LotRO – Mordor Is Here Too Soon

Standing Stone Games started taking orders for the Mordor expansion in LotRO, which is “expected” to release July 31. $40 for the no-frills version.* The moment is finally here. The moment I’ve been dreading for so long: The moment when everyone else will get to experience the MMORPG cultural event of the decade, while I sit on the sidelines, peering longingly through the cracks in the fence, trying to catch a glimpse of the prize at the end of the rainbow. Or some metaphor or another like that.

This is the exact thing that I’ve tried to prepare for for over a year now. How much progress did I make on that preparation, you ask? Well, I leveled my Hunter from about 48 to 55. So yay? I was just 50 levels short of my goal. (It felt like I played a long time to get those 7 levels, too.)

Last week, I used up 5995 of my ~7000 Points Formerly Known As Turbine to buy a level 95 boost for my Dwarf Runekeeper. I arrived in a camp I’ve never seen before with a bunch of new stuff in my inventory, each of which exploded into more stuff. I equipped a whole new set of armor which if I were to be generous looks about as awful as a set of cloth armor can possibly look. Frankly it looks like a set of white thermal underwear.

I quickly discovered that I could not equip the Advanced Riding trait thingy because I had not yet learned regular Riding. My dwarf was level 19 when I started, standing around the area of that horse farm near Bree, and I think the last time I played him years ago I had been looking around there to find a horse. (Actually I think I have a horse, I just can’t ride it.) So I sought to find my way back to that horse farm to learn Riding.

Through clever use of a Mithril Coin and an unfinished quest, I found my way back to Strider in The Prancy Pony. (Otherwise I would have had no clue how to leave the town I was in other than by picking a direction and walking. Getting around without Hunter teleports is a pain!) Then I was back in the same predicament I was in before: I had no idea where to find the Riding trait. So I logged off.

A few days later I logged back in and pulled up the LotRO Store and found the Riding trait I was looking for the easy way. And as it turned out, since I’m technically a free player at this point, I had to buy it. After getting the Riding trait I was finally able to use the Advanced Riding trait and the Combat Riding trait. I warped back to Level 95 Camp.

“Level 95 Camp” as I call it. Oh LotRO. Your primitive screenshot capabilities are so quaint.

There are some big changes in LotRO life between level 50-something and level 95. I have a “war horse” now, which is apparently a special kind of horse that does more than just run fast. You get a whole new hotbar while you’re riding and I have no idea how it works or whether I should even try to learn it.

Thankfully I had gone through the Legendary Weapon trainers at level 50, so I had at least an inkling of a clue what to do with the unidentified Legendary Runestone I ended up with. Instead of getting actual weapons with the 95 boost, you get three random weapon pack thingys which let you select the kind of weapon you want. Of course, not having played RK in ages, I had no clue whatsoever what to pick. I chose a Lightning Rune because I think the skill tree I picked said something about Lightning affinity. I’ve no idea if that was right or not. I’m saving the other 2 weapon box thingys for later when I actually understand whether or not I want a legendary rune bag or a legendary bridle, and what kind I want.

Now I don’t have even the vaguest idea of what to do, where to go, or how to play this 95 RuneKeeper with hotbars filled with unknown abilities. There weren’t even any quests to follow. (It’s even worse than when I got a free high-level Necromancer in EQ2.) I’m thinking my chances of leveling from 95 to 105 on this character before the end of the month are slim to none.

Of course–of course–the Mordor expansion comes with its own level boost. So I should have just waited before getting the 95 boost. Oh well. (I actually contemplated waiting for this exact reason. But in all my reading of all the posts expertly declaring what to expect from the coming Mordor expansion, nobody said to expect a level boost. Way to go, games journalists.)

I asked Twitter for some help on which class to play in LotRO as a solo player (besides Hunter), and it seemed like the two most prominent answers were Runekeeper and Minstrel. I have a Hobbit Minstel in the teen levels I think, so perhaps I’ll use that one for Mordor.

