Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s borrowed power is generously loaned

    
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Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV’s borrowed power is generously loaned

If you’ve been active in the larger MMO discussion sphere over the past few months… well, thanks! It’s the field I work in, after all. Also, you have probably seen discussion about the concept of borrowed power come up, especially when it comes to some entire planet of fighting. Borrowed power, as a concept, refers to things that you have that alter your character’s abilities… but only for one expansion, after which it’s all thrown in the Forever Box and discarded altogether.

This probably sounds like something entirely antithetical to Final Fantasy XIV, which has actually kept the vast majority of its systems pretty consistent through three expansions. Sure, we’ve lost some abilities and gained others, some mechanics have gone away forever (farewell, Gauss Barrel), but we have generally been free of what would be obvious expansion-wide borrowed power mechanics. But we do actually have a fair amount of experience with borrowed power in the game… and I think looking at the way that power is given to us for a little while is instructive.

Here’s the thing: In its narrowest definition, “borrowed power” refers to an expansion-long system which no longer exists or matters after the expansion is over. For example, if Stormblood had given us a system of Resistance Actions per job that got summarily deleted as soon as Shadowbringers launched, that would be borrowed power. We don’t have that, so we… well, don’t have that.

But that’s a very narrow definition. A broader and less game-specific definition would be that borrowed power is progression in an MMO, regardless of its vertical cap, that is not universally applicable to your play experience in the game. Gaining a level on Dragoon confers notable benefits, but there are a lot of systems that only matter in narrow contexts.

Have some power.

For example: Both of our existing Deep Dungeons have borrowed power in the form of equipment levels gathered during dungeon runs. Eureka has an entirely separate leveling system (complete with several new actions) in contrast to the rest of the game. The Augur you use to blow up enemies in Diadem? Borrowed power. You get the general idea.

Heck, you could even argue that relic weapons (and, eventually, the dragonsung tools) are a form of borrowed power as well. Sure, they’re great options now, but eventually they’re going to be sub-par. This one is less convincing, though, since mechanically these weapons don’t actually have any additional effects beyond their item levels. (Your upgraded GNB weapon might be a very good pick for the job, but it doesn’t allow you to store extra charges for your abilities or anything.)

In the original game, this was fairly uncommon. Most improvements that you could get rippled through every aspect of the game. It’s been a slow process of adding borrowed systems like gear levels in Palace of the Dead and so forth, but at this point there are a fair number of systems based on borrowed power.

So we do definitely have those systems in the game. But what seems to keep people from being very perturbed is the nature of how that borrowed power is loaned and taken back, and at least to me it forms an interesting contrast with other similar systems.

Let’s look at Eureka, for example. On the surface, this is a whole set of zones made up of borrowed power, and you certainly don’t need to go back to Eureka at this point to advance the game’s story. But if you want to go back, you can, and crucially, all of that power you already acquired is still there. None of these systems has been deleted. The power level remains consistent across different zones, rather than forcing you to start over from nothing or just removing the whole interplay that Eureka already had.

Heck, a lot of people have used the idle time in this particular expansion to re-explore Eureka after all the changes have been made. That content is still there to be explored. I think some people might find it more fun now than before. It’s more accessible, which has generally been the approach used by the designers to ensure that older content is less reliant on progression ability.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who would like to bring stuff like Logos actions outside of Eureka, but it does make a clear line of differentiated priorities. Eureka is borrowed power through and through, but the terms of the loan are different. Rather than being borrowed based on time, it’s borrowed based on content.

In fact, an even easier example might be PvP. Every job is, to an extent, borrowing power with its additional abilities and changed mechanics for PvP fights. But this loan lasts as long as a PvP match does before reverting back once more. Rather than being intended to make you more powerful for a time and then knock you back down, it is meant to give every job a bespoke experience within PvP content that matches the pace of these battles and the demands of same.

This is not the same as stolen power.

And this also offers some notable benefits for the game’s development and for players. The odds are good, for example, that we are never going to find a day wherein you can turn your Gunbreaker into a melee DPS… but the Bozjan Southern Front offers you stances that let you get closer, especially with the boosts available from lost actions. That can be just fun for a player. Similarly, the developers can see which lost actions and mechanics players really enjoy and use that information when developing additional jobs without worrying about throwing off the main game’s balance horribly.

Plus, the fact that each of these segments still offer you a bespoke experience means that your borrowed power is meant to slot into the places you actually explore. I don’t miss lost actions in dungeons, because most of them wouldn’t even fit in the pattern of actual stuff I do while fighting my way through dungeons. Stuff like hitting elemental weaknesses can make the Masked Carnivale more interesting, but the lack of such options in open-world content doesn’t really diminish that experience; it ensures that it comes up in places where it’s more interesting to actually play with.

In other words, by making borrowed power content-limited, the game manages to harness all the benefits of these systems (offering surprising new abilities, letting you play with new toys, giving new sense of progression) while avoiding the drawbacks of taking these things away forever. Sure, you might miss some of your Eureka tricks if you never need to go back, but that was never all you were doing in the game in the first place.

So what does this mean on a whole? Honestly, I think it’s just an interesting element of game design to think about. It’s really easy to get stuck in a binary thought pattern wherein borrowed power is always a big bad problem, and I don’t blame anyone for feeling that way. But it’s useful to look at this as a case wherein it does largely seem to work without a great deal of player consternation.

If you’d like to leave your own thoughts on this, of course, you can do so down in the comments or you can mail along to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, it’s high time that we talk about the Forspoken rumor that’s now floating around.

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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Vincent Clark

Great article, Eliot.

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Ironwu

Final Fantasy score on Borrowed Power design mechanics: 10/10

WoW score on Borrowed Power mechanics designs: 0/10

Total failure to maintain any sort of persistent world design by the WoW designers and suits.

At this stage, I think FFXIV has really taken over the crown of best overall MMO in the genre.

Just my opinion, of course. :)

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styopa

Gotta admit, this entire concept of ‘borrowed’ power – I hate it.

It SUFFUSES WoW’s design philosophy since Panda, where even trivialities like certain buffs and potion are geofenced into the Pandaland content and are COMPLETELY worthless outside of it. Hell, even within crafting I can MAKE crap in Orgrimar that I can’t USE in org because it’s not in Legion or whatever. (IIRC; I was stupid enough to main an engineer, I know there were potions that didn’t work in other zones, I think there were even engineering products also limited but it’s been so long since I bothered to even look in my recipe lists I don’t recall for sure….)

Effectively, that’s not an expansion, that’s a different game that we’re porting our characters to play in. If I want to play a different game, I’ll do that.

It’s gamey, it breaks the entire logical concept of a “world” in toto, and just frankly sucks hard.

I like FFXIV, I’d be sad to hear that they made any move to join Blizzard in that sort of crappy design.

Tizmah
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Tizmah

I would argue it makes the game more fun having it limited to expansions. It gives each expansion it’s own charm and makes it feel worth revisiting and experience in it’s own capsule. VS XIV that I can’t think of any reason to step into Heavenwards or Stormblood areas…like at all.

FFXIV is so formulaic and predictable I 100% wish their next expansion took a Blizz approach and made almost a different game.