Saturday, July 24, 2021

FFXIV: Going against the flow

 According to Massively OP,  FFXIV is getting so popular these days that a producer released a letter to apologize to players for the server loads and difficulty creating new characters.  FFXIV does appear to be insanely popular.  I haven't seen a login cue less than 16 players deep on my server in ages, even in the wee hours of the morning on a weeknight.  However, I am not sure I would say my server is more crowded than normal these last few weeks.  The game has always been hopping since I've played.  That said, the game sure is appearing all over my blogroll.

My character flying around on the first non-chocobo mount I earned.  Even if my current outfit is a big goofy looking (a fantasy fur trader?), I find the game to be quite pretty.

If populations are ramping up, I think it may have something to do with the woes of retail WoW.  We are now on the second poorly received expansion in a row.  According to Metacritic, user ratings are sitting at a fairly abysmal 5 out of 10.   Though to be fair, even that is a step up from the last one.  Regardless, a lot of players seem to getting fed up with retail WoW, and Blizzard in general,* and the perception (real or not) is that a lot of them are switching to FFXIV. 

My main character in another slightly goofy outfit, this time seemingly inspired by the mad hatter.

It's a scenario that makes sense. When a lapsed WoW player looks around for another tab-target combat Diku MMO with strong production values from a publisher they have heard of,  FFXIV is one they are probably going to at least consider.   Even Blizzard may think this is happening.  They recently released a poll asking players whether they plan to play the next FFXIV expansion.  Soon after getting the results, they released a new mount that you get for free with a six month sub.   This mount, the Sapphire Skyblazer, bears more than a passing resemblance to a mount that every player of FFXIV that plays through the main story of the Stormblood expansion gets for free. 

A mount that everyone gets during the main story of Stormblood.  Yes this is an a cool mount, but it's probably not why players are gravitating to FFXIV.

I could get a whole post of of comparing the two games, and there aren't a lot of points in which retail WoW would come out ahead in my mind.  I have been wildly entertained by FFXIV until recently.  Somewhat ironically, even as the hype around FFXIV builds to a fever pitch in anticipation of the next expansion,  I find that the game is finally winding down for me. Part of it is that I am nearly to the end of the main adventuring story line, and the last few steps I have left to to finish it just don't sound like a lot of fun to me.   However, I hit that soft content wall a few months ago, and remained highly engaged for a few months past that.  That's a bit unusual for me.  

Yet another night shot, this time of one of the last big cities you discover in the most recent expansion.  The storyline that runs through it depicts a stark contrast between the wealthy elite of the city and the have-nots living in the shantytown outside it.  

In many MMOs hitting the end of the levelling content is a death knell for my interest, because for whatever insane reason many designers seem have this idea that endgame in a MMO should equal raiding, PvP or "time-to-uninstall."  Not so in FFXIV.  Whether you are leveling or not, there is simply a ton of fun stuff to do in the game.  The developers have put real thought into making activities that are boring and grindy in most MMOs deeper and more engaging (or needlessly complex depending on how you look at it I suppose).  

Crafting and gathering classes are really well thought out in FFXIV.  For example in this screenshot I have switched over to botanist.  It's class that gathers wood and wild plants (e.g., cotton to spin out into cloth).  All of those hotbar buttons are different abilities I can activate while gathering.  I can choose to emphasize quantity or quality, or activate abilities that make it easier to gather items at the edge of my abilities.   There is also an entire chain of botanist quests with a delightful, if somewhat inane, storyline.  FFXIV is also unique among MMOs I have played in that there is a whole gear progression just for gathering.  Many games have one or two items that help (e.g., high level mining picks in LoTRO).  Here I am decked out in a full suit of gear, fully socketed with materia, that does almost nothing but make me better at gathering.  I'll be replacing it all in a few levels, just as I would on a normal adventuring class   

For example, the crafting system.  FFXIV has the most fun gathering and crafting professions of any MMO I've ever played.  The closest comparison among the games I've played would be EQ II.  Like that game there are entire crafting quest lines, one for for each profession in FFXIV, and you have to activate abilities to make items.  However it's also a fair bit deeper in that there are entire gear sets for crafting and gathering, and many more abilities to learn.  When I switch over to the goldsmith class, even at level 41 I have something like a dozen different crafting abilities I can use.  Various abilities increase progress on a finished product, increase quality, restore endurance, or restore small amounts of the "mana" that powers all the abilities.  You often have to balance them carefully to make the best products.   Any decent crafter can make high quality items by starting with high quality materials, and being a skilled gatherer (e.g., a high level miner or botanist) makes obtaining high quality materials easier.  However, an exceptional crafter can make high quality items out of any  materials, even starting with a zero item quality bonus. 

FFXIV has an absurd number of classes, and once you have unlocked one you can switch in and out of it at will using the outfit system (shown).  I have unlocked something like 18 classes, but almost all of them are crafting classes.  As far as classes that fight monsters and go on (non-gathering related) adventures, I have only unlocked four so far including my main class of Black Mage. 

It's really incredibly fun, and I have gotten every crafting and gathering profession in the game to at least level 20 now (and some more than half way to the cap). However, despite how engaging it is, I find myself wondering why I am learning to make all this gear if I have no intention of ever using it.  I could use it to kit out different adventuring professions, and I have done that to a point.  The problem is that lately the repeatable content that you use to advance new combat classes has started to get stale to me.  I have taken the crafting far enough to make completely awesome gear for any class.  Yet I have almost no combat classes high enough level to use the best gear I can make.  For example I can make suits of plate armor for level 30ish characters, and my highest level tank class is 22.  

I recently went to another guild wedding.  It was adorcable, and this time I had duds a little fancier that my adventuring garb to wear.
It's a bizarre quandary that I have never gotten into in any other MMO because I generally make gear to use it first, and for the fun of making it as a distant second. I could in theory make gear just to sell to other players. However, the crafting market is pretty crowded on my server. It would be real work to find a niche I could profit from.  Even if I did find one, I would be reduced to crafting only a few items that sell well. A related issue is that I find the gathering even more fun, and I can gather stuff that's so high level none of my crafters can use it. At least it's fairly straight forward to make a profit on, since it costs me literally nothing to gather.  However, I don't have the patience to gather a lot more than I really strictly need to level my mining, botany and fishing.

I find the fantasy themed visual designs of FFXIV in general really compelling.  My wife collects Asian (mainly Japanese) ball jointed dolls, and the aesthetic is very similar.  She has asked about this game a lot more than others that she has seen me playing when she wanders past my screen.

The last few weeks I have been logging on less and less, and I will probably cancel my sub by the end of the month.  This is not to complain. I've been playing for eight straight months.  That is a great run on any game, and I don' regret the time I've put into FFXIV a bit.  I may even come back for Endwalker.  But for now it's probably time for me to take a break.  

My next post?

I have started dabbling in Star Trek Online, and I may be posting about that soon. It's an interesting game that's not very much like anything else I've played (besides the tween MMO Pirate 101 oddly enough). As a side note, I haven't died.  I've been on hiatus, from even my normal infrequent posting schedule, because real life has been insanely busy for me the last few months.  Six months from now, I'll be in a new house, in a new job, in a new city, so things certainly won't slow down in the near term.    

*I wrote this before recent news broke about what has been going on at Blizzard. I am not going to get into that save to say that I am boycotting their games until I see indications of real changes.  When harassment in a company gets so bad that someone commits suicide over it, and it continues to be tolerated, that is over a line for me.  Work conditions like that should not be legal, much less rewarded financially.