* I have no comment on the pricing uproar. I almost always get the cheap editions of games and expansions, and I have no interest in the High Elf, and no time to play one even if I did.

FFXIV – Stormblood Story Complete

I reached Bard level 70 Sunday afternoon. Yay! But that’s not all that much of an achievement in FFXIV. You can’t do much of anything with the endgame until you finish the Main Scenario Quest. And…

I finished the Main Scenario Quest Monday night!

After reaching level 70, you need to do the Ala Mhigo 4-man dungeon and the Menagerie 8-man trial.

I finished Ala Mhigo with a relatively uneventful PUG Sunday night. Then I tried a PUG for the Menagerie, which immediately follows–this has become a tradition of sorts in FFXIV. A final 4-man dungeon followed immediately by a final 8-man trial. I think both ARR and Heavensward ended this way. In those cases, the final 8-man trial was a pushover. You just showed up, dodged a few AoEs, and won the game. Roll credits.

Wellllllll. The Royal Menagerie is a little different.

The Royal Menagerie actually only has one animal in it. A really big one.

Overall I would rate the dungeons and trials that I’ve done in Stormblood to be relatively straightforward. There were very few surprises for someone who had the experience of all the dungeons up to 60 under their belt. Emanation was the first one that I wished I’d studied up on before entering it, but still, my PUG got through it after just one wipe. (I swear it wasn’t my fault! I hope.) That experience caused me to watch a video before going into Ala Mhigo and Menagerie, just in case.

In the case of Menagerie, watching a video didn’t help much. The level of complexity in this trial rivals that of an Alliance Raid boss.

I think three of us in this Sunday night Menagerie PUG declared that we were new to it. We wiped five times, then the group broke up. That was fine, because Game of Thrones was looming just twenty minutes away by that point. Based on the overall performance of the group, I’d guess that more than three were new to this trial, or at least the rest weren’t very comfortable with it. The group did make progress, and I was 100% sure we were going to clear it on the last attempt (all but one made it through the Quick Time event), but then something catastrophic happened and everyone died with like 20% left on the boss. I don’t even know what happened–I thought we were on a roll.

It reminded me quite a lot of that time I tried to do Titan (Hard) in a PUG. Not very many PUGs were capable of doing Titan (Hard) in those days. PUG after PUG after PUG failed at it.

Anyway, I got home from work Monday night and jumped into another PUG. After the multi-wipe experience I felt like a pro with the mechanics, and this group cleared it on the first try (although I still died once in the second phase). As it turned out, it’s probably just as well that I didn’t finish it Sunday, because there was a good hour of credits and cut scenes following the trial, which would have cut into Game of Thrones.

Surveying the Ala Mhigo battlefield.

Gathering

On another subject, during downtime over the past week, I’ve started looking into my gathering jobs again. I thought I might work on Fishing (currently at a whopping 19) but my brain exploded at all the work involved in finding the right bait and locations to fish, not to mention the intense inventory space demands, so I quickly abandoned that idea. (I know, I know, I’m sure there are step-by-step how-to guides out there, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.) I’m not entirely sure what to do with fish anyway, except cook them, and my Culinarian level is way down at level 7. I almost never eat food in FFXIV, except when I need to make room in my inventory.

So I turned back to Mining and Botany, both of which are still at 51. Sometime during Heavensward, I started putzing around with those jobs, getting them from 50 to 51 with levemetes, but I just didn’t “get” it. There are Collectibles and new abilities and I never understood how to use them or what to do with them, so I ignored them, which made it somewhat of a chore to gain experience.

Recently I skimmed over a Mining guide and it finally sunk in: Gathering is totally different after level 50. It’s been a chore for me because I was ignoring the Collectibles and new abilities. So I spent about a half hour adjusting my hotbars and running around Western Coerthas and experimenting with these new abilities and I ended up with some “collectible” ore. I think.

