Hello guys, Emilia here. You may remember me from an article I translated a while back featuring Yoshida and the directors of DQX and FFXI, and their experiences with MMORPGs.
Today I bring you a different perspective. A post made by a Japanese player that, in my opinion, provides a critical perspective on some pretty big elephants in the room here in terms of "challenges" this game is facing right now.
Besides boredom (when have I ever translated anything except out of boredom ), I'm hoping this will generate some healthy if not lively discussion and maybe, just maybe, some of this will actually reach the development team.
Warning, the piece is about as long winded as it gets, is not very positive, makes references to FFXI (yes, parts of it can feel like a "this is why XI was better" rant), and is heavily opinionated. But, I feel it is a fair opinion with valid observations and deserves to be seen. So here we go.
First of all, a word regarding perspective
This blog post is not written from the perspective of what I think about the game based on which contents I can or cannot clear. It is primarily written from the standpoint of "how can we prevent players from leaving FFXIV, or to gain more new players?"
You often hear comments from people saying they personally feel the game is fun or not fun. My goal here is to explore how we can maximize the number of people who thinks the game is fun.
After all, the less people we have subscribed to an MMORPG, the less money there is to go towards future development costs, the game will begin to die out and then it's Game Over.
So, from the perspective of how we can keep people entertained and playing, the following is my own opinion on the current state of end-game contents.
Once again, this is not a post about making arguments like "well I think the game is fun because I can clear the contents" or "you just don't think it's fun because you can't clear the contents" .
To make such an argument is like having someone say to you "I have practiced, reviewed and studied hard to learn English and now I can read and write English at the top-university level and have no problems with daily English conversations so it's fun for me. A ton of people in the world also speak English, so if you work hard at it you can be just like us too!" (You'd think "what a snob!")
I do not intend to write about the end-game contents from such a one-sided standpoint.
Also, for those of you who think the current state of FFXIV is awesome, reading this might feel like a bit of a downer, so maybe you should not read any further if you're happy with things the way they are now.
A mechanics-driven battle system
The current end-game battle system in FFXIV can be summarized in one word: mechanics. In a boss fight, you often feel like you're not actually fighting the boss but rather the fight-specifc mechanics (aka “gimmicks”).
If one person in your party fails to address the mechanic, that person will usually die instantly and/or cause the party to wipe. Of course, such a mechanic is a valid and important element in a fight, but if you must repeat this process quickly, over and over again (in 30, 45, 60 second intervals, for example), then it becomes something commonly referred to (by Japanese players) as "team rope jumping" (大縄跳び).
Of course, failure to address the mechanics usually requires a restart, with very little chance of recovery.
Because of this battle design, the following has been rendered dysfunctional:
1. Character Level (currently maxed at 50)
2. Item Level
3. Power of Echo
"Dysfunctional? Really? It's functioning fine for me". Many of you might be thinking this right now. Allow me to explain.
The development team designed the game with the idea that higher character levels, new equipment, or other forms of content easing (such as Echo) will "make older contents easier to clear", and forms the hierarchical basis of the overall end-game contents.
At this point (2.25), the current end-game content is the Second Coil of Bahamut. And the previous, first Binding Coil of Bahamut has been made so that even the so-called "mainstream" players can clear them without too much effort. Yes?
Let's take a look at the first Coil as an example:
In Turn 1, you no longer need to feed the slimes to Caduceus, so that's a huge easing of difficulty.
In Turn 2, Allagan Rot is (still) the faster method. However, anyone who cannot properly handle the mechanic will still die and possibly wipe the party. The mechanics has been eased to the point where even if one or two people mess up you may still be able to clear it. Nevertheless, the enrage method remains the mainstream strategy.
Turn 4 has been unquestionably eased.
In Turn 5, if you cannot deal with the mechanics of divebombs, twister, etc., you will not be able to win no matter what your character or equipment level is, with or without Echo. In fact, if your DPS is too high, you will actually run into trouble with Conflag/Fire Balls.
