Things That Are Different In FFXIV

I’ve played quite a few MMOs in my time, including a few that I thought were sort of JRPG-ish in nature (Aion and Tera come to mind), but I have to say, FFXIV in some ways is a brand new world to me.

It is freakishly weird how quiet the general chat is in this game. I can’t recall the last time I played in an MMO where the general chat wasn’t filled with a constant stream of random subhuman noise. Even paid subscription games. One time (only once!) I saw someone trolling general chat by posting something like, "Obamacare is great isn’t it?" In a typical game, that would result in two solid hours of rapid-scrolling yelling back-and-forth in general chat. In FFXIV, it was met only with silence. The only explanation I have is that a lot of FFXIV players are on the PS3, which suggests a significant number of people are playing the game without a keyboard.

Alternatively, it could be because very few people have figured out how to silence the gold spammers. If you don’t take the time to blacklist them, the first thing you see when you log in is your general chat filled with a constant scroll of "blahblah.com best gold value safe effective buy now." It’s been over a month since they re-launched this game, so I’m a bit shocked that they still haven’t put basic spam filters into the chat system. I thought that was the first thing you had to put in an MMO chat system nowadays. Anyway, if you don’t mute the spammers, even if you do type something in chat nobody will ever see it.

Terminology in FFXIV takes some getting used to. In every other MMO I’ve played, you buy things with some combination of platinum, gold, silver, or copper. It’s been like that since D&D invented fantasy money in the 70s. Well, that wasn’t good enough for FFXIV. Here, you buy things with "gil." I have no idea what a gil is, though I presume it’s some kind of coin. (It’s actually kind of nice to have one denomination of coin instead of three.) Measurements are given in "iln" and "malm" or something like that. Factions are called Companies. Guilds are called Free Companies. Instances are called Duties. There’s a party action called a Limit Break, which is the weirdest name for an action I’ve ever heard. I finally figured out that it’s supposed to mean that it’s something for you to "break your party’s normal limitations." (Apparently this is a term with some history in the Final Fantasy franchise.)

There’s something else in FFXIV I’ve never seen before in a recent MMO: You can’t advance the main storyline without going into instanced dungeons. Several times. That means you need to form groups to keep going. I thought this silly idea had died out in MMOs forever. I can’t even remember the last time I saw anything like that. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be group content–there’s always been some places you couldn’t go without a group–but there’s always been alternate paths for solo players. Not in FFXIV. You run into this around level 17, and then you have to decide whether to go on without the main story, or group up for a dungeon. In the past, I would have been like, "Welp, I guess I’m done with this game now." Because good god forming parties with strangers by spamming chat is the worst thing ever. Fortunately FFXIV did ship with a built-in "LFG tool" (called a Duty Finder), and I’ve done a reasonable amount of PUGs before, and after all I chose to play the Archer class in FFXIV specifically so I could get into groups and observe how things are done without too much stress (ranged DPS is by far the easiest role to play in a group), so I jumped into the Duty Finder. An hour later (because there are always 100 DPS players for every 1 tank and 1 healer) I finally got the "Duty" with 3 other players and finished the dungeon so I could go to my next story quest. Thusfar I have had to go through five dungeons this way (one of which was a "trial" — basically just a single boss encounter).

To be fair, you don’t have to do the main storyline quests. In fact, after the first mandatory dungeon Steva-something-or-another, I considered how long it took to queue for the dungeons and said to hell with it. I ran around on my own for a while, doing odd side quests, and "Levemetes" (which are like daily open world quests – I have no idea how that term is derived), and "FATEs" (which are like public quests or dynamic events), and just plain old grinding on mobs like the good old days. It didn’t take long to run out of side quests and my daily allotment of levemetes, and FATEs only pop up occasionally, so that left only grinding. When I got bored with that I did a dungeon to see how much XP I could get from that, and it turned out to be a lot of XP. So since grinding dungeons is apparently the fastest way to level anyway, and I discovered that you get a Choco-whatever bird mount as a main storyline quest reward, I went back into the queues to get the other mandatory dungeons out of the way. (By then, though, I was way over-leveled for the storyline and it’s taking time to get back in sync.)

Another thing that is somewhat weird about FFXIV is that people actually use emotes to communicate. In my MMO experience, people who use emotes are generally on the weird side. The only exception is the /dance emote, which everyone uses while waiting because it’s funny to make your character dance like a stripper. Not so in FFXIV. I don’t know if this is a FF thing or a JRPG thing, but people actually /clap and /cheer and /wave and one guy even /groveled when I ignored his guild invite. It’s almost as if people are gasp role-playing in this role-playing game. After you win a loot rool, you might expect to (occasionally) read "grats" in the chat but instead you see avatars clapping and cheering. It’s very disorienting.

