FFXIV: On The Road Again

So, been playing a bit of FFXIV on Lamia server the past few nights. (Frail Gesture, if you want to friend me.) I haven't gotten too far (level 11 as a Gladiator), but I figured I'd throw out a few initial thoughts/quibbles. Overall, I’m enjoying the game, but it’s not hard to see some areas for improvement in the early game.

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A Slow Start: The first few levels that you gain are...kinda boring, unfortunately. Starting you in a city (the gladiator starts this way, not sure about every class) is a bad idea that I thought most MMOs (Rift, WoW, GW2) had gotten away from. Most of the above games start players off in small starting areas with just a questgiver or two, letting people get familiar with the basics of combat--you know, that thing you’re going to be spending most of your time doing--before shoving them off into an overwhelming city. (To its credit, Ul’Dah isn’t as bad a starting city as some of the massive cities in other MMOs. But I should probably stop before I go off on a never-ending tangent about city design in MMOs - a subject for another blog, perhaps.)

I don’t necessarily mind town-time in MMOs, but I do generally dislike questing in them, with some rare exceptions. FFXIV doesn’t do any favors to its early game here by making the first few dozen quests you encounter mindless fetch-and-deliver stuff. Now, delivery quests are never, ever going to be eliminated from MMOs, and there’s a good reason for that: they’re a great way to lead new players towards areas that they need to explore. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case in FFXIV; many of the fetch-and-deliver quests here lead you to various guilds around the city...which you can’t join until you’ve completed the level 10 quest for your class. It’s handy to get the teleport markers early on, but apart from that, there’s pretty much no reason to visit these guilds at the beginning of the game. I would’ve ditched most of these fetch quests until you can actually join the guilds and sent players out into the outside world much earlier on, or just allow players to join guilds right off the bat.

Lightly Interactive Combat: Again, this might be a complaint exclusive to Gladiators, but I’m level 11 as a gladiator and there are precisely two combat actions I use in any given fight: Fast Blade and Savage Blade. I got Savage Blade at level 4, so I’ve spent seven levels, or the majority of my character’s life, mashing the same two buttons over and over again in every fight. (I do have some other skills, but they’re either relevant only in dungeons, which I can’t enter yet, or are damage/armor boosts that are useful but not very exciting.)

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Compare that with the life of a Warrior in World of Warcraft. By level 11 as a Warrior, I would’ve had Heroic Strike, Throw, Charge, Victory Rush, and Execute to use in combat. Battles, even in the early game, feel dynamic and exciting, whereas here I basically hit Fast Blade, wait for the global cooldown to end, and hit Savage Blade. Repeat ad nauseum. It’s not a great way to spend five or six hours of game time, and it seems like someone should’ve figured that out while playtesting, although perhaps this is a problem that’s specific to Gladiator; I’ll try some other classes eventually to figure it out.

Speaking of, the global cooldown here feels just a tad too long; 2.5 seconds feels somewhat punitively long when Rift, WoW, TOR, etc. mostly stick with a 1.5 GCD. This is especially true when I only have two buttons to hit. Would’ve been nice to reduce the damage on some of these skills and let you hit the buttons more often, just to give combat more interactivity, but I’m sure that might’ve interfered with skill chains and such later on. I’ll hold off judgement for now.

Disregard Everything I Just Said: Overall, the game seems fun, but this stuff does cut into my enjoyment of soloing at the moment. And yeah, I know that it’s a bit passe to compare an MMO to WoW, but that’s my reference point, and a lot of the stuff I mention above doesn’t exactly require heavy lifting or years of research to suss out. Not every game has to be or should attempt to ape WoW, but there’s enough of FFXIV that seems to draw heavily from that well that it’s a bit surprising to see them stumble in some of the most important stuff, i.e. the introduction to the game. If players don’t enjoy their first five or six hours of the game, you’re putting yourself in a position where you have to win them back towards a subscription rather than getting them excited to pay for more content. I’m not necessarily saying that I had a bad time in my journey to level 10, but I’m pretty neutral on the experience so far.

Anyway, a few initial thoughts; obviously criticizing the game's first few hours won't mean much if the rest of the game is a superblast. I’m looking forward to trying out some tanking, for sure. I played a bit of FFXI when it came out, but didn’t progress very far due to the lack of viable solo play for most classes. They seem to have fixed some of those issues here, at least, and it’ll be interesting to finally be able to get into a dungeon or two. It’s pretty goddamn annoying to hear that you need to form a party before entering a dungeon and that they’re attuned to quest chains; both of these are things that WoW got rid of a long, long time ago, to its credit. But we suffer where we must.