I figured out what is missing from my daily FFXIV experience: Soloing.
I realized this when I logged into Rift and picked up my Dendrome quest line where I last left off months and months ago. There’s something fundamentally satisfying about toodling around by yourself, chipping away at quests and turning them in. You can stop at any time and fix yourself a drink, or make a sandwich, or whatever. You can get up and go to the store, leaving your character standing right out in the middle of nowhere. Nobody will be waiting for you. There’s no pressure to perform at peak efficiency. You can watch Netflix while you play. You can listen to an audiobook while you play. There’s almost limitless freedom when you’re out soloing.
But when you’re in the progression endgame, almost everything you do (with combat at least) requires you to work with a group, and that means you have to put in at least a modicum of effort to stay focused. There’s also an implied time commitment. When you start an instance, for example, it implies you’re going to finish it, too, and with the higher-end instances, that can be quite a while. Problem-free runs of Crystal Tower in FFXIV take around 40-45 minutes, and that feels like a lifetime. Dungeon runs can be 30-45 minutes, which I’ve talked about before. And if you’re not doing a group activity, you’re usually grinding on something else for the purpose of improving your performance in group activities (eg. increasing your crafting level so you can make better potions, or increasing your faction reputation so you can buy better gear).
So I think that’s why FFXIV is feeling a little claustrophobic to me. I can no longer play on my own terms and expect to make progress. (Except for gathering and crafting I guess.) Don’t get me wrong, I love endgame content and all, but I think it wears on me more than leveling content does. There’s a loss of freedom that takes away some of the fun.
P.S. Holy crap the global cooldown on Rift’s Harbinger class is so much faster than FFXIV.