A recent post at MassivelyOP kind of clicked a thing I’ve been thinking a lot about with FFXIV lately.
I have talked about how a lot of my gaming lately has been low-commitment, passive entertainment – a lot of WoW alt leveling, mostly, and specifically noted that FFXIV felt too much like a thing to actively do – to focus on and commit to. What I hadn’t really thought a lot about is why that might be. In the post in which I called this out, I specifically attributed it to just a simple mental barrier, not unique to FFXIV but rather a sort of global thing that applied to more games.
However, what that MassivelyOP post brought to mind is something a bit more interesting to discuss – which the title has already disclosed.
Final Fantasy XIV is my favorite funtime MMO because it has largely consistent and easily understood power advancement over the course of an expansion. It has a consistent number of raiding tiers per expansion, both in 8-player/savage content and in 24-player Alliance Raid flavors, and the mode of progression is down to item level almost solely – outside of advanced Materia melding or managing BiS lists, the game behaves incredibly predictably. When a new patch comes out with an 8-player raid, the whole meta shifts up to a new item level bracket and BiS lists tweak slightly depending on the stat loadout of the new armor. When it is a non-main raid patch, the Alliance Raid brings up casual item level and opens up gear upgrades to most players, while mostly maintaining the BiS options except in rare cases where an Alliance Raid piece is particularly well itemized.
But then there is the Relic grind. Named something slightly different every expansion, Relic grinding becomes an interesting chase to participate in, but for both Stormblood and now Shadowbringers, the system brings an interesting new mode of play.
WoW currently suffers from a borrowed power system affliction, where every expansion takes on a drastically different system of play and reward based around granting your character some new power from an outside source, which lasts the length of the expansion and then fades to dust in time for a new system to take its place. It offers a sense of reward at the beginning of an expansion that is quickly outstripped by the need to grind and progress the various bars and systems tied to it. Final Fantasy XIV dodges this mostly…except in these two most recent expansions.
In Stormblood, we had the Forbidden Lands of Eureka. Split into zones offered with each new patch, Eureka started with an Elemental Level mechanic and a wheel that you could use in the field to play a basic rock-paper-scissors game with enemies, either setting a stronger defense against the enemy element or setting a strong offense, similar in some ways to Pokemon. Over time, this system expanded in later zones in the series, with special items, Logos Actions, and armor that could be used to augment your elemental power and grant additional benefits in the zone. Surprisingly, I didn’t connect the dots immediately, but hey, look at that! – Borrowed Power!
Eureka had the advantage of a slow drip of new borrowed power mechanics over time – Logos actions weren’t introduced until Pyros, the third Eureka zone of 4, and the special armor that conferred Eureka-specific bonuses wasn’t added until the final zone, Hydatos. Up front for two zones, you had simply special potions and the Elemental Level/wheel mechanics.
Shadowbringers has, however, revamped this drastically. The Bozjan Southern Front, the first of a presumed number of such zones to come, front-loads nearly all of the borrowed power mechanics in a single shot, not unlike the start of a new, modern WoW expansion. There is a leveling mechanic, which this time does not affect combat effectiveness unlike Elemental Level, but then there are consumables, Lost Actions, a ring that offers boosts for Bozja, and a currency system that exists for rewards on top of the Crystal system for getting Resistance Weapon upgrades. It is a dizzying array of new systems, and again, in a striking similarity to modern WoW expansions, it requires an almost hour-long beginning quest chain to explain how everything works to you.
And linking that to borrowed power as an idea makes it click into place – Bozja is a zone that uses the worst idea from modern WoW as its core conceit. A big part of why I’ve burned out over the course of patch 5.35 on FFXIV is that the primary reward mechanic is either grinding in Bozja and interacting with a handful of systems that don’t exist outside of it, or running old FATES in the world on loop, an act which eventually gets exceptionally dull. Sure, the other gameplay modes do still exist, but I think I reached a point in grinding for the Gil to buy my house where I’ve sort of needed a break from the daily grind I got into. I do eventually want to get the upgraded Resistance Weapons, and I’m sure I will as patch 5.4 approaches next month.
To be fair, the original point of the MassivelyOP post is to laud FFXIV for sequestering its borrowed power systems to simple modes of gameplay, rather than a game-wide set of changes, and I do agree with that. But I think it is fair to note that someone with borrowed power fatigue (say, from playing WoW over the last 4 years) would bristle at any such interaction, and in many ways, just being presented with the fact that the core of Bozja is borrowed power shattered my perception of it – akin to the How I Met Your Mother episode where everyone points out each other’s flaws in a way that reveals them to those who were tuning them out.
However, I think I’m sort of over borrowed power systems and so maybe Bozja just won’t be for me – which is fine.