Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Jump To It!: FFXIV

Be careful what you wish for. It might just come true.

Only yesterday I observed of FFXIV's Endless Free Trial that "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." I followed that up with a little mild speculation: "Perhaps when Stormblood drops Yoshi P might even loosen the reins a little more."

This morning, when I sat down to flip through my Feedly after breakfast, I came across Aywren's commentary on the changes to the Battle System as trailed in the latest Producer's Letter. Even before I found out what was in it, two things about the Letter struck me as surprising.

Firstly it's the 36th (or, I should say, the XXXVI, in line with Square Enix's unfailing obeisance to the classical tradition). Three dozen producer's letters in five years (I believe the numbering began in 2012) is going some. Secondly, it's not an actual letter. It's not even a post on a forum or a PR handout. It's a freakin' four-hour long video presentation.

Even though I have the whole day to myself there was no chance I was going to watch four hours of power-point slides and projected game footage, narrated in Japanese and live-translated in voice-over, for an expansion for a game in which I only dabble, which I am almost certainly never going to buy. Indeed, I probably wouldn't even have given it another thought had it not been for a bullet point towards the end of Aywren's post: "I’m okay with the level and story jumping potions."

Say, what? "Story jumping potions"? Does that mean what I think it does?

Rather than try to find the relevant five minutes in the four-hour presentation I took Aywren's handy link to Reddit instead. Reddit, like YouTube, is a wonderful place. You can pretty much guarantee that if there's any human activity that's even vaguely legal someone will have videoed themselves doing it and put it up on YouTube, from opening a can of sardines to how to fly a helicopter (and yes, I just thought those two up at random, typed them into YouTube and there they were!).

Reddit is like that but for precis. If anything's been said anywhere at inordinate length someone will have boiled it down to bullet points and stuck it up on Reddit. And so it proved.

The Megathread Aywren linked breaks down into a slew of more specific discussions. I skipped all the ones about changes to classes, pvp and combat. Instead I went to the subreddit that focuses on "Level Boost/Scenario Skip Items".

The thread itself is an interesting read. Reddit gets a lot of stick for being unruly and unpleasant but I have to say that whenever I visit it always seems a far more cultured and educated environment than most in-house game forums. For once, though, I wasn't particularly interested in how people were reacting to the changes: I just wanted to know what the changes were.

As far as I understand it there will be two new options:
  • Skip all Main Storyline Quests
  • Automatically raise one Job to Level 60. 
In order to take advantage of these shortcuts you'll need to buy items from the Mog Station. (I mistakenly thought this was the same as the Cash Shop would be in other MMOs but it's effectively your account page). There will be separate items on sale allowing you to skip either the Original Main Story only or both that and the main scenario from the First Expansion, Heavensward.

At first you will only be able to raise one Job to 60 with a potion but the clear implication is that later on you'll be able to do more. As far as I can tell, all the items affect only the character that uses them, not the whole account.

This has apparently been in the wind since the end of last year but this is firm and final confirmation that it's coming, and soon. There are even prices and they are quite reasonable by the standards of these things: skipping the story will cost $18 for the base game or $25 for the two. The Job potion costs $25. All the items go on sale June 16th which is , I am guessing, the start of Early Access for Stormblood.

All of which is very intriguing. As several commenters in the Reddit thread point out, this could be seen as Square throwing the leveling game under the bus. The strong message is that from now on the real game begins wherever the latest expansion starts. Everything before that is scenery.

I'll save my thoughts on what the increasing willingness of MMO developers to take that road implies for the future and the identity of the genre for another day. Right now I'm more interested in what it implies for me as a very casual, non-subscribing player.

Nothing that I've seen so far relates to the Free Trial and as far as I can tell it won't. The terms of the trial exclude "in-game microtransactions" but in any case it seems highly unlikely Square will sell something that skips the storyline up to level 50 to players who cannot in any event progress past level 35.

