Against all odds, I remain playing FF14. Some days. For about an hour or two at a time.
Had I stuck with the Pugilist, I would have unsubscribed a month ago. Instead, I decided to try out the Archer and… I’m actually having fun. Usually. The mobility of instant-casts makes up for a lot of what I can only describe as the “jankiness” of FF14’s combat system. No attacks seem to have any weight to them – they are all high-pitched squeals and brightly flashing lights.
There is also an extremely noticeable delay in state-based attacks. For example, the Archer has a Kill Shot/Execute ability that’s off the global cooldown which triggers at 20% HP. Which is fine… except that it always lights up almost a full second after the target is below 20%. Combined with the default 2.5 second GCD, and enemy attack animations not being synced with their damage, the game feels like you’re playing with 250ms lag all the time.
I continue to slog through things though, because everyone talks about the fantastic story.
Know what I did on Monday? I /danced with some Sylphs to earn their trust. Then did some fetch quests for said Sylphs. Then helped out a bar owner, which involved talking to half a dozen people around the world to find out where a particular NPC went so I could return an earring. Then I helped the NPC make some liquor as a gift. Then went on a side quest to catch a traitor in the woods, ostensibly as something to do to pass the time. Finally, I found the the missing Sylph elder hiding (spoilers!) in another mandatory dungeon.
Best. Writing. Ever.
It really isn’t. I’m too committed to seeing this experiment to its conclusion, to see for myself if there is any redeeming value in playing FF14 for its story, to quit now. But I really, really want to. I have to imagine that SWTOR would be a better use of my time at this point.
Still, I shall overcome. With active, conscious effort.
The rise of the mobile gaming over the last couple of years has been covered rather extensively already. And up to this point, I would have argued too extensively. As a phenomenon, it is certainly interesting seeing a market emerge in real-time, but it never really seemed to impact me. The “gamer” population swelled with the ranks of people playing Candy Crush, which had little to do with any core gamers. Maybe a few well-known studios released a mobile app, whatever.
This past weekend ended up being pretty busy, but I still managed to squeeze in around 5-7 hours of gaming. And close to 100% of that time were spent in mobile games on my phone.
Granted, a few of those hours would have been dead time had I not had my phone with me. But close to half of the total was literally me sitting at my computer desk, dicking around with Clash Royale and similar “time wasters.” Part of it was undoubtedly post-game depression stemming from completing Mass Effect: Andromeda. It is always tough for me to mentally transition from 80+ hours of one title into a brand new game that promises similar hours required.
The other part, though? I am wondering whether it is due to my age that I am gravitating towards more instant gratification. Or maybe traditional game designers are getting worse at their jobs?
I spent approximately 20 minutes playing FFXIV over the weekend. I logged in, talked to some NPCs, teleported to some cities, talked some more, then had to take a minute Chocobo ride back to the main base camp to complete the quest. The main story quest, mind you. I had more fun in the 60 seconds of dead time on the Chocobo than I did in the entire 20 minutes playing overall, as I was able to boot up a mobile game, snag some rewards, and restart some locked chest timers.
Now, of course watching chests explode with goodies is a cheap, diversionary tactic at best; it is hardly fair to compare such things to the slow burn of a (supposedly) epic narrative. At the same time, those now-empty chest slots drew my eye to the 2v2 Battle button hovering just above, fat with the promise of compelling and amusing gameplay just a press away. And if I just get 6 more crowns from destroying enemy towers, I can unlock another chest with even more goodies. Hmmmmm.
Needless to say, I logged off FFXIV soon after getting off the Chocobo.
I guess what I’m getting at is the shift towards mobile is a multi-layered “problem.” There is the vapid dopamine rush from getting easy rewards, sure. There is also the front-loaded fun gameplay in quick gaming sessions. Then there is a whole class of game (MMOs) which are utterly reliant on back-loaded… everything. And it is not even that clear that such back-loaded fun is actually required to be back-loaded – that is simply how things have traditionally been done. Why doesn’t Waking Sands in FFXIV have a teleporter when just about every other town does? Is there a legit reason?
