In this week's column, Ragar talks about gathering in Eorzea and what he would do to improve it
Hello and welcome to the second edition of the Eorzea Examiner, our new column about Square Enix's Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. In the inaugural episode of my column, I mostly focused on bringing everyone up to speed with what's happened since I wrote my review, with a few teasers for future column topics. Now that everyone's got an idea about where I'm coming from and what experience I have with FFXIV's different system, it's time to pick some topics and start digging in. Anyone who read last week's column is probably groaning a bit at that terrible Miner pun, but I feel no regret.
Terrible jokes aside, that does bring us to this week's topic: gathering. Gathering jobs are far from new to MMOs, but FFXIV takes the uncommon route of taking these non-combat professions and turning them into full-fledged classes with character progression, abilities, quests and equipment. We talked about this in one of my previews during the beta, but that was just scratching the surface of what's available to Disciples of the Land (DoL). Now that I've raised a gathering class to the level cap, how is it holding up?
Mining: See The World, then Plunder Its Riches!
While the bulk of my time in FFXIV has gone into the various crafting classes, much of my time in Eorzea has been spent as a Miner. Short of buying all of your materials (an extremely expensive proposition) or sweet-talking your Free Company friends into sending you everything, you'll be switching back and forth between one or more of the gathering classes and your chosen crafting profession. The early recipes in most of the Disciples of the Hand can usually be made with vendor-bought materials, but very soon every new recipe you get will require some material that can only be farmed or bought from other players. Better to save your hard-earned Gil and farm it yourself, right?
At its core the Disciples of the Land classes (at least Miner and Botanist - haven't touched Fisher yet) operate similarly to gathering in other MMOs: gathering nodes that can be tracked on the mini-map, each has different materials based on the region they're located and each can only be tapped a certain number of times before disappearing. The actual act of performing the gathering is the same as it is for most MMOs - the difference lies in choosing what to gather and where to spend your resources.
Gathering class equipment comes in three stat flavors: GP, Gathering and Perception. GP is the simplest one of the three; the more GP you have, the longer you can go using your class and cross-class skills before needing to recharge. Gathering is your raw power stat as a Disciple of the Land as it determines your odds of getting a specific material with each individual hit. Finally, there's Perception which is essentially the critical rating for gathering professions. If you want a lot of HQ materials to sell or craft with, you'll want a ton of Perception to boost your base chances. Of course things get more complicated when you start factoring in all of the various skills. A low Gathering stat can be countered by the Sharp Vision skills that increase your chances of getting an item. For those trying to get the mountains of HQ items for their class quests, the Unearth skills can significantly cut down on gathering time by boosting your HQ gathering rate.
These skills certainly add to the system, but what makes them truly shine is the ability to choose what you're gathering. There's no "hopefully I'll get at least one stack of the gems I want with all of this random ore" here; if that one item is all you care about, you can dump every GP you have into grabbing as many as you can fit in your bags. While it's not an overly complicated system, it does add a little bit of planning and strategy to a task many players look at as a chore in other MMOs and makes it feel rewarding to be a gathering class. Well... for the most part.
It Can't Be All Darksteel and Diamonds
As much as FFXIV's DoL system improves upon traditional MMO gathering, there are still missteps and room for further improvement. The first misstep, in my mind, is related to a trait of gathering nodes I haven't touched upon yet, bonus qualities. In short, as a player levels up in one of the DoL classes, they'll begin to notice more and more nodes start having subtext in their description. Some are fairly straightforward: Gathering > X = Gathering Rate +10%, Perception > Y = HQ chance +5%, etc. These are perfectly fine targets for players - aside from giving players target values for what their stats should be going into the next tiers of nodes, they also give you a reason to play with stacking Materia at low level rather than ignoring it. The problem is with the other bonus requirements.
You'll see nodes with double items per hit or an extra hit before disappearing, but they're gated behind requirements like STR or one of the six elemental resistances. While I can understand the idea of throwing in some sub-optimal stats for special nodes, this feel less like variety and more like a gating mechanism. The stat goals for each are always something you'll hit as you get within a level or two of the tier after the mode you're working on, so in general you don't feel compelled to play with jewelry and Materia to get those bonuses; you just get annoyed and grind until you get it for free. At that point your bonus system ceases to be an interesting game mechanic and simply becomes a checkbox for players. The Gathering and Perception requirements are partially guilty of this as well, but at least those are goals where progress has meaningful impact on your character's ability. These other goals scream "we need some other numbers just so there's something else listed".
So if Gatherers only have three stats (two if you don't count GP) and there are multiple kinds of bonuses a mode can provide, how do you make them unique? There are a few different ways you could do this (e.g. additional stats, ask for both on some nodes, use GP as another bonus gate, etc.), but looking at my cross-class skills gives me a new idea: introduce new skills or perhaps cross-class traits. Here's an example: for a node that's in the middle of the snow-covered mountains of Coerthas, give it an Ice elemental attunement. A normal vein to a regular gatherer, but for someone who has worked as a Miner long enough to learn the proper elemental attunement (Ice for a similarity requirement, Fire for a counter, etc.) they can eke more out of that vein with additional hits, better yields, etc. Adding these attunements serves a dual purpose; in addition to solving the mode bonus variety problem, you also make cross-class DoL skills an actual choice as opposed to "throw in the other three bonus shard element abilities and call it good". Speaking of shards, that brings us to the next area of needed improvement.