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.

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