So despite the first Coil being nerfed to cater to the supposedly mainstream crowd, the "if you cannot deal with the mechanics, then you can't win" principle remains unchanged.
In T5, there may be situations where you can recover from a poorly handled mechanic. But if you were to ask someone whether you can still win if the tanks died to a divebomb, the answer will always be "no".
Nevertheless, there are probably people out there who thinks it's not that bad and that it's easier to get people carried through.
What about the Second Coil then? Now that everyone has more HP, more DPS, more healing power... do you have any chance of winning without handling all mechanics perfectly?
Personally, I believe this "mechanics-driven battle system" that makes character level, item level, and Echo all feel more or less irrelevant is what's going to drive many players away.
In the future, even when the contents get nerfed, they don't actually get "eased". You will still have your Allagan Rot mistakes and your Voice/Shriek mistakes. For those players who dislike dealing with such mechanics, the contents will become no less annoying and no more entertaining even after a nerf.
I noticed this myself for the first time when I easily cleared T6 on my Scholar, despite White Mage being my main job.
I have only limited experience with my Scholar, and only cleared T5 with it a couple of times. Suddenly I'm clearing the Second Coil with it easily.
And this is precisely because the battle system is tuned to be heavily driven by mechanics. The fights are designed so that you can probably clear it as long as you have a basic understanding of your role and know the mechanics of the fight. Experience and gear only comes after that.
In a mechanics-driven battle system, an understanding of the mechanics makes the fight easier, not higher character or item levels.
Your character or item level is nothing but a measurement of the "minimum requirement" necessary for clearing the content.
That's why many end-game fights in this game - including Coil - can be cleared quickly if everyone fully understands and can respond to the mechanics. On the other hand, if you cannot adequately respond to the mechanics, then you will never be able to clear those contents.
It doesn't matter if they raise the level cap or increase the ilvl of your gear, if you cannot address the mechanics, then you cannot hope to clear the Second Coil.
If the development team changes the instant-death mechanics of these fights when the time comes to nerf the Second Coil, it will only serve as proof of how unbalanced the battle design currently is.
The hierarchical nature and mechanics of contents as intended by the development team
The development team categorizes the players into three categories: the "Hardcore" players, the "Mainstream" players, and the "Casual" players.
From a population perspective, the causal players make up maybe about 60% of the population, the mainstream players perhaps another 30% or so (might not be exact). Now, the true hardcore players probably take up less than 10% of the population.
For the majority of hardcore players, clearing mechanics-laden contents is actually quite boring.
You memorize the fight to the point where no mistakes will be made, you find 7 other people who also don't make mistakes, if you encounter someone who makes mistakes, you kick that person and replace until you find someone who doesn't (or until you give up). Once you clear the content you're done for the week.
There are some people who have asked for contents to be more "challenging". I'm fairly certain they're not asking for it from a battle mechanics perspective.
A mechanic is merely something you need to address, the steps of which is just something you repeat over and over again, so it is "boring" in that sense.
For the mainstream crowd, the range widens. The upper level mainstream players are probably all dealing with hostile and frustrating parties right about now, while the lower level mainstream players are probably just getting started with Second Coil.
"So-and-so is not doing enough DPS" "We're messing up on this mechanic, somebody's not keeping up"... There's a lot of this going on right now.
Especially for people who just want to clear the Second Coil, the overwhelming (hostile) sentiment is "why are you having so much problem dealing with such a simple mechanic? Just look at the damn marker!"
The largest group here, the casual players, have all yet to still challenge the Extreme Primals and Coil. But the reality is that a large portion of this group have already stopped playing altogether.
Many players are stuck on Extreme Primals due to the mechanics-driven nature of the fights. They can't react to them even if it's explained to them. They simply cannot clear unless they get lucky.
Even with the power of Echo, as mentioned earlier, it does nothing to help them clear the fight if they cannot deal with the mechanics. If they could then they would have cleared them long ago even without the Echo buff or the now-higher gear level.
