By Marokai 26 Comments
Some of the images to the right are almost certainly considered spoilers, so just be warned.
I've debated for a long time whether or not to even write anything about Final Fantasy XIV, because at some point you sound like a crazy person for having invested so much of your time into a game that you actually think is kind of fundamentally flawed in a lot of ways. It's like way back when, when Jeff put a seemingly-absurd amount of hours in The Old Republic, yet didn't actually like it very much. I have over 1300 hours of FFXIV clocked on Steam, I had originally played through the story of 2.0, and then some, on the PS3 in 2013, and recently switched to the PS4 version for the entirety of the latest expansion, Stormblood. It's not all that crazy for me to assume my time in the game at this point is beyond 1600 hours.
What truly motivated me to write this blog, which is effectively an airing of grievances with the way the game is made at this point, is that I finally hit my limit on how many times I could read or listen to someone jokingly throw out the line "This is the best time there's ever been to be playing video games, you guys." What I hope started as a joke has instead become an irritating reminder how whole genres of games do not even remotely resemble themselves from a decade ago, and how much that just fucking bums me out. There's "never been a better time to be playing games" says to me "I'm only paying attention to first person shooters, multiplayer games, and open-world Action Adventures, and hey, everything has some color now." I hope you don't mind how the single player career mode of Gran Turismo has been consumed by the always-online virus, or that you didn't like any of those old Sims games, or that you don't need many JRPGs in your life, or that you don't mind Front Mission is now a fucking third person shooter thing, or that you don't care much about RTS games, or that you don't mind micro-transactions, or, more relevant to this blog's point, that you didn't like any MMO from the previous decade. Hell, I just finished all three Borderlands games back-to-back-to-back for another blog entry I've been putting off, and even that series seems like it will inevitably be crammed into the "shared online world" pseudo-singleplayer box in its next go-around.
It's almost like some sort of weird futurist techno-pagan-like attitude where if trends are newer, well then, they must be better. The way entertainment is made is so varied and all over the place, so subjective, it's not like we're talking about the advances of modern medicine, or social political progress. The fact that I like more structured, singleplayer focused Sims games isn't like being a bigot. Me liking old school Gran Turismo career modes as opposed to jumping straight to the fancy shmancy stuff and racing online isn't the video game equivalent of bloodletting. Is it like preferring bunny-eared TV antennae because I want Suikoden back?
Anyway, the point is I liked the Everquests, and FFXIs, and EVE Onlines of the MMO space. Games that asked time, and cooperation, and rewarded people who put in the effort to get better and better, and could punish you if you didn't. Now, of course, Everquest is just a Free to Play museum piece, FFXI is on life support, and EVE lets you straight-up buy their equivalent of experience points. Anything that has survived the years in this genre shies away from anything that would even remotely push someone away. If the game isn't designed for you to play it 45 minutes a day, you can either buy your way up the ladder, or it doesn't really catch on with many people.
I actually really love a lot about Final Fantasy XIV - the core combat, the zone design, the music and story. I feel compelled to play it a lot even when the game itself is completely uninterested in giving me the incentive to do so. But I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because there's a limit to how much I can play a game just for playing the game's sake, and I feel like I may as well get this off my chest. Consider this my list of grievances.
- The obligatory part where we praise the dev team for salvaging the game in the first place.
At this point everyone and their mother has heard the beautiful tale of how FFXIV rose from the ashes of its 1.0 release into something that actually, miraculously, resembled a competent game. Under the leadership of Naoki Yoshida (commonly referred to as Yoshi by the playerbase - and how I'll refer to him from hereon) Final Fantasy XIV turned from a laggy mess, with effectively no story, or even really any content to do whatsoever, into a gorgeous, full-featured package. Unlike the leadership before him, Yoshi had keen eyes and ears for listening to fan demands, and sketching out dev work in a way that was manageable, as opposed to biting off more than they could chew.
All of this was well and good for A Realm Reborn's release. Numerous dungeons, released at a regular pace with each major patch. A few story quests in each patch that would gradually lead into the upcoming expansion. One 24-person trilogy of "raid" events over the course of the patch cycles, as well as an 8-person collection of bite sized, ostensibly harder trial encounters. Throughout all of this, the item-level of gear would be gradually raised with each major infusion of content, and you would acquire your gear primarily through accumulating "tomestones" (simply a unique currency) doled out in various amounts by the added instances. All of this, under Yoshi's direction, became a well-oiled machine. This patch is the new raid, and the max item-level gets bumped up by a few tiers. Next patch gets some new trials, and getting new gear becomes a little easier. And then the next patch is the new raid, with new item-levels. So on, and so on. Rinse, and repeat.