I am beginning to question everything. Opening a chest is a vapid reward. Is it more vapid than gaining levels in a traditional MMO? I am playing a Monk in FFXIV, and even after the revamped combat that came with the Stormblood expansion, I’m getting bored to tears with such a limited amount of abilities. I am stuck with limited abilities because the designers don’t want me to get all of them at the beginning because they are afraid I won’t feel rewarded enough in levels 20-60 after having received my full rotation. And they are right to be worried about that – it sounds awful.
Know what else sounds awful? Spending my time playing this game when I can play something else and be having fun right now.
Mobile gaming has not completely consumed my gaming mindspace, as evidenced by the fact that I spent 90 hours in Mass Effect just before this. But I am finding that the proverbial Fun Floor has risen dramatically over the last few months for me, more than it ever has before. Presumably, I am going to remember the twists and turns of FFXIV’s (later) story way beyond Quick Battle #4,872, and thereby justify the time investment.
But sometimes you just want to, you know, have fun when you play videogames. Right now.
Everything got put on hold due to my Darkest Dungeon infatuation. Now that I might be coming out of that fugue state soon, I wanted to take stock and see where things are headed everywhere else.
Final Fantasy 14
I have officially paid for an entire month’s subscription without logging in once.
The good news on this front is that my miserly ways will allow me to get Heavensward for free should I buy Storm Blood. I haven’t actually bought anything yet though, for the very real chance that I never make it to the original endgame. For example, one of the things that happened right before I drifted away from playing was a 20+ minute DPS queue for a mandatory “dungeon” which consisted of a single boss and no trash. Mandatory. Because reasons.
Guild Wars 2
While I have not logged into GW2 for a hot minute, there was a period of a few weeks where I was logging on everyday to complete the
daily quests “achievements” for 2g and a few assorted goodies. Especially the One Free Level books every week or so. It is not as though there is particularly much to do in GW2’s fashion endgame, but it gets really boring running through the same beginning zones over and over whenever you try finding a class that is fun to play.
That said, there is supposedly another expansion coming in the Fall. And just like with FF14, buying the expansion gets you the previous expansion for free. So, no thanks ArenaNet, I’m going to pass on the recent $15 Heart of Thorns deal.
New expansion comes out in August, and it’s set in Northrend. Time will tell how the new cards affect the meta… but to an extent, it almost doesn’t matter. I never really play Hearthstone more than an hour or two at a time, maybe once or twice a week. Most of the time I find it almost as fun (if not moreso) to watch other people play on Twitch. Say what you want regarding how RNG makes skill meaningless, but goddamn does it make spectating amusing. All of the excitement and none of the salt, because the bad stuff isn’t happening to you!
As usual, I expect to spend zero real-world dollars on the expansion. Gold and Dust should be enough to hold me over, as it has in the prior few expansions.
7 Days to Die
Since I last brought it up, 7DTD has rolled over into 16/16.1 Alpha Stable release. There aren’t any major changes to anything, but this does mean that the dev team can start working on A17 and “settlements,” whatever that ends up looking like. If the devs end up adding actual NPCs into the game (rather than Traders who don’t move from their counter), that will change the gameplay rather significantly. After a while, one gets used to easily meleeing zombies to death with clubs; Bandits with firearms sniping from rooftops would be something else altogether.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
I really should go ahead and start finishing this, shouldn’t I? Just to say I did.
Syp over at Biobreak recently suggested a bold move: killing the MMO sidequest.
While I can certainly defend main story quests — such as zone/planet-wide chains or a personal story arc that goes through most of the game — side missions lack positive qualities that make them desirable. Let’s call them for what they really are: busy work. Side quests are small tasks that offer no real story, no significant reward, and only serve to pad out your quest log and allow dev teams to be able to boast ridiculously high quest tallies for patches and expansions (“200 new quests! Of which only 15 are memorable in any way!”).