Even with a new patch, there's not much for them to do (since they're still stuck on old contents), and so they get bored of the game and quit. It's only natural.
So let's think about that for a moment.
The current "mechanics-driven battle system" is considerd bland by the hardcore gamers (the biggest problem here, I think), frustrating by the mainstream gamers, and actually prevents the casual crowd from playing altogether.
Changing the battle system
My recommendation is a battle system that does not rely on mechanics/gimmicks.
Turn 4 of the first Coil, prior to the nerf, had almost the perfect balance in terms of difficulty. It was built so that it can be cleared long as the players can fully exercise their skill potential, and is directly affected by measures such as the Echo and gear ilvl.
Now since FFXIV is technically an RPG, what would such “potential” be in this case?
For a tank, this may be their skill in managing their cooldowns, their timing in using technical skills such as shield bash and flash, with the ultimate goal of reducing incoming damage.
For a DPS, this may be their skill in evading enemy attacks and managing cooldowns, and positioning themselves to deliver the most damage.
For a healer, this may again be managing their healing cooldowns and timing of heals to heal party members effectively.
In all cases, acting too soon or too late will have lethal consequences. Not acting accordingly will gradually cause the fight to become more and more challenging.
This way, it is possible to increase the difficulty of the fight and cause players to die or wipe without needing to rely only on mechanics.
Although I personally dislike mechanics like damage splitting bomb explosions, a good example of this gradual increase in challenge would be the Ultima Weapon Hard Mode fight when it first came out.
Of course, since we're involving individual player skill, that's where character level, item level, and feature like the Echo comes into play. If these factors are increased, then:
- A tank with more HP will not die even if he or she cannot use his or her skills perfectly.
- A DPS can meet output checks more easily even without a perfect routine.
- Healing requirement becomes more relaxed.
I'm not saying that gimmicks/mechanics are evil and should be removed completely, just that fights should not be “driven” by them. “Why not just make the boss or enemy simply strong?” is the basis of my recommendation.
A battle system that recognizes player skill
During the Nagoya Producer Letter Live, Yoshi-P said “the fights are scripted because if we made the moves random and, say, Titan uses weight of the land 4 times in a row or something that'd be unfair, right?”
The only reason why this would be the case is simply because “DPS checks” are in many of the end-game fights (such as Titan's heart phase). If weight of the land (aka "plumes") kept coming then it will cause the DPS to drop and ultimately result in the inability to clear the fight “because the plumes kept coming”.
That is because of the mechanic that dictates a certain amount of DPS output must be met during specific phases of the fight.
I don't believe that DPS checks are so important that it's worth throwing away the challenge that comes with randomizing the enemy's moves.
For example, if Titan randomly decides to use mountain buster (table flip) 3 times in the row, then every single party following the existing strategy today will have their tank die after the second hit.
In this case, the healers might think, “if this happens again, we should be ready to use cure II and adlo after the first flip, then benediction/lustrate after the second, and then try to hold the line after the third”. Or the OT might go “if he does more than 1 table flip next time i'll provoke”
This way, you'll have a challenging fight that even the hardcore players would find interesting, don't you think?
Yoshi-P has said that “making the fights scripted is so that anyone can clear it once they have the patterns memorized”, and designed the fights using this philosophy. But because of the “mechanics-driven” problem mentioned earlier, the fights are never really eased/nerfed and remain only beatable by those who can deal with the mechanics.
In addition, with a battle system like I suggested, skilled players can fully contribute to making up for other people's shortfalls, and you actually get a sense of helping or being helped by your party members instead of simply watching others succeed/fail at a mechanic and being powerless to do anything about it.
Having more freedom in setting your own party size... or not
There is no place for mechanics/gimmicks that gets worse the more people you have in the party, such as Allagan Rot and Voice/Shriek. Nobody would ever invite more people to party with because of these things.
