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The Case for Horizontal Progression

By Michael O’Connell-Davidson on April 09, 2018 | Columns | Comments

The Case for Horizontal Progression

A couple of weeks ago, I vowed to return to Eureka after I’d spent more time with it (You can read my initial impressions here). I’ve been back in a few of times since then, and, unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting much further. The content isn’t for me, but I still love what it represents, and I’m happy it’s scratched an itch for a bygone era of MMOs that a lot of people miss.

Much has been said and written about the content, and that’s good for the game — it would be a real problem if it dropped and then vanished from everyone’s radar. And despite early predictions that Eureka would die the moment people got the gear they want, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening either. It’s still a hub of activity, and people are still agonising over if and when Pazuzu will spawn.

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But one thing I don’t understand about it is why the gear it rewards is so damn weak. Relic weapons and armor were touted as this huge deal, but everything you can get from Eureka is outclassed by tomestone gear (item level 355 vs 360), which is so easy to earn you can almost do it by accident as long as you play regularly. I haven’t heard anybody make a particularly good case for why it’s so toned down, either.

When I spoke to Naoki Yoshida last year, back when Eureka was largely an enigma, he said that content had to offer decent rewards for people to complete it and return to it. In a way, Eureka all but disproves that theory: There’s not much that Eureka really offers, at least in terms of gear, and I suppose it’s a testament to the fact that people really do like what it offers that people are doing it regardless.

Gear in XIV has always followed a rigid structure where weekly token gear provides something for the majority of players to work towards, while the very best stuff is locked behind difficult raid content. Rewards from extreme primals and so on fit in around this, but no matter how things shake out, raiders always get the best stuff. I suppose the argument for this is that the rewards from Savage should be the best because it’s the hardest content in the game; there has to be some kind of carrot to keep people going through fights which most players find murderously difficult.

I’ve never really liked this system, though. Raiding is great, and the gear is a nice reward, but it’s always felt wrong to me that the optimal gear set has been locked behind one form of content in a game where there are many legitimate ways to approach playing it. (I say this not from a position of jealousy or desire, by the way; I have raid gear in almost every slot, including the weapon, so I’m fine.)

I was hoping that Eureka would provide a different path for people to reach the top. Maybe it’d take longer, but it’d be there for people that didn’t like the same stuff I did, or it’d be an option if I wanted to change tack but still be able to perform on the same level as my friends in the raiding community. But it just doesn’t do any of that. This got me thinking: Would much change if Eureka gear was equivalent to raid gear?

I doubt it. People would complain on Reddit or the official forums, for sure, but as long as the path to getting it wasn’t trivial, I don’t really see what the problem would be. There is almost no horizontal progression — where there are multiple options of similar strength, rather than vertical progression, where you’re always striving for upgrades — in FFXIV. Eureka was a chance to change that, and for whatever reason, Yoshida and his team decided not to take it.

Gear and loathing

If Eureka is proof that people don’t need cutting-edge rewards to do content that involves some commitment (whether it’s levelling in Anemos or wiping over and over again to Kefka), I’d hope the same would be true for raiding if it no longer held a monopoly over top-tier items. Anyone that does Savage for the gear typically doesn’t last very long, because it’s not really about that; the core of raiding is about getting better at the game and pushing yourself as far as you can when primals and dungeons stop being enough. I love raiding, and I’m lucky it’s the source of all the best stuff, but I wouldn’t begrudge people getting gear of a similar quality for doing what they enjoy.

That’s not to say that raiding shouldn’t have unique rewards that show what you’re capable of — it should. But there are ways to reward people beyond placing them at the top of a tiered gear system. I think the way the weapon from Ultimate Coil was handled is a good model to follow; what dropped was functionally the same as what came from Savage, but with an extra materia slot. That’s a nice bonus, but not enough to be game-breaking.

UCoB also offered a title and an exclusive glamour, neither of which offer any gameplay benefits, but remain relevant far longer than any piece of gear. Savage already offers unique-looking gear, but for whatever reason, no titles. Why not bring that tradition back? You still see people running around with Domitor (or Domitrix) titles awarded by Second Coil of Bahamut Savage, and that’s content that came out more than four years ago. Sure, they didn’t all do it at the time, but the fact that people went back for it is surely testament to the fact that even vanity titles are enough of a motivator to get players to engage with content.

One of XIV’s defining features is how flexible it enables players to be. There’s nothing you can’t do on one single character, and in that regard, it’s amazingly forward-thinking. Yet when it comes to gear, it’s almost archaic in how rigid it is. Gearing up jobs other than your main is difficult — without endless gil, you’ll simply never have enough resources to elevate them beyond the most basic standard — while entire tiers of items are permanently out of reach depending on how you want to play the game. No matter how much the game changes, this is one regard in which the developers seem reluctant to budge. As Eureka evolves and more content is introduced, is it too much to hope for that things might change in future?

Michael O’Connell-Davidson / Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.
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