Let’s think about it. If your favorite MMO one day yanked all of its side quests, leaving only factional, zone, dungeon, and overarching story arcs intact, would it really suffer for it? Would you bemoan their loss? Players are forever asking to be able to just play through the main storylines without all of these diversions down rabbit trails, so why not give it to them? Just increase XP for the main quests and work on providing other forms of much more meaningful content that can serve as a focus for players’ time.
Following the post, there were a dozen or so commenters who were in favor of the proposal. Which got me thinking… are they on to something?
Sidequests are vitally important to any MMO, or single-player RPG for that matter. Or, at least, they should be. See, one of the primary purposes of sidequests is pacing. Which is absolutely different from filler. Filler is the pointless busywork that a designer adds to pad the game’s playtime. I am all for the death of filler, which is bad pretty much by definition.
Pacing, meanwhile, is all about enhancing the main story. How do you enhance a story? By fleshing it out. Giving context to its development. Allowing breathing room in which to digest the latest narrative bombshell. Bringing the world in which the story exists to life.
For example, Lord of the Rings is a 1178-page story about [spoiler alert] destroying a magic ring. Frodo’s travails towards and around Mount Doom are the Main Story Quest (MSQ). Hell, I’ll even concede that all that business with Aragorn and Helm’s Deep and the throne of Gondor and all of those pitched battles are a part of that same MSQ, despite them being a literal distraction so that Frodo could complete the only quest that actually mattered.
Having said that, the reason why we care about Frodo destroying the ring in the first place is because of the rest of it. We care about the supporting characters, we care about the Shire, we care about the world in which these people inhabit. MSQs are good at driving action forward, but they are terrible at world-building. That is sort of by design: there is an expectation that details included in a MSQ will be relevant to the future of the MSQ, Chekhov Gun-style. You cannot have the MSQ examine the life of an average farmer toiling under the weight of an oppressive regime without expecting said farmer eventually being executed/liberated in a later chapter.
Sidequests are the mechanism by which imaginary worlds are built. Bad, filler sidequests do not tell you anything about the world other than its inability to kill ten rats. Good sidequests create minor characters and story hooks and introduce you to the world which you are trying to save… even if you are still killing ten rats to do so. The MSQ asks you to save the world, and sidequests tell you why.
Then there are the mechanical, game design aspects of sidequests. In an MMO, there is often considerably more physical world built than strictly necessary to drive the MSQ forward. Indeed, a MSQ that somehow forced you to explore every inch of every zone in sequence would feel forced and arbitrary (see: FF14). Sidequests, meanwhile, provide optional incentives to explore all four corners of the map, to face different enemy types in different areas, and so on. Well, “optional” unless the XP from sidequests are required in order to level up enough to fight in the next zone. However, again, that would be an example of bad sidequests.
About two months ago, I was less bullish on sidequests than this post. At the time, I was playing FF14, which is exceptionally bad in the boring, vapid sidequest department. In fact, FF14 is exceptionally bad in the MSQ department, with nearly everyone stating that the story really starts getting good… once you reach the original endgame. In the meantime, I suppose I’m just expected to endure these pointless, trivial tasks like flying around to the various capitals and deliver letters?
On the other hand, I have also been playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. While not as good as the original trilogy, Andromeda absolutely has engaged me in even the most repetitive of sidequests. Why? Because I like it there. I like the world Bioware has created, I like the characters and the amusing banter they get involved in. I could listen to Peebee and Drack talk about shit all day. In fact, I have, inbetween sidequests to scan minerals and other “busy work.” Work that required me to explore every corner of each planet and have an “excuse” to engage in one of the best iterations of a Mass Effect combat system yet.
If you do not care about the game world, or do not care for the combat system, then yes, there isn’t much distinguishing legit sidequests from filler. But in a well-crafted game, the sidequests shouldn’t be mandatory to begin with. In which case, there isn’t a reason to kill them; just ignore them and move on with the story.