Continuing that same theme, once you get to level 20 and beyond, the general atmosphere of the entire game seems to get a bit more social. People start to gasp recognize you and gasp say hi and gasp invite you into groups and gasp invite you into guilds. (Well, to be fair, everyone gets invited into zerg guilds.) I suppose the number of players really thins out in the 20s. I remember that kind of behavior way, way back in Ultima Online and a little bit in WoW but in almost every game since then, there seemed to be a general understanding that everyone stays anonymous unless you go out of your way to find other people.

(Maybe it’s just me. I tend to stand out in MMO groups as a better-than-average player. Particularly as DPS because I actually gasp don’t pull threat away from the tank. Not to brag about my deafening awesomeness or anything.)

(Pro Tip: If you do happen to get invited into a FATE group or something, there’s no handy UI menu to leave again, like, oh, every other game in the world. You have to type: /pcmd leave or put it into a macro. Talk about old school.)

Crafting in FFXIV is also unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s, like, complicated. In most MMOs, crafting is just a side job for your character. But in FFXIV, gathering and crafting professions are dedicated classes unto themselves–you really have to commit to it. (By the way, it’s called a Discipline of the Land, not Gathering, and it’s called a Discipline of the Hand, not Crafting.) That is, you switch to your Botanist class and go cut down trees and grasses, and you can’t fight monsters or do quests while you’re doing it. (Well, I discovered actually that you can swing at monsters with your axe if you use a controller, but it takes like 5 minutes to kill anything.) (Pro Tip: Using the controller for gathering is the bomb. Not so much for crafting, though.)

After you get all your materials with your gathering class, you switch to your crafting class and start building things. This is where it gets a little interesting. In most MMOs, you craft things by clicking a button that says "craft" and you get some number of points which advances your crafting skill level, which then allows you to craft more advanced items. Well in FFXIV, crafting is more of a mini-game. (A bit similar to EQ2, if I remember right.) The amount of XP you get is based on how you craft the item. If you just hit the crafting button until the item is done (which takes several steps), you get a certain number of points. The first time you make an item, you get a big bonus in XP, but after that the XP is not that great. So at first it looks like you have to craft 50 million items to get anywhere. But the trick, I discovered, is that you have to take some time and hit some other buttons to try and improve the quality of the item, and then you get a lot more XP. I mean, a lot more. I’m not prepared to say it’s an awesome system–I mean, it’s still crafting, which is inherently tedious–but it’s definitely different. And crafting is something that needs some rethinking in MMOs, imo.

FFXIV

So I’ve been sucked into Final Fantasy XIV. It’s all the fault of Gamers With Jobs, just so you know. They generally liked it, and I usually like things that they like, so I had to try it. Especially since it was only $30 for the first month.

They’ve stolen one idea from me. In the MMO that I want to design and write but of course I never will, you could advance in three different areas: PvE, PvP, and crafting. So you don’t have one level, you have three different levels. FFXIV stole this idea and took it a bit farther: You can level up any of a bunch of adventuring, gathering, and/or crafting classes. It basically means you only need to create one character and eventually you will be able to do everything (I think). Once you get to around level 15, you can unlock everything and essentially change classes on the fly, by simply changing your equipped weapon. The possibilities are endless. (There is a significant delay before you can use your abilities after you switch, though, so don’t be thinking you can switch fifty times in the middle of a battle.)

It has most of the other good features of a modern, post-WoW MMO, except for a couple of annoyances. There’s clearly no built-in spam filter on the chat system, and there’s no point-and-click way to ignore gold spammers. You have to open up the social window, go to the Blacklist, click the Add button, and type in the offender’s name. (On another note, this is by far the quietest MMO I’ve ever seen in terms of chat–once you silence the gold sellers it becomes a wasteland–maybe it’s because there are a lot of PS3 players who don’t have keyboards.)

Navigating around the world map is not as easy as, say, GW2, which is kind of a drag. GW2 really spoils you, though. In FFXIV you can teleport directly to these soul stone thingys placed at major hubs, but it’s expensive enough that you can’t just do it willy-nilly, so you end up having to run a lot. I haven’t figured out how to get a mount yet, beyond renting one for a short time.

The first dungeon, Siskesomething-or-another, had almost an hour wait in the queue as an archer–tanks and healers are apparently still non-existent. Fortunately you can queue for it and walk away (for some reason you get a funny-looking blue box icon next to your name that everyone can see). FFXIX groups are only 4 people, and the group I got was nice and drama-free. The tank was playing on a PS3, which was kind of amazing to see–I don’t think I’ve ever played a cross-platform game before. Someone else had really mastered the emotes and clapped every time someone won loot (in that adorably too-cute way that every character emotes in FFXIV). Overall it was an okay experience. Not great, not bad. Just ordinary. I don’t feel any compelling need to repeat the experience and "farm" that dungeon.

