4 August, 2015
Blaugust, Day 4
So, let’s take a look at the actual gameplay of my two main games. How does advancement work in each of them, and what keeps you going to the maximum level?
The traditional, with a twist
FFXIV has a pretty straight-forward WoW-like advancement system for the most part. You have a class, you have a level, you kill stuff and do quests to get XP to raise level. But, there are three main things that make the system unique to the game.
First is the difference between jobs and classes. Your class is a basic idea, and the job is the “advanced” version that give you access to more potent skills. In order to become the advanced job, you must get 2 classes up to a certain level. For example, a Thaumaturge is your base casting class, but Black Mage is the advanced job of Thaumaturge (and requires that you also gain a few levels in the Archer class to advance).
The second was hinted at in that last sentence: you can advance any of the different classes or jobs. Your weapon determines your current class, so swapping your weapon swaps your class. But, each class advances separately, so even if you’re a maximum level Black Mage, wielding an axe for the first time puts you as a level 1 Marauder. The upshot is that this mostly eliminates the need for alts to experience all the gameplay, as you can do it on a single character.
The last difference is cross-class skills. Classes are very flexible in what abilities they can equip, where a newbie Marauder with an axe can cast the Conjurer’s Cure spell with an obviously more limited MP pool. But, once a Marauder becomes a Warrior, access to the Cure spell goes away. In reality, there are limited selections for the jobs and pretty much everyone has the same few skills selected. I was hoping this would lead to a lot more character customization, but the general complaint was that people viewed certain skills as “required” and thus enforced grinding for all those skills considered necessary.
Of course, the game has the usual gear treadmill, with explicit gear levels and everything. Some dungeons require specific minimum item levels to enter. There’s also crafting which uses a similar system for changing weapons and thus changing classes. It has its own advancement system, although I found it less engaging.
One big problem with FFXIV’s advancement system is that they seem to have a “subtractive” theory of design. It feels like the classes are mostly complete at maximum level, then the design took away various abilities as you go down the levels in order to provide advancement. Most classes literally have one button to push at first level, and the gameplay of a high level Black Mage is very different than the gameplay of a Thaumaturge, even one that has gotten a few more button to press by the mid levels.
The mix and match difference
By contrast, DDO has an advancement system that is quite a bit different than other MMOs. It’s based on the level and multi-class options of the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons. The multi-classing option in particular gives a lot of variety to character builds.
In addition, DDO offers enhancements which give you more customization options. Originally introduced to give players something to do given the relatively small number of levels in the game, the enhancement system really came into its own in a later update. They were loosely based on the prestige classes in the tabletop game, but now resemble the lamented talent trees WoW had in the past. In order to advance in the trees, you have to take a minimum number of levels in the class that owns that tree.
As the game developed, they’ve added even more advancement. Level caps rose from the original 10 to 20. Then they added epic levels up to level 28. There are epic destinies at epic levels, similar to the enhancement systems at lower levels.
And the crowning part of DDO? The reincarnation system I’ve written about before. Achieve enough with your character, and you can reincarnate back to a lower level with some character bonus and possibly a few more stats. The most common is heroic reincarnation that takes you back to level 1, allowing you to experience the lower level content again. Some people have an optimized plan to reincarnate as quickly as possible. As for me, both of the groups I play with have reincarnated our characters once. I’m not much for grinding, but it is kind of fun to run through old quests again with a more powerful character.
Which is better?
Truth be told, I do like the DDO system better. I rolled a ton of alts, I made some crazy class combinations, and I found characters I absolutely loved to death. The characters I’ve made in DDO often feel like my personal characters, different than what anyone else might create. Sure, you can visit the forums and find a nice template, but when you make a great character that fits your exact style of play, it’s just amazing. Something that I haven’t quite found in FFXIV.
But, it is interesting to compare and contrast the two very different systems.