[FF14] First Impressions

There has been a noticeable trend in this Guild Wars 2 pre-xpac downtime where I am seeing a lot of fans and devs mucking around in Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (FF14). To be honest, I didn’t bat an eye when the first iteration of Final Fantasy 14 first dropped. I did follow their rebirth story a bit because it was an interesting tale where money and time (and brand power, let’s not forget) can truly turn things around.

Last week, I finally picked it up through Steam, which says a lot right there. I can almost guarantee that if it were were not for Gaben’s paradiso I would not have tried it out. (Really surprised Guild Wars 2 still isn’t there, but I guess they feel more profitable without Gaben’s cut.) Actually I got the demo first, installed it, and didn’t touch it. Guess I needed that $20 worth of worth incentive to actually play it.

Before I cut this post, I will say it is a hyper polished experience of a calm distillation of last decade’s MMOs (for better and worse). There you go, tl;dr.

Character Creation

The character creation system is super robust. The models are really good, and there are a ton of options. If I wanted to have stock in the game or my character, I could definitely perceive spending a good hour refining my character’s look. I chose to press the randomize button until I was happy, removed the pretty flower tattoo, and set off towards adventures unknown.

As a person with some knowledge of Final Fantasy lore (fanatic over SNES and early PS versions and then FFX), the races were really underwhelming. Usually I like going for different, weird stuffs, but this is the first time in an MMO where the feeling of “meh” was so overwhelming that I defaulted to human. I mean honestly, cat people and pear-shaped minis were an immediate “no” as I didn’t want to play stylized Japanese anime races. The troll people and elves were okay, but just not interesting, and possibly a bit too edgy.

Starting to be an Adventurer

Let me say that if it weren’t for the $20 incentive I would not have made it much past the next part.

I then started out on a ship with a fairly meaningless prologue of me heading towards my starting city. If I chose another city I would be in a caravan or something else heading towards another one-of-three starting cities. If I was supposed to get excited through the pirate attack or understand anything going on besides (1) I am new, (2) adventurers are a thing, and (3) I am heading to the city, I got nothing.

After too long a while, I felt the real meat of the game’s lore was presented. There was a Calamity caused by evil and/or Bahamut. It not only burninated a lot of things, but it warped reality so that people didn’t have memories of Before (I capitalized that one myself!). Adventurers are the gallant murder-hobos who help people who don’t really know what’s going on.

There was really no attempt, as in other MMOs, to try and gloss over the fact that I will be going from quest hub to quest hub talking to strangers who will dump problems like “we need to harvest oranges” or “there’s herb in them streets” on me. It was now my job to be a vagrant worker. It was my destiny.

The next part was just horrible. It was an hour or so of “learn the city and game mechanics in the most boring, confusing way possible with quests!” Maybe it was my fault choosing a two-tiered city, which may have made it a bit worse, but this was the least thing I wanted to do at the start of the game because there was no combat.

I sorely wished for the old MMO trope of starting in some hamlet or starting instance where I could actually fight and do the things I expected to do for hours and hours. Instead it was an agonizingly slow method of interacting with this, run here, listen to this person, etc. I really wanted to start in a wine-making monastery with things to kill just paces away.

I will say that even though I felt FF14 was mired in old methods of quest items and handing over packages, the system was as polished as it could ever be. For instance, lighting lamps requires an item. If I right-click on the lamp, my quest item box pops up. Then I right click on the quest item to use it. If an NPC wanted an item, again the quest inventory would pop up and I could drag it over. I personally like RIFTs better where the quest item was in the UI, but for what FF14 did at least it was rather painless, even if quaint.

Time to Adventure!

Finally I broke free of the combat-less tutorial. I found a new quest hub outside the city walls, and I was doing what I expected. Like I said above, this is last decade’s hub questing. All the usual niches, including this blog’s namesake, are heavily present. I picked oranges, I killed 6 of this, I killed 10 of that, I talked to NPC’s who needed a talkin’ to. There was no attempt to move this MMO mechanic forward in any fashion. I really began to appreciate what Wildstar was doing at this point when they moved vanilla quest hubs a few feet forward.