I have resubbed to FF14.
It took a curiously long amount of time to figure out where to download the launcher for the game. In fact, had it not been the fact that I was socially committed to trying the game again, I might have just stopped right there. I understand that things might be confusing if random people were presented with a 25GB download link right off the Square Enix page and then prevented from opening it because they didn’t technically buy the game.
But seriously? I shouldn’t have to Google how to download your MMO.
Once I downloaded the launcher, reinstalled, and resubbed, I logged into my original character from a year ago just to test the waters again. And boy ole boy, do I get what the Blizzard devs have talked about before vis-a-vis not wanting to confuse returning players. Coming back to WoW is an intimately familiar experience. Granted, it is probably moreso because I had been playing that for almost a decade now.
Coming back to FF14 after having played for a month a year ago is a whole other story. Can I teleport around town at will, or do I need to need to be near one of the Aethershards? Where the hell are the mailboxes? What was I doing again? Why can’t I see the armor I have in stock?
When I left off, my character was a level 25 Arcanist/level 13 Thaumaturge on Hyperion. Meanwhile, my friend is on Cactuar. Do I pay the transfer fee? It seems to be a bit silly given the low levels, but it is difficult to tell the value of “skipping” as much of the painfully boring FF14 early game as possible. On the other hand, I don’t know my ass from a hole in the ground either, so maybe another go-around in the level 1-40 tutorial was in order.
This time around, I learned my lesson and rolled a melee character (Pugilist). Thus far… things are okay. Level 1: Press 1. Level 2: Press 1, then 2. Level 6, Press 1, then 2, then 3. I am eagerly awaiting level 10 when I actually get a reactionary button (triggers after I dodge), and then level 15 when I get a melee DoT to weave in. It may sound boring – and it absolutely is – but it is worlds better than casting Ruin a million times.
I am not 100% convinced I’ll settle on the Pugilist/Monk path. I managed to find a guide or two regarding endgame rotations, and the Monk seemed to be heading in the Feral druid direction of All the Things. Ninja just sound bizarre. The Dragoon looks fine, as does the Bard to an extent. Considering my newly rolled toon is just level 8, I have quite a ways to go.
Overall, things are fine for now. I am not buying Heavensward, as A) I doubt that I make it to the vanilla endgame before the end of this month, and B) it is included for free in the Stormblood expansion. I do not anticipate playing FF14 for even as long as I played Guild Wars 2, but I do plan on completing the main story quest and seeing what all the plot fuss is about. Assuming there is any.
Over the holidays, I declined to purchase either the Heart of Thorns (GW2) nor the Heavensward (FFXIV) expansions, despite them being on sale for $25 and $10 respectively.
In the case of FFXIV, the decision was easy: the expansion’s content is locked at the very end of the base game’s storyline (which is mandatory). While I am going to give the MMO another shot this year, I would be dozens and dozens of hours out from even getting a whiff of the new content, so there isn’t a particular reason to buy-in now.
With GW2, the consider was basically the same, but slightly more strategic. I already have a level 80 Elementalist, so I could technically start into the new endgame content right away. However, I’m 99% sure I’d want to be playing my Necro instead, who just hit level 36. But more than that, we already know Arenanet is working on GW2’s next expansion, and that it’s extremely likely (based on Heart of Thorn’s release) that it will end up including HoT in its purchase price.
In both cases, it was kind of clear that there wasn’t much of a point in buying the expansion without already having an endgame character. Some stuff works earlier on, such as new classes, but for the most part all the new content is back-loaded. Which… makes sense, of course. “Expansion.”
At the same time, as someone who has purchased the base games already, such expansions hold zero immediate appeal to me. If they had immediate appeal, I’d have bought them and felt an obligation to start playing right away. GW2 offers a level 80 boost with Heart of Thorns, so there is at least that, but I’m not even particularly asking for insta-endgame characters here. Just… something. New starting zones or other low-level content, basically.
