of course, but for all practical purposes they died the moment it was announced that the three new jobs would exist only as jobs. Not only did this mean none of them could offer cross abilities, it signaled that classes were fundamentally seen as a failed experiment. It basically killed any “well, job X could spin from class Y” arguments in the water, because you can’t spin anything off of the root class for Dark Knight. It’s always Dark Knight.

And then Stormblood rewrote the rules again by abandoning the cross-class action system altogether, removing the bonus attribute system, and generally making jobs even more isolated bits of design.

The problem here is that all of these changes have, on the face of it, been good changes. Looking at the jobs that have changed the most in gameplay from launch to now, I wouldn’t want to play Thaumaturge or Lancer from the game’s launch version compared to Black Mage or Dragoon right now. It’s been a steady process of refinement and improvement all along the way.

But there are costs associated with it, and one of the problems is that we have not even a sliver of flexibility left in the system. The lack of base classes means that the next expansion is more than likely going to do away with them outright (we’re most of the way there now). Our role actions are neat and useful, but they’re a very narrow list and offer little opportunity to make a given job feel distinct from other players of the same job. The Armoury System, at this point, feels like a traditional job system except without the usual fun ability to mix-and-match job abilities.

This isn’t going to be something that changes mid-expansion, of course. It might not even change for the next expansion, because the actual experience of playing the various jobs remains distinct and fun. But I think it’s worth considering and observing how we got here, as it’s a result of good and well-considered decisions that have led to a place where we do see a vanishing spread of options for future weapons and future jobs.

Whether or not that’s a bad thing depends on your point of view, of course. There’s arguments to be made in both directions.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, just for giggles, I think I’ll talk about my theory regarding the remaining expansions for the game and hang a whole lot of speculation on remarkably little evidence. Unless another great comment turns into an unexpected column first.

The Nymian civilization hosted an immense amount of knowledge and learning, but so much of it has been lost to the people of Eorzea. That doesn’t stop Eliot Lefebvre from scrutinizing Final Fantasy XIV each week in Wisdom of Nym, hosting guides, discussion, and opinions without so much as a trace of rancor.
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10 Comments on "Wisdom of Nym: Classes, job, and the Armoury System in Final Fantasy XIV"

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Matt Redding

I do like the job system as it is now. Leveling the classes with cross-class abilities let you do some helpful things like cast protect on yourself as a level 1 character, and add a few additional attacks to help round out the very anemic (to the point of being boring) selection of actions you can take at extremely low level. These weren’t essential, they were just a nice way of speeding things up particularly for classes after your first. On the other hand, the leveling process is much faster than it used to be so it’s not as important.

Still there was some potential for utility you wouldn’t expect. I was running Palace of the Dead one time on my very low level gladiator and got into an all-tank group. The other three were in jobs but I was in Gladiator. Which is why I was the only person able to equip: Raise, Protect, Cure, Deathblossom. Yes, Deathblossom, the Rogue ability. That was my main thing in that run, I just spammed it and raised as needed.

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Eamil

I personally feel that the flexibility lies in the job system itself. I don’t mind that my Dark Knight has the same abilities as every other Dark Knight, because if I don’t want to Dark Knight, I Monk, or White Mage, or hell just Paladin if I want a different flavor of tank. And yes, it does make a difference that I can do that without swapping characters, not to mention the fact that alt jobs gain XP faster from most non-quest sources.

That’s just my personal feelings on the matter though.

I do see why two jobs branching from Arcanist was considered a failed experiment. Even with one job being DPS and the other being heals, they feel very similar. They both have Aetherflow management and DPSing as a scholar involves loading up most of the same dots that summoner uses. Strip away the pets and a lot of the differences vanish, and most other class/job branches they might have done wouldn’t have pets at all.

cryinglightning39
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cryinglightning39

Saw the word rigid and thought there are really many rigid aspects to FFXIV that bring down what could be an otherwise more fun game. The dungeons for example. I’m not one of the many former WoW players who now call Eorzea home and coming from STO it was quite a shock how the game plays out in these strict ways.
If you tank you have to use this and have this and blah blah otherwise you will be shunned! Not fun.

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nobleeinherjar

I enjoyed this article a lot. FFXIV being the initial train-wreck that it was sent me back to seriously exploring FFXI, for which I will always be grateful, but I regret not returning to 1.0 for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons being not having a lot of in-depth knowledge of its mechanics and how they’ve evolved over the years.

As restrictive as I feel the Armoury System is, I do have to say that I love the changes that have been made to Classes, Jobs, and the relationships between them since 2.0 launched. I miss being able to point my spear at somebody with one eye closed, tongue in the corner of my mouth, and say, “Don’t worry. I’m a licensed phlebotomist.” But exchanging some abilities I enjoyed for Role Actions is a trade I would make any day.

I realize now that the grass wasn’t necessarily greener on the other side, and that even if a consequence of the adjustments made over the years is that the Armoury System has gone from too open-ended to maybe a bit restrictive, the adjustments themselves have been good and often very needed.

