Bonus Turn – Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

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So, about a year and a half ago, I reviewed Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. I was trying it after coming off of two other MMOs that I had been reasonably impressed with, because it was on sale and because I knew other people who played it and found enjoyment in it. I came away from FFXIV also being reasonably impressed with it, though, at the time, less so than I had been with other games. In all fairness, I attributed part of this to MMO burnout, but even then I had pretty much made the decision that FFXIV was a game I was going to put a couple months into, maybe level a character up to the maximum level, finish the main plot, and then leave it in favor of something a bit more single-player.

Eighteen months later, I’m still playing it.

I’ve wanted to go back and revise my opinion of the game, but I also don’t know that I would be completely justified in doing that. The game does start out slow, and I still feel like my initial complaints were valid based on the game that I played at the time. What I am justified in doing is reviewing Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward, which can refer both to the first major expansion of the game since its relaunch and also to the complete game as it stands right now.

But then, rather than talk about the game myself, I figured I’d ask some of the other people who have been playing it just as long or longer than I have. I polled the members of my Free Company (FFXIV‘s version of a guild) and asked them what they thought the game’s most defining and most attractive features were. The answers say a lot about the kind of game that the development team has committed to creating and maintaining ever since the disastrous first version was ended and remade.

On Game Mechanics

Amy: The combat and fight mechanics. It’s genuinely fun and feels very Final Fantasy. Or rather, Classic Final Fantasy.

Sparrow: My head faces my target and this makes me happy.

Robyn: The armory system and the fact that you can play as anything you want on one character. It’s one of the only games aside from its predecessor, FFXI, that allows you to play any class you want to play without having to make another character. That’s a ton of investment on one person and I feel like that enriches the experience you get from playing the game, because it feels like a big journey with that one character you’ve made.

When I reviewed the game before, I lamented that I didn’t think the mechanics were quite as good as other games. In particular, I didn’t think that systems like the FATE world events were implemented as well as similar things were in, say, Guild Wars 2. Plus, I’d always felt that movement and dodging were slower-paced and a bit more clunky than they are in other games.

For the most part, I was wrong. The purpose of how the FATE system was implemented didn’t really hit me until later on in the game. See, in GW2, map events can be joined automatically just by being in the right area, and since you, the player, are always scaled to the level of the map, it doesn’t really matter so much. In FFXIV, you have to actually elect to join a FATE that you outlevel, which is possible because your character level is not automatically scaled to that of the map. Sure, it makes you have to make one extra mouse click to join a FATE, but it also lets you not join it if you don’t want to. This is important, especially when you are just passing through an area and don’t really want the chance that a map boss is going to pop in and slightly murder you.

Also, I was half wrong about the movement as well. Apparently, movement only felt clunky to me because of network latency. This is a different problem than the movement itself not being implemented very well. It just means it’s a problem that affects people unequally and inconsistently, and it’s one that has improved over time for most people playing the game.

Anyway, the point is, the mechanics work for the game itself. Games with faster-paced combat generally fall into chaos in higher level endgame content, but FFXIV is just slow enough to be strategic, while fast enough to be challenging.

Would it hurt to give me a damn dodge roll, though?

Titan

Because seriously, screw this guy.

On Game Activities and Content

Tom: Its broad offering of activities that differ from the tired-as-death trends established by popular Western MMOs. Expansive housing, the crafting/gathering, everything in the gold saucer, to name a few. Specifically on the topic of PvE, FFXIV does more to keep (most of) its previous content relevant than any other MMO I’ve seen. The only exceptions are the Crystal Tower raids which would require a large number of people to match for, so it makes sense that they’re not encouraging people to keep returning to those. Yet. They’re really good about not compromising the context/content of their lore and the gameworld.

Tilly: Also, I like the detail they put into the game.  I like wandering around and reading quest text and item descriptions and finding things. The sightseeing log was a cool idea.

Greg: It’s a game that feels like it has sooo much to do…I mean there is a ton of stuff I haven’t actually done in the game.

Becca: I like that it is constantly updated, and the support is pretty decent, for once. This is novel, as most mmorpgs are NOT.

This is something that has honestly surprised me about the game. Usually in an MMO, the endgame content gets old after awhile. In this game, not only is there a lot of stuff that is added once you hit your maximum level and finish the plot, but what is added is varied. I don’t think that’s even what the game does differently, though. In my experience, the really interesting thing is how the game encourages higher level players to run old content in ways that keep it relevant and interesting.

This is something that one can’t truly appreciate until one has reached the endgame. Where in other games, a player is usually required to run a certain set of high level dungeons over and over again to obtain gear or tokens to purchase gear, there is also the option in FFXIV to run a roulette of low-level dungeons as well to obtain rewards. Sure, this doesn’t completely replace the high level dungeon gear grind, but it augments it and breaks up the same-old same-old. In addition to that, there are quests that require items that are dropped randomly from any number of dungeons, so that also helps to keep a steady stream of people doing the old content. This alleviates a bit of my concern with requiring players to complete dungeons to advance the plot.

On Story

Raeventiel: I think what keeps me interested in playing FFXIV, is just the storyline. The entire game is a love letter to the entire series with hints of originality that honestly keeps this game fresh and hip.