What Yoshi managed to establish in 2.0 was an effective foundation for what would hopefully be an ever evolving future for the development of the game. They had done what was considered to be impossible and revived what was effectively a dead game into one that was competently constructed all around, and thriving because of it.
But then they kind of just kept doing that forever.
In the ensuing years, Yoshi and his team had found a formula that worked, and became terrified to ever change it. This is ultimately the core of my problems with FFXIV overall - I've more or less been playing the same game for nearly four years. Yoshi's attitude about the game is oppressively conservative, sticking so close to the tried-and-true, easily-predictable vertical style of gear progression, with no real change in how the content itself is made. It's doubly frustrating that a lot of these critiques fly under the radar because of the borderline hero narrative surrounding him.
- Vertical vs. Horizontal gear progression, and what that means in practice.
Before I just keep rambling, I should probably give a brief explanation of some terminology here. Obviously, on a grand scale, an MMO is all about gear progression. Or at least it probably should be. There are two schools of thought; "vertical" gear progression, or "horizontal."
Vertical gear progression is basically an incredibly linear approach to how gear is made and released into the wild - there is one best-in-slot set of equipment that will always trump the one before it and renders all other gear useless. It's a one-size-fits-all approach to gear. Horizontal is the other end of the spectrum, with various different kinds of equipment for various different tasks, usually highly specialized, with very few truly "best in slot" options overall. Instead of the Vertical "this number is better, therefore it is better" philosophy, the Horizontal way relies more on enhancing special abilities or attributes, or resistances to one status effect over another - or maybe it grants a double attack 5% of the time - you get the idea. Horizontal gear can be roughly equivalent in a purely defensive sense, but varies wildly for the type of content you're doing.
Final Fantasy XIV is an unabashed follower of the vertical school, with all the downsides that entails. Basically, it's resulted in an incredibly conservative design philosophy that shuns gear rewards in favor of cosmetic bullshit. Whole content systems primarily reward you with glamour items, or emotes, than anything of gameplay worth. For someone like me, that actually enjoys the process of refining my character, FFXIV basically gives me nothing to aspire to. Once I'm using a competitive gear-set, and have seen all the story, I'm basically done. The sense of progression is shallow, and as far as endgame goes, there is barely a game at the end to be played.
To weave this into more topical events, recently a lot of people have been discussing game difficulty, and how it relates to accessibility - Cuphead being a big recent example of this. A common argument directed at people who disagree that some games should be designed to be simpler and more accessible to casual audiences is "Come on you guys, you're just gate-keeping. Just trying to prevent people from having fun with a game even though it takes nothing away from you." In some cases, this is a thing that exists. But the fear that, with time, those things will go from optional side-modes to accommodate for the outlying, less skilled players, and instead that the entire game would be built from the ground up meant for those people instead, is also a real thing. In doing so, the more hardcore crowd that wanted a deeper, more challenging experience would find themselves without a home. This exact thing happened to MMOs, with Final Fantasy XIV being a prime example of a game designed for hardcore players as less than an afterthought. Personally, I think it's revealing how you don't exactly hear "Come on you guys, you're just trying to keep hardcore players from having a side of this game they can enjoy in depth too, even if it takes nothing away from you!" very often. Revealing as in, not at all surprising.
- Final Fantasy XIV's content systems lack variety and incentive.
Nearly every problem I take with FFXIV, when examined critically, becomes an infinite regress all winding back to one or two core design choices. From these things, almost every issue springs forth. First being, Square Enix wants the structure of nearly every instanced content system in the game to be as idiot-proof as possible. No dungeon, no raid, and almost no trial fight, features any kind of meaningful optional content, open-ended ways to reach the objective, or dynamic aspects. Each dungeon is a borderline hypnotic experience with how heavily scripted they are, basically all of them following the same pattern of "Trash, trash, trash, boss -> Trash, trash, trash, boss -> Trash, trash, boss" and at no point in this process, even when these are brand new, is any of it a challenge to almost anyone. The big raids feature 24 people, and similarly can't be anything but the straight and narrow.
