Monday, September 16, 2013

The River Flows One Way : FFXIV:ARR

For all that I'm thoroughly enjoying playing FFXIV, I'm not at all sure how long it can go on. I've done my best not to read ahead, research or inquire too deeply into what happens at the upper levels, nor to investigate what might constitute the endgame but all the same, information drifts in and impressions build up, creating a vague, foggy picture of the months and years to come, a picture into which neither I nor my characters easily seem to fit.

At the moment we're all playing on our "free" month or our legacy days, extended as a goodwill gesture to compensate for the rocky start. Soon enough, though, everyone playing will have to decide, firstly whether they want to begin paying for the service at all and secondly, if so how much?

Sun comes up, it's another day.

There are two choices. When you look at the matrix it looks like more, but all but one of the variations relate only to how much you pay, not what you get for your money. The two substantive options are
  • Entry - One character per world to a maximum of eight characters across eight worlds.
  • Standard - Eight characters per world to a maximum of forty characters across up to forty worlds.
The naming of these Subscription levels is interesting in itself, suggesting that the normative way in which players are expected to behave, the "standard", will involve multiple characters and potentially a lot of them. Single character play would seem to be the province of the novice or the undecided. No other incentive to upgrade is offered, so presumably if the Entry level player ever graduates to Standard it can only be because they want more than one character on one of their eight permitted servers.

I'm sure this is where he said he'd meet me.

Which is strange, because the mechanics of the game would seem to be more than simply unsupportive of the playing of multiple characters, indeed positively inimical to it. It's not just that a single character can accumulate every single class, adventuring, crafting and gathering all, to the maximum level. Nor is it only that there are mechanisms within the game that make chopping and changing between these classes simple and effective. Nor yet is it even that there are powerful synergies available for multi-classed characters.

No, those are just the very considerable positive re-inforcements that make single character play by far the most attractive and practical option. There's also an equally powerful negative re-inforcement against playing more than one character, namely that significant elements of gameplay are gated behind the Main Storyline and playing through that narrative is extremely time-consuming, even if you don't mind watching the same movie over and over again.

Sixth time's the charm.

I listed some of the obstacles, somewhat inaccurately, here in the "Storyline" entry. As I discovered only last night, getting your Chocobo to fight alongside you is not dependent on the storyline (although having the Chocobo to begin with is) and you can get to and from La Noscea by ferry, which, unlike the Airship, is independent of the narrative. On the other hand, I omitted to mention that only by completing certain stages of the storyline can you add some of the dungeons to your Duty Finder.

Whatever the exact details, the substantive fact is that to have access to a number of important facilities and activities within the game each of your characters must complete various stages of the main plot. It's a very good story, but it takes a long time to play out, there are many, many cut-scenes and many obligatory fights and set-pieces. You might be ready to go through it again a year or two from now, but if you're the kind of player who tends to have half a dozen characters as works-in-progress by the end of the free month (guilty as charged) it's more than just a daunting prospect, it's more like a brick wall.

Tell me about it!

The structure of the game having undermined one of the foundations of my habitual playstyle, what's left to encourage me to continue once my single character reaches the cap in all the classes that interest her?

Completion of the storyline, perhaps, although if as I suspect the tasks required to pursue the narrative eventually spiral out of reach of my ability to complete them then any closure may well have to come via YouTube.

Exploring the world and what it has to offer is a powerful motivator to continue, of course, but eventually I'll have been everywhere, seen everything and have more screenshots than I'll ever need.

Without an army of characters to level up, sooner or later the Endgame will loom, dark and foreboding, filled with all the grim, joyless finality its name portends. I don't really do endgame. Repeated runs through dungeons to get gear with incrementally increased stats in order to make repeated runs through the same dungeons at a harder setting to get incrementally better gear to go on repeated raids to get incrementally better gear to go on harder's the worm eating its own tail forever and much though I dig repetition this is not the repetition I dig.

Two Topaz Carbuncles. Winning ugly.

Prospects for a run in FFXIV to match the uninterrupted twelve months I spent in GW2, for example, seem bleak. I won't be having nine characters at level cap in FFXIV any time soon.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Leveling up multiple classes on one character may not be as much fun as leveling up single classes on multiple characters but it is still fun. A lot of fun, as these things go. And leveling is distinctly on the slow side by modern MMO standards so it's going to take awhile, easily long enough to bridge to the first major update due, I believe, end of November/beginning of December, an update which brings both the first taste of PvP and, more importantly, housing, both of which offer the potential of open-ended content.

That's all in the future but for now there's more than enough to keep me occupied, plenty of new places to discover, sights to see and experiences to savor. And despite all the logic of the above I'll almost certainly go for the Standard Monthly sub with the extra character slots. Being contractually tied to a single character would be claustrophobic and anyway I'm pretty sure in time I'll think of something amusing for a few more characters to do that doesn't involve grinding through the narrative all over again.


  1. Good heavens man, I can't keep up with this postocalypse.

    I love end-game. I can't wait to be chilling out between raids instead of stuck in this Turbo-grind. Unless you're in SNK or an officer the end-Game grind is exaggerated, it's mostly waiting.

    I don't do alts. Ironically I slightly resent the lack of inherent focus to my dude rather than welcome the Death Of Alts. I am defined as much by what I am not.

    1. Heh! The theory of blogging is daily posts, I think. I aspire to that but never achieve it.

      There's a real gulf between single character players (who frequently morph into Main+1 if they stick with a game long enough) and altaholics who can just never get enough. Developers usually try to accommodate both for obvious financial reasons but there's often a clear conflict of interest.

      I can do single character though, if I have to. TSW is another game that punishes altism and I liked that well enough.

