Wisdom of Nym: Why you should be cautious speculating on Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion balance

It's actually fine.

Whew. All right. So we’ve gotten the media tour information for the next Final Fantasy XIV expansion, and that means that people have gotten to see early videos, tooltips, and all of that stuff. Unfortunately, we’ve already started seeing people crying that the sky is falling and that the expansion will be the worst thing ever, because now we know about the abilities, sometimes going so far as to declare jobs worthless or insist that the meta is already determined when we are not yet out in release. And… yeah, that’s downright bad.

Look, you all know how much I love speculating about things. I speculate about what job abilities will get removed or added, I’ve speculated about what we’d hear at the various fanfests, I’ve speculated about jobs we’re likely never to get. But there’s good speculation and bad speculation, and your speculation about what the jobs will look like in terms of performance at the new level cap? It’s bad. Let’s talk about why.

Note: This article is a modified reprint of an article that I wrote back when Stormblood was coming out about player panic over early tooltips then. I’ve gone through and updated it to remove specific references because this way I have just one thing to point to for every future expansion. It is apparently going to be necessary.

Reason 1: You don’t have final numbers

This is not actually done. Or it wasn't when we played it, anyhow.You may notice that in every single piece I wrote, I mentioned at least once that everything previewed therein was still under development and therefore not final. That does not mean it wasn’t playable, of course, but I can definitely confirm it was not the final build. Tooltips had wrong highlighting. Translations were inaccurate. Certain attributes were not fully locked down. This was a very late-development build, but it was not a final build.

Obviously, at this point the odds of a wholesale delay are low to nonexistent. But despite that fact, there is stuff which is still not finalized. Numbers in particular are incredibly easy to tweak, even at late stages of development, since they’re mostly about substituting in a different variable. Heck, even things like which abilities trigger a skill are pretty easy to change. If you’re thinking that there’s an obvious synergy being missed and the developers agree, it can be added without too much trouble.

This is why I’m worried about potencies, costs, and so forth. Those elements are all pretty easy to tweak, either before launch or shortly after launch, and if something is actually underperforming I have complete confidence it will be tweaked.

Of course, some people will argue that the developers clearly don’t see these things as underperforming. Which brings us to our next point.

Reason 2: It’s not about your job

We do kind of have a history of the perception that it's all about me, so to speak.Something is always going to stick out to people as being wrong. Numbers are going to be adjusted to be lower. Your favorite AoE gets hit with diminishing returns. You lose a stun or an interrupt. And more often than not the players crying about this who main the job are voluntarily ignoring that this is bringing things in line with every other job.

It’s important to remember that the game is, well, big. These changes aren’t targeted at you; they’re targeted at the ecosystem of the entire game, to make it more fun for everyone. Odds are good that whatever change you’re angry about will be made to every aspect of the game for every single job, and they’re usually changes being made for some larger purpose.

If an AoE has diminishing returns, for example, that’s probably because of a large-scale targeting of how AoEs work and how potent they are. If your DoT is tuned downward, that probably means you’re supposed to be focusing on other things across the board. If you lose damage spells as a healer? Maybe your job had too much damage and too many forms of passive healing, and something had to give.

FFXIV is a really damn complicated game. The game has to create engaging content for players to work through using any combination of jobs; even if you just limit balance to dungeons alone, you’ve got more than a thousand combinations which all have to be capable of getting through the same content. Keeping all of that balanced, fun, and organic is hard work. And the developers do an astonishingly good job of it, because there are no classes which outright cannot clear certain content.

I’m not saying the team is magic; I’m saying that they work hard and make decisions aimed at the long-term health of the game as a whole and cover every angle, not just the numbers on your personal job. You may be losing some abilities, but that doesn’t mean other jobs aren’t also losing some abilities, nor does it mean that the team isn’t aware of the changes having a larger overall effect.

Yes, that will make for a very different top-level experience than what currently exists. But that’s part of the point, and it’s downright callous to assume you know what that new experience is going to look like ahead of time.

A new world that is probably amost exactly the same as the old one.

Reason 3: You don’t know the endgame

It’s not too difficult to figure out how these changes will shake out if you’re taking on, say, the current top tier of Savage with the numbers scaled up. I haven’t seen anyone actually do that yet, of course, since pretty much every analysis seems based around “let’s toss in the changes to Job X in this content without taking into account the changes to every other job at the same time,” but it is within the realm of theoretical possibility.

