This has changed somewhat in Stormblood. At this point, melding is a simple game, but it’s more complex than it gets credit for, while also perhaps being a bit simpler than it needs to be. Or perhaps it’s just as complex as it needs to be. It’s a multi-faceted issue, in other words, and one that deserves more nods than it gets.
In the first days of figuring out the game in the new expansion, the ha-ha-only-serious punchline was that you’re best suited to just melding Direct Hit over everything else. Only meld other stuff if you are capped on Direct Hit. And the joke made and makes a certain amount of sense, because Direct Hit scales remarkably well no matter what. There comes a point where Critical Hit passes it, but it seems unlikely we’ll get to that point before the end of the Stormblood patch cycle.
Of course, this was always something of a joke, because at the end of the day what given jobs want varies a lot depending on what they’re doing. Summoners have never cared as much about Direct Hit; Critical Hit and Determination are going to help them out more on the balance, simply because such a large portion of their damage comes from DoT effects that the valuation of stats is different. Similarly, Black Mage really likes Spell Speed, while Red Mage doesn’t care about it much; it only affects a handful of casts, after all, and there’s no “optimal window” for Red Mage.
That’s not to say that all stats are equal; Piety, for instance, has a hard time being very useful for healers simply because healers usually have decent options for keeping up healing without stacking it, not to mention that you can get equivalent punch out of just having bigger heals. But the point is that most of the theorycrafting going now is increasingly showing that you don’t actually have “dump stats” like we did in Heavensward.
Through most of that expansion, Accuracy was useless for every role other than healers, and that was just due to a quirk of design. Tanks had no use for Parry just because the stat was so pointlessly small in its increases. The game ran into all of the worst problems you can have with an MMO, where certain bits of new gear were worse than gear many levels lower just because the old gear had more relevant stats on it.
Now? Most thinking seems to be that while there are certain stats worth focusing on for melding, the ideal blend offers you a mix of stats across all relevant categories. Your DPS characters want a fair amount of everything; even if Skill Speed provides less benefit to you than some other jobs, you still want to have a decent amount of it from normal gear. For melds, you just need to do a bit of valuation about what stats help your spec the most, which is straightforward and useful.
All of this is good. But it also kind of exposes a problem with the system; while it might be fun doing a bit of valuation and determining which sort of materia gets you the best return for your melding, there’s not a whole lot to consider. And it’s not going to make an enormous difference either way.
Think of it this way with some back-of-the-envelope and slightly wrong math. A Direct Hit VI materia is, essentially, a 1% increase in your Direct Hit chance. That means that you’ll get that 150% damage multiplier 1% more often. And let’s go a step further by assuming that you naturally have no Direct Hit chance whatsoever. But you can meld Direct Hit on all of your gear, bringing you up to an 18% chance to Direct Hit! That’s a big value, right?
If each of your attacks normally hit for 100 damage, over 100 attacks, you’d be dealing 10,000 damage.
With that Direct Hit bump, you’ll get Direct Hits for 18 of those attacks, giving you a total of… 10,900 damage.
This math is, of course, entirely speculative. No job just does 100 damage with each attack, to start with. The point is that the melds are changing the amount of damage you deal, but not so much that it makes a huge game-changing difference. Even in this purely hypothetical scenario, that’s a notable damage bump, but it’s the sort of thing that you can lose without necessarily noticing.
It’s going to matter a lot if you’re pushing the edge of what you can do with your current gear. That could be the difference between a clear and a wipe. But it’s not going to matter much if you’re running dungeons, except that you can wring out a little extra performance. The bright side is that you’re not going to make an enormous difference either way if you value things incorrectly, but the down side is that it’s also not going to make an enormous difference if you value things correctly.
This is a problem… if you want a higher skill ceiling in the game. If you want players to have, basically, a 10% window for making the right decision, it’s not a problem at all. Players who make the “wrong” choices will deal less damage, but it won’t be a big shift in either direction.
What I’d personally love to see, however, is more abilities in materia form. Now that it’s possible to retrieve materia easily, we could have quests, challenges, and so forth wherein you earn a piece of materia that you can meld to have an effect that you might not otherwise get. Imagine, for example, if you could have a Ninja materia that removes Ninki gauge building on auto-attacks but adds it to all of your weaponskills. Or a Machinist meld that prevents you from overheating and keeps your heat gauge steadily falling while also buffing your overall damage bonus from Gauss Barrel.
This could be a nice step to add in some of the customization the game has generally walked away from. It’s easy to meld and remove as necessary, for example, and you would have to decide if these melds are worth the slight stat drop along the way.
It’s not necessarily the future of the system, of course. It’s quite possible that the new-player-friendly nature of not letting people suffer too badly for a bad meld overrides any need for more melding options. But I certainly would like the option myself.
As always, feedback is welcome down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, let’s speculate a little more about the next live letter and what we can expect to learn about patch 4.2 before it goes live. For that matter, when that’s going to happen.