If you read all of the columns I write in a given week, then I believe that you’re a wholly fictional creature. But beyond that, you’ll remember that my Wednesday column was all about the systems that City of Heroes could comfortably borrow from Guild Wars 2. You may also be expecting the same sort of column here. That is definitely not the case.
For starters, neither Final Fantasy XI nor Final Fantasy XIV is in a state where it can borrow anything. The former is set in its ways, and the latter has a major update around the corner that makes suggestions about mechanics pretty suspect. Furthermore, neither game is really into the whole “borrowing” routine, preferring instead to reverse-engineer a concept into some bizarre reinvention of the wheel that makes both games at once wonderful and incomprehensible.
No, today I’m looking not at mechanics but at lessons for Final Fantasy XIV. The game is going to be relaunching soon, and that’s when Naoki Yoshida’s core principles will really be put to the test. And as the development team puts the final touches on the game, I think there are a few things to be garnered from the design of Guild Wars 2 that might nudge development around a touch.
Give us options
We know that we’ll no longer feel stuck with just a single action bar in FFXIV version 2.0, so that’s good. The limitation on action bar space always seemed as if it was trying to emulate the classic Guild Wars setup without catching any of the nuance. But since it’s easier to set up our bars how we like, I think it’s important for the game to give players more choices for customization along the way.
As it stands, your biggest choice is just what abilities you’ll put on your bars with a limited number of slots. But that’s assuming you even have a wide enough spread to take up all of the slots on your bars in the first place. The lack of off-class combos and the number of limited abilties lead to a lot of pretty useless options and only a few useful ones, and while it’s a grand improvement from the game’s launch, it’s still not quite there yet.
Yes, you also choose stat distribution, but that’s honestly pointless. Having two more points in Vitality than the other guy isn’t an interesting choice, and there’s little reason not to jack one stat to max and level a couple of others decently. There’s no uniqueness to be had, no motivation for hybrid options, and so on. If our stats were increased further by leveling and if point allocation went away, I would shed no tears.
No, what we need are ways to customize our classes a little more — specialties, playstyle preferences, the things that Guild Wars lacked that GW2 added. After all, the original had a setup by which your customization was mostly limited to what’s on your bar… and the sequel has since enhanced and refined that because it turns out that buttons aren’t all that engaging. We know chocobos will get some specialty trees; it seems only fair to give players the same.
Don’t act a cutscene if you can’t
Square-Enix has done a spectacular job at hiring voice talent of late. Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII really sold their stories based on the strength of the voice cast, and that’s to the credit of everyone involved in localization. There’s already a chunk of voice acting in FFXIV, and it stands to reason that the game will follow the trend and include even more in its reborn incarnation.
But GW2 reminds us once again that voice acting is worth including only when it’s, you know, actually good. When it’s done badly, you find yourself making fun of it and getting yanked right out of the story along the way.
I’m not saying that further voice acting is bad in principle; I’m saying that if you keep getting awkward deliveries and poor inflection, you might be better off just letting players read. And while it might seem like a cop-out at first, I think we’ll all appreciate a silent but well-written scene more than a well-written and poorly acted scene.
Consider the path
Fans don’t appreciate it when we bring up GW2′s leveling path issues, but it’s a bit of a stumble that if you’re unlucky with dynamic events, you wind up without a lot to do in order to make up the gap until your next level. A far better state of affairs would be having too much to do, so you would either perpetually overlevel things or not wind up getting marks for completing every quest in every area.
The fact that guildleves will still be present means that the game will likely have some means of smoothing the level curve even after the version update, but it’s still worth ensuring that players always have a way to keep advancing through content, especially in FFXIV, with low-level content that needs to support several leveling classes rather than just one.
Balance for awesome
Not everyone will appreciate the fact that every class in GW2 is an island, but there’s a brilliance to that balance. There’s something to be said for turning the usual trinity requirements on their ear and giving all classes something functional to do while alone, including ways to heal, endure, and damage targets.
Cross-class abilities fill out some of the gaps here in FFXIV, but turning up the emphasis on jobs tones down the option to port over abilities. I don’t think that’s a desirable outcome. Indeed, I think that the current focus and role of jobs is unnecessarily limited, but that’s a discussion for another day. The point is that there’s nothing wrong with tilting all players toward a little more self-utility. And if you can present something radically different from the usual trinity model in the time between now and release, I’ll be happy to see it.
I would also be happy if it were just fun to tank after 2.0, but I’m not banking on it.