On the other hand, there’s still the screaming problem that there’s no customization once you make that choice.
There’s been an issue in place since the game launched in straddling the line between what players can and can’t toggle around. While the current state of affairs is arguably better than the game was at launch, it’s still not good, and it has a major issue insofar as the game has two systems for player customization that both don’t work in the slightest. It’s something I’ve talked about before, and it’s something that should be examined in more depth.
Since the old days
You can’t claim that FFXIV doesn’t come by this particular issue honestly; it has always been an issue for the online installments of the series. Final Fantasy XI fought with a similar issue for quite some time because players noticed very early on in that game’s lifespan that there were sub jobs that offered benefits and ones that… well, didn’t.
Since you didn’t have any sort of line-by-line ability equipping in that game, you could get abilities equal to only half of your main level. The limitations of power meant that several different jobs were, from a practical standpoint, complete and utter garbage. Having Dragoon as a subjob meant getting access to Jump on occasion, but missing out on better stats, attacks, and almost everything else from a better subjob. As a result, leveling Warrior became a de facto chore for pretty much anyone who wanted to play a physical job at higher levels; it took rare situations for people to even consider abnormal subjobs, like the unholy collection of abilities and use that was smashed together to make RDM/DRK worthwhile for a brief window.
As with everything else, I believe FFXIV‘s launch system was meant to address the problem of the prior game. It went way too far in the direction of letting you mix and match abilities, but its core conceits made sense. But what we have now is functionally worse: We have more technical choices but fewer actual meaningful ones.
Here’s an example: As a level 60 Monk, you have nine cross-class skills to choose from. One of them is completely useless, providing you with absolutely no benefit whatsoever; three of them are so overwhelmingly useful as to be mandatory. That leaves five choices for the last two slots, and of those it takes only the most cursory examination to realize that two of them are functionally identical and one is more or less a non-starter.
In other words, when all is said and done, your choices are between two defensive cooldowns, Bloodbath, and Feint. None of them is going to have any significant impact on your play, at that.
Technically, yes, you have choices for these slots. But a technical choice isn’t a choice. If you can choose between paying $400 and paying a million dollars with absolutely no meaningful difference, you will always pick the former because there’s no reason not to pick the former. It’s a choice that gives you no meaningful reason to choose otherwise.
The systems are there
At this point, the cross-class system is basically nothing more than a low-level tour of other classes. It serves no practical function. Scrapping it altogether means tearing out a lot of basic functionality, but we also need to have some methods of actually customizing our characters.
Ironically, an alternative system already exists: the PvP advancement system. It allows for customization of individual jobs in a way that the core game currently doesn’t permit. There are certain actions that definitely take precedent over others, beyond a shadow of a doubt, but the core of it is that you aren’t forced to take anything.
A not altogether dissimilar system exists in Final Fantasy XI with Merit Points, allowing characters to not wholly rewrite how a job functions but tweak some of its restrictions. Improve cooldowns, improve your attributes, add traits, that sort of thing. Merit Points are gained instead of experience at the level cap, which always seemed like an option that players should have earlier in the leveling process; I can definitely see arguments to be made for locking yourself at a lower level to improve your power.
Both of these systems are in place and they both work. They’ve worked for years, giving players something to strive for and a method of advancement that doesn’t necessarily result in everyone playing the same thing with equivalent gear. Players like having choice when building their characters.
The obvious counter is that people would min-max the selections and determine the “best” choices, but that’s going to happen anyway; people have determined optimal compositions for content assuming skilled players for all content. The game as a whole has done an excellent job of keeping its many options balanced, and while this would introduce an extra wrinkle, it’d also give players more choices and more ways to play.
Beyond just porting
Let’s assume that for whatever reason, the designers don’t want to just port over one of these systems. There are still options that I think the game could explore with similar ultimate effects.
What I’d love to see as a more robust sort of option would be a system for linking your main job with another job. Imagine, for example, if rather than progressing through arbitrary ranks, you’re working on creating a bond between your Ninja job and your Monk job, or your Dragoon job, and so on. The ability options could easily be tailored to avoid unbalancing the balance as a whole, just to bring a touch of the flavor of the source job; it could even be limited to a small selection of “compatible” jobs.
Another possibility would be offering a more direct customization route akin to the one used in 1.0 with specific class traits unlocked and equipped. Adding in a system for unlocking and equipping traits – including ones that allow you to equip some actions that would otherwise be unavailable – would have a major impact on the game and give some options for doing something other than simply putting your points in the same spot.
Right now, we are really starved for choices about how to play. Yes, you can play all classes on a single character, and perhaps that’s what the designers want in terms of player choice, but it makes that choice feel a bit more empty when it’s the only choice. If I can’t make bad choices for a given job, I can’t make good ones, and my investment is reduced.
It’s a testament to how well the game plays as a whole that those limitations don’t ruin the game, but it’s still something that could be improved significantly.
Feedback, just as always, can be sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org or dropped in the comments below. Next time, I’m going to finish up my series of role evaluations with healers.