This is the final Bard gear set. They seem to have forgotten the pants. :)

Then I spent another half hour teleporting all over the world trying to figure out what to do with collectible ore. I thought I had to sell it to someone, or trade it to someone, or something. But nobody at the levemete table in Foundation is interested, and I couldn’t find anyone else who was. And naturally the Mining guide I read is not even a little bit helpful in this regard. I guess it must be sooooo obvious to everyone what to do with collectible ore that they didn’t bother writing it up. The help guides within FFXIV are also maddeningly brief in their explanations of new systems.

I have to admit, though, I’m not seeing as much benefit in leveling gathering and crafting jobs as I once did, way back in ARR. It seems like gathering and crafting is now an entirely self-contained ecosystem that doesn’t intersect with adventuring at all. In the old days you needed to craft to attach materia to get through certain quests (unless you happened to know some crafters). But now there are Materia Melder NPCs around to do it for you. Crafting’s only purpose now seems to be either just for the fun of it, or for making money selling to other crafters. Since I basically never spend gil on anything except teleport fees, I don’t need any more money. I make way more than enough just on plain old ordinary adventuring.

Solving Long DPS Queues

I saw someone somewhere (FC chat maybe?) mention that they wished FFXIV would make their dungeons 5-man instead of 4-man so that DPS queues would go faster. (Belghast also recently lamented over the problems of leveling DPS.)

It’s an interesting idea but I don’t think going to 5-man would significantly help the problem of slow DPS queues. I’m quite sure the ratio of DPS to tanks and healers in any given MMORPG is probably something like 25 to 1, if not 100 to 1. They would have to make dungeons into 10-man affairs with 1 tank, 1 healer, and 8 DPS to have any significant effect on DPS queues right now, in my opinion.

And that would be awesome, but it would only be awesome during peak times on populated servers around expansion launch time. The rest of the time, everyone would be waiting in a queue.

It occurs to me that perhaps they should make dungeon parties variable-sized, based on the server population at any given time of day. Peak time? You need 5+ DPS, 1 tank, 1 healer. Off time? Back to 2 DPS, 1 tank, 1 healer.

Of course then you’d have to make significant changes to the dungeons to make them more dynamic. Though it doesn’t sound like it would be that hard to implement. Simply add a multiplier to the health of each mob or boss based on the number of extra DPS slots. (I would think you’d want to have the difficulty ramp up in an exponential curve as you add more DPS, instead of a linear progression.)

It’s probably not that simple, though. I’m sure there would be other factors to consider as well, like interrupts. It would be silly if you could reel off 10 interrupts on a boss from 10 different people in a row. Maybe increase the interrupt cooldown timer by a multiplier based on the number of DPS as well. Maybe increase all cooldowns on long-term DPS abilities (for example, the Bard ballads).

Here’s another idea: Tank and heal bots! If DPS has waited more than five minutes, give them some AI bots. It’s not like tanking or healing is hard. Zing! Hey-oh! rimshot

(Seriously, they have some healing and tanking AI programmed into MSQ duty instances already. And also in that new thingy where they train new players to play in groups.)

DPS queue problem solved! Send me lots of money. Thanks!

On Side Quests

I didn’t intend to weigh in on @Sypster’s post about side quests, but apparently I did. :) In An Age and GamingSF also had some good responses.

I think the basic argument Syp made is that side quests distract him from the main story, so he would prefer to eliminate them and boost the experience gained from the main story.

I can understand that perspective. I’ve forgotten what’s going on in the main story of MMORPGs plenty of times. (In those cases I might argue that the main story isn’t worth remembering, though.) Syp didn’t mention which games were problematic for him, but I’ve had trouble keeping up with the main story in the later expansions of Rift and of course WoW, in which I never have a single clue what is happening story-wise. ESO used to have a main story issue, at least prior to One Tamriel, when you could only do one piece every 5 levels.

I don’t have a strong opinion about this, to be honest. I don’t have a problem with either option, or even a game with no quests. It depends on the game. I’m pretty sure some games I only consume the main story (FFXIV and SWTOR) and other games I consume the main story plus side quests (WoW and Rift and LotRO). It just depends on my mood at the time, and whether I need the experience points, and how much free time I have at my disposal, and how the game is structured.