There are open world events that occur throughout the areas. I felt like they didn’t have the impetus of other games with them. The ones I attempted mostly felt like a mechanical layer over grinding mobs. Don’t just kill pirates; kill pirates wanting to toll a bridge to get extra money and XP. Compared to RIFT, I really wanted more of a reason to care about this temporary open world events. Perhaps this gets stronger later on in lore and immersion. Right now open world events appear to me as just bonus XP and money bags to tangent the quest hubbing.

Finally there are story instances, which is the main reason I even attempted to play FF14. There is an overarching personal story told throughout the game, which includes dungeons (which I have heard is well implemented). This is the reason I was even here, and it did not disappoint. The early stage is filled with mystery and “guest stars” and oddly enough some voice over (which isn’t existent elsewhere, such as the opening instance on the ship). This is why I will keep playing throughout my $20 worth of 30 days.

Killing Stuffs

The combat is pretty slick for the 2-second global cooldown skill rotation style combat. The UI is really nice. Combat feels good, although a bit tired. FF14 spices up the combat by requiring players to move out of ominous AoE shapes on the ground from the enemy.

The combat system is all about efficiency and timing. Even at the early stages I can tell that the whole combat system is hyper-polished. I am making decisions of choosing to immediately get out of the enemy’s AoE or trying to finish casting a spell. Do I want to re-apply the instant-cast DoT at the cost of 2-seconds of global cooldown? There is a lot of decision making. Unnecessary at my level, possibly, but I can definitely see how it can translate going upwards.

It is a pinnacle of a thinking-players MMO. The movement mechanics are not there, I feel, to be twitch, as it is for Wildstar. Twitch being the addition of excitement and… well twitch. The movement is there to make a split-second decision on efficiency. This does not excite me in the least, but I definitely recognize the superb game design when I see it.

The problem is that as each tier is mastered, the decision making process becomes rote. The If/Then statements of the mind become mere muscle memory, and the whole system, for me, feels like grind. I would hope that far later on encounters require a better branched decision process utilizing all different manners of skills. I don’t know if I will ever get there. Advanced level players are definitely welcome to comment on late game combat below.

In the Shade or Sun

I am not sure how much FF14 I will play. It was a calm experience. I can see whole weekend days given to the calm feeding of quests and leveling up. But, in it being a calm thing, it just wasn’t exciting at all. I wasn’t excited to level. I wasn’t excited to get to a new quest hub. I have no idea what is beyond the horizon, but I am hoping for a decent story.

FF14 is, for me, what I perceive players wrapping themselves up in a new, cozy blanket. I don’t find anything exciting about that. But, given the success of FF14, I feel that clearly a lot of players just want that calm, vintage MMO play. Nothing wrong with that. FF14 is a great game, but I think I prefer the higher pacing of Guild Wars 2.

My final thought last night was viewing FF14 more like Progress Quest along a stable of other MMOs. If I was going to just explore this solo-ish (I do plan on attempting dungeons when I get there), why wouldn’t I just play LOTRO, where I actually have stake in the lore and character? I still haven’t answered that to myself and my satisfaction. Perhaps peer pressure and the shiny are enough for now.

–Ravious

11 thoughts on “[FF14] First Impressions”

  1. Wow! I think that’s by some margin the most negative review of the early-FFXIV experience I’ve ever seen. I’m so used to reading blogger after blogger discovering or re-discovering FFXIV and swooning over it that that really took me by surprise.

    Personally I loved the first 25 levels. Much of your negatives would be my positives. The two races you dismiss, for example, are two my favorites in any MMO ever, just on appearance and animations alone. The questing is, I think, really top-notch, with the quest-text being some of the best-written I’ve ever seen. The main story is strong although by most accounts it doesn’t even begin to show it’s true strength and depth until much later.

    There certainly is a LOT of to-ing and fro-ing but found that to be a positive. I’m all for fast travel in a game I’ve been playing for months or even years but in a new game I prefer to be made to walk the land. All the cities are a nightmare to navigate though – makes no difference which you choose.

