The Joker. Nope. Well, maybe a little. Sometimes I do like to poke fun at things that other people find deadly serious, much to my own detriment on Twitter. Although I am not a “class clown” by any stretch of the imagination.
The Kinesthete. When I was younger, sure, but not now that walking across a room has a relatively high chance of causing injuries.
The Explorer. I can strongly relate to this one, in that I am constantly seeking out new things to learn and study. I don’t ever physically go to new places though. In theory that would be fun but *cough* massive anxiety *cough*.
The Competitor. I don’t seek out competitions anymore, but when I do get involved in a competition, I always try to win and crush the hopes and dreams of all opposition. In a nice way.
The Director. Nope, nope, nope, and more nope.
The Collector. Not really. In the past I flirted with collecting guitars, and I think it would be fun to collect real live swords, but I’m too dern miserly in my old age now. (Although some guitars can be good investments… hmmmm.)
The Artist/Creator. Of course the one with a slash in it and the most awkward to write in a sentence is the one I probably most identify with. When I look back over my life and try to generalize all of the things I’ve had fun doing, I would say that the one thread that connects them all is creating things that weren’t there before. Software development, writing, music, blogging, videos, drawing. It is one of the great ironies of my life that it’s hard to earn a living doing most of these enjoyable things.
The Storyteller. I can also relate to this one. Not only in the form of writing stories, but you can also see this aspect of me most recently in my 58-part YouTube playthrough of Stormblood–Why not watch it today! You might be the first one!–which was very much “play” for me. You can see it in a lot of my blog posts, too, since I usually try to make at least some attempt to entertain, and I try to make my posts a sort of narrative from the top to the bottom. Except for this one of course, which is just a straight infodump.
If I were to rank these play personalities, I would probably do it like this:
* Note that the “featured image” for this post has nothing to do with anything. It is a picture of the latest dungeon gear set I got from FFXIV, right before I scheduled this post.
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!
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
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.)
Too busy playing to write anything. As of now I’m about 3/4 of the way to level 65, plugging away at the Main Scenario Quest in Yanxia. (See YouTube for excruciating detail.) Here are some screenshots.
I officially started the Stormblood Expansion on Monday night, by which I mean that I’ve finally started into the Stormblood Main Scenario Quest.
I’m trying something I’ve never done before: I’m recording my MSQ adventures. I very rarely record MMORPGs, because frankly I find MMORPGs are among the least interesting kinds of games to watch. I constantly wonder why people stream them. (Most of what you see on the screen is just the UI.) The only thing I can figure is that there is so much idle downtime that it leaves the streamer plenty of time to chit-chat with the audience.
But I had this idea that recording would get me more involved in the story. It would force me to go slow and avoid trying to rush through the expansion just to get to level 70 as fast as possible, which might possibly result in getting frustrated and quitting early (see: Heavensward). It would make me read and pay attention to all the quest text and not watch television or something in the background. And as per usual, I’m making my videos entertaining for myself, which generally means rambling aimlessly in ways that would be socially unacceptable in the normal course of life. :)
So look for that on my YouTube channel. If you like seeing people make fools of themselves trying to imitate foreign accents, you might enjoy it.
As for what I think of Stormblood so far? The story doesn’t really start with a bang and frankly the first several hours aren’t all that exciting. It’s not surprising, though, since it’s a logical continuation of where events left off in Heavensward and it’s mostly just getting to know the new zones.
But just when you think things are settling into a long boring routine, bam! An inciting incident! Conflict! Tragedy! Characters that you care about suffer a catastrophic setback!
Once again I’m pleased to see that the story doesn’t necessarily revolve around me the player. My character isn’t driving the plot. She’s just tagging along with the principle characters and lending muscle when it’s appropriate. This is the right way to do overarching MMORPG quests, in my opinion.
So far I’ve been ignoring side quests and exclusively following the MSQ. (Except side quests that unlock something.) I started Stormblood roughly 95% of the way to 61, so it didn’t take long to level up. I figure I’ll be a bit ahead of the curve for a little while. As of this writing I’ve reached level 62, and I think we’re about to head to Doma.
I saw Raubahn’s infamous Cold Steel quest. I don’t know what all you early access folks were complaining about, it worked fine for me on the first try. :)
I like the forested part of The Fringe zone around Castrum Oriens, but I’m less thrilled about the dusty desert areas that seem to dominate the rest of the zone. It’s similar to large swaths of Thanalan, so it doesn’t feel very “new” to me. Also I hate dust. I would hate living in that kind of place. There are lots of opportunities for great screenshots, though.
I was impressed by all of the new types of mobs in the first zones though–almost everything is a brand new kind of monster. There are treants, spiders, one-eyed owl things, giant bee-things, giant chicken-dinosaur-eagle things, and giant red fire-breathing moth things. The usual weird assortment of FFXIV monsters. :) It’s a big improvement over the beginning regions of Heavensward which didn’t seem to have that many new mobs.
I did two FATEs in The Fringe, and I completed both mostly solo (someone joined in at the end of the second one). I got a pretty sizable chunk of experience on the first one and picked up the “Twist of Fate” bonus, so I did the second one and got even more experience. Unlike Heavensward, it was a) possible to complete by myself and b) didn’t feel like a complete waste of time.
In general, I feel like they’ve tuned the difficulty a lot better for this expansion. I remember the beginning of Heavensward being somewhat frustrating, but the beginning of Stormblood seems “just right.” Not easy, but not overly difficult, either. I can kill things without my chocobo DPS companion, but it goes a bit easier when I bring out Peeps to help, which seems like right where it should be.
Thusfar I haven’t found myself getting tired of endless running, like I did in Heavensward. It seems like they are making an effort to confine the early quests to a smaller area before you are able to fly. It might be my imagination, but the first two zones look smaller than the ones in Heavensward, too. (Perhaps it’s too early to judge this–I didn’t start whining about too much running until around level 53 in Heavensward.)
Rhalgr’s Reach is a neat little town, although I have to admit I don’t much care for the theme music. It’s a brass orchestration of what sounds like a church hymn, something you might hear on the Titanic while it’s sinking, and it doesn’t resonate with me in a high fantasy setting. It’s probably just my personal taste. Overall the music in Stormblood so far has been good, if not terrifically noteworthy.
I wrote that paragraph before the “inciting incident” I mentioned earlier. After that incident, the music in Rhalgr’s Reach changes significantly, and I like the newer, more somber music much better.
There actually is a hymn for one of the cut scenes. A choir sings praises to the Empire in a scene that disturbingly smacks of fanatical Nazism. It leaves little room for doubt that the Garlean Empire is bad and we should rejoice in killing them whenever possible. FFXIV is definitely not much into shades of gray or ambiguous enemies.
One other minor change I noticed is that there are often multiple pathways to be taken in the MSQ. You can choose whether to go this way or that way first, which I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. It’s a nice little touch, though I suppose it could also be viewed as more busy work, too. :)
Overall I’m enjoying it. Definitely worth the money.