That's a shame. I would pay £13.32, the current, pedantic conversion from $18.00, to get the right to ride a chocobo and join a Grand Company without having to set foot in a Duty-Finder dungeon. What's more, there's a better than even chance I'd pay more than once to do it for characters of different races.

What would, of course, be even better would be if Square emulated Blizzard and allowed us to play our sub-expired accounts up to the level of the Free Trial, or if they copied ArenaNet and made the entire base game genuinely Free to Play. They may well do something along those lines as the game ages and the endgame recedes further and further out of reach.

I did briefly muse the possibility of re-subbing my old account, buying the Scenario Skipper and finishing those last fifteen levels. I can't really see the point but it's something to keep in mind if I find myself at a loose MMO end some month. Not before I activate that Legion code I'm sitting on though. Or the unused Heart of Thorns I bought when they were half-price...

Nope. Looks like I'm just going to have to do it the hard way. And really I can't say I'm all that sorry. I trundled through to level 19 yesterday, stopping only when I reached the cavernous entry to Sastasha, the first obligatory dungeon. I'm going to queue for that this afternoon.

Better get it done sooner rather than later. There won't be many queuing come June, I'm guessing. Although, of course, there will be all of us freeloaders. We'll have no choice.

It'll be intriguing to see if a whole "1-35" subculture develops out of this, although since the free trial forbids the use of several major chat options as well as the creation of linkshells or free companies it might be a little difficult to tell.


  1. Yeah, I was at peace with it when I heard about this last year. They put it out on the forums to "get feedback," but I knew that if it came as far as that point, they were probably going to implement it.

    They got a lot of flack from people for locking classes and other things behind the story when Heavensward launched, so this didn't surprised me one bit. Though I wouldn't use it normally, I did consider a level jump potion for the expansion when Red Mage launched as I'd love to use Red Mage through the Stormblood storyline. Alas, Red Mage and Samurai do not have leveling boosts. So, I guess they're out my purchase.

    Anyhow, some people are complaining this means players will get to 60 and have no idea what their job is about. But with Palace of the Dead, we already have those folks. :) So putting this option in is fine with me. If S/E makes some extra money off it, then hopefully that goes back into developing FFXIV to make it better.

    1. The Reddit thread has a lot of comments along the lines of "people who don't want to learn how to play won't learn no matter how they get to 60", which I think is true. In any MMO I've ever played there have been people with high level characters and no clue how to play them. Admittedly they'll get there faster this way but that's hardly going to matter.

    2. I have been in the process of grinding everything up to 50 via Palace of the Dead and I absolutely fit this model. I use like half a dozen buttons while leveling in PotD and then figure out how to play it later :)

  2. Interesting to see them go down this route. I've been observing the tenacity with which they've required players to do everything in order with interest for a while, not least as a point of comparison to SWTOR. As much as that game also like to pride itself in "story story story", Bioware has always been a lot less restrictive in that regard. The only thing that will hold you back in any way is if you don't do the early part of your class story that involves getting a ship, because then... you won't have a ship. And that makes getting around the galaxy a bit of a pain. But other than that, the story is there for you to take or leave. And as much as I love it, I've also got high-level alts that have done very little of it and mostly levelled up through other means.

    I guess Square had to realise that even if they consider the story a big draw of FFXIV, their game has enough other appealing parts that holding people back just because they don't want to do the story leaves a lot of money on the table.

    Also: Holy hell, 36 producer's letters.

    1. The level boost wasn't a surprise - every MMO that's successful enough to have had a couple of expansions does that now. Selling an option to skip the story, though - that did seem weird, especially in a franchise that takes story so incredibly seriously. If only they'd had the sense not to lock so many key progression elements to the Main Scenario quests in the first place they wouldn't have had to make this rather embarrassing U-turn.

      On the other hand, getting people to pay money so they don't have to watch cut-scenes is a kind of genius.


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