Thursday, December 24, 2020

FFXIV First Impressions

ESO  wound down for me when I was in the high 30s.  The clunky combat eventually killed things for me, as enjoyable as I found the rest of the game to be.  I did find a class, necromancer, that was more fun to my tastes than the one I've ben using as my main so far. I am sure I will want to go back and play one up at some point.  However, for the time being  I have cancelled my sub, and I now only log once a week to hang out with a static group of my relatives.  As an aside,  meeting up in a game to form a party and murder monsters while you chat on Zoom is a heck of a lot more fun as a way to keep up with family than a phone call once a month!

My first character in FFXIV, soon after becoming a full fledged Black Mage and earning a set of class armor.  I already have more that a dozen random pets, but the cat is still my favorite.  The game is quite beautiful, but I have found it hard to get screenshots that really capture how charming it is in motion.

After ESO wound down , I moved on to the next of the "big five" MMOs* that I haven't played, Final Fantasy 14. I love most of the Final Fantasy games, and so in theory it should be right up my alley.  Like many sub based MMOs the up-front cost is pretty low. There's an endless free trial that let's you play to 30, which  I  played for a few days and found absolutely enchanting.  After that you can get the base game and both expansions (roughly seven or eight years of released content) for $60, or $45 if you discount the price for the month of sub time it comes with. Further, when I bought it there also happened to be a black Friday sale going, so I was able to get the all-in-one pack for only $30. It seems like quite bargain compared to other MMOs I've played recently.

*The big five being WoW, GW2, ESO, FFXIV and ....?  Sources seem to disagree about the last inhabitant of that list, though Black Desert gets mentioned a lot.  In any case, I fully intend to move on to Guild Wars 2 whenever FFXIV winds down for me.

The same character, soon after earning his first mount.  A chocobo of course.

So far I am only up to level 54. The core gameplay while leveling consists of an admixture of story heavy solo play and content that can only be cleared in a group.  Forced grouping is normally a huge turn off to me, but FFXIV handles it really well.  Most of main quest series is soloable, but about every five or ten steps you need to run a dungeon or kill a raid boss to continue.  In most MMOs that would bring your progress to a screeching halt. However FFXIV has a really well designed system for organizing PUGs.  You cue up for whatever specific dungeon you need, specifying your role (healer, tank or DPS) and then continue on about your business.  After the game finds three to seven players that want to play the same dungeon as you, a little window pops up asking if you are ready to go.  When you hit the accept button you get whisked off to the instance.  If you cued up for something related to a quest, at the end of the instance the game deposits you wherever you need to be to turn in the quest and continue the story line you were working on.  The entire process is amazingly painless.  

A scene from the Crystal Tower quest series.  This includes three raids that are mandatory to play through the game's main story.  There are some areas you can't even set foot in until you clear it, such as the capitol city of Ishgard.   That absolutely would have been a brick wall for me in most MMOs, but in FFXIV the raids were fairly painless. From queuing up to done, none of them took me more than 30 minutes.  I found watching strategy videos before hand really helpful. The "Updated for 2020" series by Mica (like this one for World of Darkness, by far the hardest of the three raids) were fantastic for this. 

As a DPS most cues take 5-25 minutes to pop. My understanding is that they are nearly instant for tanks and healers.  After that it takes roughly 20-30 minutes for a dungeon or five minutes for a boss fight.  In the 1-49 content everything is quite easy to anyone with MMO experience. As a DPS in low level content all I really needed to do was know how to use my abilities and "not stand in the stupid" (i.e., move out of the giant glowing orange zones that signal where a big attack is about to land). You can also count on your party members at least knowing the basics because to qualify for using the party finder you need to play through a series of solo training quests that teach you your role in a group.    However once you get into the Seventh Astral Era quest series, the difficulty starts to ramp up, and you will start dying a lot if you don't research particular instances before you run them.  Oddly I am finding that I don't mind the research, which is a bit shocking.  Normally a difficulty spike like the one I am playing through now would be a huge red flag for me.  

Crystals like these are found in many areas of the game.  You have to get fairly far in the main story before you find out where they came from.

Part of the reason I don't mind all the mandatory group content in FFXIV has to do with how painless it is to que up for what you want.  However a lot of MMOs have a similar system (e.g., the one is WoW is nearly identical, save that there are no "qualifying exams" to use the system like in FFXIV).  Another big part of it is the basic structure of the game.  You only need to muddle through something once, and then you can return to the relaxing and engaging solo game.  Overall the ratio is probably something like 5 to 30 minutes of group content to every two hours of solo content.  Even if you generally prefer to solo, there isn't enough forced grouping to completely turn you off if you are enjoying the game otherwise.  