Sam: The nods to previous FF titles for me. I love seeing references in game that make me squee and feel attached to the world in ways that are memorable to myself from my early days of gaming.

I’ll be honest here, my original complaint about the plot still stands. It really drags at the beginning. However, what the team has done is released a little bit of main story quest with each endgame patch, instead of only opening up new dungeons and raids. And while some of these little questlines can feel like filler, some of them are really good. The Crystal Tower raid in particular has a sidequest that goes right along with the plot of Final Fantasy III, from which it also pulls a lot of its bosses as well.

Xande_Throne

Oh, yeah, screw this guy too.

Tilly: Like I thought it was really cool that they basically introduced Lady Iceheart’s backstory via angry buttrock.

Yeah, some of the boss music is….. interesting. And good. But there is one fight in particular uses some brilliant audio cues.

On, er, True Serious Motivations

Amy: I gotta be honest and say I basically switched from Guild Wars 2 to this game for catboys initially.

Miqote_CG

Well, to be honest, I really liked the plant people in Guild Wars 2, so, valid.

On the Development Team

Tom: I know I’ve already said this before, but I find it beautifully ironic that the FFXIV development team has better transparency in their dev process than any Western team making MMOs. The Rising event put a huge smile on my face.

Amy: I think the fact that they nearly went out of business due to thinking their ideas were awesome and WERENT really helped humble them to the point of being that transparent.

Angie: I think my favorite thing about FFXIV is the rising event. The fact that the devs cared enough to put an apology for making a bad game in the game and then having an event about how they want to continue to make it even better.

Let’s be honest here. Japanese developers are not exactly known for transparency in their development process. Mostly, I think this has to do with the way Japanese companies are run in general. In the case of Square themselves, one can only take a look at what has gone on with Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which has been renamed, renumbered, and in development for nearly ten years now, and we still don’t know very much about it.

When Naoki Yoshida took over as creative director, he started a large push toward an open development process and incorporation of player feedback. I think the most important thing is that the developers themselves have not only incorporated player feedback into their development process, but they have also realized that they, too, are an important part of the community. Between their presentations at various conventions, blog posts, and ‘live letter’ updates, they have shown that they treat development and general game tweaking as a two-way process between the people making the game and the people playing the game.

This has culminated in a short event called “The Rising”, which, to give a spoiler-free summary, is both an apology for the initial state of the game, a show of gratitude toward a playerbase who gave the game a second chance, and a short preview of things to come (if one knows where to look).

On the Community

Amy: The story of my char with other chars keeps me interested in between slow content times. Plus friends~

Lavi: Personally if it weren’t for the RP (roleplaying) and FC, I wouldn’t log on nearly as much as I do.

Sparrow: I’d probably be taking more breaks from the game if it wasn’t for friends.

Meg: I love the RP community, but then I loved RPing in GW2 but the game itself was so boring I had a hard time logging in. So just the RP alone, I’m not sure if that would keep me in FFXIV since it didn’t keep me in GW2. The fact there’s an actual game I enjoy aside from the RP is the main thing that separates this game from GW2 for me, in terms of wanting to play it long-term, but it’s also a point that FFXIV‘s RP community is way nicer than GW2‘s on the whole.

Wil: Ultimately I’ve stuck around for so long because I enjoy the community and there’s enough people who I enjoy playing the game with that it’s more a social activity for me most of the time.

Any kind of multiplayer game, no matter what scale it exists on, lives and dies by its community. That’s something the developers have embraced, I think, but no matter what the developers do, it all comes down to the attitudes of the people playing the game in the first place. In the nearly two years that I have been playing the game, I’ve been on two servers and in two Free Companies. One of them has been causal progression-based, and the other is based in roleplaying. In both cases, my experience with the community has been a largely positive one, and I don’t think my experience is lucky or unique.

The fact that the game encourages high level players to replay older content and provides rewards that encourage collaboration has a lot to do with this. In a lot of games, when people join a party with someone who doesn’t know the dungeon, there is usually a great deal of complaining and outright animosity present. In FFXIV, people are generally friendly and encouraging. Of course, there are exceptions, it’s just that when those exceptions happen, they are infrequent enough to be memorable.

That extends to other aspects of the game, too. The responsiveness of the development team doesn’t completely eliminate complaints, since there are things to complain about in every game or every update. It just means that since complaints are addressed constructively, the complaints are usually presented constructively as well. Contrast that to games where it seems to be cool to complain about every single thing all the time, whether it’s the game itself or the other players in it.

And that’s why I’ve been playing for eighteen months. Not because the game is mechanically sound (though it is), or because there is a steady stream of content (though, again, there is), but rather because no matter what I do in the game I don’t get this inner feeling of revulsion at having to interact with the other people doing the same things. That feeling, when it starts happening, builds up over time and just makes me not want to play a game at all. That’s why I can’t log onto, say, World of Warcraft anymore. And the other games that I’ve dropped? Well, they have faltered for various reasons, but the common thread has been ‘the community’. Either it hasn’t been robust or it hasn’t been supportive, as a whole.

When it comes down to it, I’m at the point where I want to interact with a more positive, uplifting gaming community, and, even though any large group of people has its issues, the community I’ve observed in FFXIV is a far more welcoming one than I’d find in most games of its type.

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Also, what other game have you seen people taking group photos in?

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