Monday, 29 May 2017

Easy To Be Comfortable : FFXIV

My second run at FFXIV:ARR is turning out to be quite a change from the experience Mrs Bhagpuss and I had when we played at launch. This time around the pacing feels very different but there's more to it than just that.

I'm playing alone rather than in a duo and the world around me, while still busy enough to feel alive, is no longer a feeding frenzy of fresh players, desperate to level. With no leveling bubble around me and no partner alongside I find myself without much to benchmark myself against. As I drift along, from my solitary perspective the overriding impression is one of an MMO that's become much more forgiving, much less intense and a lot more fun.

I'd go further. The whole experience feels almost orders of magnitude more relaxed and relaxing. Where most of my older memories of FFXIV:ARR involve tension, frustration and hard work, this time it seems almost...easy.

It's not just that I no longer feel strapped to the engine of a speeding train as it careers from one meaningless cut-scene to the next (although feeling free to click through without watching, listening or reading is extraordinarily liberating). It's that everything, every part of the process, seems to happen faster, more fluidly, without abrasion.

Just give me the pass and shut up for pity's sake!

It was while I was working my way through Copperbell Mines last night that the penny finally dropped: it's surely true that the game has changed but perhaps not so much as the way I'm choosing to play it.

As an explorer I'm a malcontent. I will not complete one set of appropriate content before moving on to the next. I don't "finish" maps or zones. I don't do every quest in a hub before taking the final breadcrumb trail to do it all over again in the next village.

Instead I tend to push forward, outward, onward, grabbing tasks I'll never finish until my journal won't hold any more. I have absolutely no compunction about leaving things undone. I really don't care at all about tying up loose ends, ticking boxes or finishing lists.

This means that almost inevitably, when I play a new MMO, I find myself dealing with content at or over my level almost from the very start. It's only when I run up against creatures I literally cannot kill at all or run out of NPCs willing to talk to me that I pull back and re-calibrate.

I also love not knowing what I'm doing. I'm never happier in an MMO than when I don't understand the systems, don't know where to go, don't know what I'm supposed to do next. I like it best of all when I don't even know what it is that I need to know. The sense of being a stranger in a strange land is exhilarating. To a great degree it's what I play for.

"The Slasher of Fisherman's Bottom"? Wait, don't tell me. I don't think I want to know.

All of which means that my experience of most MMOs at the lower levels is that they are harder than the developers probably meant for them to be. It makes even the most by-the-numbers content shine - for a while.

In the case of FFXIV at launch, however, the developers were very clear that the game was supposed to be experienced in a particular way. It was never amenable to the approach I wanted to take and I rubbed myself raw chafing at the constraints it tried to impose.

This time round everything is different. The bonds have been loosened, yes, but perhaps more importantly I've already seen just about everything the game has to show me, at least below the mid-thirties ceiling of the endless trial. Now, every time I travel, instead of the jangling buzz, the shock of the new, I feel a comforting tingle: the familiarity of the known.

Without the desire, the need, to see what's over every next hill I find myself staying much longer wherever it is I happen to have found myself. As a consequence my levels rise and my gear improves and everything feels easier.

Some of this may be the result of changes to the game; maybe the quest rewards have been upgraded along with the xp. Maybe abilities have been buffed or monsters nerfed. Most of it, though, I think, is me.

You can take good screenshots in a dungeon or you can do your job. Or you can try and do both and end up doing neither.

It's an indicator of how much things have changed that I've been using the Duty Finder to run dungeons even when the storyline hasn't forced me into it. Granted I've only done a handful so far and the novelty may soon wear off, but several nights in a row I have chosen to use my hour or so of FFXIV time to queue for the Duty Roulette.

I'm doing the dungeons because they feel like fun. They feel like fun because they are easy. They're easy because I'm doing them over level and with people who know them intimately. And because I'm playing an Archer.