There's a lot of different views about this, but I personally felt the best content in FFXI were the Dynamis/Sky/Sea contents.
I don't think the development team quite understands just what made these contents so good for many players. And that is “as long as certain key jobs are in the party, you're more or less free to build the rest of the party any way you liked” (a FFXIV raid leader reading this is probably thinking “I wish!” right now)
I personally played those contents in XI for many years. To get rare gears? Of course, that too. But the more accurate response would be “I was just playing with my friends and before I realized it years have gone by”. Of course I got the gears I wanted, but I continued playing even after getting those.
Yoshi-P says “people get tired of contents after about 3 months”, and that's absolutely wrong. Everyone played these things for years at a time, and even the more recent Abyssea update had me playing for well over a year.
Looking back at it now, I believe the biggest reason for their popularity was because – as long as key jobs are secured – you're free to make your party any way you liked. It's the friendliness of the system.
In FFXI, it was normal too to attend weekly contents on specific days, but unlike FFXIV, there wasn't a sense that you had to be there for your static or you'll be messing people's plans up.
For example, if a specific content could be cleared by 6 hardcore players, it could also be cleared by 10 to 18 mainstream players. Since there's more people to call upon, you can afford to make do without 1 or 2 people, and that was the case most of the time. And many LS in FFXI revolved their activities around contents like this every week. (Of course, there were also instant death mechanics and such in FFXI to some extent as well)
Now, what about the current FC/LS situation in FFXIV?
After each patch, you'll see your FC/LS's static teams in coil all day, and wonder whether anyone will even have time to talk to you.
If the system is changed so that more people can participate then you might have been able to go “Hey I just got here, let me join you guys!” (this wasn't easy to implement even in FFXI, but they did it)
The obstacle here (besides the obvious 8-man design limitation) is the instant death mechanics. As long as these mechanics exist, people will only want to play with those who won't make mistakes and would never want to *add* more people into their party.
As it stands now with the current battle system, you're taking more risks by partying with more people (even though this is a MMORPG...?)
Now, if you are able to have some freedom in choosing your party size (maximum of 24 people in 3 parties of 8, for example), then many DPS checks will become meaningless. To put it another way, you may be able to simply force your way through contents through power in numbers. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
In FFXI, the idea was “if you wanted to get your gear more quickly then you'd do it with less people, but if you didn't mind, then go ahead with a big group”. And the game was balanced that way.
With your hardcore players, they'd go with the minimum number of people needed in order to get their gears quickly. And no matter how challenging it was for them, they could do it because that's who they are, the hardcore guys. And of course, those who were confident in their own skills and their friends would do it together as a static party.
Your less extreme mainstream players, on the other hand, might decide to band together and “bulldoze” their way through. Of course, it might take you longer to get the loot you wanted, but at least you got to play. “Nothing this week I guess, but oh well at least I got to participate” (similar to early Crystal Tower in a way). Of course, if you got some new loot, you'd be even happier.
The desire to have more freedom in choosing your own party size is simply impossible to realize right now because of the mechanics-driven nature of the system.
Would you want to pass Allagan Rot with 16 people? There's not enough room. Want to do Twister with 16 people? Voice/Shriek with 16 people? Forget it.
Weekly lockouts and other time-gate measures
There are a number of weekly lockouts in FFXIV, however, there are no attempt lockouts. You can try something for as many times as you want until you win. This is another factor that pushes the system towards being mechanics-driven.
Sorry to use FFXI as an example again, but in that game there are attempt lockouts such as with “trigger items” and daily lockouts.
Without meeting the proper prerequisites and having collected all of the trigger items, you could not fight the last boss. So for many people they could only actually meet and fight the boss once every 2 – 4 weeks or so.
Now, time gates like these have always been the subject of complaints and many people thought they were “annoying” and wanted them gone. And in reality, most of these gates have now been removed.
In FFXIV, there's no such entry limitation, and the system is designed so that you're basically expected to keep retrying until you can finally beat the content.