I can’t recall any game in which I’ve actively been annoyed to have to do side quests. Sometimes it’s disappointing to have to stop the MSQ in FFXIV to level up before proceeding, but it doesn’t anger me. It’s more like a commercial break. I might even be able to make an argument that it builds some tension, story-wise.

For another perspective, in LotRO, for the longest time, I only played side quests and never did any of the main story. I always found the side quests there plenty interesting and engaging, at least in terms of quest text. (Your actual game task is almost always to go out and kill 10 rats.) It’s only recently that I’ve gone back and tried (fruitlessly) to catch up with the main story. (In the old days, you couldn’t do the epic story without a group.)

If you’re the type of person who feels compelled to complete every quest in sight before moving on, then I could understand why excessive side quests would get old. There was a time when I did that (in Rift or WoW, for example), but FFXIV taught me to minimize the quests I complete in order to hit my leveling goals, and leave the rest alone. These days I have no problem looking at a map full of pending quest icons.

I guess I approach questing differently in different MMORPGs. My main goal in any MMORPG is usually to experience the journey of building up my character from a simple farm hand to an all-powerful slayer of dragons (ie. to level from 1 to the maximum). I don’t necessarily come to an MMORPG to consume a story. (In the old days, there was no story to consume.)

It’s usually the mechanics of an MMORPG that draws me to it more than story or setting. The feel of the combat, the pace of progression, the freshness of the loot drops, the ease of inventory management, the variety of things to do, stuff like that.

 

I suppose in the end I would have to land on the pro-side quest camp because if an MMORPG has nothing but a main story quest path, it’s essentially a single-player RPG where you play it, then put the game away, never to return. There are MMORPGs like that which I’ve enjoyed (SWTOR, Neverwinter), but overall I don’t think that’s healthy for the genre, which needs to build games that you can come back to again and again.

Now that I think about it, in a perfect world, MMORPGs should have multiple main story quests. Or, if you like, multiple lengthy, meaningful side quest chains instead of one-off “kill 10 rats” affairs. To invoke FFXIV again, there is a thing called the Hildebrandt quest which is a long chain of quests that follows the misadventures of a wacky inspector, and has nothing whatsoever to do with anything, as far as I can tell. There should be more of that kind of thing in MMORPGs.

FFXIV – Even More Stormblood In Pictures

Puffy sheep with rat tails!
Wait I thought there weren’t supposed to be any horses in Eorzea? Wait is Eorzea a continent or a planet? I don’t know this game very well apparently. *scratches head, looking puzzled*

Slight diversion to see the Binding Coil raids:

I’ve always wondered who the twins’ parents are. They never talk about them.
Wonder twin powers, activate! (I’m sure I’m not the first to make that joke.)
See you back in the future.

Meanwhile, back in Stormblood:

I wonder if you can get outfits like these.
Probably best to stay out of her way.
Calm before the storm.
U MAD BRO?
Tolkien’s eagles were here the whole time!
Many of the bows in Stormblood appear to be medieval torture devices. This one has a saw blade on it!!

FFXIV – Responding To Criticisms

I see a lot of people on Twitter and at least one person on a certain MassivelyOP podcast mention that they keep trying to play FFXIV but they just can’t get into it. I consider myself a pretty jaded MMORPG player, and I can certainly understand the reasons people don’t like FFXIV. But I thought I would try to document here how I personally overcame the biggest criticisms people have with the game.

I won’t deny some bias, though. I have a healthy “investment” in the game by this point, if you want to call it that. I’ve played since October 2013, since A Realm Reborn 2.0. Not continuously, but in bursts here and there. I cancelled my subscription for a while in 2014 but otherwise I’ve been subscribed the whole time. (I regret that time I wasn’t subbed because I’m behind on my Veteran Rewards. :)

It’s hard to write this because I have to cast my mind back to the early days, when the game was still new. It’s easy to sit here now when I’m comfortable with the game and say, “Well, obviously it’s a great game.” It’s hard to remember what it was in those early days that retained my interest even in the face of its problems. Because I certainly wouldn’t deny that FFXIV has problems. (OH MY GOD THE ENDLESS CONFIRMATION DIALOGS. YES JUST TELEPORT ME!) I can understand and sympathize with most of the reasons people give for not liking the game. Here’s the big ones I see:

That Final Fantasy Vibe

Nothing says Final Fantasy like Moglin, chieftain of the moogles. (And no, I don’t know what a moogle is supposed to be either.)