In fact, my favorite trial event, The Steps of Faith (I love the music so much), is one of the most non-standard encounters in the game - being a long slog against a dragon as it slowly lumbers toward the gates of Ishgard, with you nibbling at its feet all the way - but it was nerfed not long after it was released because it required people to actually effectively coordinate with one another, and this made a lot of people upset. It wasn't helped by the fact that failing forced you to watch the entire battle play out before you could try it again.
This kind of cookie-cutter encounter design for things has effectively led to victory in most content being a foregone conclusion, which doesn't do a whole lot for my personal motivation.
And there are things for which victory certainly isn't a foregone conclusion - Extreme level trial fights and high-tier versions of existing raids (with mostly similar mechanics and visuals, so take that for what you will) are certainly there for you to do - but I just don't have any personal incentive to do them. Unless it's just for the sake of doing it, I guess. Any better gear is just slightly improved versions of existing gear; no special unique attributes exist on them, and visually they're barely different. It's just the numbers bumped up a bit, maybe you get more materia slots, but that's about it, and the gear is only top-tier (to the extent that marginal improvements even deserve that designation) until the next patch comes along and wipes away all that work. That's what "accessibility" means I guess - you're better off not playing very much.
Square Enix certainly tries to alleviate this issue - time and time again they've recognized at least that some people are bored with the same old, same old - but they always miss the mark 90% of the way. It reminds me of an old Lewis Black bit - they just make a hard turn and shoot in the other direction right when you think they understand. Either that, or they're unwilling to face the idea of tweaking certain core ideas that guide the way they design gear so they just stick with what they know, thus undermining the entire damn point.
The closest I personally feel Square has come to designing a content system to my taste was Palace of the Dead. The Palace of the Dead is a system of up to 200 floors you fight through, each with a randomized layout, random enemies, random special effects (both positive & negative), traps littered throughout, and treasure chests, similarly, with random loot. Even random music tracks playing on different floors. PoTD also has an independent leveling system, which separates it dramatically from the rest of the game. Even though it has its structural shortcomings - for instance, even as everything within is mostly randomized, the objectives are all combat based, which is kind of lame - it still manages to be what every other style of content in FFXIV isn't. It's dynamic. Different every time. With random loot you just have to get lucky for, and the main reward of the system (what was then a relatively high level weapon) actually takes some time to acquire.
What is bittersweet about this system, then, is how much it can resemble a microcosm of how little Final Fantasy XIV values investment in its higher-difficulty aspects and quickly becomes irrelevant content in progression terms. The weapon, while pretty looking, was quickly invalidated within a very short period of time like every other piece of gear, and floors 101-200, which was specifically designed to be a tough challenge for pre-made parties where a single death would restart you all the way back to floor 51, rewards you with nothing but a pair of earrings. Non-combat earrings. All that effort, just for the love of the craft.
Final Fantasy XIV in its modern incarnation has existed for over four years now. In a roughly equivalent amount of time, Final Fantasy XI had three expansions (going from NA release) to XIV's two, with a fucking buffet of content systems to choose from, big or small. From Conquest, BCNMs, Sky, Sea, Dynamis, Besieged, Campaign, Assault, Salvage, Einherjar, Nyzul Isle, ZNMs, and several others I can't even remember off the top of my head. In the years shortly thereafter, that list grew to include Abyssea, Voidwatch, and the Walk of Echoes, and a slew of others that are comparatively more recent (seriously, just the list of things since 2013 is probably about as long - Reives, Skirmish, Delve, Incursion, Vagary, Sinister Reign, Escha, Omen, Unity, Records of Eminence, Hard Mode Battlefields, Ambuscade... I'm leaving things out.). Each of these systems worked different to varying degrees, some with multiple different versions of themselves, and all had unique rewards. Despite the reputation of FFXI as excessively punishing, most of the content was also accessible to at least most people that were willing to commit to playing even just a small amount a day, so long as you had a group. There was always something to be doing that actually had a purpose, and all of that content had legs, years down the road.
