It’s been a while, Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve missed you. While I did play you to take a break from Metal Gear Solid V and Fallout 4, periodically, I really haven’t partaken in your greatness in some time. It was good to come back to Eorzea; in all honesty, it was like I never left: in fearing that I’d gotten rusty, I’d stuck to farming Poetics for my Machinist, a class I’d just started grinding out to see how I liked ranged DPS. I clearly had some of the controls confused because of getting used to other games but once that slight confusion cleared it was like I was right back into the swing of things, blowing through my farming and, in one night, got myself from an item level of about 80 to an item level of around 110. It was incredible. I’d never had that much success in blowing through trials and early Hard Mode dungeons in a very long time. Of course, I’m still extremely gun shy about approaching Alex for one reason and one reason only: the incredible elitism that instance has caused in the community that’s usually reserved for games like World of Warcraft. That kind of thing is what made the timing of Metal Gear Solid V and Fallout 4 coming out work so well because I couldn’t get into one Alex run without someone either picking apart the instance or whining and complaining in the chat which, ironically, distracted the players. Maybe this is just because this is the first seriously difficult run in a long time, partially because of its length but also because of its design.
Now that I’m on my second night back in Eorzea I’ve noticed that less has changed and more has stayed the same. There’s more content but I was kind of hoping for them to nerf Alex a little so people would stress a whole lot less about it, kind of like how people are now about Coil. Sure, it’s difficult, for some, but it’s still just a challenge and people can still have fun while doing a successful run. I also think I’m suffering from the constant problem of only partying through Duty Finder. That seems to be where the dregs of the game go to die and the “communities” on Twitter and Facebook aren’t much better, most of the time. When you try to talk about what you think works and what doesn’t, it would seem someone’s always quick to rush in and tell you “No, this stance doesn’t work because you can eke out 2% more DPS when you have the other stance up and have this exact gear set” while forgetting that not everyone can get that gear set that easily nor does everyone enjoy playing exactly by a formula.
Thankfully, though, I have some exposure to this having given a serious attempt at World of Warcraft, starting at about when Burning Crusade came out and I finally stopped when Wrath of the Lich King came out and the Death Knight class just burned me out. I was never that great at the game and that was mostly because I couldn’t enjoy it thoroughly – part of that was that one of the main reasons I played, in the first place, was a guy who was extremely elitist himself but I had a chip on my shoulder and something to prove to him and the other part was that raids just never made whatever you got from it worth it, if you even got anything aside from experience from it – and that soloing in that game was just a tedious and boring experience. I had already seen most of what the worst of MMOs had to offer and this problem I was having with Final Fantasy XIV was nothing by comparison.
So, I move on, starting a brand new journey trying to make the best of my Machinist but the further I plod along, the more I find I miss my Dark Knight and Dragoon: I loved playing Dragoon because it was easier just pour all output into DPS and focus on that. Playing Dark Knight drew a lot more criticism because I’m of the thought process that a tank should always worry about staying alive and controlling mobs and, thanks to instances like Alex, that thought process has changed to one where DPS is a lot more important because that extra 1-2% really counts and people are applying that to every class and it’s really straining.
This is where I have an internal conflict with knowing my roles: the waters are starting to muddy because of stuff like Alex and that’s a big reason why I hate the elitism it’s brought. People are focusing on things about a class that the class isn’t meant for and it’s causing nothing but conflict. Tanks need to focus on mob control and DPS output, healers need to worry about gear that helps both stances and knowing exactly how to manage them, melee and ranged fighters no longer have the flexibility of play, everything’s changing about the roles and it looks like that may change as there may be classes coming up that may give people who want that flexibility the chance to use it. It may, hopefully, also loosen the expectations on what I consider less flexible classes, such as Dragoon or Paladin, for example.
What I’d like to see are some combat-mage hybrids: something like Final Fantasy XIII’s Saboteur or Synergist or perhaps something more basic like Final Fantasy II/V’s Red and Blue Mages. Something that plays more of a combat support role where they can add DPS but also has enough flexibility to fill in the holes in roles that people are trying to compensate for in current parties. I would actually not mind a new system in place that worked something like Final Fantasy XIII’s Paradigm Shift system: you put points equally into three different skill trees per class and you could freely switch between these trees at any time. This would take the stance system seen in some classes and turn it on its ass so much that stances wouldn’t even be necessary, anymore. Gear would stay the way it is where you could lean towards one tree but you wouldn’t be terribly off if you kept the same gear set on and switched mid-battle.
Let me give you an example with the class I know best in Final Fantasy XIV, the Paladin: you know how there’s the Sword and Shield Oaths? Well, I would do away with that entirely by splitting, after a certain level, the skill base into three trees: one, very much like Sword Oath – let’s keep the name, what the hell – where it’s great for solo groups and smaller quest lines and allows for single enemy enmity control but doesn’t sacrifice DPS for enmity; one, very much like Shield Oath, would be like the skills and combos that are currently standard for the stance, where focus is on survival and mob control, and all skills in the tree would focus strictly on base defense, health, and enmity gathering; a third, would do something a little crazier, as cross class abilities allow for this – let’s call it Holy Oath – where the Paladin uses holy-related skills, allowing him to defend himself, heal allies, gain enmity, and throw down ultimate abilities like Pearl/Holy and maybe even Flare, depending on where you want to go with the lore of the game. This would allow skilled players to gain flexibility in their play style that’s similar to current stances but allows quick switching between them and also offers a new shift that increases the job’s flexibility into something a little more offensive without sacrificing time, effort, and party knowledge. The player in question would just switch their skill tree and start dropping abilities. In this case, a Paladin would quickly be able to hold enmity by throwing down an AOE spell or two, quickly throwing a heal or two down, and then either support spells or a resurrection, then it’s right back to Shield Oath to combo out some more enmity.
People will likely complain that it’s overpowered of an idea but I think you could adjust content to meet its demands and Alex would become a whole lot less demanding and exacting if classes had this kind of easy flexibility. I think it’s something that would bring general enjoyment back to the game. It would be less about having an exact gear set and memorizing the skill output like a game of Simon Says and more about adapting and about skill on the fly like it used to be.