WARNING: this is a really really really long post, talking about game mechanics.
FFXI is my only MMORPG experience (but I've played a lot of RPG's since the first Final Fantasy release on NES. Some of these ideas might already exists in other mmorpgs that I don't know of.
Here's how I see Square-Enix setting up their new characther growth system using weapons and armors, without using the common levels and experience points system.
You start with your race basic stats, and you have no skills. Basic stats could also be adjusted depending on chosen character height (taller = more STR and VIT but less AGI and DEX, the opposite for smaller).
You do not choose a job (since there are no common jobs in this system). You can however create different profiles for the same character. More on that later.
Equipment have "materia" slots. Materia gives common stats boost (+10 defense, +5 ranged accuracy, +2% HP, +3 STR, etc ...). But some of them also gives the possibility to learn "Stats skills", "Action skills" or "Skill mods", mastered by reaching a set amount of Skill points (obtained by killing monsters). Some materias can have special requirements in order to equip them, and some of them can only be equipped on specific types of weapons or armors.
The 3 main types of materias:
- "Action skills" materias gives access to weapon skills, spells or group of spells , special abilities like "Provoke" or "Steal", etc ... You can learn a maximum of 15 "Action skills".
- "Skill mods" materias can modify and enhance these 15 "Action skills" learned, up to 5 times each (that makes 75 action skills/mods). There are some examples further down.
"Stats skills" materias can be divided in 3 categories:
-You can learn 75 basic stats boosts (+HP, +MP, +STR, +DEX, +VIT, +AGI, +MND, +INT, etc ...) with a maximum of 15 boosts per stat.
-You can learn 75 offensive stats boost (+bow skill, +spear skill, +critical hit rate, etc ...) with a maximum of 15 boosts per stat.
-You can learn 75 defensive stats boost (+heavy armor skill, +light armor skill, +elemtental magic resistance, +evasion, etc ...) with a maximum of 15 boosts per stat.
You cannot use the same materia again and again to boost the same stat. Example for DEX boosting materias ."DEX 1" materia gives +2 to DEX stat, and you cannot learn it again with the same char profile. You can learn "DEX 2" materia that gives +3 to DEX stat since it requires you to have learned "DEX 1" skill. And that goes on to "DEX 15". The stronger (higher) the materia, the longer it takes to learn the skill.
If you wear more than one "skill learning" materia, obtained skill points are divided among them. The equipment with the materia equipped must be equipped from the moment the monster is engaged and to be removed/swapped to it's death to get Skill points, or it won't count. This is to prevent gear swapping from high stat boost materia to skill learning materia just for the end of combat.
Example: You're creating a new profile for your character. You want to do some sort of hybrid between Monk and White Mage to mainly play solo and have fun (you can have other profiles to play more common FFXI roles like tanks to mostly play in parties). You can switch between profiles like you can switch jobs in FFXI.
You decide to learn the "Curative magic" skill. This unlocks the spell "Cure". You can then modifiy it (with "Skill mods" materias) the way you wish from many different augments choices, but only up to five times (more curative power, adds a "regen" effect, gives an "area of effect" option, faster casting, faster re-casting delay, "erase" effect, a small "haste" effect, , less/more enmity from mobs, lower interruption rate, etc ...)
You decide to learn the skill "Boost". You can modify it to be effective for your monk / white mage hybrid, adding a small "refresh" effect to it and an additonal magic power boost among your 5 mod options.
You also decide to get the weapon skill "Spirit Blow of the Death Palm" (random name ...) that is a physical skill that does magical damage to a single ennemy. You can modify it to absorb ennemy's mp and lower it's physical damage resistance.
Of course, some skills would have requirements. Like for "Curative magic" skills mods, you could need some +Mind stat skills to be able to learn them. For the "Spirit Blow of the Death Palm" weapon skill, it could require some +hand-to-hand skills.
Also, some skills would have penalties that affect other skills. If you pick "Curative magic", you have a penalty for black offensive magic skills (and the other way around). You would end up having some sort of Red Mage if you picked both (access to many different type of spells, but with lower potency).
There would also be sacrifices and high requirements to have access to the most powerful skills. Having "Curative magic", at least one "Offensive magic", one "Buffing/debuffing magic" and +10 in sword skill could be the requirement to have the possibility of learning "Refresh magic". This is to prevent a player to take all the defensive skills possible and take "Cure" and "Refresh" for the last 2 free spots of action skills (making him an over-powered paladin). That would block some skills combos that could be game-breaking.
