Choose My Adventure: Getting crafty

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Choose My Adventure: Getting crafty
She's a lumberjack and she's okay~
All right, folks, it's that time again. No, not happy hour. That's not until later. It's Choose My Adventure time, so take a swig of the most potent nearby beverage and sit tight. Last week, you folks voted for me to give Final Fantasy XIV's dungeon-crawling a go so that I could have a sample of party mechanics and do something that wasn't a levequest.

However, after standing around for a couple of hours on Sunday and a few more hours on Monday, screaming my lungs out in Ul'Dah asking for a group, I came up empty-handed. The vast majority of parties I saw being advertised were for higher-level content (mostly level 30 to 40+), and I'm still sitting pretty at level 10 and change. So what did I do with my playtime instead? Well, I took the first runner-up (botany and alchemy) and went with that. And what did I glean from choppin' trees and mixin' chemicals? Well, just follow along past the cut and I'll tell you.

Due to the fact that my playtime was particularly limited this weekend and that I was coming up on my deadline very rapidly by the time I decided "Hey, idiot, you're not finding a party, go for plan B," I figured the best way to give everyone a good idea of how crafting operates was to do some crafting leves. Since botany and alchemy were in second place on the last poll, I decided I'd give them a go.

My first levequest was an alchemy-based levequest that required me to go to Camp Dry Brush in order to complete a decidedly epic task. What was that task, you ask? Why, to help resupply the Adventurers' Guild's table salt stores, of course. Man, if they send alchemists out to transmute table salt, Ul'Dah cuisine must be incredibly bland. At any rate, the levequest supplied me with the materials needed (which was quite the blessing, considering I didn't know where or how to come up with said materials on my own), so all I had to do was sit down and craft.

And I gotta say, I really enjoyed it. No, it's not freaking rocket science, but it's more involving than the gather-materials-then-press-create route that most games tend to take. You see, when you begin creating an item, it has three separate statistics: quality, durability, and progress. The basic idea is to get progress to 100% and raise quality as high as possible, all while ensuring that the item's durability doesn't drop to zero. How do you go about doing this? Simple. Sort of. You have four options when crafting an item: standard synthesis, rapid synthesis, careful synthesis, and wait. Standard synthesis is what it sounds like: nothing fancy, just a focus on success. Rapid synthesis focuses on high progress rates at the cost of higher penalties for failure. Careful synthesis, meanwhile, centers on quality while costing more item durability. Wait makes you... well, wait, which costs you durability. Why would you ever want to wait if it costs you durability, though?

Screenshot -- FFXIV synthesis window
That's where the crafting system gets a bit strategic. As you craft, you will notice a glowing sphere of light on your synthesis tool (the anvil for blacksmiths, alembic for alchemists, etc.), and after each "turn" of crafting, the sphere will change colors. As far as I can gather, white light indicates the highest chance of success, while a golden aura indicates the second-best chance. Flashing multi-color lights mean it's time for a rave -- I mean, mid-level chance of success, while red means "if you try, I will explode in your face (twhs)." So it becomes a meticulous balancing act. Do I want to try to boost the quality at the cost of durability? Maybe I want to play it safe and guarantee my success even though the result will be a lower-quality item. It requires some sound strategic thinking, and I found it rather enjoyable, albeit repetitive.

So next up on the chopping block was botany. Now maybe flower-picking comes later on in the game, but for the lower levels, botanists may as well be called lumberjacks (and that's OK; they sleep all night and work all day). Once again, material gathering surprised me with its fresh take on the usual formula. After finding a suitable bit of timber to chop into, I was asked to aim my blows. I can either swing my axe closer to or farther from the notch of the tree, as I so desire. Then I begin lumberjackin'. After each swing -- which is taken using a "stop-the-moving-meter" style minigame -- the game gives you a "warmer or colder" style message telling you how close you are to striking your quarry. Each failed swing also depletes the harvesting node's remainder meter. Once the remainder meter is empty, your current attempt is done and the game tells you how many attempts you have remaining and (in some cases) where the targeted resource is in relation to your previous attempt. For instance, it may tell me, "You sense [item] below where you are logging," so I'd adjust my swing to be lower and then take another attempt.

Alchemy, yay!
Gathering, like crafting, is a largely enjoyable twist on the MMO genre's usual lackluster systems, but after a while it gets incredibly tedious and repetitive. But even in light of that, I really, really wish more games would steal FFXIV's gathering and crafting systems. Can they become dull and mind-numbing? Yeah, sure. But at least with FFXIV, it takes time, unlike other games whose systems are dull and mind-numbing right from spit. Moreover, it involves the player. It's no longer a matter of "collect materials, press button, go AFK." Instead, players must actively participate in the crafting process, and strategy is required in order to make sought-after high-quality items.

All right, folks, that rounds up this week's episode of Choose My Adventure. I'm afraid that my run on the column has nearly come to a close, but between now and next week, I will attempt to make good on your votes from last week's column and get my dainty little Miqo'te self to Shposhae (or at the very least, into a leveling party) so that I can present you with my impressions of how the game plays when group mechanics get involved. That being said, if there's anything I've neglected that you'd personally like to see, please leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to fulfill them. See you next time!

Matt Daniel is in a bit of a slump. You see, he's between MMOs, and he needs your help in deciding what to play next. Stop by every Wednesday for Choose My Adventure and tell him what to play, how to play it, and what color underwear to wear. No guarantees on that last one, though.
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