Final Fantasy XIV's pre-launch beta, it was gathering that made me realize I was in real trouble with this game. Normally I consider gathering to be a necessary evil, a part of the game that exists and only occasionally overlaps with what I like to do. But the first time I started chopping away as a Botanist, I knew that something special was going on here.
Of course, gathering and crafting also needed an overhaul. The former was a frequently luck-based minigame that could be intensely frustrating to decipher with few skills that seemed to do much, and the latter was obtuse even if you ignore the fact that you didn't have a recipe book. So the relaunch had the unenviable task of reworking both systems while at the same time retaining what made them such a breath of fresh air.
If you liked Final Fantasy XIV's crafting or gathering before, I'm happy to say you still will -- and odds are good you'll like both even more because the new systems in place are solid improvements of what came before.
Gather your belongings
After I had finished playing around with high-level combat, I thought that gathering would be a great thing to try. So I swapped over to Botanist gear, set up my gathering abilities on my bar, and found a harvesting spot to start in with. Knowing that the gathering had been changed from its previous incarnation, I wasn't sure how the new version would work in practice, but I was hopeful.
The short version? Quite well. But let's start with the basics.
Harvesting a node is much easier now. You see all harvestable items tracked on your minimap, and right-clicking one will start the harvesting process. Once you do that, you see a small list open up with a picture of an item (or a question mark) on the left as well as a percentage to the right. Initially, outside of a basic item or two (such as Earth Shards from tall grass), almost everything will be a question mark with a very low harvest percentage.
You pick your item and you swing. Let's assume you start with the high-percentage shard. You harvest one successfully, then you harvest another one successfully. Each time you harvest something successfully, you build a chain, and your various gathering abilities are restricted to use after a chain. For example, you can use something to increase your gathering chance at chain #2, or you can increase your chance at getting a high-quality item at chain #3. Gathering abilities cost gathering points (GP), which are refilled after you finish gathering but don't regenerate during an attempt.
So you're at chain #2 and you trigger an ability to increase your chance of harvesting the next resource. This brings the unknown items on the list up significantly, so you try to harvest one... and you succeed. Suddenly the former question mark is replaced by the item you harvest, along with a much higher percentage chance to harvest it. And perhaps most importantly, it goes into your gathering log.
Yes, gatherers have a log tracking resources acquired similar to the hunting log. The gathering log tracks locations and chances to harvest everything you successfully gather, and it tracks across nodes. So if you manage to extract an Ash Log from a tree, every subsequent tree in the region that can harbor Ash Logs will show it on your list immediately. At first you have to explore nodes extensively before you can harvest everything, but once you've made a few successful attempts, you will know where to get what you need and what your odds are off the bat.
I realize the system as a whole sounds a bit inelegant, but in practice, everything flows beautifully. Your first attempts in a new region will be touch-and-go, but your later attempts will see you start in on a patch with a clear picture of where things are. It also keeps you from just harvesting all of the most valuable items automatically, and it introduces new strategies. Do you take your chances with the hard items right off? Do you harvest a small chain of easy items and then increase your chance at high-quality results, or do you then move on to a rarer item and boost your odds of a harvest?
Unfortunately, the character I was playing had only Botanist unlocked, which meant I couldn't play with any of the other gathering abilities. But the fact that your abilities are far more useful now alone makes the new system worthwhile.
While FFXIV's gathering deviates far from its predecessor, FFXIV's crafting is still similar in a lot of ways. It's mostly different in the ways that count, however, and it shares the same emphasis on making abilities more relevant and interesting. Like gathering, it features a resource (crafting points, aka CP) that is depleted as you craft and restored after the fact, and as in the classic crafting system, the basic mechanics are straightforward: advance progress and raise quality while avoiding a loss of all durability.
The difference, however, is all in the details, starting with the fact that you're no longer limited to menu options; instead, you're treated to an action bar interface. Each ability has a cost in CP and durability plus a percentage chance of success. Each one also has a variable effect on progress, which depends, in part, on your level in relation to the craft. So if you're crafting low-level stuff to serve as a stepping stone, just hammering on the basic crafting ability will generally bring you to completion with a single step.
The revamped abilities portray a much more streamlined crafting experience in which the hard part is creating with high-quality items frequently rather than simply successfully crafting parts. Standard synth actions have an 80% success rate, and most simple items need only an application or two to reach completion. Quality improvements no longer increase progress, however, and they still reduce durability substantially. There are ways to boost durability once more, of course, but you wind up in a dance of trying to get that quality up while still having enough juice left for a complete craft.
Helpfully, all of your crafting information is in your crafting log, which functions exactly as you would expect from previous descriptions. Every 10-level band has its recipes displayed, and you can fine-tune how many materials you use -- if you've got a hundred Maple Logs and want to lumberize them all at once, the interface lets you put that into a single synth to save time. You'll get more experience that way, but not as much as if you individually crafted each set of lumber, so it's meant as a time-saving measure more than anything.
Ultimately, crafting retains the features of the first version while trimming down the fine details that made the original version sometimes obnoxious. You have fewer decisions during a standard craft, but each individual one has a bigger overall impact, and craft abilities feel far more substantial in their impacts.
The parts that made both crafting and gathering obnoxious in FFXIV's launch incarnation have been stripped away, and the parts that made them fun have been refined and improved. Far from feeling that something has been stripped out, I feel that both versions have had some extra strategy and complexity layered in where they were previously lacking.
If there's anything to complain about, it's the fact that both of these systems are no longer valid ways to start the game, as all characters now start as one of the combat-focused classes. Still, it doesn't take much to start in on the crafting side of the game, and if you want to abandon your spear as soon as you can take up a saw, the game will reward you with plenty of things to craft.
Be sure to check out our other coverage from this event!
Land and Hand: Crafting and gathering in Final Fantasy XIV's relaunch
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