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Eamil

One of those reasons being not having a lot of in-depth knowledge of its mechanics and how they’ve evolved over the years.

If you’re interested, I strongly recommend checking out the “Fall and Rise of Final Fantasy XIV” and “Remnants of a Realm” series on Youtube, as well as the Noclip documentary about the game.

bereman99
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bereman99

I do wonder how much more they would be willing to do when it comes to removing classes.

Functionally I can see them removing the need for a Soul Crystal that you equip and instead make it a symbolic thing that you carry.

I don’t see them removing the current classes entirely though, just because to fit their usual practice of lore-ing up everything they’d need to rewrite the 1-30 stories (as those are ALL about the class and its identity and making the jump to a job is of the Kind of Big Deal variety). Having you be a Dragoon from level one then it be a big deal becoming one at 30 (and it being like that across all of the original classes) doesn’t strike me as the kind of story contradiction they’d leave hanging around.

That’s not to say the stuff couldn’t be rewritten to work, just that I don’t see them taking the time to go back and do it.

Classes being essentially symbolic lore elements that serve as leadins to the jobs as nice “important upgrade moments” (like becoming a Spectre in Mass Effect in a sense – it’s for the sake of story) is how I see the current classes settling.

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Vincent Clark

For me, personally, the jobs are in the best place they have been since launch. FFXIV is unique in that (compared to WoW, LoTRO, STO, etc) one character can be all jobs (classes). In that regard, I have no problem with the lack of flexibility. Meaning, I would rather my Bard have a single, balanced, fun play style as compared to dealing with 3 separate (often underutilized and unbalanced) trait trees just for one class (i.e. LotRO). If at any point you get bored with a single job, the beauty is you don’t have to roll another character.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

As a person who loves alts and experiencing content again, I don’t find it beautiful. Many MMOs have an account bound system now, which essentially performs the same function as having all jobs on one class. They allow you to create multiple characters with different genders, races, and looks for each class.

Perhaps I want my Warrior to large like a Roegadyn, and my ninja a Lalafell. A lot of races just seem silly as certain jobs. Like a Roegadyn ninja. Funny for sure, but never taken seriously.

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Jack Kerras

Things were definitely pretty scrambled and unpleasant when the game initially launched, although I very much enjoy the idea of getting flexibility and actual agency in an MMORPG, something which is -severely- lacking at this point.

It’s mostly lacking because MMOs are all such big audiences by now that there’s almost zero time in which one can actually experiment with one; wildly specializing in something is often enormously better than hybridizing, and not being wildly specialized means you just don’t get to go and do endgame content, since it’s usually balanced around the cream of the crop.

Oldschool SWG’s hybrid classes appealed to me quite a lot; I was a little Scout, a little Pistolero, and a lot Artisan+Gunsmith. This appealed to me in a big way! I could make my way around the world, defend myself from at least -some- threats, and still be an extremely effective crafter… my guns were pretty well-known on my server, back when, and my earnings from same allowed a friend of mine to take some generous donations from me and use them to found one of the first player settlements there.

This was a great niche for me to fit into; a crafter that had -just- enough fighting capability to make it to all of my extractors and factories on all the different planets I visited in order to create The Perfect Newbie Pistol, which I sold for cheap and raked in TONS of kickback XP from, which leveled me like crazy and got me to the point where I could make big-boy pistols with much less grind than one might expect.

That was a great hybrid, and it worked for me mainly because I never went and did ‘endgame’ activities; I was there just to do the crafter thing, so being a bit of a shit shot (despite having truly spectacular pistols on hand) was never a major issue.

Enter current MMORPGs, in which the only thing that matters is endgame activities, and there’s no sandboxy -stuff- to do which can supply an endgame-class weaponsmith who chooses not to engage in endgame-strength activities.

Specialization is of vast importance at this point, and it basically doesn’t matter anymore how much you want to hybridize or how good you are at sniffing out materials and using them to craft The Perfect Weapon. At this point, if you don’t kill the Beast, you don’t get the Beast Hide, and you don’t make The Perfect Pistol Grip as a result.

It’s not a question of seeking just the right part, it’s a question of seeking the part that is a checkmark for a best-in-slot item. It’s… much less interesting. Much less broken, sure. Much easier to understand, sure! Overall a better game… that could be argued, btu generally, for standard-ass human video game players, absolutely better.

For me? Way less interesting. I want to play around with infrastructure, hire mercenaries, maintain trading routes, keep an eye out for double-crosses because there aren’t fully-deterministic safety systems in place.

I love broken, crazy bullshit like Morrowind enchanting. Oblivion and Skyrim were obviously better games moment-to-moment, but neither got even close to the nutty spellcrafting, alchemy, and enchanting nonsense you could get up to in Morrowind.

Broken things are okay sometimes. Every time you fix an issue, you pave over a part of the game that may very well have been interesting and full of character for someone else.

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