Eorzea Examiner #10: Itemization

Ragar wants more variety in his FFXIV equipment choices.

Hello and welcome to the tenth edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAMs column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this column we'll be talking about FFXIV's take on equipment and itemization. I touched on this some back in column #5 with crafted items, but those aren't the only area where some variety in equipment could stand to be added. Does the system work as is? Yes but after playing a bunch of Marvel Heroes and the new Diablo III patch these last few weeks, I can't help but look at the loot in FFXIV and be left wanting more.

Sword A = Sword B = Sword C

While you're leveling in FFXIV as a Disciple of War or Magic, you'll get a variety of equipment from quests and guildleve requests. For those players looking to fill in the gaps or trying to gear out an alt class, they might turn to the Market Board to see what the Disciples of the Hand can offer them as alternatives. Those players with their newly purchased equipment will then go back to questing for more new equipment... which will in all likelihood be identical to what they just spent Gil on back in town. As aggravating as it might be for you to get the same thing as a reward, it's equally frustrating for those crafters; all of the players that get those quest rewards first are customers and Gil they won't have.

Crafters do have some tricks to distinguish their goods from quest rewards: HQ items and Materia. HQ items are simply high-quality versions of the normal equipment and items crafters have to offer. By bumping up the quality of an item while crafting (or simply getting lucky with the roll), crafters can get a version of the item with upgrades to the stats of the base item. Materia works similar to gems in most other games in that they're socketable items used to vary the stats and increase the power of a base item with sockets. Since Materia requires a crafter to insert them, many crafters will pre-socket their goods, hoping to entice impatient players into paying a premium for equipment that's ready to go immediately.

Both of these systems do allow for a bit more variation in itemization in FFXIV, but they do have their weaknesses. Materia sockets do allow for some variation in gearing your character, but it's a small amount; in addition, many of the endgame equipment sets come without Materia slots, meaning your Allagan or Artifact-geared Warrior is going to be geared almost identical to all of the others out there. As for HQ crafted pieces, these do add more variety in choices, but it's arguably a false choice. Similar to the Perfect green gem procs for Jewelcrafters in World of Warcraft, these higher quality cuts serve less like a bonus and more like the standard. If you look at prices for most crafted equipment, the difference between normal pieces and HQ pieces can be worlds apart. In some cases, normal quality items are going for less than their constituent materials because that's the only way the crafter can get any money back out of a normal quality piece. These normal quality pieces are still useful and frugal players (namely me) can save money buying these to fill gaps while leveling new classes, but it’s far from an ideal scenario for crafters to only be able to make money on half of their potential crafting output (ignoring Control stacking and perfect HQ skill lists from Reddit).

The Hunt For More Interesting Loot

Now that we've established some of the problems with FFXIV's itemization, let's start looking for solutions. We'll begin with Materia. At its core, Materia are a sound concept (place in socket = stats go up), but FFXIV steps on its own feet here as you get to endgame and none of your sets other than PvP have Materia sockets in them. From a raw numbers perspective this is a minor issue given how small the Materia bonuses are, but this is a potential place to add player individuality. Depending on the player, they may want higher Spirit for MP regen, Determination for sheer power, Skill Speed for haste, etc. Adding Materia sockets in to the item budget for these endgame sets would give those raiders a chance to fine-tune their gear to their liking while also providing more of a market for the Materia themselves. Any crafter of socketable items from other MMOs will tell you that raiders are your big moneymakers for selling those items since they have the highest gear turnover and need for stat perfection. Without endgame Materia sockets, you're left selling gear to pre-raiders and other crafters—there’s still profit here, but significantly less than that real prize.

There is one other major issue with FFXIV's itemization that needs to be addressed before I get into HQ items: it's boring. That's a pretty harsh claim, I know, but it's the truth. Each piece of equipment has your primary stat, some Vitality, and one or two secondary statistics like Determination or Skill Speed. That's as far as most of your gear sets go. There is one exception (Grand Company equipment) where we see a set bonus for wearing multiple pieces, but even this is extremely limited with a single bonus to one statistic. Why implement set bonuses if you're only going to use it once and for something so basic? Set bonuses should be where you bring out the more exciting modifiers to encourage player choice. It's where you have things like "blocking an attack gives you a free autoattack counter for 40% damage" or "your Cure spells also place a HoT on the target for 15% of the healed amount". Set bonuses like these give players real goals for their itemization beyond "my gear will actually match if I finish this set." Even including random bonuses like procs grab player interest more than adding another five to their Determination.

Gear Variety For Fun and Profit

Set bonuses are fun and all, but why did I feel the need to talk about them before digging into HQ items? It all comes back to that comment about unique bonuses being more fun and my earlier comment about playing a bunch of MH and D3 lately. In those games nearly all of the gear you'll see is unique, both in raw statistics and in unique qualities. These unique traits can be anything from bonus skill ranks to health regeneration to damage shields and much, much more. This means that players are always playing that "which is better?" game in their heads whenever a new item drops. Do I sacrifice raw damage for more healing? Are these bonus skill ranks worth the drop in pure stats? This kind of item comparison and looking for that next upgrade is what makes games like D3 so addicting, especially in comparison to the vanilla gear FFXIV currently uses.

Now before anyone comes in and tells me I'm insane for advocating random loot for dungeon drops, let me explain what I'm shooting for here. For those dungeon sets we were talking about earlier, I think implementing set bonuses like what we were discussing earlier is the way to go. Raiders expect some degree of controllability in their equipment and having those gear sets available provide that while the set bonuses add in something more interesting than pure stat bumps. The random bonuses would actually for those slots you don't have set pieces in and/or don't need for your set bonus. This includes non-set drops from raid bosses, new token gear for future content patches, and potentially HQ crafted gear (told you I'd get back to this).

So how do we introduce these random bonuses to crafted HQ gear? To begin with, my thought is to remove the flat power increase of HQ over normal quality items. Instead, make the HQ bonus add these random bonuses; make your Quality roll and your finished item will have its base stats plus some sort of secondary bonus, such as HP regen, damage procs, movement speed, etc. This way crafters can still make a decent profit on normal quality items since the difference in raw power with HQ items is minimal and their market for those HQ items will actually expand as min-max players are continually looking to squeeze a little more power out of those crafted items. This system could also be used to give the Quality gauge a little more of a gradient than normal/HQ. For example, let's say that double-star recipes could potentially have up to three modifiers. The higher your Quality gauge, the higher your chances at getting three instead of zero to two. Going with a system like this would require a bit of adjustment to how HQ items are currently handled; I think maxing out the Quality gauge should guarantee one modifier and increase your odds of the others, but it shouldn't be a given. Doing it that way would make the top quality items stand out far more rather than simply being the standard that everyone expects and demands from their crafting.

Conclusion

I'll acknowledge that the way FFXIV currently handles its itemization does work for what it's worth. There's no arguing that it does follow the basic MMO conventions of "do new content, get new gear, numbers go up." What it's lacking is that variation and customization that other MMOs and games like Diablo III and Marvel Heroes provide. Yes we should expect some flat power increases with new tiers of content and equipment, but half the fun of new gear is figuring out how to put it all together and pull the max DPS/healing/survivability possible out of it. I'm a bit of a numbers nerd though, so I'll admit that I may be a bit pickier about these things.

That's it for this week's edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do the rest of you think about FFXIV's itemization? Do you prefer it the way they have it now or would you like to see a little more variety? Does the idea of set bonuses and item procs sound like a good addition to the game? If you've got any opinions on this or you've got an idea for next week's column, let us know in the comments below. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.

Michael "Ragar" Branham

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