Same kind of requirements for weapons, armors and materias. Example: for a Kasier Shield, you would need to have at least +5 in shield skill and +8 in Vitality. Some of the strongest weapons and armors could also have action skills requirements, like a high-end heavy body armor having "Provoke" skill requirement. That would put some kind of filter to people's creativity, a subtle way to make them still consider basic party roles like tanks, healers and such while being creative. To sort out players strengh, they would be given a rank depending on the number of skills learned.
Some of these action skills could unlock more than one "action", like "Time magic" unlocking both Slow and Haste spells, and be a requirement for the high end spell Meteor.
Overall, this system would allow billions of custom character styles, while having the option to go on standard builds.
They should also focus more on mass killing. In FFXI, everything was built around killing single ennemies. There should have weapons that specialize on hitting an area of effect. Example: One-hand sword only attacks one mob at a time, while two-hands swords hits an area. Guns attack one mob, crossbows shoot multiple bolts in an area. And please, Square, bring back whips! That would create very special moments, and could be the single mob version of the flails and allow new fun abilities like "Draw in" that brings the ennemies (and players in PvP) closer to you.
Like in FFXI, people wanting to party would put up their "left for game" flag and choose to show some "specialities" among different options like "Tanking", "Healing", "Support", "Pulling", "Damage dealing", "Raiding", etc ... Party leaders could have a quick look of the players skillset before inviting them. Example, the party leader wants to do monster raids (kill multiple ennemies at once instead of focusing on one at a time), he could search for someone that has Provoke modified to be used within an area of effect.
Monsters would give no experience points, only skill points. Stronger monsters would exponentially give more skill points and better item/gil rewards. However, skill points would not be impacted by how many players there is in the party, it would give the same amount. That would give other options to the traditional 6-man parties.
Another incentive to party: when a monster drops something, everyone that was in the party when the monster was engaged and that was still there when it was killed receives the drop. People claiming a NM and waiting for other people to join the fight so they get the drop would not work. I'd keep the drop rates really low like in FFXI, but rewarding everyone who attended a NM camp would be less frustating and encourage people to help each other kill quests mobs, NMs andf this kind of stuff. Same thing for treasure chests loots.
Also, players crafting skills should have an impact on monster drops. It's logical that someone that has leathercaft skills should have more chance to get a rabbit hide out of a rarab corpse. That would help crafters farm their own material. And that would add another factor to consider when going on NM hunts (you wanna have a highly skilled bonecrafter in your team to fight that big fat unicorn and get a better chance to get that rare horn drop).
SE could also set up private dungeons. Some short ones could only be accessed once per day, while some would be once per week. Some would be soloable. I would also make more random treasure chests spawn in these kind of dungeons, to make them look more like the old Final Fantasies dungeons. In fact, I think that's what people expected of FFXI before it came out, an online version of the usual Final Fantasy gameplay style. They could also re-create storylines of old Final Fantasies using these private dungeons. Example, a FF6 storyline which requires you to go through "Narshe" dungeon, then "Figaro castle", etc ... If someone has only one hour to play, he could enter one of these dungeons and be sure that there's no RMT killing and looting everything.
Monster strengh would be determined by areas and be ranked just like players (so you can guess it's strengh before engaging it). As you increase your stats skills (thus getting access to better weapons and armors) and unlock/modify action skills, you get the ability to defeat stronger monsters and get more skill points.
Powerleveling would be nullified by restricing curing and buffing within a party (or alliance members). Buffing and debuffing done by a party member would be erased if this member quits the party. And there would a a skill point / reward penalty depending on the players rank versus the monster rank. If a party member rank is way too low or way too high versus monster's rank, everyone would get less skills points and rewards. Low rank monsters fleeing from high rank players could also be fun.
Another idea : The Heart system
Players could get "hearts" from other players depending on their combat and social skills.The heart-giving player name would appear, so everyone would not give hearts to anyone. You could also have the possibility to rate down a player (that would remove an existing heart). But it can't go negative. Requirements for giving a heart or or rating down a player would be to be in a party with this player for at least 30 minutes (and a time-frame of 1 hour after party). Hearts would remain for 48 play hours, then disappear. This system would help detecting skilled players. You could also look back at the entire list of people you hearted / unhearted. An easy way to remember the skilled players you partied with, and the players to avoid at all costs. And you could have the option to see a small heart floating next to players names that you hearted when you meet them in town or on the field.
That's how I hope SE works out the new system, while being familiar to the old system. Feel free to comment or flame on, if you took the time to read it.
Mithra THF75 BLM75 RDM75