FFXIV in comparison has an array of content that looks puny, and short-lived, even taking into account its younger age. It's over four years in now, guys. A few more if you were going to throw in the fact that its 1.0 release was in 2010, but that was a different game altogether, really. The point is, FFXIV has continued to march along with the identical skinny formula of "here's a few dungeons and a few trial fights, and nothing all that mechanically dense." Its two major standalone progression systems, Palace of the Dead and Diadem, are good or terrible, respectively, but even then neither of them break the Vertical Progression mold they have to be forced into to even exist in the first place. You hit a ceiling on what you can be doing incredibly quickly, and even before that ceiling, there's not much of a point. At least the PVP is good - FFXI's was a dumpster fire.
- The gross inefficiency of it all is the cherry on top, though.
In an original draft of the above, I also mentioned how I felt the game's content is designed in a really inefficient way, but by the time I was finished getting the rest of things off my chest, it had dragged on far too long, and I've noticed blogs formatted with more clearly distinguished sections are more pleasant to read, so I'll make this point quickly on its own before this becomes some sort of crazed manifesto.
Final Fantasy XIV's content is designed inefficiently - what do I mean by that? Simply put, development efficiency is all about a delicate balance for making the most content out of the least amount of work. It's a spectrum of effort that runs from spending months intricately crafting encounters you blow through in five minutes, to just shamelessly re-using things you've already built ad-infinitum because you can bang that shit out really quickly. It's probably best for all involved to hang somewhere in the middle, especially if you're making an MMO.
FFXIV's development team puts all other MMOs to shame in the production department, and it's impossible to complain about that on its own. But this has the unfortunate side effect of spending a ton of time developing content that looks and sounds gorgeous, and at the same time is left behind almost as quickly as it comes. Part of what the Final Fantasy XI team (which at this point I can only assume consists of two dudes and a cat, working out of a closet) has learned to do with less-than-shoestring funding is make a little bit go a long way. They re-use lots of assets and just put simple twists on established gear acquisition systems, but also manage to effectively turn one fight into five by giving the content varying difficulty levels. Or even just taking an old fight and scaling up the numbers to a modern item-level, throwing some touched-up versions of old gear in it, and calling it new. Hell, there's a new ("new") battle content system just released to FFXI, this month, which is effectively a re-skinned Dynamis.
This isn't how I would personally want most of FFXIV to turn into of course, but it gives people more things to do with very little effort. As opposed to the present design philosophy of one dead-easy dungeon they spend months sketching out, modeling, composing new music for, building different combinations of fight mechanics, and slapping in some gear that's basically dead on arrival, it makes a lot more sense, if you care about making your content last longer and/or serve different groups simultaneously, to just tune some numbers on the back-end so people can scale it up or down as they please. Saying that I don't know much about how game development can be difficult would be the understatement of the year, but by the point that you've already built the structure of the encounter, the vast majority of that work is already done. Changing numbers and giving people scaled versions of those dungeons is a fraction of the work that was already spent - it's little more than some napkin math and adjusting on your weekly maintenance if it really comes down to it. Yoshi has often talked about how he borrows popular concepts from other MMOs, like World of Warcraft - but even WoW has dungeons with different difficulties. Not to mention is now going to release Classic servers for those who want a more traditional MMO experience. (That's accessibility.)
The main reason this is so frustrating to me is that they clearly have a fairly large and capable development staff. Yet, so much time is just used making everything look and sound gorgeous instead of giving people more to actually do. I would happily queue for a blank fucking stone room of nothing except some mobs in it, with no new music whatsoever, if it meant I got some cool new gear to use. But clearly I'm not the sort of player they're targetting. That's not going to get them glowing reviews from mainstream publications that pop in at the start of a fancy new expansion and pop out. They get more credit for designing zones meticulously crafted to be beautiful, set against a swelling orchestral score, than for having much to really do in it once you get there.
- The part where I give constructive input, but none of these things will probably happen.
Constructive criticism is kind of a negotiation in a way. If you don't accept some sort of common premise to begin with, and aren't giving suggestions in good faith, you're never getting anywhere. My husband and I bounced ideas back and forth in the past, and throughout those brainstorming sessions he's always keen to remind me "That sounds fine to me, but that's not the game they're making." Never let it be said that I can't offer solutions if I'm going to bother identifying what I perceive as problems - while also trying to keep them somewhat grounded within the philosophical framework Yoshi and his team are working with. These are just some off the top of my dome.
