Wisdom of Nym: The problem with Final Fantasy XIV’s consumables and buffs

    
4
Alas and alack.

All right, gang, who wants a sandwich? Especially if that sandwich involves… a boost to your Determination and Critical Hit rating for the next half hour? Congratulations, and welcome to the wonderful world of Final Fantasy XIV’s consumable items including both food and potions. It seems like a very straightforward field when you look at it in the abstract because it’s always had pretty clear criteria outlined. Potions are short-term buffs; food is the longer-term buff.

But nothing is ever totally simple, and since I’ve lately been cooking up a storm in the game when I’ve been crafting, I felt like taking a look at the whole shebang. So let’s talk about the game’s consumables, what absolutely works with the current system, what’s not so great about the current system, and what the deal is with all the carrots in this expansion. Yes, I know, we have to get in those rabbit jokes because of the whole thing with the loporrits, but… eh, forget it.

To start with, we need to go back to the days of FFXIV v1.0, when food and potions were kind of the wild west in terms of effects. In the broadest sense, food gave you buffs and potions also gave you buffs. However, they both were… variable. Sometimes food was very effective for recovery or a short-term buff. Sometimes foods would stack. Sometimes potions gave long-term buffs. Sometimes foods and potions would both stack. Sometimes potions were overwritten by other magical buffs. Kind of wild.

Naoki Yoshida looked at all of this and his team put together a plan, and we wound up with a pretty straightforward plan for how potions and food would work. Food provided stat boosts as well as an experience boost, thereby making it advantageous for both top-level characters and leveling characters (after all, you get a stat boost and a bit more experience, that’s all good). Potions, meanwhile, offer short-term buffs as well as recovery from status effects, recovery of HP/MP/GP/whatever, and short-term crafting buffs that stack with food. These buffs were separated cleanly, so you were always clear about what to use.

As time has gone by, the system has been improved and refined. These days we have understandable food that gives a percentage stat boost with a maximum value, ensuring that newer food has higher values (and thus more impact). We have potions that have a similar percent-with-cap function that last for a short time, basically making your burst windows that much burstier.

So what’s good here and what’s bad?

This looks less than welcoming.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to note that whatever criticisms I have to level against the system, it does something that’s perhaps most important: It works. You understand what food is supposed to do, what potions are supposed to do, and what the difference is between them. The categories are clear, and the one place where the line is a bit blurred (syrups for crafters) is the one place where you can’t use items normally, so you kind of have to break the system a little bit.

More importantly, it does something that’s very important to the game’s overall economy and balance: It gives both Culinarians and Alchemists something useful and interesting to do within the marketplace. Neither one is a useless or superfluous craft, and especially at the top end, you’re going to need both kinds of crafters to properly set up supplies for your progression group. The current system that we have is not garbage or non-functional.

All right. So what’s the problem. Well… for starters, if you’re not in a progression group, potions are kind of useless.

I’m not just talking about restorative potions. Those are also useless. Sure, you can get and carry Antidotes to remove poison, but realistically how often are you actually getting the Poison status effect on a regular basis? Maybe in some low-level dungeons, and even then those dungeons are entirely balanced around the fact that your healer can Esuna it away if it’s actually remotely dangerous to you. Thank goodness, I can cure Blind with Eye Drops, and if I can think of a single fight where Blind is relevant, that might mean something!

There’s a reason we haven’t gotten a new tier of healing potion in a while: We just don’t need them. They don’t really provide anything useful. Enemies in the open world don’t do enough damage that you can’t manage through existing healing abilities and cooldowns, and group content will usually involve a healer or healing actions of some kind to keep you up and operating. Heck, the most useful restorative potions are Cordials because they do something that gatherers otherwise can’t for certain gathering windows. That’s it.

But even the stat-boosting potions are kind of useless in 90% of the content.

Tataru and her muffin adventure.

I’m not saying they don’t work. They certainly work, and they will make your burst window burstier when you are smacking away on that dungeon boss. But that’s for a 30-second window, and quite frankly that’s basically nothing compared to the fact that you can eat a meal at the start of the dungeon and get its benefits all the way through as a long-term passive benefit, and dungeons are designed so that even the unmelded and unfed can clear them reliably with minimal trouble.

This creates a divide – not a huge and unmanageable one, certainly not one that makes Alchemist useless, but there’s a reason why there are new Alchemist recipes for component potions that get used in high-end gear so that the Alchemists still have as much to do. No one is really going to be spending tomestones for a minor benefit for 30 seconds unless you’re pushing high-end progression.

The flip side to this, of course, is that it creates a skewed perception of what potions actually do. A lot of players at lower levels really have no idea of how or when you’re ever supposed to use potions, and the fact that they’re expensive and seemingly not very useful makes little sense. It’s not a horrible wall, but it is a place where the game could use a better on-ramp for understanding how to make use of consumables and how useful just eating food before a dungeon run can be.

I do think that there might be a way to help address this: Essentially, take a page from the crafting consumables and create a line of potions with a 15-minute duration that boost a primary stat (albeit much less than the 30 second tinctures). The net result is that Alchemists get something to craft that people want to buy without necessarily pushing the limit… although it might play hell with balancing. (Primary stat increases are really powerful.)

Ultimately, what we have is a pretty good system of consumables with tangible and understandable benefits that works really well and could work a little bit better. If no changes are made, that’s fine; it’s a fine enough system as it is. But that’s no reason not to look at places where it could work better.

Feedback, as always, is welcome in the comments down below or via mail to eliot@massivelyop.com. Next week, it’s live letter discussion time!

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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