  Aethernet crystals form the game's primary quick travel system.  Once you are attuned to one you can teleport to it at will.  It makes travelling all over the map for quests extremely painless.  A huge improvement over the "get your horse/ wyvern  taxi started and go make a sandwich" that we so often see in other games like LoTRO and WoW.  That said, I am still a bit fuzzy on why game designers so often feel the urge to send us across an entire continent for every second quest step in a chain.

I think the lack of friction also comes down to some clever social engineering on the part of the game designers.  Even after doing research, I have to admit I often slightly suck at a given instance the first time I try it (shocking no?). So far everyone I have met in my random PUGs has been extremely chill about me making occasional mistakes. Some part of that is undoubtedly the giant loot bonus they get for having me along. When you clear an instance using the party finder, if it's the first clear for anyone in the party you get massive bonus to your rewards.  For example dungeons that would normally only be worth 15 of the currency you can use to buy gear are worth 75 or 90 if anyone in your party clears it for the first time.  That's worth almost 1/3 of a very nice magic item in my level range.  Far from being disappointed when a "sprout"** like me appears in your random PUGs, you actively hope one will join. 

**Sprouts:  FFXIV helpfully puts a little green sprout next to your name when you first start playing until you hit some threshold of experience that I have yet to clear.  It lets players know that you are new, and a lot of vets go around handing out free stuff to any sprouts they encounter. It also lets players in PUGs know that you are probably the reason they are getting a 5x loot bonus.  Another clever bit of social engineering.  My experience in FFXIV is making me wish more MMOs took that aspect of game design seriously.

 This is the smaller of the two cathedrals in the capitol city of Ishgard, an area that was added to the game with the Heavensword expansion..  It took me nearly a month of playtime to get far enough into the game to see it, and so far I am still only about half way through the main story.   

The community itself also seems to be far above average.  I have met tons of really friendly players.  In fact I have yet to encounter a single asshat.  Though I am dead certain I'll encounter one eventually, FFXIV probably holds my personal record for "number of consecutive interactions with strangers without anyone being a dick."   I even got invited to my first in-game wedding a few nights ago. They are purely social events that you have to make reservations for ahead of time, there is only one chapel per server.  It was surprisingly elaborate and a lot of fun.  It was also fun meeting some of my guildies, that have just been random names in a chat box until now.  So far the community of FFXIV has been incredibly welcoming.    

I attended my first in game wedding wedding recently. Here a bunch of us are seated in the chapel waiting for the ceremony to begin, my character is the one wearing the black wizard outfit.  I had nothing more appropriate to wear because I had only been playing for a week at the time.

My only niggling concern is that there is a high end raiding scene that has a reputation for being exceedingly hardcore and elitist.  They are so serious about measuring their DPS e-peens that they rely heavily on parsing programs that are technically against the game's Terms of Service. That is a giant red flag, and it's entirely possible that the game will fall flat on it's face for me once I finish playing through the main story lines and hit the level cap.  However for the time being I am having a ton of fun.  This feels like something I could play for a long time, at least if there's anything remotely fun for a casual player like me to do when I hit the level cap.

The wedding was fairly elaborate, and a fun diversion.

You may have noticed that this post includes very little about what the game is like to play or game systems.  That's because I haven't gotten far enough to have much of an opinion, save that I like what I see so far.  I'm less that halfway through the main story, maybe 50% of the way to the level cap in terms of playtime, and have yet to attempt any side activities like crafting, fishing or house decoration.  I have also been digging the game so much on the first class I tried that I haven't wanted to put time into anything else so far.  I actually have no idea what it's like to play a melee for example.  I am sure I'll have more to say about the game once I'm further in.

Mainly I have been powering through the game's main story.  But I did pause to take part in the game's Christmas celebration, which I found charming.  It also came with a really goofy mount.  

Finally, as this will almost certainly be my last post for the year, Happy Holidays! May the rest of your year be safe and relaxing, and for the love of all that is good may 2021 be less "interesting" than this year has been :-)

1 comment:

  1. Happy Holidays! I found FFXIV a lot more enjoyable when I opted out of the storyline quest altogether and just wandered around exploring and treating it like an old-school mmorpg. Fishing alone could keep someone occupied for a long time. Sadly, there is always the issue of areas being gated behind story completion. I often think about going back for another run but there's always something more urgent to do somewhere else.