Attempting to assuage any other concern I have with the game is pissing in the wind so long as the core problem remains. It's so damn easy to get gear in this game by accruing tomestones through nearly any activity you do, there would be no point in doing any of the fancy new battle content they introduce to the game so long as spending your tomes is all it takes to get 90%+ of the worthwhile gear. Loosening the grip vertical progression has on the neck of FFXIV is simply a must, and not doing so just makes all your content compete with itself, instead of complement each other.
Introducing one thing in the game that gives you tomes along with another content system in the game that, you guessed it, gives you tomes, or a content system that simply gives gear of a roughly identical item-level, just means the two things cannibalize each other and there was barely a point.
I get why the tomestone redemption thing exists. You want people to be able to log in and do bite-sized bits of content that give them things that at least allow them to be competitive. But there's a difference between "competitive to start the endgame" and "good enough that you don't need much else." Keep giving tomestones as rewards - but tome gear should be a basic starting endgame set, not "Well, now that's done." It should get you started on the endgame ladder. Basically, I'm saying there should be an endgame ladder.
All equipment in FFXIV is, effectively, the same. By that I mean, no piece of gear in this game fundamentally does anything different that any other piece of gear does, it's just that higher level gear has the Vitality stat cranked up a bit more along with secondaries they swap around totally arbitrarily. You'll do a bit more damage, you'll have a bit more HP, and maybe this pair of pants gives you .02% more crit chance than this other pair of pants that gives you .001% more casting speed. No gear is specifically tuned to a job, no gear has ability-enhancing attributes, it's all purely basic stat based, with barely any noticeable effect when in action. If you're looking for a game with good loot, FFXIV isn't it. If it wasn't for the cosmetic aspect (there goes more wasted dev time for something people throw away like tissues) Square would do just as well with a single piece of gear you just continuously upgrade.
Please, for the love of Hydaelyn, change this.
I understand why it's this dead-ass simple - Square Enix is petrified of the way FFXI's obsessive gear-swapping system got totally out of control and also doesn't want to, how dare I ever suggest such a thing, ask the casual player get specific pieces of gear for specific tasks - but we don't have to take this train all the way to crazy town. Just give people some fucking means to specialize, somehow. A helmet that gives +20 points of enmity to all of your actions, a pair of gloves that makes a Scholar's fairy have +2% healing potency, a belt that gives Summoners an extra 5 points of potency on their DoTs. Have some full sets grant you a bonus - you already have the coding for this on some obscure pieces of gear no one uses so I bloody know you're capable of at least that! Or perhaps you could introduce these ability-specific bonuses as materia that drop from various types of content so people can swap them around as they please. Shake this shit up and make one piece of gear stand out from another, and give me a reason to really crave wanting to obtain it. Give people more options.
Final Fantasy XIV is so heavily instanced that it's depressing. The zones are damn ghost towns for the most part, even not long after the most recent expansion. The worst part is that Stormblood's zones are some of the best designed areas I've ever seen in an MMO. They're gorgeous and intricate, yet completely void of meaningful content. You could argue it's borderline disrespectful to the developers that so much work goes into crafting these massive, detailed areas, and then once the main scenario moves beyond them there's practically nothing there to do except gathering ever again. It's an MMO! Where's all the content in this supposed living, breathing world, instead of the detached linear setpieces?
FFXIV has a real problem with server-based communities having almost no reason to exist aside from personality-based groups built from outside influences (like Giant Bomb, or Super Best Friends, or Limit Break Radio, or whatever). There's just no real reason to connect and make lasting relationships with these people because almost nothing incentivizes it.
There are so many places in the various zones that little things could be used to fill it in. Like some sort of system akin to Abyssea or Voidwatch where you could go to specific places in a zone to pop a higher-tier version of a local mob that drops special loot. Assuming of course you don't find the mere concept of rare, unique loot drops to be evil. The pop-items could drop from mobs in the zone, and you could work your way up tier lists à la Abyssea or Escha from FFXI. The only real work you'd have to do to craft this system is build a party-claim system that prevents outside groups from horning in on your action, and after that you can spam out this mechanic all over the game world (efficiency, the word of the day), giving zones so much more to do, and local communities so much more reason to have to band together by themselves.
It would just be nice to zone into a place outside of the hub zones and have more than three or four other people running around. Not to mention more gear options are always better.
Palace of the Dead is kind of beautiful, particularly for someone like me that gets tickled by, as mentioned, efficiency in game design. Nearly everything about Palace of the Dead is pre-fab, with all those various individual parts mixed and matched together in a way that is never exactly the same each time. PoTD only had a few significant shortcomings, and they're all easily fixed.