Of course, you won’t be running that content scaled up. You’ll be running the new savage, and the new dungeons, and new raids, and a new Deep Dungeon, and whatever other new sorts of content await as we work our way through the expansion. Now, take a moment and explain out loud what mechanics you’ll encounter in the first four segments of the marquee raid for the expansion. Got it?

You can do so silently, if it’s easier. I can’t hear you either way.

But of course you can’t do that, because you don’t actually know. I don’t actually know, either. I know the broad strokes of the mechanics for one leveling dungeon because I’ve played through it, and in all likelihood that’s more of the expansion content than you have currently played through. It is also, again, not the endgame. It’s not even close to the endgame.

Context changes a lot. It’s entirely possible for the mechanics which you think are pointless now to matter a whole heck of a lot when the expansion goes live. You can even guess about some of the mechanics coming with the endgame based on the new abilities, and lo and behold, most of them speak to a new endgame in which party-wide damage is less common but big hits for individual players (not always the tank) are definitely in play. Two different tanks have the ability to shield a party member, each healer has a new tool to help bolster and heal a specific party member, and there are some pretty solid defensive cooldowns on deck for existing jobs as well.

Speculating about what the endgame will look like based on the tools we’re being given is much more solid than speculating on how useful our tools are based on an endgame they will most definitely not be used for. But even then, you might not be really getting a picture of those tools in the first place.

Reason 4: It’s a set of changes, not a single change

Pictured: the sky ACTUALLY falling.It’s easy to look at changes to a given ability or a removed ability and get freaked out because something isn’t there any longer. “I don’t use Ability X,” you cry, “but this new trait triggers off of Ability X only! It’s useless!”

This is neglecting that you now have an additional reason to use Ability X for exactly the trait.

Looking at part of the changes and not the whole is missing the forest for the trees in the extreme. Instead of seeing a set of abilities which now play off of one another in different ways, you’re seeing an ability to don’t use very frequently being changed. The assumption shouldn’t be “but I don’t use that,” it should be “oh, perhaps now I have more reason to use that more frequently.”

Seriously, when I’m on the media tour there are usually at least a few abilities getting highlighted on my main job that I tend not to use. Seeing them work together and have synergy and motivation doesn’t make me think that these things aren’t useful; it makes me think “ah, the play mechanics are encouraging me to recall that this exists with some upside to using these abilities.” The functionality change is part of a large scheme of things.

That is, in short, the point of these changes. They work together in a larger ecosystem, rather than just being a single change to one ability. If you don’t understand why a buff is tied to a skill you don’t use, step back and start asking if that buff is a reason to use that skill.

There's so much going on here that even I don't know all of it, and I'm pretty sure I've played more of it than you have.

Reason 5: You may be basing it off of incomplete assumptions

If you’re evaluating class performance based on Savage performance, your analysis is bad and you should feel bad. If your list of which jobs are best is based solely on progression groups trying for world or server firsts, same thing. This is not the content most players are going through, and it’s not even at the intensity most players will experience it.

The US playerbase has settled into an accepted method of trying to push through new ultra-challenging content with sub-par gear, and it mostly comes down to pushing DPS with an intensity that would make an Iwo Jima veteran ask if you could dial it back a bit. Japanese players have a different strategy, and I’m willing to bet the European community has another one as well. But gauging jobs based on which ones perform in these intensely narrow strategies is like gauging jobs based on how many vowels are in the name. You can do it, but it doesn’t give you much useful information.

Most players are going to run normal mode raids, alliance raids, Expert dungeons, and maybe a few Extreme primals. Some won’t even clear all of that. Some will clear a little bit more. Some will work through Savage at a more leisurely pace. A job’s performance should be evaluated based on how well it performs in all of those circumstances, not just how it manages when you’re in the latest crafted gear with full melds and trying desperately to race down the health of a new boss.

If, say, BRD is better than MCH in every single context, than that’s a real issue. But if BRD is more desirable for your world first clears of Extreme primals but matches up with MCH just fine in all other contexts, BRD isn’t really better.

Reason 6: You might just be wrong

I mean, you haven’t even played the expansion yet. You may not be as smart as you think you are. You could, in fact, be misreading something or making assumptions which are just plain wrong.

Forming hypotheses is all well and good, but until you actually test them they’re just ideas. I don’t assume that as a Ninja player, I’m smarter and know more about the job’s design than every single person who’s developing the game. So I might see thing which make me raise an eyebrow, but until I actually try them it’s just so much speculation.

And, you know, I could be totally wrong.

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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