Ragar wants a little more variety in those extra skill slots
Hello and welcome to the fifteenth edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week’s column, I’m going to talk about one of the areas of the Armoury System that I personally think could use a bit more polish: cross-class skills. In theory these abilities should allow you to customize your character’s abilities for each task at hand, similar to the limited action sets used in WildStar or Guild Wars 2. In practice? Crafters find plenty of use for them by mixing and matching abilities from the various Classes, but for most of the combat classes these skill slots are just a place to drop extra cooldowns. Not quite the key to player variety one would hope for, so let’s see what we can do about that.
Cross-Class Should Mean More than “Dump Cooldowns Here”
For those unfamiliar with FFXIV’s skill system, your character has a certain number of cross-class skills that increases as they level up. Within each of the Classes, whether combat or non-combat, each of your abilities will have an acronym list showing who is capable of using said skill. For an example, let’s take a look at Conjurer’s abilities. Their level 1 attack ability, Stone, is solely for that Class and its related Job, White Mage. On the flip side, their level 2 spell, Cure, is available to all eight of the base combat Classes as well as three Jobs. You’ll find that many of the abilities available to your Class are available to some small set of the others. In addition many of those Classes will have abilities available to you. In theory, this sounds great, right? I get to keep the flavor of my Class/Job with its base skills, plus I get to fine tune it by mixing and matching skills from the others. Well… sort of.
There are really two problems with the cross-class system. The first one is actually tied to the Job part of the Armoury System. The moment you slap on a soul crystal to switch to a Job, your cross-class options get cut substantially. Remember earlier when I talked about Cure and how all eight Classes could use it, but only three of the Jobs? That’s how it works – each Job can only pull cross-class skills from two or three of the other base classes. Like having Cure for soloing on your Archer? No such luck once you go Bard. While many of the choices you’re losing aren’t that terrible to take off the table, it’s still kind of disappointing to progress in the game and be told that now you have less skill options, regardless of how effective they may be.
Speaking of those weak cross-class skills, that’s actually problem number two with the current system. Taking Marauder as an example, we see a variety of different attacks from the other combat Classes that we could slot as cross-class. The question however is: why? What reason would I have to use Feint from Lancer? Sure it slows, but it doesn’t combo with any of my other attacks. Perhaps this would be useful for a PvP Marauder, but looking at this from a PvE perspective, that just seems like a waste of TP to me. Same thing with many of the other attacks the Marauder can pull from Gladiator or Archer. Gladiator in particular has the odd option of Savage Blade; in the hands of a Gladiator it’s a potent threat-building attack, but as a Marauder without access to the Fast Blade skill it combos from, all I’m left with is an attack that does the same thing as Skull Sunder but without the significant potency bonus from the combo. This isn’t even taking into account some of the truly odd cross-class choices like Surecast/Swiftcast from Thaumaturge. What possible use would a Marauder have for instant spell casts or interrupt prevention?
Cross-Class Combos? Now We’re Talking!
So how do we go about fixing this system? Let’s start by taking a look another game I’ve been playing lately, Trion’s ArcheAge. The skill system in ArcheAge is actually what drew me to try their game. Picture a traditional three-tree skill system like Rift or World of Warcraft (pre-Mists of Pandaria). WoW would essentially treat each class as three classes – one for each tree you could specialize in. Rift took it a step further where there were four base classes, but each had eight (ten after patch 2.7) trees they could mix and match between to find three that fit their playstyles. In ArcheAge you have no base class but there are ten different skill sets and all can be mixed together to form your own set of three, with a unique class name for each combination. Of course some of you out there might look at these and go “Okay, you can mix Sorcery with Songcraft and Vitality. So what? They don’t work together…” Therein lies the interesting bit for their skill system: they combo together.
When you look at many, if not most, of the abilities in ArcheAge, they’ll have text underneath the spell description talking about combo effects. I’ll use my Gypsy build (those three trees I mentioned above) as an example. Startling Strain under Songcraft stuns a target, then after 2 seconds the enemy is Charmed and susceptible to other Songcraft attacks. I can then use another Songcraft attack, Critical Discord, which in addition to the damage and Magic Crit % buff it provides, will also consume that Charm effect to Fear the target. A nice combo, but we’re looking for something cross-class. Instead of Critical Discord, I could follow up with Antithesis from Vitalism which is a generic damage attack, but it consumes Charms to do +26% damage. Many of these skills have anywhere from two to four different combo effects, the majority of which are based off status effects and many of those are actually not provided within that skill’s tree (e.g. Sorcery has no way to provide its own Impaled debuff for Arc Lightning’s +45% damage, Vitalism has no Charms for Antithesis, etc) so you have to figure out what the best mix of trees and skills will be for your role. Sounds a little more interesting than extra cooldown slots, huh?
Now the question is: how do we apply something like ArcheAge to FFXIV? Since mixing and matching attacks works as well as it does in ArcheAge, let’s take a look at those weak cross-class skill options we were talking about earlier. Why not take some of those skills and add in some cross-class combos? We could play off debuffs like ArcheAge does, but considering the current system is already built on skills following an A -> B -> C flow to build off predecessors, let’s keep with that model. We could apply Combo Actions to them and make them follow-ups to a Class’ existing skillset. Using Feint as an example, make it combo off the level 1 skills for the other Disciples of War – give it bonus combo damage equivalent to the other combo moves within those classes with the existing slow effect. Now with the damage brought up to par, it’s an actual choice; do I slow the add that’s running away or do I go for maximum DPS? It’s become an actual decision that may change based upon your encounter and role, which is what these cross-class skills should be used for. This system can’t fix everything (not sure how you make Swiftcast useful for melee), but at least we can make most of the other skills more appealing.
Some extra work would need to go into this system to make all of those cross-class skills fill some kind of niche; after all, not all FFXIV classes operate off blatant combo systems. They do have some form of rotation or priority system however and we can still work from that to give these abilities some place on your hotbars beyond various flavors of cooldowns. Of course we do need to be careful that we don’t run into the crafting issue of “here are all of the classes you need to master to have the perfect rotation”, but that’s reasonable to avoid as long as we don’t make all of the combo effects extra damage/enmity/healing.
That’s it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. How much use do you get out of your cross-class skill slots in combat? Do you think there should be a bit more utility there or do you like the current model? Tell us in the comments below. If you've got any requests for column topics, add those as well. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael “Ragar” Branham