- More unique objectives per floor. Palace of the Dead is a system that advertises itself as an unpredictable, randomized dungeon crawl, so it's dull after awhile that the way to the next floor is always "Kill x amount of enemies." Non-combat objectives, or even just combat objectives with fewer but more creative mechanics, would really raise the system up in a way that is much less repetitive. FFXI managed this exact kind of content system much more creatively over a decade ago - just sayin'.
- Better gear rewards. A competitively leveled weapon is all well and good, but maybe try future-proofing your content a little bit more than "barely at all." Why not throw in armor to get out of the system as well? Make the PoTD gear all immune to poison or whatever and suddenly you have something actually interesting.
- Please actually care about the higher-difficulty side of the system, and respect those that take it seriously. Floors 101-200 of PoTD are absolutely no joke, the punishment for failing is serious, and to this day I'm not even sure they've ever been completed solo by a single person. The fact that the reward for doing so is basically just a pair of vanity earrings and whatever other random filler loot from the treasure chests is borderline insulting, and just such a great example of how Square Enix doesn't seem to give even half of a fuck about properly making and incentivizing challenging content. I don't understand. Even just a slight variation on the existing gear from the lower level floors would've gone a long way. This is exactly what I meant earlier by saying that addings certain higher level twists and variations on existing gear is a fraction of the work that has already been done, yet can add so much. There's just no good reason not to.
The Relic weapon is ostensibly the "big gear project you work on for a really long time and turns out to be something special in the end" but this hasn't been true since the original release of the game, frankly. The 2.0 Relic was there at the start, and so everyone naturally wanted to do it, and the challenges for progressing it were actually a meaningful test of committment. But then 3.0 released, and all of that effort on the Relic weapon lasted a few levels into the next expansion, and was tossed aside like everything else in the disposable hellscape that is Vertical Progression. The 3.0 Relic was even worse, being barely-worth doing even from the start, and certainly not nearly worth the time it took, especially as it was obvious by that point Square Enix didn't actually care about making this a lasting achievement. The 4.0 Relic has yet to be introduced due to the content system associated with it seemingly lagging behind schedule, and it's up in the air whether or not it will release for months longer.
Almost nothing in the game really requires more than a few hours of work, and certainly no individual quest takes that long, so the existence of a Relic-type piece of equipment, as this long ongoing project, is perfectly fine by me, but Square doesn't seem to grasp either making it fun to do - it isn't - or meaningful for long-term ownership far into the future - it isn't. (In comparison, the Relic weapons of FFXI are still used by people to this day.)
Contrary to those complaints, this is the part where I'm most optimistic some real positive philosophical change could come from. The Stormblood Relic weapon is associated with a new piece of content termed by the community as "Eureka" (named after the area being built for it) and Yoshi has repeatedly described this system as something larger and more structured than anything else of its kind in the game before. It's supposed to be a massive environment where people can form groups on the fly to complete objectives meant for the grander purpose of upgrading your Relic gear, deliberately taking inspiration from older MMOs in more ways than one. I get the sense that many people have pinned their hopes on this system - I know I have - so I want to do nothing except encourage this kind of experimentation and hope it works out well.
Make the Relic weapon a long project, and add Relic armor too while you're at it. An Abyssea-like system attached to it, where you have to join groups on the fly in a giant zone? You're speaking my language. I can only hope it turns out this way, and we'll find out in what seems to be a few months from now. I sincerely hope it's not just a re-skinned Diadem. Not that I have anything against re-skinning content with a slight twist (just look at FFXI), it's just that the Diadem was an example of how Yoshi and his team seem too afraid to really break their molds, and instead have a tendency to release something a little half-baked. Be bold!
I struggle to think of a compelling reason why things like high-level tomes are locked to a mere 450 a week. For reference, a single Expert Dungeon roulette, which contrary to its name is nowhere near any kind of "Expert" level of skill, averages like 25-30 minutes, and gives 90. Two and ahalf cumulative hours over a whole week is all it takes. The only explanation I could fathom would be Square Enix predictably momming it up and not wanting casual players with less playtime to feel like they fall behind. Is that what "accessibility" is? I don't know. Maybe they just don't want people to be finished gearing their characters that quickly and stop playing. Regardless of the explanation, making me stop playing is exactly what it achieves, even when I want to play more.
