Ragar doesn't want all of that post-50 XP to go to waste.
Hello and welcome to the twenty first edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM's column on Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this week's column, we're going to be talking about character advancement. We're all familiar with the basic leveling system as we go from fledgling level 1s to the current cap of 50. The question is: can we have progression after we hit level cap?
A Warrior in White Mage Clothing
Most MMOs and RPGs in general treat level cap as a stopping point for base number progression. Once you hit that point, the only improvement your character will see comes from new equipment, be it from dungeons, raids, PvP or some other activity. To its credit FFXIV and its predecessor Final Fantasy XI do offer some alternative to let you continue leveling. Both games allow players to level multiple classes on the same main, and mix their powers to create something stronger than a single capped class. It's a great idea for someone who's into alts on other MMOs, but it does have a few issues.
The first problem is that leveling those side classes requires going back into the low-level zones you've already cleared. It may be simpler this time around thanks to your cross-class skills or from all of the shiny alt class equipment you've been banking in your Armory Chest...but it's still those low-level zones you've seen before. All of the items and loot you'll be running into may be nice for someone running through those zones the first time but, as a seasoned adventurer, it's all vendor trash and Market Board fodder for you as you push through to the endgame zones and FATEs you're accustomed to on your main class.
The second problem with leveling alt classes is arguably the biggest – the reason you chose your initial class is because that's what you want to play. If you chose a Marauder/Warrior, it's because you want to tank or just hit things with a big axe. If you chose Conjurer/White Mage, it's because you like healing. Sure, you might find those alt classes fun for dabbling in PvP or for filling gaps in your guild groups when the tank's not online that night, but you still have your favorite class. Given that it's your favorite, you'd prefer to focus on progressing with that class. You want the gear and skills to be the best at what you do on the server. You level those classes with cross-class skills because you really need those cooldowns or active skills from the other classes to fill in gaps on your main. What about all of those other classes though? As a Warrior, what use do I have for leveling Conjurer? I can't cross-class any of their skills, nor can I use any of their equipment. Even if I could use anything they offered, none of it fits my role or stat priorities as a Warrior. Same thing with the other classes and roles: unless another class has cross-class skills to offer you, your main gains nothing from leveling any other professions beyond filling in a bar on your class chart or having a backup role.
In any other game where you level a separate character for each class/role, this kind of split progression makes perfect sense; I shouldn't expect leveling a Shaman alt in World of Warcraft to provide my Monk main with any real benefits other than achievements and access to two more crafting professions. FFXIV is a different beast though with its "army of one" mentality for characters. Even if I'm leveling a different class with a different role, I'm still working with the same character. Switching to Conjurer doesn't remove the fact that I've seen the world as a Marauder and a Warrior. Regardless of the clothes he wears at the time, he should still be able to look upon the world through the eyes of that first class and learn something new about it and become stronger over time.
So how would we go about adding character progression after level cap? This is something a few other games have actually dealt with over the years. The first system is arguably the simplest – Alternate Advancement points. Players from EverQuest, Marvel Heroes, Rift and arguably The Secret World (though that's technically their only leveling system) will be quite familiar with these points. For those who aren't familiar with the concept, AA points are essentially pseudo-levels. As you adventure post-level cap, rather than all of that experience going to waste, you start to fill up a new bar. Whenever that bar is filled, you gain one AA point. When you open your AA page, your character will have a variety of options available to spend those points – often this is portrayed with a series of grids. Most circles/hexes on the grid will have some minor bonus like +1% max HP, +2% run speed, bonus damage or even a damage/healing proc for their abilities. A few will have much larger boosts or even situational powers and abilities, but these cost far more AA points than the smaller bonuses.
Now that we've got this AA grid, some might wonder "Alright, so now I can only play my main class to get AA points?" If we were playing Rift, then yes because the AA grid is character (and therefore class) specific. Since FFXIV lets you level everything, it would be more akin to Marvel Heroes' interpretation with Omega Points. Whenever I play a character there, whether it's my 60 Star-Lord or my 20-something Gambit, I'm always making progress towards another Omega Point. No matter what I feel like playing, whether it's my favorite or an alt I'm playing around on, there's always some form of progress and an AA system in FFXIV should take that approach. A White Mage leveling a Pugilist just for fun wouldn't feel like they wasted time that could have been used farming on their main. That Archer in your guild who swapped to Warrior to tank for you may not be able to roll Need for any loot, but at least he could build up AA points for his main class.