Back at launch, playing an Arcanist, I began by queuing as DPS. It's not a choice. Your role is  hard-coded into the Duty Finder according to your class. I still healed a lot. I remember more than once, when the healer died, the two DPS, both Arcanists, traded heals on the tank to keep things going. Once we finished without a main healer after the real healer quit.

I was healing anyway so as soon as I was able I turned Scholar and queued as a Healer for real. If you'd ask me my preferred class archetype in MMOs I'd always say Healer. I love healing but it's often stressful. Main healing  pick-up groups through dungeons you've never seen before can sometimes be exciting, sometimes satisfying; I don't believe it can ever be relaxing.

Bow for hire. Will work for hats.

Playing ranged DPS, following a competent tank with a competent healer, while over-level for the dungeon you're doing, is not stressful even when you've never met nor even spoken to anyone in the party. My one concern going into the first dungeon was not to get anyone else killed.

Finding that to be an exceptionally unlikely outcome I upgraded my ambitions to not getting myself killed. Managing that, I concentrated on providing useful assistance in getting the job done. So far it seems to be working. I haven't died, every run has succeeded, no-one has complained. I even got two commendations, presumably for the things I didn't do wrong rather than anything I did right.

In the same way that boss battles like Tequatl in GW2, which started out as miserable, stressful failures I wanted to avoid, only to turn in time into relaxing, fun entertainment I actively seek out, so it seems FFXIV dungeons can be enjoyable after all. Provided, in both cases, that they have been trivialized by time and experience: mine, other players, the developers'.

With the recent launch of EverQuest's Agnarr server I've been thinking back to the white-heat of my dungeon days, particularly Lost Dungeons of Norrath. There was a time when I came home from work and ran back-to-back dungeons night after night until bedtime. Seems a long time ago. Perhaps there was something to it after all. I'd forgotten.

I wonder what's on those islands...

It isn't just the dungeons, though. Everything in Eorzea is easier now and so much the better for it. I get where I'm going faster and less gets in my way. If I need to kill things they die sooner and I don't die at all. I have more bag space than I can imagine using and I seem to have no real needs that the game doesn't provide for automatically.

Once again, I think this is as much me as it is the game. I don't have to speak to every NPC, start (even if I never finish) every quest, stash every item in case it sells. The F2P  version of FFXIV has somehow morphed into a laissez-faire, freewheeling, slacker's paradise and that suits me just fine.

Whether the Primals are up to speed with the new program I guess I'll find out when I renew my acquaintance with them soon. I joined the Scions of the Seventh Dawn last night and Minfilia wasted no time (Joking! She wasted all the time!) giving me my orders to put Ifrit back in his box.

I loathed every Primal battle with a passion first time round. I'm hoping this time they turn out to be pale shadows of their former selves. That's assuming I can even get a group to do them these days.

Whatever happens, I feel I've learned an important lesson. It's not going to stop me taking the same breakneck, see everything, do everything approach to each new MMO but with luck it might lead to some better, or at least more relaxed and fun experiences when I return to graze in old pastures.

On the back of this epiphany I'm looking forward to Secret World: Legends a little more than I was. I wonder what else might look better second time around?

2 comments:

  1. Glad you're enjoying your run with FFXIV this time around. Pretty much all the dungeons and Primals are pretty easy now days -- things don't start ramping up until you're doing content much closer to level 50. Even then, they aren't anywhere near what they used to be due to overleveling. With Stormblood, it's just going to get easier.

    They did increase the amount of experience the MQS gives to help speed people up in leveling for Heavensward, so that's some of what you're feeling, too. Hope you continue to enjoy your time!

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    1. If I read back over the many posts I wrote about FFXIV the first time round it's evident I was enjoying myself a lot at first. It's curious - I'm convinced that had I played WoW at launch I'd have played it for years like everyone else did, rather than the six months I lasted when I eventually got round to playing it when it was already five years old. On the other hand I'm certain that, had I left FFXIV until now to try it I'd have stuck around longer than just the one month I managed at launch.

      How do you know when to jump on the train, that's the question...

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