There are people who are turned off just by the Final Fantasy setting. There’s not much I can say to that. All I can say is that FFXIV is the very first and to date only Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, so it’s all new to me. I guess I’m lucky that way.

It’s hokey, cartoonish, idealistic high fantasy that bears no resemblance to any reality I’ve ever experienced.

But there’s something about it that I find strangely appealing. It’s just so different from reality. Nobody seems to have a care in the world. There’s a child-like innocence that permeates every part of life in Eorzea. I suppose it reminds of the kind of fantasy I read when I was younger but sort of grew out of. In a gaming industry where everyone seems determined to create games that are more and more gritty and graphic and real, it’s unusual and a little refreshing to see a more “family friendly” game like this, and I guess that’s part of what draws me to it.

(But why FFXIV and not WoW, you say? That’s pretty easy: FFXIV has realistically-rendered graphics, which is my preference, and WoW doesn’t. Not to mention FFXIV has numerous gameplay mechanics that are superior to WoW’s.)

But still, despite a veneer of sugary sweetness, there are bad things in this game world. There’s a dark side to Eorzea too–betrayal and rape and torture and cruelty are all there, particularly in Stormblood–it’s just not shoved in your face all the time, and sometimes you have to read between the lines. In fact, because the darker elements of life are so often covered over in FFXIV, it’s all the more shocking when it surfaces.

That Main Scenario Quest

I think this is the first meeting with Thancred if you start in Ul’dah. He looks like a kid!

One of the biggest issues people seem to have with the game is the mandatory Main Scenario Quest (MSQ). You have to do this one major questline to “unlock” 90% of the game.

If you hate following quests in MMORPGs, then, well, I can’t help you much. I also think you’re playing in the wrong genre to begin with. :) Questing has been a major component of MMORPGs since at least 2004, and it’s certainly been a component of RPGs of any kind since time out of mind.

Here’s my take. Before quests, in MMORPGs like UO and AC (I don’t know about EQ), if you wanted to get experience points and gain levels, you had to run out into the wilderness, find some monsters, and stand there killing them over and over again for hours. It was fresh and new at the time, but in hindsight it was repetitious and boring and time-consuming (what we would now call a “massive grind”).

When I first played WoW in 2006, the fact that I could “kill 10 rats,” hand in a quest, and get a ton of experience points for it (way more than the experience of just killing the rats) was a revelation. Quests were awesome! I thought. What a huge time-saver!

I still think of MMORPG quests in those terms. As time-savers. Shortcuts. It’s a bonus that they sometimes happen to have a good story attached to them.

But unfortunately it’s fairly well-documented that the Main Scenario Quest is not very exciting in FFXIV from level 1-50. I don’t remember much about it quite frankly. In some ways it’s a prologue to the events that occur after you reach 50. It’s sort of like reading an epic fantasy series that builds from a slow beginning.

So what kept me going forward? It wasn’t the story, that’s for sure. If I didn’t really care what happened next in the story, what else was there to motivate me to keep playing?

This is where I have to start dredging around in my memory. Here are the first two posts I wrote about FFXIV in October 2013: The creatively-titled FFXIV and Things That Are Different in FFXIV.

Part of it I think is the huge variety of things you can do in the game while you’re leveling. If you get bored with the MSQ (which I did, often), you can instantly switch to any of about 20 other “classes” to play and level those. This is a great feature if you like alts. (At least, if you like alts for the purpose of playing different class styles, which is my preference. If you like alts for the purpose of making different-looking characters, FFXIV isn’t as amenable.)