As much as I like AA systems, there is some risk to introducing a grid-based AA system such as what I've proposed: new players. In most cases a guild won't worry too much about who has what AA points – balanced correctly, each point is within that "skill can cover for raw power" margin. It's not out of the question though for a more elitist guild to use AA grid progression or even AA choices as guidelines for who's on the frontlines and who's getting benched. Certain AA boosts like increased elemental resistances could even lead to a guild calling for members to farm up AA points prior to a new raid boss to assist progression. Again, this is very unlikely unless you're in that top 0.1% of guilds, but it is a potential weakness to balance around.
Do You Have Your Bard Scout Badge?
So how do we build a system that's slightly more friendly to new players and slightly less grindy, but still gives players progression for their main class? My second system idea does fit this bill, though it's not without its own problems: class badges. At its heart the second system would look something like WoW's Glyph page – three major slots and three minor slots. Rather than introducing glyphs, however, we would be slotting classes into each of those six slots. Once you level a class to cap, you would get a notification that you've received a badge for that class.
When you go to place that badge in one of the six slots, you'll gain a class-themed boost equivalent to the type of slot you placed the badge in. Using Warrior as an example, slotting that in a Major slot could give either a small amount of lifeleech or a proc for a greater amount to each of the character's attacks. If I put that in a Minor slot, the bonus would be something weaker such as a permanent buff equivalent to one or two stacks of their Wrath buff (increased critical rate). A White Mage badge on the other hand could provide increased MP regeneration for their Major bonus, while the Minor slot could give reduced enmity generation like a permanent mini-Shroud of Saints.
If FFXIV took this approach to AA progression, it would mitigate the new vs. veteran player power balance difference. Yes a veteran player would have access to more power initially, but they're capped at having a class badge in all six slots; they may have more to swap in for situational use, but to be equivalent in power, the new player just needs those six classes. Min-maxing guilds may still push players to level for specific badges, but now they would be limited by the number of slots and each player's role – your tanks and healers will need different badges than the DPS, and their role/playstyle may not allow for those more situational badges.
This second system may solve some of the problems with the first, but it has its own problems. For one, we're back to requiring players to level other classes; they may be getting something to help their main class, but that doesn't change the fact that they would rather be playing their main. A system like this actually pushes the player to level even more classes they'd rather not touch to get the best badges for their main. In addition, the badge system makes the player wait a long time to see any progression – there are fast ways to get a class to 50, but you're still looking at quite a long wait between character boosts. Finally, this system's progression is inherently more limited than the grid system. Sure, you may have a Major/Minor for each class, but only so many of those boosts will match your playstyle. Once you get the subset of class badges you want, you're back to waiting for gear upgrades to boost your main.
The lack of an Alternate Advancement system in an MMO is far from a game-breaking problem. The developers have specifically balanced the game so that the stats and powers you've acquired by the level cap are sufficient to do the content available. From a sheer numbers perspective, you don't "need" AA. From a player perspective though, I know it can be frustrating when I want to work on my character, but I can't do it without a group. It could be a non-raiding night for your guild, you've already cleared it for the week, your friends aren't online to PvP/instance right now or even something as simple as "I only have 30 minutes to play before dinner's ready". We've all had those moments where we'd like to do something on our mains, but none of the available activities fit what we were trying to do. With an AA system, there would always be something you could do – even by yourself – to progress your main. I could work on Bard and make progress towards that Minor badge slot, or I could run FATEs and build up AA points towards some HP boost hexes. Even if I only had 15 minutes to play, I could find something to do that would help me on the class I wanted to play.
That's it for this edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you think about adding AA systems to FFXIV? Do you think they're a good idea, or is the hunt for equipment upgrades enough for you? Have a better idea for a post-cap progression system? 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