It’s a bit refreshing to see an MMO that is not so action-oriented and paced a little slower. MMOs seem to be getting faster and faster with each new iteration. For example, Neverwinter is kind of ridiculous in that regard. Fast MMOs are fun and all, but I usually don’t play MMOs for an adrenaline rush. Mainly I want a game I can play that doesn’t need my full attention.

The writing in this game is a hoot, too. Full-on high fantasy, over-the-top melodrama. Highly amusing.

Red Alert

No, not the game. I don’t know anything about Red Alert the game. I’m talking about Final Fantasy XIV, A Realm Reborn. It’s a relic of the past: A new subscription-based MMO. Although it’s apparently been out since 2010, it’s just that they recently re-released a version that actually works and that people might actually want to play.

Anyroad, it’s cheap so I got it and have been playing it, and it’s actually kind of fun and not terrible and most importantly, not boring. It’s extremely Asian in flavor, though, so you have to get past that vaguely unsettling over-emphasis on cherubic youth. Everyone in the game is either a child, a perfect semi-androgynous beauty, or a hideous monster.

This is the first Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, believe it or not.

Bored with Everything

After I moved into a new house, I instantly became bored with all computer games. I still load up Assassin’s Creed III now and then, but I can only get through a mission or two before getting bored. I also tried to play Europa Universalis IV for a while, but I just can’t get into all the details of a Colonial Europe Simulator. Which is a shame because I think the game map looks very pretty.

Grand Theft Auto V is out … for consoles only. I hear great things about it and I could unpack my PS3 and play it, but I do not have a single HDMI monitor or television in the house right now.

Assassin's Creed III

I started Assassin’s Creed III unsure of what to expect. I had a general feeling that AC3 had not been well-received, but other than that I knew little about it, except that it was a departure from the previous versions.

First thing’s first: The game’s new engine looks beautiful. I mean, drop-dead gorgeous. I’ve always thought Assassin’s Creed was one of the most realistic-looking games out there, even back to the first version, but this new version raises the bar higher than ever.

The game controls seem to have been simplified a bit, which I think is probably a good thing. For example, in previous games, you had to hold the right trigger and the A button to sprint, but now you only have to hold the trigger. That seems like a logical change, since you always wanted to sprint anyway. (Actually I *did* do a lot of jogging, but I don’t really miss it.)

At the same time, it seems like the combat controls are slightly more complicated. Or maybe it’s just that they moved the buttons around a little, so I have to use more brain power.

Synchronize is back on the B button, instead of pressing the right POV stick.

In previous Assassin’s Creed games, you spent most of your time in big cities, first in the Middle East and then Renaissance Italy, running around narrow streets and jumping around stone buildings. Now the game has moved to Boston right before the Revolutionary War, which is a substantially less urban environment. The buildings are spaced much farther apart. There are huge expanses of wild forest. It’s radically different for an Assassin’s Creed game. I don’t mind that it’s different. It’s kind of cool, actually. But I don’t understand why there are big wilderness areas with nothing in them. There’s occasional points of interest to visit, but mostly it’s just a big place to hunt in. And I’m not really clear on why I need to hunt at all.

The story seems disjointed. I was very confused for the first few sequences because it was my understanding that the main character was a Native American Assassin, but you actually start out playing a British super-spy. (I thought of him as Roger Moore’s James Bond in Colonial Times.) Then there’s a big surprise, which I did not see coming at all, and *then* you play the Native American. I was actually kind of disappointed when the character change happened. I liked the super-spy.

It’s a bit weird to play two different characters in one game. Shortly after the change in POV, you — now playing a young Native American — have a vision that you need to seek out Assassin symbols. This vision comes from a "Piece of Eden" that a village elder happens to have. Weirdly, even though your character hasn’t done any assassin training, you have a lot of assassin skills, including climbing and killing, before you even get to your trainer.

Then you find your trainer, and he’s a Magical Negro. I groaned out loud when he opened the door. Assassin’s Creed usually has compelling storytelling, but this was a major clunker.

I don’t know. Something just feels wrong with this installment. We saw Altair and Ezio grow to become master Assassins over time, and their journey made sense, more or less. They started out with limited abilities and grew to have a lot more abilities, growing to embrace the Assassins and their mission. And we as the viewer grew to like them. In this game, we don’t really see our guy embracing the Assassin culture. He just sort of "turns into" one, for no particular reason. His motivations to become an Assassin seem very flimsy or non-existent to me. Also, I can’t say I’ve really grown to like this Conner guy yet.

