Wouldn’t be a long post of mine without a meandering title!
Let’s talk professions – this thing that exists in MMOs and is often sort of a grey area of gameplay – some people love them, some people hate them, most games don’t really make you fuss with them that much but when you do, it changes the scope of your interaction with the game and its systems overall.
Well, it can change that interaction, if designed well.
Nearly 15 years of playing WoW has taught me that professions are background noise, by and large – they simply don’t matter that much save for a chosen few, which generally has always been Enchanting, Alchemy, and for a few expansions now, Cooking. In the past, there were some winners that no longer are – Inscription offered some profit stream with gameplay tweaks, and Jewelcrafting had a lot of value until Warlords of Draenor put gem sockets behind the slot machine, taking us from players needing around 20 gems to fill out their armor, to needing no more than around 5, if they are lucky.
WoW’s professions are, to put it bluntly, awful – I can’t understand the appeal of anyone playing the game for professions, unless your sole goal is to make money (and even then, better have the right professions!).
However, like many players, from launch until Warlords of Draenor, I diligently leveled my professions, on my main character du jour and any heavy played alts. My most played alts had good combos of professions to allow me to grab the “level all the professions” acheivements, and so I went about the task. I wouldn’t say that I ever had fun doing professions – they just exist as this thing that offered enough bonuses to be worthwhile, and when they stopped offering bonuses, they at least gave me something to do when I didn’t want to quest while waiting on a dungeon queue.
But we’ll come back to this point near the end, because the main focus of this post is actually Final Fantasy XIV’s professions.
The game is known for being something of a tradesman’s paradise, because crafting and gathering matters – sometimes, a lot. In line with the game’s smorgasbord approach to character gameplay, your one character can take every profession at once, with 8 different “Disciple of the Hand” jobs (crafters) and 3 “Disciple of the Land” (gatherer) jobs. Rather than tradeskills being a thing you just sort of do as an adventurer, like being a White Mage who can also just happen to weave fine cloth, all of these professions are treated as classes onto themselves. You equip a tool in your weapon slot, and just like with any combat job in the game, you get a set of action bars specific to the job, with a mix of unique job abilities and shared cross-job abilities that require leveling the other DoH/DoL jobs to unlock. You equip gear for crafting and gathering, and you have stats specific to these jobs – and these stats matter.
Just like the combat jobs in the game, as you hit the level caps, you have endgame content designed specifically for these jobs. You can acquire various colors of scrips, used to exchange for rare materials and equipment to further enhance these jobs, along with higher-level craft recipes. There are job quests with the guilds that teach you the crafts, and each expansion adds a crafting hub complete with additional quests and some story. At some point in Shadowbringers, it is even being promised that there will be a brand-new story for tradespeople to play through to help restore Ishgard, the main capital city from the Heavensward expansion.
The thing that is nice about this is that it means a fair amount of design effort goes into building tradeskills as actual jobs, not just distractions. You have to have an experience curve just like a combat job, a path to the increased level cap every expansion, and options for content at endgame – and there are people for whom the main draw of FFXIV is this piece of the game. It isn’t 100% standalone – you still have to level a combat job to unlock certain things and keep the main story moving, but once you’ve done that, you might opt to just focus on crafting.
Similarly, with every patch, new content goes in – more options for crafting and gathering, new rare materials, new recipes, and the profession game is kept right up alongside the current combat gameplay. Crafting never loses relevance – new patches mean new dungeons, new raids, and higher item level rewards, and crafting often comes in with new rewards that exist just between the new dungeon and new raid content. As doing the new content requires that you keep your item level up to snuff, players who quit for a patch or two or want to level multiple jobs then have a path forward – run lower dungeons to gear up enough to do the new dungeon and raid for story’s sake, or simply buy crafted gear to leapfrog the old content and jump right into the new stuff.
But more than just having recipes available to make better items, you can also use the stats available to you as a crafter to push items to High Quality, granting them upgrades. Consumables that end up HQ give higher bonuses – most commonly, food might offer an 8% Direct Hit bonus at normal quality, but HQ of the same food would offer 10%. If you’re crafting materials to be used in a later craft, like rivets or ore ingots, making these items HQ increases the base quality of the later craft, easing the play of your crafting rotation (which is a thing, yes). Gatherers don’t miss out on this either, as they can gear the Perception stat which allows them to gather high quality materials in the field. It makes a chain that sustains all the way through – gathering HQ mats makes them worth more, which makes it easier to craft a HQ component, which makes it easier to craft a HQ version of a given item, which then makes that item worth more. It is a logical, well thought-out chain of events and at every step you have the ability to influence it in your favor.