Just by my own personal estimate, you'd need maybe around 10 hours of “practice” before you can clear a particular fight reliably (some people might say even that's too short).
It might just be me but... aren't we just simply replacing entry lockouts or time spent on collecting trigger items with these “practice time” then?
Of course, once you are able to clear a content reliably, you may no longer need to wait out a daily lockout or collect trigger items the next time around, and in a sense that is certainly “convenient”. However, the price that had to be paid for this “convenience” is necessarily difficult battle mechanics; the need to force all new players through this required “practice” period; and diminishing the meaning of party size, party composition, and gear choice. Is that a price worth paying?
And although I don't know how other people feel, I personally feel that a lack of attempt "cap" is causing people to lose concentration as the number of attempts pile on. Yet, for many people in a static it's simply coil all day, every day, and you just get burned out.
I have maybe 3 hours to play in a day, and when almost all of this time is spent in coil, I'm beginning to wish there actually was a weekly limit on the number of attempts.
Because there is no limit on attempts, many people in your FC or LS may simply spend all day in coil, especially right after a patch. And it becomes impossible even just to have a conversation with them, much less try to play together (now, this is not limited to FFXIV. FFXI can be like this too).
The price to pay for being able to “attempt as many times as you like” is the introduction of “difficult mechanics that require long practices”. You gain some and you lose some. But as I have explained up to this point, as an MMORPG, I feel we have lost more than we gained.
Why people enjoyed the pre-lv50 dungeons
The instanced dungeons (ID) in FFXIV up to lv50 are, for the most part, well received by players as being interesting and fun to play overall.
Among these dungeons, you have ones like Brayflox, whose difficulty took many first-timers by surprise; or Qarn, where many people wiped to the first boss; or Aurum Vale, which is still challenging even today.
Each of these were challenging in their own ways, but as a practice stage for learning your job's roles and skills, they were really well made for their intended purpose.
You could probably still clear the dungeon even if you didn't have your job mastered, but you could learn little by little the necessary skills needed for a smoother and faster clear next time.
And that's why they're “fun”.
Dungeons where there are instant death mechanics like Qarn are generally disliked by players and people tend to not want to run them. I think all of you should know why by now.
Almost 4000 words later, I'd like to thank you for reading this far.
Personally, I've always wished we could run dungeons with as many (or few) people as we wanted, rather than the predetermined 4 or 8.
“Why can't we?” As I wondered this and asked around, the conclusion I reached was “because the system is mechanics-driven”.
And from there, I begin to believe this mechanics-driven nature of the system is what's causing the current imbalance in the game.
Of course, I have no doubt that in Patch 2.3 and in the patches after that, we'll still keep getting battles that are heavily reliant on gimmicks/fight specific mechanics. I firmly believe this after hearing Yoshi-P's words after the Nagoya PLL, and it seems clear to me that he believes “battles that heavily feature instant-death/wipe mechanics = what makes end-game contents difficult”.
I think he got it wrong.
I can only hope the development team can recognize the imbalance that is currently there and make changes in their future designs to make things better balanced than they are today.
First of all, I'm glad this has spurred such a lively discussion/debate, because if anything, at least we have proved there are still many people passionate about the game.
I feel I should probably clear up a couple of things, specifically in response to one of the more "popular" arguments some people have raised (out of misunderstanding):
"OP just wants everything nerfed and make the game faceroll easy or just brainless tank and spank"
Actually, the OP wants the end-game encounters to stay just as challenging (if not more so, for the sake of spicing up the current "blandness" of the current end-game) and is in no way suggesting things should be made easier (if it came across as sounding like that, blame it on my poor translation skill). If the OP's recommended changes made people feel like it would make things too "faceroll easy", then please assume that's not the intention.
The argument the OP is making here is that, although mechanics-driven fights do provide gameplay challenges in their own right, it really does not mesh or scale well with many, many other things in this game. So much so that he/she feels it is necessary to begin asking whether it's worth all the trouble.