    I do find it odd that you see FFXIV as cozier than GW2, which, in the lower levels (pre-Orr basically) is about the cosiest MMO I’ve seen outside of ones that were specifically aimed at children. Combat in GW2 at those levels is also, in my opinion, falling-off-a-log easy compared to FFXIV, which can be hard work right from the start.

    I think an awful lot of this just comes down to personal taste. My problem with FFXIV was, almost entirely, the forced grouping. You simply cannot progress the main storyline or fully develop your character without doing specific instanced group events and that is just not acceptable to me any more – in fact it has never been acceptable to me in all the time I’ve played MMOs. That’s the glaring, unforgiveable “last decade” horror of the game in my eyes.

    It will be interesting to see a) if you carry on playing further than I did – somewhere in the mid-30s was where I got to by he time my free 30 days ran out – and b) if you do, whether your opinion mellows or hardens.

    1. Oh yes, you know when I discussed questing I was focusing on mechanics. The monologue style quest giving is quite entertaining. It doesn’t necessarily make me excited to go pick oranges or kill pirates, but I am enjoying reading the quest text.

      I thought only dungeons were part of the instanced storyline, are there also instanced group-required instances that are not dungeons (ala early LOTRO)?

      1. I dedicated a session just to customizing my character. I find the rather conservatively constrained female figure options to be refreshing – there are no large-chested Bayonettas running around. I end up disabling the UI fairly frequently to take screenshots of unique characters in their costumes and poses. The Roegadyn (Hulk people) and Elezen (elves) are quite socio-culturally personable once you get to know them and will be just as likely as anyone else to cower under the withering glare of their diminutive Lalafell masters. As for me, I am in love with catgirls, period.

        I chose Ul’dah as my city-state which involved riding a cart of some sort through the desert to the city. The Brass Blades (local thugs, er, law enforcement) were extorting payment from a wizened tradesman for transporting a forbidden substance when beastmen with a unique name attacked and interrupted the whole thing. Like Bhgapuss said, the quest text is – for me – the best I’ve ever read and that is in large part because it’s how I would have written it. There’s ego for ya. It does get to be a bit too much at times, though, and I’ll start breezing through it. There’s only so much street urchin/rogue/pirate/alliterative English I can take before it starts to become tiresome.

        To be fair, you don’t have to be a murder-hobo if you don’t want to. There are eight crafting classes and three gathering classes; all of these have their own class story quests, logs, statistics, gear, and mechanics. Naturally, you’ll have to be an omni-slayer if you want to complete the main story line which makes sense ‘cause that’s what Final Fantasy 14 is all about: grinding bad guys while on an over-arching quest. It does this to the Nth degree with systems that are Japanese-polished which means that damn near EVERYTHING I have touched in the game works flawlessly and possesses a satisfying level of depth – once investigated – that makes up for the existence of player combat as a Katamari assemblage of simplistic abilities and mechanics.

        It took me several tries to get past the exquisitely soporific introductory tasks. It actually took me three times coming back to the game in order to really settle down into it. For a veteran player of MMOs, getting into the game is going to require a degree of stamina. The slow accretion of skills and abilities is a true New Player Experience polished to a blinding shine and doesn’t start to blossom into a challenging game until the 40s at the very least.

        The questing to and fro got on my nerves in Coerthas, a 35-45ish range zone where I started getting the (!) marks over and over and I felt like a glorified murder-courier. Fortunately this does not occupy the majority of one’s time in the game. Neither do forced-group dungeons (which I personally have absolutely no problem with provided I don’t do more than perhaps two of them in a row). You have the option of participating in guildhests which are forced-group objectives that are much, much shorter than dungeons and typically require you to execute a basic mechanic while whittling a boss’s health bar.

        The main story doesn’t require a whole lot of forced grouping in my experience up to the 30s and 40s on every combat class. Any grouping that I’ve done in the open world is GW2-style “hit it hard enough to get credit.” The FATEs (open world events) are part of an ultra-grind in the end game for upgrading your gear to over 9000. In the mid-30s and up you can run around and grind them to gain levels at a reasonable rate. They’re part of the story, I suppose, but they exist as one of several grinding options. Signature Final Fantasy, right there.