Hell, I remember Diablo 2’s expansion back in the day added entirely new items to the loot tables across the entire base game. That was actually an instance where I kicked myself for not buying the expansion right away, as I pretty much cleared the normal game and only installed the expansion later (despite my being late to the Diablo party generally). On the other hand, that sounds like a few mobile games I know, where “VIP” status allows you to get loot the plebs never see. Hmm.
There are many who will argue that 2016 was the worst year ever, and I am inclined to agree. At least, I would, until I start looking at my own personal life, in which case things have been largely fantastic. Part of the slowdown in the past two months, for example, was because I was shopping around for a house. I’m technically in contract, but we’ll see how it goes.
Looking back at the New Years Resolutions (of sorts) from 2015, I had:
- Actually playing FFXIV for real this time. [Completed]
- Maybe, potentially sticking my toe back in GW2. Briefly. [Yep]
- Oh, yeah, I bought GTA 5, didn’t I? [I did, and I beat it too.]
- Being more excited than I probably should be about Overwatch. [100%]
- Spending a WoW token and immediately regretting it. [No regrets]
- Being amazing. [Of course]
I completed my foray into FFXIV fairly early on in the year, and am tempted to give it another go – especially given that I’ve done this spontaneous “Yearly Attempt” deal for ESO and GW2 recently. Perhaps a melee class would be better suited to my “actually press buttons” playstyle? Plus… I feel kinda guilty for finally deleting FFXIII’s 60+GB install, despite the fact that I technically already own FFXIII-2 and Lightning Returns. Final Fantasy used to be my jam, you know?
Anyway, my goals for 2017 can mostly be summed up with:
- Give FF14 another shot.
- Play through some of those PS3 games I bought four years ago.
- Resist playing WoW until the WoW Token -> Blizzard balance goes Live.
- Clear at least 30 games from my Steam backlog.
That is basically it. See you folks on the other side of 2016.
A little while ago I got the early dungeon wall that I heard people grumbling about back in the day: a point near level 20 where the Story quest gets gated around running three dungeons in a row. I spent an entire day’s session pushing through it like a particularly difficult bowel movement, with very similar end results.
The first two dungeons were not actually that bad. Long, boring slogs through story-less gameplay, but whatever; I’m not sure Wailing Caverns performed much better when I played it six years ago. Then came Copperbell Mines. If I continue playing FFXIV, it will be in spite of my experience in this dungeon.
To be clear, it is not necessarily the dungeon’s fault. I assume Copperbell Mines is just as bland and flavorless as any other dungeon in this game. But within the first two pulls, I realized we were in trouble. The only non-new player was the healer, and it became very clear that 1) the tank had no clue how to hold aggro, and 2) the lancer had no concept of how dungeons or the holy trinity works at all. The lancer spent the entire dungeon running ahead, grabbing aggro, then running away once his HP hit 25%. While no one can expect a tank to completely take control of that, one can reasonably expect the tank to at least have higher aggro than the healer. Which he could not, to literally save his (and everyone else’s) life.
FFXIV has this reputation as a nice, friendly environment for noobs and such, but I feel that it let us down in this case. Friendly suggestions to not be fucking stupid (paraphrasing) did not reach the lancer, who might have been illiterate for all we know. Had this been WoW, either the lancer or tank or both would have been straight-up kicked (assuming no 4-hour timers) for not doing the goddamn jobs they signed up to do, but no no. It is our responsibility – nay, privilege! – to repeatably wipe with the classical stoic grace of British aristocracy. I summoned my tanking pet to at least give the healer an extra 15 seconds of life and largely went down with the ship with a stiff upper lip.
At the end of it, several things were very clear to me then:
- There was zero reason why those dungeons were mandatory for the story.
- There wasn’t any story to those dungeons at all. No background material, no Dead Mines-esque buildup.
- It was yet another “travel across the world three times sequentially” time-sink, after literally just finishing a similar one.
- I’m done waiting 15-20 minutes to play a game.
