Monday, 22 May 2017

I Remember When It Was All Fields Around Here: FFXIV

When I began typing yesterday's post I fully believed I was going to be writing about FFXIV. Turned out I was wrong about that. What with having to make it all up out of whole cloth it took a lot longer than I expected, which is why, when it was done, I just slapped in most of the pictures I'd been going to use and called it a wrap.

That meant I had to take a whole new bunch of shots for the actual post I'm writing now. It was no hardship: I was glad to log in again. Eorzea is endlessly photogenic and for the moment FFXIV seems to have pushed out the competition (LotRO, EQ2, Twin Saga) to become my late-evening goof-off game of choice.

It's curious and educative to see how the game and my reaction to it has changed over the seven years it's been around. Yes, it really has been seven years, if you allow that FFXIV and FFXIV:ARR are the same MMO, which is how I see it.

I counted myself lucky when I got into the closed beta of the original version back in 2010 although my feelings changed quite quickly once I began to see what was hidden behind the curtain. There was a strict NDA at the time so, even had I been blogging, which I wasn't, I wouldn't have been able to reveal either the appalling condition the game was in or the complete state of denial that appeared to exist within the development team.

The world found out soon enough. I declined to buy FFXIV at launch but I played a fair amount during the months Square Enix operated the game as a de facto Buy-to-Play, when they were too embarrassed to ask anyone to pay a monthly subscription.

I'm finding the clothing a lot weirder as a catgirl than I did as a Lala. Yellow minidress with green clogs? Is it 1972?

The original FFXIV ran for more than two years with the cracks papered over. A subscription fee was eventually required, at which point I said my goodbyes and left.

Despite its many, many flaws, there was always something about FFXIV that I liked. There's something about the look and feel of the world, the freshness, the clarity of the air. I've never played another video game that felt so much like being outdoors.

I was very happy to give the game another chance when the reboot arrived in 2013. By then this blog was well-established and I documented both my beta impressions and my post-launch journey quite extensively. Although I was clearly having a great time in some ways, it became apparent quite quickly that the love affair was destined not to last.

There were several reasons I fell out of love with FFXIV but chief among them was the overbearing paternalism. I rarely felt like a free agent let alone a responsible adult. The NPCs ordered my character about and the game mechanics ordered me about. Mrs Bhagpuss felt the heavy hand of authority on her shoulder even more keenly than I. When our thirty days were up and it came time to subscribe we mutually agreed to decline.

Since then I've revisited my old characters for the occasional free weekend but there's not much you can do in Eorzea on a forty-eight hour pass. What's more, as I read numerous accounts of the game's extended leveling process and endgame, I began to lose any nostalgic affection I still felt.

Environments and lighting remain a joy although I have severe reservations about some of the textures.

Rather than finding a neutral space there was a period when I felt actively hostile to the game. For a year or two there were few MMOs whose mere mention could irritate me as much - or at all. The only one that comes to mind is the inexcusable Tera.

I do still believe that, in certain ways, FFXIV represents precisely those things I least appreciate about MMOs: paternalism, exclusivity, elitism, a quasi-protestant work ethic. Concepts with which, by dint of its relative success, it risks re-infecting the rest of the genre at a time when I had thought resistance had been established.

Most of those problems, thankfully, are exemplified by and largely confined to the endgame. As the game ages, as it closes in on its second expansion and a further increase in the level cap, some of the worst of the obstructive, tedious repetition has been removed or at least reduced at the lower levels.

It's quite hard to remember which mechanics featured in which iteration but I'm reasonably certain that leveling is now faster and less painful. There's increased XP for Main Story quests and alternate classes get a substantial XP bonus relative to the level of the highest level your character holds, although I'm not quite clear whether that holds true for every class you take after the first or just for the Secondary and Tertiary options.

Probably the best gear swap utility I have used.
Without having played all that much my Archer is now level 17 with Conjurer at 11. (I only took Conjurer for the heal and because the Conjurer's Guild happened to be in Gridania). It's been entirely painless, I've felt no need to grind mobs or FATES, take side-quests I didn't want to do or travel to other areas just to find something to give me xp.

By and large I've been able to follow my whims, wander around, explore and have fun. So far, although I've amassed a fair amount of cash, I haven't needed to spend a single Gil. Quests provide more than enough gear and there seems to be nothing I need beyond what I'm given.

The underlying mechanics of maintaining a character appear to have undergone an overhaul. Again I have difficulty remembering exactly how it used to be but I seem to recall having the usual inventory issues and problems with swapping gear between classes.

That hasn't happened this time, not yet. I have a great deal of unused bag space and the UI option to store, update and retrieve different sets of gear for each Job is exemplary. The map also seems a lot clearer and easier to follow.