        I find it interesting that you’ve labeled FF14 as a thinking player’s MMO. I personally experience the necessity of correctly executing mechanics primarily via my fine motor reflexes such as in video game platformers like Ninja Gaiden for the NES or the Liadri fight from the Queen’s Gauntlet (it takes place on a platform – get it?). FF14’s combat approaches WildStar-ish levels of telegraphy and button-smashing in the Elder Game from what I hear. Guild Wars 2 more than anything strikes me as a thinking person’s game due to the nebulousness of the depth of its combat systems. I guess our brains (mine and yours and that of Bhagpuss) are “attuned” differently – I found FF14’s combat to be falling-off-a-log easy and GW2’s early game combat to be much more likely to down me (well, post-4 post-NPE).

        It’s definitely a game that takes its principles from 10 years ago and ultra-polishes them for a casual audience. I can see why many people would try it and say “no, thanks.” It’s comfort food for me. I feel guilty eating M&Ms, but I’m going to eat the whole bag. And then some.

  2. The LotRO to FFXIV comparison is odd. I mean, why would you play a F2P ad spamfest with worse graphics, worse mechanics, and overall lower quality when you could do the same (and more) in FFXIV, especially knowing that the story in LotRO will be abandoned while the story in FFXIV is going strong?

    That aside, I agree with your summery; FFXIV is that calm, relaxing, MMO themepark fix, but for me that’s exactly what I want right now, and it’s a steal at $11 a month (one character). It doesn’t insult you with its difficulty, but it also isn’t bleeding-edge hard where you need to watch youtube (at least before the level cap) or look up a character guide.

    The main storyline btw is IMO amazing once you hit a certain point and it picks up (I forget at which lvl that happened), and the needed dungeons each take around 30min, with the dungeon finder being quick and easy. I’ve yet to have a bad pug group, or even anyone close to being rude or impatient. In fact most people are happy having someone in the dungeon for the first time thanks to the xp bonus everyone gets.

  3. Interesting write up on FFXIV, although you’ve fallen into the same trap as many players do. It’s what I call the “completionist” trap – in other words, you see quest you feel the need to do them when in actuality, you are better off saving them for your alt classes. The main storyline is good enough that you don’t need to really do side quests on your main class because you’ll have experience from that, the hunting log, and FATEs to do.

    It’s not your fault, the game basically sets you up to do the quests and that’s the honest problem. For example, your problem with going through the city? All that you needed to currently do in the city was: go to the Aetheryte, go to your Guild Hall, talk to the market board person, return to Baderon. Then after that he sends you to the Stead outside the city, and combat starts. You would actually be in and out of the city in a few minutes once you get past the opening scene.

    But, I’m not going to sugarcoat things for you – the story in FFXIV is great but there is a lot of padding too. Sometimes you’ll feel that lull and the ridiculous ideas they had to pad it out, but when you get past that padding it gets really, really good. And, voice acting gets better by patch content so if you see that as a negative, just know it does and is getting better.

    Other than that, you want to do your class quests every five levels because it gives you abilities and such.

    Just know, that this game and it’s dungeons works on a learning curve. What’s easy now becomes increasingly difficult later.

    Oh and UI is customizable in the menu.

    1. I’m not a completionist for the sake of doing all the quests as much as a completionist for getting the hubs whole story. Given my possibly limited engagement I will see how possible it is to push towards advancing rather than completing.

      1. Most of the hubs don’t really have a single story like that. The Main Story Quest and itself tends to flesh out hubs, but the side quests tend to either be one-off or at most small strings of fairly unrelated quests. They’ll provide character depth or backstory, but even that tends to be zone-level or even region-level rather than hub level. Class/Job tend to give more of a background of the city sorta thing.

