A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with one of our fellow writers about MMO design. This, as you might imagine, is actually a fairly common topic of discussion amongst Massively staff members. (It’s beaten out slightly by talk of cats and horrible puns, but still.) Said writer was lamenting the fact that we haven’t seen a game in years that allows players to really focus on a non-combat role and level up without having to march out and kill things.
“Yes, we have,” I countered. “Final Fantasy XIV lets you do that.”
“Well, yeah, but you have to kill stuff to get materials and get money to start with, right?”
“No, you can just craft the whole way through.” And as I said it, I realized that one of the real shames of the game’s launch was that everything the crafting and gathering systems do correctly wound up being overshadowed by other issues. There’s a reason I started calling the game a sandpark when I was writing my first impressions, because the devotion to non-combat gameplay options is almost peerless among more modern games. And it’s worth some tribute.
The game’s crafting features honestly feel like something out of a pure sandbox design document. You can start crafting at the start of the game and spend the entire game quite comfortably crafting. There are quests specifically for you, content that you can unlock, and progression — both in terms of harder quests to accomplish and better equipment for crafting. There’s now even stuff for you to do at the endgame, special quests to undertake that require a high level of skill and a fair amount of extra material.
It even keeps player-crafted gear on par with dropped gear. Sure, getting crafted gear to match high-end stuff requires a lot of materia conversions and some luck in the melding process, but that just gives you more reason to keep churning through equipment. It helps ensure that there’s a market for your equipment even at the top end.
That’s not to say the process isn’t helped by having some combat classes, but they’re not mandatory any more than playing a crafting class is mandatory. You can get along just fine forever crafting and never fighting, or crafting and gathering, or gathering and fighting, or all of the above. The game honestly doesn’t care how you want to experience it.
Of course, some of the options for what you can do now weren’t in the game at launch. But the updates have actually made it more viable to be a crafter, not less. At launch there was only really a market for the top-end equipment, since the penalty for wearing something beyond your level was negligible and the money saved made up for it. You bought your top equipment, you leveled with it all the way through, and you never had to worry about getting new pieces. Materia, a stricter set of penalties for overleveled gear, and more reasonable leveling gear have really changed that setup to something more reasonable.
And that’s all assuming that you’re crafting equipment instead of consumables. Food is never going out of style.
The two biggest weaknesses the game does have in this regard are pretty noteworthy, though. The first is a lack of any good recipe list function — the best you get is the option to quickly redo any of the last ten recipes you’ve made. It’s a function that is coming to the game, but it makes crafting either an activity that must be done in windowed mode or one that requires a binder full of notes. The second is smaller, but still pretty significant: the lack of any way for you to actually personalize what you’ve made or market yourself as a specific crafter on the server.
Lack of marketing options may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re limited to 20 items for sale at any time, branding might actually be desirable. Instead, you’re just another cog in the moneymaking machine. Not that it matters a whole lot, since reasonable pricing ensures a steady flow of sales, but it’d be nice to get a reputation for all your hard work.
These days, it almost makes more sense to start as a crafter and hit the level cap that way before embarking on the usual bloodthirsty march that typifies video games. You can pick up all the important things, like lots of gil and a chocobo and so forth, and then you can start leveling with a bit of an edge. Plus, you can power through most of the main scenario quests, which at least offer some decent money if not many other tangible rewards.
In summary, you can level as a crafter, you don’t need to stop crafting just to advance or gather materials, and you can be as pacifistic as you want if you don’t mind paying for all of your components. Comparatively, a lot of games that have been praised for their crafting don’t offer all of that, much less the actual minigame mechanics you get from Final Fantasy XIV’s crafting. For all that the combat system has been trimmed up and cleaned up since launch, the crafting mechanics have only seen minor touch-ups, and that’s indicative of how solid they are.
So the next time someone claims that no one designs crafting systems with any real punch any longer, by all means, show them this article. Have them fire up a couple recipes. It’s an eye-opening experience, and certainly was for me. I normally do not care in the slightest when it comes to crafting or gathering systems, and I fell in love with these.