Of course, the biggest part of all of this is that the gameplay is present, too. If you’re used to WoW’s crafting systems, FFXIV is a culture shock for sure. But I think it adds something special to the game that is easy to miss – it’s easier to have fun crafting when you’re actually engaged with it. Gathering requires you to play smart in the world, and since you don’t really have combat abilities as a Miner, Fisher, or Botanist, you also have to be mindful of your environment. However, you get a Stealth ability to sneak around and avoid enemies, at a huge movement speed cost – giving you a way to play strategically, using mounts and normal movement speed to get close to a node and then stealthing past any threats that might interrupt your gather. When gathering, you can activate abilities to increase your chance at getting HQ items, increase your overall gathering chance, and get to select from a list of items available in the node – allowing you to really focus on the things you need most. You can equip gear with the aforemention Perception stat to increase your chance of pulling a HQ item on a gather, along with Gathering stat, increasing your…uh…chance to gather, and GP bonuses, since your gathering rotation requires GP be spent on abilities to improve your gathering.
Crafting likewise has a focused gameplay loop, with you attempting to maximize quality while filling the progress bar before the item’s durability hits 0 and you lose your materials. Early on, this is pretty simple – you get Basic Synthesis, which just fills completion at normal efficiency with a high success rate, and later you get Basic Touch, adding a small amount of Quality with a reasonable success rate. Eventually you can being repairing durability damage mid-craft, extending the time spent and the number of actions you can take to influence the quality, and then you get a boatload of special abilities that add a lot of interplay to the crafting system – you can spend no CP (your main crafting resource) to try to increase quality, but with a higher failure rate, you can activate buffs that increase your crafting stats for successful prior steps, eat those buffs to gain back CP to be able to spend more on the item, and all of this links in to an intricate system. Just like with gathering, you have Crafting as a stat, increasing your Progress rate, Control, increasing your Quality gains, and CP, a resource bar that is spent on quality increasing actions and durability fixing actions, as well as the other aspects of your crafting rotation.
Now sure, all of this can be macroed into something you can do while watching Netflix, and the game has a built-in Quick Synthesis option for items you’ve crafted successfully once before, which lets you queue up multiple crafts similarly to WoW, but the game also offers incentives for using the normal synthesis options, and even the macros depend on your cross-class skills available, your gear stats, and the item you are trying to make!
This all leads me to my main point – I talked earlier (much earlier now!) about how I have come to hate WoW crafting – armorcrafting isn’t viable, random stats aren’t fun, and I don’t like being a goblin, so I often don’t play the markets and try to push my wares. Crafting doesn’t really feel rewarding or exciting in WoW, and I haven’t even looked at my profession pane since 8.2 launched, short of dropping an enchant on something.
FFXIV crafting and gathering has suckered me in precisely because it is the antithesis of WoW’s – it demands attention, offers gameplay reward and incentive in exchange for that attention, has meaningful content for all levels, remains endgame relevant with both content for playing the jobs and items crafted that can be used by combat jobs, and has a sense of flavor that keeps the tradeskills interesting. Being an Herbalist in WoW is just a thing my Hunter, Mage, Shaman, and Rogue can do when they find specific flowers in the world, and all it takes is a click. In FFXIV, being a botanist requires my character devote fully to it – she puts on a full gathering set including a little hatchet and scythe, goes into the world, finds tress and bushes she can smack for items, and then looks at what is available, targets the items she wants specifically, and sets to work. I can control if I want HQ items or not – as I’ve been leveling low-level tradeskills lately, I haven’t really pushed for HQ gathering much even though it offers an experience reward for both the gathered item and the crafted item being HQ.
FFXIV tradeskilling is daunting, or it can feel that way – having a new action bar and a list of abilities not unlike a new combat job, but once you get past that, it offers so much gameplay that I kind of wish WoW had it.
On the other hand, there is something to WoW’s model too, I won’t deny. Crafting isn’t really a focus of the game – and that is okay. The fantasy at play in WoW is different than the one in XIV, and that is perfectly fine. WoW wants me to be a hero primarily and to the exclusion of almost everything else, and that is the flavor the game offers.
However, I wish that Blizzard would at least make the time spent crafting feel like fun and not something I do just to pass idle time.