        From a narrative standpoint, it’s a change from GW2’s hearts or more recent World of Warcraft instances, but I’m not sure it’s a bad one — FFXIV’s setting isn’t really supposed to be one where everything is war and every few feet have a battle, and more subdued and disconnected stories help flesh that out. From a gameplay one, these side quests are meant to be used when leveling a secondary class and/or a class with long queue timers, and they disconnectedness is probably intentional — they don’t want you to feel like you need to hit them all at once, or even finish a set once you’ve started it.

        May not be ideal for players looking for more attachment, though. And the tutorial-handholding, while kinda impressive and probably good for complete newbies, is a very much overkill for practiced players.

  4. I didn’t particularly care for FFXIV at 1st — I actually quit after about 2 weeks without even making it to level 20. But then I came back all due to wanting to get the mount at level 20-ish. And then it got its hooks in me and I’ve been playing it ever since.

    I have to agree that the pace is a bit slow to begin with so I can completely agree with your impressions of the beginning levels. It took me coming back when a bit higher to really “get” the game. And now I think it’s a blast, so… tkae that with your fistful of salt.

  5. Let me say up front that I will continue to sing the praises of GW2’s delivery of content in the form of DEs and hearts and NEVER HAVING TO RUN BACK TO AN NPC TO TURN ANYTHING IN until my dying day. But that said, I also have greatly enjoyed The Secret World (with more standard quest delivery and no DEs, but only occasional physical hand-ins), and I suppose in a do-or-die way I don’t mind old-school quests as long as I feel like there’s enough to supplement them when I get bored of them. I haven’t made it past level 20 in any MMO where traditional quests are the sole or main mode of content delivery.

    I have only been doing the main story quests in FFXIV and supplementing my xp with FATEs and my class-specific hunts and things like kill chains, and surprisingly, it’s really, really working for me, and I’m not having fatigue even after leveling multiple classes to 20. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I have to do one or the other, maybe it’s because kill-chains are just gimmicky enough to psychologically manipulate me into grinding +1 mobs until my eyes bleed, maybe it’s because regardless of the quality of story, chasing FATEs reminds me of chasing DEs and I’ve still not gotten tired of that.

    FFXIV reminds me in a lot of ways of GW1: to me it feels almost like a “GW1.3” or so, if ArenaNet had implemented a few more traditional MMO mechanics on top of their DE ideas and dual professions and slowly increasing party sizes. The Thaumaturge (the first class I played) feels like an evolution of the GW1 elementalist, static casting with multiple elements and energy management the main focus. The fact that everyone can learn every class means that the lower levels are still bustling with people leveling alternative professions (or there to chase FATEs), so the “feel” is similar to running around in GW2, even if the world isn’t quite as seamlessly “alive.”

    And although GW2 isn’t pure twitch and quite forgiving on the action combat, I sometimes come to dread the later areas of the game, where it can feel more like “find the spot where a red circle ISN’T,” and I just find that fatiguing, so the occasional telegraph and having to make a tactical decision about when or whether to cancel a cast to move out of the way seems like the compromise that’s just right for me.

    I’m finding reading everyone’s reactions to FFXIV really interesting, including who and what I agree and disagree with. I healed my first dungeon EVER over the weekend, and I can easily say now that I never will again (that kind of pressure is just not for me), but I’ve never even been compelled to try it in any other game, but FFXIV made it easy and unintimidating for me in a way I’ve not experienced before. I guess that’s the main thing about FFXIV to me: I always felt, from what I heard, that it was a closed system, where you had to know your stuff and bring your FF knowledge and nostalgia to the fore, that it was hardcore and would kick your butt. But in my experience the game mechanics are welcoming and convenient (no waypoints, but between chocobo keepers and the teleport spell I’ve had little to no problems getting around quickly and easily), and the players have been really kind and patient (I know this changes in the end game, but in what game doesn’t it? I daren’t try to run level 80 dungeons in GW2 without friends or guildies).

    Of course, I’m only level 20 and I’ve only bought into one month so far. Maybe I’m the easy sell, and not the long-term one, but I’m still having a lot of fun, so we’ll see….

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