Not only can you play different combat classes, but you can play gathering and crafting classes. I have long thought that gathering and crafting should be classes unto themselves, as opposed secondary skills, so FFXIV fit perfectly into my MMORPG worldview. They are full-time occupations in FFXIV.

Learning to chop down trees back in the good old days.

This helped me a lot in the early days, because I’ve always liked gathering in MMORPGs. I just enjoy running around clicking on shiny things I guess. FFXIV provides two basic gathering jobs and a more complex fishing job that you can play around with whenever you get bored. And the gathering nodes are shared, so there is no “competition” for resources like some games. That’s a huge plus for me, and back in 2013, shared nodes was still a relatively new concept for MMORPGs.

Not only that, but the gathering is more complex than simply running around clicking on things. You have a skill bar that you need to use wisely to get the best results, and you have to avoid monsters, which all makes it a bit more engaging than most games. I love to learn new things, so the fact that I had to learn how to gather and craft was a huge draw.

The game mechanics themselves are a very nice blend of old MMORPG and new MMORPG. Looking back, I really appreciated the slower pace of the combat. FFXIV chose to buck the trend of MMORPGs getting faster and faster and more action-y, and went back closer to the genre’s roots, and I appreciated that (not least because I’m not getting any younger). It’s a standout feature of the game.

Yet the slower pace of the global cooldown timer (2.5 full seconds to start) doesn’t necessarily mean fights are boring. There are some very complex boss fights that get really crazy and chaotic. (I still remember the exultation of getting through Titan Hard the first time.)

They kept the number of abilities you have to juggle to just about the right number for me. It’s more than the controller-friendly five or six you get with GW2 and ESO, which can get boring, but less than the dozens you get with something like Rift or EQ2, which can get overwhelming. It makes it easier to return to the game after a long absence, and that’s always a big plus. There are MMORPGs that I just can’t bring myself to log back into because of too much complexity: Namely EQ2, and sometimes even Rift. (At least Rift can be helped by macros.) (LotRO used to have this problem too until they simplified it.)

I recall another carrot that FFXIV constantly held out in front of you while leveling from 1-50: You always got some new class ability every other level. Sometimes they were passives, but sometimes they were active, so you had to incorporate a new ability into your rotations, which meant that your class kept evolving and changing over the entire leveling game. I loved that about leveling.

Newer MMORPGs have a tenancy to front-load a lot of your abilities right near the beginning of the game. WildStar and ESO and BDO come to mind here. The way you play your character in WildStar really doesn’t change at all after about level 20. (I never got past 30, but there were certainly no significant new skills to look forward to according to the ability trees.) That meant that levels 20 through 50 would be a repetitive grind of doing the same thing all the time, just against different mobs in different places. Nothing new to learn. ESO is fairly similar. You can upgrade and “morph” your abilities, but they remain basically the same. At least through around level 45.

I guess my point is that FFXIV provides new things to learn on a regular basis during the leveling process, and that’s something I love. (Admittedly, they have nerfed this a little bit in Stormblood–I don’t think you get new abilities at quite the same pace anymore. But then again, leveling seems to go a lot faster now.) Not all games do that. In fact, I dare say most games don’t do that anymore. They want everyone to be at peak badassery from the moment you step into the game, for fear players will instantly leave again. The problem for me is that if you don’t leave, the game has nowhere to go but down. I want my MMORPGs to start slow and build up from there, like RPGs of old, and FFXIV does that.

And here’s something else I just thought of about FFXIV: Even after you get to the endgame and have a set rotation of skills, there are still opportunities to change up the way you play. You might find yourself in a Leveling Duty running a level 20 dungeon, and have to adjust how you play on the fly to the skills you had back at level 20. That’s kind of exciting. I can’t think of any other game that does that. (Many other games scale your abilities to different levels, but I can’t think of any others that actually remove abilities when you go back to lower levels.)

That Stoic Nodding

I don’t know if she actually nodded here, but let’s face it, she probably did.