Should we just remove all those pesky rope-jump mechanics and let Casual Joe steamroll through end-game with his buddies? No, of course not. Nobody, not even the casual players, would want this (yes I am aware the OP made some statements to this effect by suggesting we should allow variable party sizes so casual players can "gang up" on contents. I'm personally not fond of the idea but I wanted to make sure the opinion was presented in its entirety so I kept it in).
The key argument that the advanced/pro players are making is this: "The system is designed to allow only a small percentage of players clear the hardest content, on purpose. I'm one of these few players. I like my exclusivity and my status. It's not supposed to be easy mmk"
While there's nothing fundamentally wrong with that sentiment, please understand:
- The OP is not asking for current end-game content to be made easier, just different in focus. The OP is attempting to address the issue where, due to the gimmick-centric nature of the fights and the way the gimmicks are designed, contents remain just as frustrating and not fun for many other people even after they have been supposedly "nerfed" and made more accessible. Can't do Twister because you just don't have the reaction time? Sorry, might as well give up on ever seeing the Second Coil. Oh, or you can just get/pay a group to carry you, that's always fun.
- The majority of players don't care about a T9 clear and ilvl115 weapons (or whatever the latest top achievement is) because they're still stuck on contents 2 patches ago. While everyone would agree that only the top players should get the best rewards, if people have nothing to aspire to or look forward to in an MMO, then they won't stick around for long. By the time SE comes around to "tend" to them, they're long gone.
- As for all those "but it's really not that hard, just do this and this and I could do this with my eyes closed, people cry too much" comments. That's the problem the OP tried to point out that the beginning of his/her article (the "learning English" part). It may be easy for you (more power to you), but it's not easy and not fun for many others, that's the whole point.
- Crappy players or not, casual players are paying customers too, and people generally do not like being told to go play older hand-me-down contents simply because the newer ones are inaccessible to them by game design. It's the equivalent of everyone paying for a new car and being told you will only be able to pick a used car because new cars are reserved only for those who can drive buses.
The OP is trying to raise awareness (especially among this group of top players, who tend to be somewhat detached from the masses of have-nots) to this point: the current system provides exclusivity and prestige to the top players at the expense of the majority of the player population.
What happens if the system (which may have worked for you), does not work or is simply not fun for the other 90% of the population (the noobs, the bads, the casuals, etc.)? They will leave. And without their majority subscriber base, all MMOs will eventually die a slow death. The OP's recommendation may not be the magic answer for many of you, but the more important point to be made here is this: the current system is flawed and it is driving people away (maybe they don't quit right away, but they begin to play less and less, which is just another slippery slope to quitting).
Simply saying "oh but my static group/FC/friends are all still playing so I don't see what the fuss is about" is not enough, because that's only par for the course. There needs to be more awareness that things aren't looking nearly as rosy for many others in the game and instead of saying "well that's their problem lol" simply because it hasn't affected you yet, we need to recognize that ultimately, it is everyone's problem.
Hardcore players are the champions of this game, you guys have the most influence and the loudest voice. I personally would like our FFXIV to have a system where the top hardcore players can go "lol I saved you all with my awesome skills, worship my awesomeness" after a clearing a fight despite others messing up rather than "ffs why can't you guys stop sucking and be awesome like me" and having no choice but to rage-quit because somebody kept messing up.
I want to meet and - more importantly - aspire to become the former kind of top player. As it is, everyone I meet in the game behaves like the latter right now, by design. It's the opposite of fun.
The only way to reverse this is to review the fundamentals of the current system and come up with a solution that allows the hardcore players to keep their exclusivity and prestige, but does not penalize the other 90% in doing so. And what would this magical system look like? The OP offered one potential solution, which many of you do not like, and that's fine, because ultimately it's SE's job to come up with an answer to this question. We just need to make sure it stays on their plate.
lol i'm so abusing the character-limit bypass