All of this talk and thought about new jobs naturally raises the question of what people should be leveling going into the new expansion, though, and that’s a tough question to ask. It’s almost impossible to know right now what the cross-class landscape is going to look like, if indeed it looks like anything. With three new jobs and enough levels for another cross-class action, it increasingly looks to me as if that cross-class landscape has eroded into nothing.
Let’s start with a history lesson, starting with the earliest version of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0. Although… on second thought, let’s fast-forward slightly to a time when you could actually equip actions without a several second delay for each command. That sounds far less unpleasant. Back then, every level on a class simply increased the amount of AP you had to equip actions, and the only difference between any two classes was what skills you’d gain as you leveled up, not what they could actually do.
As a concept, this system was pretty cool. As an actual means of character advancement, it was pretty terrible, especially when you actually wanted to work with other players to do anything. It was hardly the only misstep in this version of the game, but it certainly didn’t help matters much.
The system we have now fundamentally came about as part of the sweeping class changes made back in 1.0: Every class learns actions as it levels, and some of those actions can be equipped by other classes. Furthermore, jobs are more restricted in what actions they can equip, being limited to two other classes to pull cross-class actions from. The actual actions and the list of options has changed over time, but the core conceits of the system have remained intact.
In theory, this serves a positive purpose for both the designers and the players. For the players, it means that each new class you play benefits from all of the other classes that you’ve already leveled; leveling something new means drawing a bunch of extra abilities that improve damage and survivability. Meanwhile, for designers, it means that basic utility skills don’t need to be designed in slightly different versions for each class. You don’t need to give every tank class some variety of Provoke; you just need one version of Provoke that everyone learns.
In practice, it doesn’t really accomplish either goal.
Players quickly learn two things about the game’s classes. The first is that post-30, there’s virtually no reason to ever be on a class instead of a job; while you can derive some minimal benefit from it (I’ve seen builds for Thaumaturge that toss specific cooldowns around just to make for some super-potent Fire III casts), you will almost always if not actually always be on a job. That severely limits your cross-class library. And considering that said library consists of maybe 10 possible skills with only five usable at once, and several of those skills are highly useless… well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what you need on any given job.
Look at Ninja, a damage-dealing job. Your skill options consist of two damage cooldowns, two defensive cooldowns, one support cooldown, two ways to inflict Slow, a self-heal, and a TP restoration cooldown. It’s not difficult to conclude that the two damage cooldowns and the TP restoration are near-mandatory, and the rest? Who cares.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing useful in that batch; Mantra and Second Wind are both useful. But your performance as a Ninja is not ever going to be based on whether or not you have Mantra and/or Second Wind. And that’s the extent of customization you get there – are you going to take Mantra and Second Wind, or are you going to take Mantra and Keen Flurry? Hey, maybe you’ll be a real rebel and swap Blood for Blood for Featherfoot, just for PvP. Your customization entirely consists of playing around in an arena full of skills that your job doesn’t actually care about.
As for the benefit from a design side… that’s largely washed away by the fact that it only works so long as all of these jobs have access to the same abilities. Hence why Ninja and Bard both have a different execute-style effect rather than Mercy Stroke, since neither one includes Marauder abilities.
One is left with the sense, fairly or unfairly, that the current design team is not terribly interested in carrying on with this system. Rogue and Ninja were the first casualties, as no Rogue skills are used by any other job. In some ways this makes perfect sense – it would have required a pretty major redesign of a rather fixed system – but it also means that leveling up a Rogue is more or less irrelevant in the overall scheme of leveling.
What we know about the new jobs is simply that they start as jobs and are forever jobs, kicking off at level 30. It’s very possible – even likely – that they will have no abilities to share with other jobs. What other classes they’ll pull from is similarly unclear, although there are some rather obvious guesses to be made; all three can easily pull from both classes in a given role, so Dark Knight could share Marauder and Gladiator skills, Astrologian could pull from Conjurer and Arcanist, and Machinist could grab Archer and… who knows. Maybe even Rogue.
What all of this speaks to, though, is the fact that we currently don’t have a very robust setup for what is ostensibly a customizable system. I’d like to see more cross-class functionality offered, but at this point the system seems to be sticking around more out of momentum than anything, and we’re left with an environment in which every Warrior plays like every other Warrior, allocates the same stat points in the same fashion, and for all intents and purposes is playing the exact same game.
The new jobs don’t seem likely to mix this up at all, which is a shame; one of the things that the expansion could conceivably do is really provide us with more cross-class skills, more options, more chances to diversify and really make things play differently in a new environment. It’s unlikely, and it would require a fair bit of rebalancing work on the part of the designers, but it would be really neat to walk into Coerthas without the same old song and dance awaiting.
All of the jobs in the game are wonderfully designed, play nicely, and are lots of fun. They’re just a bit homogenous from player to player.
Is feedback welcome in the comments below or by mail to email@example.com? You know it. Next week, assuming that we don’t have another big bit of news explosions, I’m going to go back to a well I haven’t touched on for a while and discuss the game’s endgame dungeons, from Wanderer’s Palace to the Keeper of the Lake. Which one is the best, and which one should never be discussed again?