- I’m done waiting to play with bad players.
This attitude will, of course, put me at odds with the standard MMO appointment-gaming zeitgeist.
I was also struck with the realization of what FFXIV’s combat reminded me of: Aion. As in, a pretty world with great animation and bizarre old-school throwbacks combined with an awfully boring combat system. Again, I’m an Arcanist, so I’m sure that has something to do with it – Thaumaturge felt more exciting for the little I played of it. At the same time, I view FFXIV allowing me to pick a boring-ass class more of FFXIV’s problem, than my own.
In any case, my free month is up next week, so FFXIV has until then to convince me it has any redeeming factors at all. People keep going on about the story, but I can no longer tell if they mean an actual good story, or a good story in comparison to other MMOs. Either way, it has the aforementioned amount of time to get down to business if Square Enix wants to continue getting my own.
FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played.
It is not just the 2.5 second global cooldown, although that is a significant factor; it is the entire early game experience. I started with Arcanist, which is probably something I shouldn’t have done to begin with, and here are the levels in which I get buttons I can use:
- Level 1: 2.5-second generic nuke.
- Level 2: instant-cast DoT
- Level 4: Summon and forget a pet
- Level 6/8: 60-second cooldown gives a buff that let’s you press a button once.
- Level 10: 2.5 second cast DoT
- Level 26: 2.5 second cast DoT
So, from levels 1-9, you press 1-1-2-1-1-1, then from levels 10-26, you can press 3-2-1-1-1-1.
I thought that melee had it better, but when I rolled a Marauder, I saw that the level 2 ability was a 2-minute defensive cooldown and I instantly deleted the character. Now that I look at the rest of the Marauder ability list, I do see quite a few extra buttons to push, but I was pretty exacerbated at the time.
I did manage to get a Lancer up to level 8, and I will say that melee definitely feels better than Arcanist at least, but my Lancer was a Miqo’te so… yeah.
Now, I have heard all the arguments already – something something console gamers, something something players new to MMOs. But, Christ, this is vanilla WoW paladin-level nonsense in 2016 (or 2013, whatever). Regardless of whether it ramps up to having too many buttons to push at max level, the era in which a game gets away with having a boring start is basically over.
…or not, considering how FFXIV is clearly the #2 MMORPG on the market at the moment. But still! In terms of combat, Guild Wars 2 beats FFXIV hard enough that even FFXI gets bruises, let alone in comparison to WoW. The moves look fancy, but that’s just because you have to look at something while you wait one extra second * a million goddamn times.
[Fake Edit:] After writing the above, I realized that I hadn’t actually seen the WoW beginning experience sans Heirlooms in like three expansions. So I went ahead and created a “F2P” Starter account and rolled up a Warlock, Mage, and Paladin. Conclusion? As it turns out, WoW doesn’t really give you many abilities either:
Paladin in particular looked pretty heinous, with Crusader Strike having a 4.5 second cooldown and Judgment not coming until level 5. If I’m looking at Wowhead correctly, it seems like Paladin is Crusader Strike, Judgment, Templar’s Verdict until… level 38, when Hammer of Wrath unlocks? Can that be correct? Holy fuck. I haven’t leveled a Paladin since TBC, but I’m pretty sure that was my rotation throughout all of vanilla content. At least back in the day, we had to recast Seals every time we hit Judgment!
In any case, one of the differences I noticed right away on all the WoW characters though was how utterly satisfying it was to kill mobs. The Warlock had 2.5-second Shadowbolts just like the Arcanist, but the Warlock was 1-2 shotting all the creatures in the opening areas. Hell, Corruption at level 3 was more than enough to kill them in seconds too. Try that with Bio and let me know how it goes.
So, basically, I’m sticking with what I said earlier: FFXIV has one of the worst-feeling combat systems I have ever played. And that negative feeling apparently has everything to do with the longer GCD and longer Time-to-Kill, rather than lack of abilities. Although more buttons to push would help a lot in making the combat feel less like a slog.