The Mog Log header illustration by A. Fienemann
Two big pieces of news came out of the development pipeline for Final Fantasy XIV over the past couple of weeks. First, we're seeing a big streamlining process coming to crafting. Second, we're seeing a brand-new stealth ability for Disciples of the Land and only Disciples of the Land. Like clockwork, the former has already started prompting questions about dumbing down the game or stripping out the fun of crafting, and the latter has prompted all sorts of questions about balance and whether or not it's removing something integral to the game.

Of course, we've also seen no shortage of people happy about both of these changes; I don't mean to imply that there's some sort of uniform opposition to this approach. And these are big changes, without a doubt. Coeurl Step essentially removes monsters from the equation for all but the rarest gathering attempts, and changes to synthesis greatly simplify the system's overall level of complexity. It's easy to see both of these as negatives, but it's also easy to see both of them as positives when you look at the roles of the classes in the game and the overall thrust of the changes.

Rhio has many outfits and looks alternately adorable or awesome in most of them.Simplify, simplify

First of all, let me say something as an avowed fan of the synthesis changes -- these changes are, without a doubt, simplifying the game's current system. And that's a great thing.

Saying that something is being made simpler is rarely viewed as a positive, partly because we're all fans of games that are almost nightmarishly complex to start with. It's easy to look at the complexity and assume that it's the good part of the game rather than a massive impediment to enjoyment, and that's a discussion that I've had countless times and will no doubt have to discuss again in the future.

For now, let's just go with the very simple version: complexity is a byproduct, not a goal. Design always benefits from the simplest version of what you are trying to do. And in FFXIV's case, the design of synthesis benefits greatly from the removal of that extra complexity.

At the core of crafting in FFXIV is the actual minigame, the careful balance of progress, durability, and quality each time you synth something. You have a plethora of different abilities available to help you produce different items and ensure that your items are of higher quality, but the core of the minigame is well-designed. At the same time, it's complicated. Much like in Tetris, you have to strike a balance in what you're doing and sometimes risk failure in order to really achieve something noteworthy. The idea that crafting should be a process that requires attention and thought just like fighting a monster is the point of the design.

But there's more complexity. There are the layers of different parts that you have to assemble in order to produce a seemingly simple item, sometimes parts that are produced by wildly varying skill levels. There's the dance of having the right facility access and books to complete a synth. There's the dance of those individual abilities. You've got stats and touch-ups and decorative flourishes and all sorts of little things you need to consider in addition to the convoluted and sometimes inaccessible recipes.

All of those layers make it more complicated, but they don't necessarily make things any better. There are simpler ways to get at the core of the crafting system, to ensure that people can enjoy the essential act of crafting stuff. And several of these extra layers of complexity aren't actually producing any meaningful distinction.

Sure, you have to have sheep-leather shoulderpads to make an item that clearly has leather shoulders. That's great. But can you swap out those sheep leather pads for dodo leather pads? Can you omit that step and make a different item? Do you really need to make four separate parts of a given hempen acton just to make a single hempen acton when you can't mix and match those parts in any meaningful way?

Complexity that adds nothing is worse than useless. If any of the above elements I mentioned actually had a discernable effect, sure, it would matter... but the only element you can really play with is color, something that would be well-served by a simpler process anyway (which, I will note, is coming alongside these improvements). Removing all these elements makes things simpler, but it does so without even touching the core of the minigame. It reduces depth, but that depth was essentially dead weight to begin with.

It's kind of distressing how few shots I have of her gathering outfit.Focusing inward

I'm going to ahead and say that if your first class to max rank is either a gathering or crafting class, you came to this game for the non-combat aspect. And you know what? That's awesome. I'm really glad that FFXIV is the game that supposedly gives players the option to totally eschew the usual cycle of endless face-smashing in order to advance stories.

I say "supposedly" because three of the classes that fall under that aegis have always had a major issue. If you want to be a Botanist, a Miner, or a Fisherman, you've always been stuck heading out into a field covered in hostile monsters with no way of defending yourself or even effectively getting out of the way.

"Well, jeez, of course you do," you might respond. "That's part of the point." But it really isn't. There's enough detail and challenge in just gathering in the game. I imagine that the thought was gatherers would hire bodyguards or something similar, but really, that's a dicey proposition at best. There's too much potential for abuse even at a conceptual stage, and in practice it's mostly meant that gathering players need to pick up a combat profession to deal with wandering beasties.

Coeurl Step is a somewhat inelegant solution, but it is a solution, and it makes gathering a bit easier to undertake even in somewhat dangerous areas. And it's tuned just right to be something other than an automatic "no monster" button -- the highest rank tops out at blocking rank 50 monsters, which covers all of the major leve regions but not all of the places in the game. It means that you can explore and roam a bit more freely as a gathering class, and it gives a little bit more incentive to level one based solely on that evasive trick.

Unlike the crafting simplifications, the stealth ability has a bit less controversy attached to it. But it's still a pretty big change to the mechanics of gathering, one that should give players more incentive to enjoy the Disciples of the Land as something other than a sideline.

Out of combat

Patch 1.19 thus far seems to be shaping up as less of a combat-related patch than its predecessor, with some heavy improvements for things like transportation and the aforementioned changes to the non-combat classes. And really, it's a needed revision. One of the big selling points of the game has always been a mixture of combat and non-combat activities, and while it's arguable and defensible that the combat revisions needed to come first, now that they're in place it's good to see more chances to live in the world rather than just kill stuff.

Also, I'm looking forward to a world where I never have to try more than once to make a Bone Harpoon Head. That alone gives me joy.

As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or via mail to eliot@massively.com. Next week, I'm looking back toward Final Fantasy XI, which has been sadly neglected; I'll be discussing the obvious issue that's been coming out of the recent account changeover.

From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.

This article was originally published on Massively.