But I’m still playing. :)

AC Revelations Finished

Finished the main story in Assassin’s Creed Revelations the other day. Other than the horribly inaccurate face models of Ezio and Desmond which made them look like scarred zombies, I thought it was pretty good, as all Assassin’s Creed games are. The endings always give me a chill, when they bring together the past, present, and future. Well — the past, the past, the past, and the present would be more accurate I guess. And this one was really poignant because I guess after four games, the stories of Altair and Ezio are now finally complete.

As a game, I thought Brotherhood was better. Revelations had these weird bombs and parachutes which I found almost entirely useless in actual gameplay. Except at the very end when you were *required* to use a parachute quite a lot. I dunno, that just seemed a little *too* anachronistic to me. And what happened to the horses??

Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot

I was getting a bit tired of Assassin’s Creed Revelations, so I took a short break and finally played Tomb Raider, which I had gotten in a Steam sale. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best games of 2013.

For the record, I’ve never been a fan of the Tomb Raider games. Originally, they were largely nothing more than jumping puzzles, but honestly I haven’t played any of the hundreds of TR games since the original few, so I’m not sure what they’ve evolved into. All I know is that 2013 Tomb Raider bears no resemblance to the Tomb Raiders I remember.

The new Tomb Raider plays almost exactly like Uncharted, which is not surprising since Uncharted was clearly a derivative of earlier versions of Tomb Raider. (Both of which are descended in some way from the Indiana Jones franchise.)

There are basically three elements to the game: The evolving story, solving jumping and logic puzzles, and shooting bad guys. Oh, and some exploration to find hidden things if you want, but that’s optional. There aren’t really any "tombs" involved, per se, unless you do some optional side quests.

The game delivers on those main three elements almost perfectly. The story was great, the puzzles were great, and the shooting was great. The puzzles were not exactly difficult, but I expect that is by design. Unlike Bioshock Infinite, when I was always anxious to get past the "game part" to get back to the "story part," I almost never felt like the gameplay was a chore. (With one exception noted below.)

There was only one part of the game that annoyed me, which I have to get off my chest. Toward the end, when the pace of the story was picking up, and everything was clearly driving toward the final confrontation at an accelerating pace, you come into this room where you had to figure out how to work a combination of levers and jump on things to get through a hole in the wall. Up to this point, most of the puzzles had been fairly straightforward. I struggled a bit until Lara herself gave me a hint (she does that now and then), then I smacked myself in the head and moved the big thingy down into the right position so I could jump through the hole up there … except I couldn’t jump that far. Then I realized you had to get the big thingy swinging, jump onto it, then jump over to the wall, scramble up and through the hole. I knew in my head exactly how it should go. But getting Lara to actually do those steps took many, many tries. You have to time the jumps just right, execute the scrambles just right, and grab the ledges just right. It drives me absolutely crazy when a game forces you to executes moves just right before you can proceed. I am not 12 years old anymore. I do not have nearly enough patience to sit and do the same tasks over and over and over again until I get it right. (Honestly I don’t think I liked it much when I was 12, either.) And all the while, in the unfolding story, Lara is supposed to be getting into this place to stop something from happening before it’s too late. And she’s stuck in this stupid room, running and jumping and climbing over and over again. "Hold on, evil bad guy, just wait, let me get through this door, just a minute, almost there, almost got it." Arg! I get why they would save the harder puzzles for the end, but it killed the pace of the story.

Other than that, the game was awesome. It’s a pretty brutal story though. It’s not a light-hearted adventure romp like you might expect from a Tomb Raider game. It’s more of a survival horror type of game to be honest. There’s blood and guts and corpses everywhere.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Finished

Finished Brotherhood. Cool game – shorter than Assassin’s Creed II but I think more polished. (By the way, when I say I “finished” I mean I finished the story; I’m nowhere near 100% completion, because I’m not a completionist gamer. I think it was somewhere around 40% actually.)

Another cliffhanger ending. Can’t really say anything without spoiling it, but I was a little bit suspicious of that person anyway.

Started Revelations. First thing I noticed is that Desmond’s and Ezio’s faces look completely different! Not just aged, but totally different people. It’s really jarring, especially since the voices are the same. It’s like different actors playing the same part, but they got voiceovers from the original actors.

OH! And for some reason, they changed the controller buttons! Holding Y is no longer eagle sense or synchronize – now it just throws whatever your ranged weapon is. You have to use the left stick button for eagle sense, and those stick buttons are like the worst buttons imaginable.