Yeah, it’s weird. You just have to get used to it. :)

But seriously, I think you can escape out of all the cut scenes now. In the olden days you couldn’t skip certain cut scenes (like the very first one, which was so annoying when trying different races and classes). But now I think you can.

Personally I just find the nodding and other static animations a quirky affectation that gives the game its unique character. And it doesn’t bother me for another reason: I know it allows the developers to create their cut scenes and stories faster, which allows them to deliver their content on a rock solid schedule that is by far the most stable in the business right now. (BDO also seems to be doing well.)

Compare with games like Mass Effect. Their cut scenes are amazing, but they have to do motion capture and that’s expensive and difficult and time-consuming to develop and it still ends up looking fake. Whereas with FFXIV they mainly just script out a series of emote actions and camera angles and they’re done. It’s more than adequate to convey a good sense of the characters and story. If you think about it, ESO and SWTOR both do basically the same thing. All those NPC interactions are just showing you a character model doing pre-programmed emotes while you listen to a voiceover. It was the same with GW2 in the original Personal Story.

I’ve flippantly compared FFXIV cut scenes to puppet shows, but I actually think that’s a valid comparison. You can get just as engrossed in a story acted out by puppets as ones acted out by real people. (Remember Team America: World Police?) Not to mention stories acted out by hand-drawn cartoons. At least I can.

Besides, if you like taking screenshots, there are tons of opportunities to take them during the cut scenes. I’d guess that 90% of my screenshots came from cut scenes.

That Mandatory Grouping

Working out strategy in my first run of Stone Vigil which happened to also be my first all-Miqo’te group.

This is another complaint I see levied at FFXIV fairly often. It’s true, and there’s no getting around it. If you want to see the whole game, particularly after level 20 or so, you have to do a lot of group dungeon and trial instances. (I don’t know the exact number, but I’m sure it’s at least twenty of them before you get to 70.) Otherwise you’ll hit a wall in the Main Scenario Quest and you won’t be able to leave your starting zone.

The only thing I can say is that I don’t much like it either, but the game is good enough that it’s worth dealing with it. They’ve made it as easy as it is possible to make it: The LFG tool is one of the best in the biz. The FFXIV PUG community is one of the friendliest around. There are incentives in the game to not be a jerk in the form of the commendation system. There is a whole mentor system now which I honestly don’t know that much about. There are multitudes of friendly guilds (“free companies” or FCs in FFXIV lingo). And without exception, every single time I’ve typed in “I’m new here” at the start of a dungeon, someone has responded with something like, “No worries.”

That’s not to say you’ll never run into some jerks. They’re always around. The good news is that they tend to stick together in the Party Finder doing their speed runs and loot farming so they’re easy to avoid. If all else fails you can always leave an instance and try again later.

It’s Too Hard To Catch Up

I’ve seen some people express an interest in playing FFXIV, and maybe even say they like the game, but they are frustrated that they are too far behind and can’t catch up.

I can sympathize based on my experience with LotRO. I would love to have the persistence and determination to push through LotRO with my dinky little level 50-something Archer plugging away in Moria, but every time I get in there and contemplate the incredibly slow leveling curve and the massive amount of work it’ll take to catch up, I get frustrated, and give up on it. I’m currently debating which class to buy a level 95 boost for so I’ll at least have a chance to see Mordor. It seems that we as a species are doomed to play only the MMORPGs in which we reach the endgame before the first couple of expansions get released.

So I guess I have to admit that part of why I keep playing FFXIV is that I’m already caught up enough that I can keep playing at a comfortable pace.

I’m not sure what to say to someone who is just starting out. It does seem to be much easier and faster to level now than it used to be. All you have to do is follow the Main Scenario Quest, you don’t even need to touch side quests anymore. There are probably tons of people who would be willing to help anyone starting out. I certainly don’t mind doing lower-level (under 50) content again. In fact, I love doing lower level content because I actually know how to do it and I’m comfortable with it. :) There are significant bonuses to higher-level players for grouping up with new players in dungeons, too. I’ve literally never seen anyone say, “Oh no, these bonus tomestones aren’t worth putting up with a new player!” The exact opposite is usually the response I see: “Hurray!!! A new player!!”