More galling are the weekly loot lockouts on high-level trial fights and 24-person raids. Again, I can understand why this kind of lockout exists from a certain perspective I guess, but for a game that advertises itself on the bullet-point of "You can play all kinds of classes on a single character, and switch your jobs anywhere on the fly!" it seems oppressive and counter-intuitive that you have to choose a single job to get a single piece of gear for, per week. Even when I want to just make-work for myself to keep playing FFXIV and gear up a second or third job, I am unable. So would it be so bad to just move beyond these arbitrary progress gates?
I originally wanted to simply say "We should be able to take any old dungeon and scale it up to a modern level and do it that way." I still believe this, but really, the entire way dungeons are scaled, up and down, should probably be completely re-done.
This isn't even about being at max level and wanting to re-experience something like Sastasha but with level 70 enemies instead. What's arguably more important is the fact that the act of playing through those lower level dungeons is miserable, not just for how dull they are years after the fact, but just that some jobs feel like shit to play at lower levels. Without access to a modern, fully-formed rotation that comes from the kit unlocked at higher levels that really makes those jobs comes together, some jobs are literally just hitting Button 1 and Button 2 over and over again for thirty minutes and nothing else. Not to mention other jobs barely have access to the things that make them unique in any way at certain levels.
For lower level content, Yoshi and his team should really just allow people to use all their abilities, regardless of the dungeon they've been scaled down to, and just adjust damage accordingly. The actual gameplay should've suffer so seriously just because I'm doing a low-level dungeon, and it might encourage people to actually go back to older content more because it would feel like crap to actually play.
Beyond that though, I would enjoy it a lot if I had the option of taking a newly released dungeon and playing it on some sort of turbo mode, with a tighter time limit and generally tougher enemies, for a slightly higher reward - even if it was just tomes. Putting a twist on hum-drum content like regular dungeons would be much appreciated.
Allow me to recount a brief anecdote from a run of Haukke Manor (normal) from awhile back. One of the party members, I believe he was a DPS, was an inquisitive newbie, and those are always, genuinely, my favorite. It's great to have people ask questions and want to improve their play, so he was working his way through what is one of the first dungeons that really asks classes to properly play their roles. After the first boss, he becomes frustrated and asks "Is there any kind of meter where I can see my DPS?" The answer was, sadly, no.
Requests for a DPS parser have been repeatedly shot down by Yoshi over the years, and the explanation is always, basically, they don't want bad players to feel bad. The bummer is there's really no way of refining and getting better at playing your job, or even really knowing what some rotations are even meant to be, without knowing your DPS numbers. Even if it was something as simple as a Green/Yellow/Red series of lights for how your DPS is going, I would love for this function to exist in the game. For the sake of all those newbies and veterans alike who care about, well, playing the game.
I'm aware it's a longshot, but I had to ask.
You'll notice a theme in the above. Contrary to the cartoonish characterization some people have toward those who want some games to skew in a more challenging and in-depth direction, I'm not advocating for anything that excludes people. In fact, I'm doing the exact opposite. More difficulty options in dungeons, more loot for people to seek, more varied objectives in the content that exists, more things for people to do in a zone, more methods for people to improve at the gameplay, more reasons for people to communicate, etc. Every desire I have for this game is merely for it to have more options. More depth for people to pursue if they choose to. Personally, I feel like that shouldn't be a complicated argument. It takes little to nothing away from the casual player, even if that aspect of the game's audience seems hostile to these things for some reason. The vast majority of these things are additive, and requires comparatively little production. Inclusiveness toward those with different gameplay preferences can and should go both ways.
Please, just give people more meaningful variety.
- TL;DR - Final Fantasy XIV is a brilliant & beautiful singleplayer game, but a shallow-as-hell MMO.
I love Final Fantasy XIV when I just kind of pretend this isn't much of an MMO at all. I'll just tell myself it's this singleplayer open-world Action-RPG that just happens to inexplicably be linked up online to other people, that's all, because when I think of FFXIV has an MMO, it's hard for me to think where it excels. It excels at story, of course. Its soundtrack is one of the greatest ones going in video games right now, probably. The fundamentals of the gameplay are super strong - playing a Healer in this game is one of the most satisfying experiences I think there ever has been as far as healing classes go in other games. But all the other people are just kind of incidental to the experience, and as far as a "living, breathing, growing online world" FFXIV more resembles a post-apocalypse where the remaining humans huddle inside certain hubs but barely venture outside.
