Wisdom of Nym: Final Fantasy XIV and the risk of job overload

    
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Burn it down!

All right, let’s start this column with a little thought exercise. I want you to come up with a weapon and a general flow for a new ranged DPS job in Final Fantasy XIV, keeping in mind that you both have to have weapons that work within the general setting of the game and you can’t go too far afield in terms of making something up altogether. Oh, and keep in mind that you also have to make sure the job in question doesn’t overlap with the existing jobs in terms of mechanics or playstyle. No pressure!

Now, I don’t recommend you spend too much time thinking about this. (It’s meant to be a thought exercise, not something you spend the next several hours working on; you will not be graded on your suggestions.) It’s not an impossible task. But it is remarkably difficult to do, and it highlights what is perhaps a larger problem with the way that FFXIV is set up… or more accurately, what will be a larger problem. Just as how last week we talked about the fact that the game could run into continuity lockout, it’s worth considering what’s going to happen to the game as its jobs continue to accumulate.

The thing about dealing with this game’s expansions is that there are, realistically, a fairly expected set of features. We expect that each new expansion will provide six new areas, another level cap increase, more MSQ, two new cities, and yes, two new jobs. That’s been the case for every single expansion aside from Heavensward, and even then the only real difference was that we got three jobs instead of two. Not precisely a world-shattering change.

But the fact of the matter is that while there are still design spaces left for the game to explore, that space does shrink the more jobs are added to the game. And there are only so many different ways that you can have certain roles work while still maintaining the game’s general approach of giving each role a predictable set of tools to achieve a baseline of functionality.

Case in point? Let’s look at tanks. Paladin is definitely the most defensive tank, the only one that can block and absorb damage that way. Warrior winds up taking the role of the tank that lasts through things by soaking damage, recovering health and extending HP to absorb more punishment. Then… well, Dark Knight uses barriers to redirect damage into more damage, and Gunbreaker is… kind of about dodging to mitigate damage, more than being the most durable?

There is clearly space wherein another tank could fit in and work within the game’s fiction and mechanics, especially with some tweaks to the existing tanks to make it more unique. But there isn’t a big space, and there isn’t a lot of space. A “more dodging but less damage” tank could fit in, for example, but it wouldn’t feel quite as distinct with four other tanks, especially since it also still needs to have the basic tank toolkit.

A bunny must jump.

I don’t consider this in and of itself a problem, of course. The reason that there is perhaps less design space for making a totally new tank that’s wildly different from the existing ones is because we already have four distinct tanks with their own mechanics and playstyles. That’s not a bad thing. But it does mean that we start to reach a point where there are just fewer opportunities to make a new job of any sort actually fulfill a useful role and feel like a distinct entity, separate from all of its contemporaries. This is not a crippling problem or something that can’t be fixed, but it is a situation just the same.

And that’s going to become more and more of an issue as time goes by and more jobs get added because players expect new jobs with each expansion. But with each new expansion it gets harder to add new jobs, and that’s looking at this purely from a mechanical standpoint, not even touching upon the fact that this is a¬†Final Fantasy game and people expect certain things from a Final Fantasy game.

Whether you’re happy with all of the implementations or not, there are actually not a lot of very frequently used jobs that don’t currently show up in FFXIV. Geomancers, technically, but it’d be easy to excuse those as just the Othard version of Conjurers. Rune Knight or something similar? All right, that fits. Berserker? Already basically filled by Warrior. Beastmaster? Maybe a limited job, but probably not a normal one. Chemist? That’s valid. But a lot of the “classic” jobs are already present.

From there, you have to start going into new territory. And while that is not a bad thing (Reaper and Astrologian are technically wholly new jobs), often times that comes with its own limitations or restrictions (Reaper is clearly deriving a lot from Final Fantasy XI’s scythe-wielding Dark Knight, and Astrologian is likely the closest we can get to Time Mage). The more original the game goes, the thinner its connection to franchise history.

Not to mention that some of it is even a matter of perspective. A ranged DPS using boomerangs could work… but is that different enough from Dancer? Dual-wielding pistols is a common NPC job, but how would that work mechanically and be distinct from Machinist? Crossbows could be a thing, but where would you even start to make a job from that weapon?

Weird dog.

Again, I want to stress that this is not an inherently bad thing. The fact that some of the game’s design space has been used up by its plethora of different jobs is actually to its credit; it means that you have a wide variety of different playstyles to choose between whatever you like, and the next expansion is more than likely to have another couple of playstyles to choose between. It took a while for me to find my favorite tank job, for example, so it’s hardly a case where more options are a bad thing.

But at a certain point, the game does approach an interesting point of job lockout. And that raises the question of what the developers are going to do. Even our next set of jobs is going to already have to look rather far afield for a series connection, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the next expansion has to be at least as creative as this one was when it comes to conjuring up Reaper and Sage.

There’s only so much time you can spend deriving things from the past before you either run out of stuff to do or have to start looking to the future, but there are also only so many different ways to have someone stand at a distance from a target and hit it with a ranged weapon. There are only so many ways to take hits, or attack in melee, or whatever. And we’re starting to reach a point of diminishing returns.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, I’d like to discuss a story element that’s been present in the game for a long time but may no longer really be relevant moving forward: Primals.

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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