I remember seeing all kinds of “Leveling Guilds” in WoW, who I think catered specifically to people who were leveling or otherwise behind the cutting edge of game content. I don’t know if such things exist in FFXIV, but it seems like there should be.

One other observation I’ve made: There are always people leveling up from the beginning. I constantly see people in the lower level zones with the green leaf over their head (signifying they are relatively new). In fact I see bunches of people at the endgame with the green leaf over their heads, which indicates to me that it probably doesn’t take nearly as long to get to the maximum level as it did for me.

I don’t know if that will help anyone, but those are at least some of the reasons why I’ve persisted in spite of the issues.

FFXIV – Stormblood Snippets

I won’t try to summarize the entire Main Scenario–I’ll just say that I’m completely hooked and invested in the story as of level 66 in the Azim Steppe. The hokiness and stiltedness of the FFXIV-style cut scenes that most people complain about are completely unseen by me. If canned emotes and stoic nods–essentially the 3D equivalent of a puppet show–is what they have to do to deliver quality storytelling at a consistent pace, I’m fine with it.

There is one snippet of the main story I will highlight, though. In basic non-spoilery terms, Stormblood revolves around building a resistance to fight the evil, oppressive Garlean Empire. At one point in Yanxia, Garlean troops enter a small town and conscript some villagers to work for the Empire.

That part of the story really resonated with me because it reminded me a lot of the German occupation of Belgium during World War I, a subject I recently read about. The Germans would ostensibly “hire” Belgian workers and ship them either back to Germany to work in factories or to the front lines to help maintain trenches. There was and is much controversy about whether or not Germany played by the rules of war at the time. In any case the Belgians worked under very poor conditions and a lot of them suffered and died.

In Stormblood, there is a sweeping overarching storyline involving the fate of nations, but of more interest to me are the very personal stories we follow along the way. One of the best character performances came from an anonymous old man among the conscripted villagers who spoke only a few lines, but they were powerful words in the context of the situation. The performance from one of the village youths is also top notch.

Side Quests

I haven’t needed to touch many side quests in the game so far, but I finally encountered a content gate just before heading to the Azim Steppe. The next step in the MSQ required level 65, and I was just a smidge short, so I did a few side quests around Namai.

I normally try to avoid doing side quests in FFXIV, because they are mainly busy work, and they reward a pitiful amount of experience. So little experience, in fact, that I wonder if Square Enix deliberately nerfs them to force people to do dungeons or other group content when players find themselves needing some experience to catch up.

But in this case I was very close to 65 so I didn’t think it would take too long. As it turned out, I stumbled into a side quest chain that was actually a very gratifying story: The plight of a Lupin named Kurobana, trying to fit in and find his place among the villagers of Namai. (Lupins are a new thing in Stormblood–they look like werewolves. I’m not sure if they are a full-blown beast tribe or not.) I ended up following this quest chain to its completion even after I got to 65.

There was one other side quest chain I enjoyed, in the undersea village of Sui-no-Sato. It was technically optional, but since it unlocked both an Aether Current (for flying) and a dungeon, there was a lot of incentive to complete it. That one involved saving a “Ruby Princess” and had all the trappings of a Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. (If Sleeping Beauty wore a really skimpy cheerleader outfit, that is.)

FFXIV – More Stormblood In Pictures

Still too busy playing to write anything. I’ve reached the Azim Steppes and level 65. Here’s some more screenshots. :)

The picturesque part of The Fringes.
Not sure if floating or crucified.
There is a very tall stack of rocks in The Ruby Sea.
UFO sighting in Yanxia.
You can’t go to that zone yet. :)
Gasp! Foreshadowing!
The Azim Steppes, exactly where I am in the story as of Tuesday night, and yet another lalafel photobomb. You just can’t get rid of those creepy Chucky dolls.