If "It's like an MMO but where the other people barely matter" sounds appealing to you, I get that. There are plenty of actual single-player games that do the MMO-lite style of gameplay and world presentation, and those are all awesome, so Final Fantasy XIV is the natural progression of playing something like Final Fantasy XII or Xenoblade. But that's kind of the thing that frustrates me - there are other great singleplayer games with MMO-inspired gameplay, but the amount of great MMO experiences are fewer and further between, to put it generously. It's a laundry list of missed opportunities and untapped potential.
Part of why I insisted so much on the pound-for-pound content system comparison earlier in the blog between FFXIV and FFXI is to illustrate how, beyond spurious accusations of "nostalgia!", FFXI was just so much more mechanical and progression-focused on its core gameplay aspects. FFXIV is much less so. Where FFXI insists on a smorgasbord of battle content all with the point of improving your job gear-wise, putting you through shared trials and challenges you have to seek out other people to coordinate through, FFXIV does all the networking for you, barely gives you reason to communicate, and offers more bite-sized content options that all just kind of give you the same old thing. Where in FFXI there is always something to be doing, and always a motivation to log in, in FFXIV the game is content to flat out tell you: No, you're done for this week, go do something else. That's just not what I enjoy from an MMO, and personally it's hard to justify a long-term financial committment to a game that flat out prevents me from progression arbitrarily.
And what even are MMOs anymore? That's an existential question I don't think I have the answer to and trying to find it would add oodles more to an already exorbitant blog post, but I feel like MMOs resemble what Survival Horror (gosh, there's another "Best time to be playing video games ever!" counterpoint all on its own) went through a generation ago. It basically streamlined itself out of existence. Making one little "Wouldn't it just be a little easier if we eliminated this extra step? And made this a little faster?" step at a time, that after a few years of this kind of video-game-natural-selection it no longer resembled its ancestor species much at all. The thing that made MMOs unique, the coordination with other people to accomplish big things you can't do on your own in a shared online space, is increasingly downplayed, perhaps even out of the best of intentions "just to eliminate that extra step." But the long-term consequence of this has been that MMOs just started looking like always-online singleplayer RPGs with very light multiplayer components and much less depth.
And looking around the general gaming landscape, it kind of feels like everything "big" is mixing and mingling into this kind of weirdly merged-together blob of being a shared online space with light RPG elements. It took so much of my strength to refrain from just using the term "mingleplayer" but that is the weird sort of limbo between the two ends of the spectrum where more and more games seem to occupy.
I guess my point there is, this isn't strictly an MMO phenomenon - it's more of a larger game industry trend that MMOs have been swept up in. The same way I want a more distinctively MMO kind of experience like FFXI, there's someone else out there still upset that Bungie didn't make a more distinctively Halo kind of game and instead made what seems to be the flagship example of this "it's like an MMO, but kind of not" trend. I just like games that go for more of a purer vision, and to see a game come from such prime MMO heritage, having such superb core gameplay, it's frustrating that it actively chooses to not stand out from the crowd more.
There are still some games out there that line up more with my MMO tastes. Old School Runescape honestly gets too little credit and rarely seems spoken of in more critical spaces, but it really does deserve a shout-out even if I feel like it's this weird guilty pleasure for some people. There's nothing guilty about my OSRS pleasure! FFXI still, against all odds, continues and even though the game has changed dramatically from its younger days, it still maintains the core experiences that made it so good - you just have to dig a little deeper to find them than you used to. World of Warcraft Classic is something I'm super happy to see, as well, because if there's any company that could have enough sway to move mainstream gaming tastes back to something slightly more hardcore, it would be Blizzard. Smaller games I'm leaving out are there too, of course - I'm sure there's some Korean MMO fans out there happy to chime in. But I'm digressing.
There are few things more frustrating than being almost there but not quite. That's where I feel like Final Fantasy XIV is. So excellent in many of its individual parts, but put together in a less creative way than I would've preferred, in a way that almost feels like the development team is traumatized from the 1.0 release. I hope in the future Yoshi and his team stop playing it so safe. In the meantime I suppose I'll just keep enjoying the game as a sort-of-singleplayer-but-not-really experience.