It's always disconcerting when an NPC comes charging into your story instance to "help".
I thought this was another player intent on KSing me at first.
Also things seem to die a lot faster than I remember. The combat itself remains the same - pedantic, mannered, formal - but it seems a good deal less tedious. Maybe that's just because I'm playing an Archer rather than an Arcanist.

I guess I'll find out when I get to Limsa Lominsa, where the Arcanists hang out. In order to do that, though, I have to use an Airship and you can't get past customs control without you complete the Main Questline to a certain point.

That's something that hasn't changed and it should. I'm enjoying FFXIV again with the new-found freedom of the endless free trial but one thing I could very much do without is the storyline. I didn't find it particularly engaging the first time around and it very definitely does not improve with repetition.

The class quests that come every five levels are equally inane but they have the merit of being short, or they do if you click through all the conversations without reading them. First time round I read every word and watched every cut-scene as is my usual practice; this time I feel I've paid my dues.

Overly dramatic cut scene for a simple skill acquisition, I'd say.
Free of any sense of obligation to follow the plot or take anything in any way seriously I find myself enjoying FFXIV all over again. If I could just opt out of the Main Story questline entirely and have the few significant rewards (Airship access, Chocobo) auto-granted at level I'd say this would be the perfect version.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of my slight return is the degree to which I find myself involved with and interested in gear and class progression. It was an aspect of the game I barely noticed last time around, when most of my attention was taken up either with exploration and discovery or fighting the systems.

With a UI that works with rather than against me and having already seen and photographed just about everything I run into, I'm starting to wonder if the Class/Job system might not have some small capacity for entertainment in and of itself. I don't often write about gear/skill progression and as an Explorer Prime it might be assumed I'm either agin it or totally uninterested whereas in fact I do like a good gear and skill ladder.

I'd like to hear the logic of the dev who decided an eyepatch would be a good idea for armor for the head slot. Isn't an eyepatch what you end up wearing because you didn't put your helmet on?


To clarify, I like both as part of a well-structured leveling process. I just hate with a passion that endgame conceit whereby developers set you to occupy your time in repeatedly grinding the same instanced content for weeks and months to increase incrementally the stats on the armor you're already wearing, so as to keep you subscribed, or at least playing, until the next paid-for expansion can be cobbled together.

With a level cap of 35 in a game soon to cap at twice that I dare say endgame grind is something that needn't concern me. Perhaps when Stormblood drops Yoshi P might even loosen the reins a little more. I hope so, although by then I'll probably be playing something else anyway.

If I do wander away, I imagine I'll come back eventually. I always have so far, much though I thought for a while I never would. There's just something about that Eorzean air...

7 comments:

  1. I went back through your FFXIV posts and don't see anything about crafting. The "Disciplines of the Hand" have their own gear and quests and whatnot. It's even got a bit of the EQ2/Vanguard mini-game business. Did you...?

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    1. This is a really good point. I have never done any crafting in FFXIV, not in any of its incarnations, except for a tiny bit in the beta of the original game, when it was a very unattractive proposition indeed. I'm not really sure why - I usually enjoy crafting in most MMOs.

      I was thinking about going to the Botanist Guild when I was playing yesterday. With no time pressure on me and no need to focus on the story I think this might be the time to look further into the Disciplines of the Hand. Any recommendations on where to begin?

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    2. Actually, no. It's been so long that I honestly don't remember. I was fishing in the clouds at one point - never made it much further than that.

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  2. I haven't needed to spend a single Gil. Quests provide more than enough gear and there seems to be nothing I need beyond what I'm given.

    I don't know, to me your cat girl looks like she could do with some trousers and maybe a shirt... XD

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    1. Lol! I don't remember if you've played FFXIV but there's an infamous few levels where the game wants you to run around in what appears to be armored underwear. It passes so quickly, especially these days, that it's not really worth trying to get something else to wear. I haven't yet looked into the "Glamor" system that lets you change the look of gear but I think that's only for higher levels anyway...

      I'm happy to say that at level 19 she now has some much more appropriate armor to wear. The game gave me upgrades so fast she changed her entire appearance three times in less than an hour. For a brief moment she was wadded up in woolens from head to toe like a laplander but I forgot to take any pictures of that.

      I might have to do a whole piece on the insanity of armor and clothing in FFXIV.

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    2. https://nomadicgamer.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/screenshot-2015-01-31-09-54-31.png

      This was end-game armor when 50 was the cap. 2nd best caster set in the game. Sucked so bad I turned the hat visible so I could better embrace the suck.

      Now I have a couple of looks I like and just glamour everything to those looks.

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    3. I tidied up the multiple comments. Sorry for the problems you had getting one to land. I thought that had fixed itself but apparently not.

      That's some outfit. It's like Alice in Wonderland on acid!

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