  2. I've never played FF14, so I don't know how anything works in that game, but I did play FFXI for a bloody long time so hopefully I can claim to know how stuff went down in that game.

    In FFXI everyone had multiple characters so that they could store all their damn equipment and such. I know at one point I had 5 bloody mules. All min-maxed for cheap inventory space.

    And they each cost me an addition dollar per month I might add. Because the only alternatives were to NOT have the gear, which was unthinkable, or constantly mailing everything to yourself and keeping a backlog of crap in your mailbox, which was unbearable.

    Come to think of it, in the years I played FFXI I don't believe I ever met anyone with a proper alt character.

    1. I played FFXI briefly and I remember being surprised by the pay-per-character thing. I was partly expecting it to return for XIV and I'm very pleased it hasn't. In XIV we get Retainers, though, which are effectively storage mules. Two come as standard and I think you may be able to increase that.

      What's odd about the whole set-up isn't that the game is alt-unfriendly, it's the whole "pay a bit more, have eight characters per server" thing. It's early days yet, though. Maybe it will make more sense in a year or two.

  3. I've wondered about the alt-unfriendly nature of the story since plowing through quests to unlock the first story dungeon. Enjoyable enough the first time and maybe the second, but the sheer amount of clicking in the dialogue system starts to annoy me after a while.

    It's a game I'd love to explore still, but at the moment I know I can't devote much time to it and a subscription is bad value for me because of that. It'll be on the back burner until I can come back to it for a proper go. I'll look forward to reading your continued adventures in the meantime!

    1. Well, we'll see how long I last. Interestingly (to me at least) I came home from work tonight all ready to log into GW2 for the first time in two weeks to see the new Tequatl only to find when I sit down at my PC that I actually want to play FFXIV. Of course there's no reason I shouldn't do both...

  4. This is definitely not a game you can play without a good, supportive guild. The endgame is all built around organized party-play.

    Now, when Housing and the Gold Saucer (mini game arena) come out, maybe there will be more alternative 'endgame' stuff for folks who aren't into the raiding progression stuff. I really hope so, since I like raiding but I'd like for it to not be the only thing to do at cap.

    1. It's not the lack of people to do the endgame content with that will be a problem for me, it's the content itself. The one and only time I ever did repeated instanced dungeon runs was during the LDoN period in EQ, when it was a total novelty and none of us had ever seen anything like it before. Once the novelty wore off, which took about six months, I never felt any desire to repeat the process in another MMO.

      It's actually not the "dungeon" part that puts me off. It's the instanced bit. If the dungeons were open I'd be far more interested.

      As for raiding, not for me, never has been. I much prefer the modern all-welcome zerging of Rifts/Dynamic Events/FATEs.

  5. This doesn't have anything to do with the post itself, but I see that you have screenshots with speech bubbles. Do you use a screen grabber such as fraps to make these? One of the technical limitations that annoys me the most is that I can't make screenshots when a speech bubble is on screen. There are so many I would've liked to save! And it feels so arbitrary as a limitation... who would think of that?

    1. Yes, it's incredibly annoying that the in-game screenshot function won't operate in any kind of cut-scene, quest or several other circumstances when you might very well want to make a record. I just use the free version of FRAPS. Indeed, I use it so much I may very well get the full version.

      One thing that infuriates me is that while the NPCs get speech bubbles, our characters (in normal play) don't. I used that facility all the time in GW2 to get screenshots for the blog with my characters saying things and I still say the same sort of things in FFXIV and imagine how I could use them but they appear only in the chatbox. Very annoying.

    2. Hm, I don't mind that our characters don't get speech bubbles in normal play. It reminds me a bit of the TSW way of doing it. Though it works better in that game (after all, you can see that your character is saying _something_), it still works fine for me. I think I'd rather think of the exact answer myself than get it provided.

    3. I meant I'd like to have speech bubbles for the normal conversations we have with our group,friends, guild or just when we talk out loud in /say.

      In the cut scenes I totally agree it's much better if the player character doesn't speak. I like the way my Lalafel nods or shakes her head or makes gestures - it would be horrible if she started saying things someone else had written!

  6. You get:
    No Dungeons.
    No Mount.
    No Airship.
    No Inn access.
    No Grand Company.
    No Retainer.
    No Dye System.
    No Materia Melding (something like salvage, disenchant/enchant).
    No Companion (as you don't have a mount).
    if you skip main storyline quests. This is only till 30 as I did not level further to see what more I might miss.

    In the end accumulation of all the small and not so small things that rubbed me the wrong way when playing an mmo (linking everything to main quest, 20+ mins of videos, no quest sharing/tracking, unable to gather with your preferred class, no loot from mobs except crafting mats, and some more)and I decided that I will not be playing this regularly.

    I decided that FF XIV will be my new benchmark game. I used to load up AoC when I change the pc I play games with, now I will sub this for a month and go sightseeing.

    1. That's a really useful list although I believe you're wrong about the dye. The main quest does send you to get it but by the time got to that part I'd already found it by myself. I think as long as you have some orange juice you're set. I might run a brand new character out there and test it.

      The content gating is becoming something of an issue in our house. Mrs Bhagpuss is never happy with any mandatory systems or content in any MMO, to the point that she sometimes won't do things she would otherwise do voluntarily simply because she doesn't like being told how to play. I'm far from keen on it myself although it ends not to make me quite as annoyed as it makes her.

      Usually we find enough to do outside of supposedly mandatory content to keep us interested but in FFXIV there's an awful lot that can't easily or comfortably be skipped, as your list demonstrates. This more than anything may be the reason our stay in Eorzea might be shorter than anticipated.


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