What I Have Been Playing Lately: Final Fantasy XIV

I’ve enjoyed MMORPGs for a long time. Like many my age I dabbled in Runescape before graduating to Guild Wars and World of Warcraft. I’ve sampled just about every MMO I have seen and there’s a tremendous amount of fun I’ve had doing so. Most recently however I’ve returned to, and immensely enjoyed, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (FFXIV) and its expansions Heavensward and more recently Stormblood. I want to talk about something FFXIV does in its character and world building that sets it apart from the pack.

I initially played FFXIV shortly after it released its game changing 2.0 patch A Realm Reborn. At the time I was infatuated with raiding in World of Warcraft–in fact it was my WoW guild that convinced me to try out the rebirth of FFXIV. At the time I wasn’t a fan. The idea of starting a new MMO treadmill from scratch wasn’t appealing at the time and FFXIV’s admittedly slow start did it no favors. However after watching the fantastic NoClip documentary on the death and resurrection of FFXIV I decided to give it another shot.

Returning to the game I laughed at my character, Deanna Troi, whom I’d completely forgotten existed. Deanna was a low level White Mage who had very little to do with the final frontier. I was even more amused when I rediscovered that I’d named my chocobo Willriker. I’d functionally forgotten everything about my character. Surprisingly, I resumed my journey as a White Mage and was able to jump right back in to the game. It was almost overwhelming at first but FFXIV introduces its content in a really natural way that promotes one of the best MMO worlds out there.

FFXIV is in its second expansion and currently on patch 4.1.5 (with 4.2 looming on the horizon). In my return to Eorzea I had to play through every single bit of major content from patch 2.0 to 4.1.5 in order to finally get up to date. With about five major patches in each of the game eras (2.X, 3.X, and now 4.X) that’s a lot of content that I had to get through. And each major era was a major wall with an entire endgame I had to get through. I had to complete all of the bosses and dungeons in each era in order to proceed to the next. This meant spending a fair bit of time at the respective level caps for each era. Other MMOs would have players skip the content in patches from old eras and instead have them move straight to the next era to continue their journey to max level. FFXIV forces you to stop and smell the roses.

For example,  patch 3.3 in FFXIV introduced a new story arc that involved a showdown against one of the game’s biggest baddies to date: Nidhogg. Complete with an epic fight (linked below) it’s an impressive piece of content that really concludes the major plot line in the Heavensward expansion. If FFXIV had players skip this content so that they could move on the bad guy du jour. That’s a process that makes sense for games with competitive end game progressions, but FFXIV is all about getting the player involved in their character and the world they inhabit–it just wouldn’t make sense here.

FFXIV could be seen as a single player game in a lot of ways–if it weren’t for the occasional required dungeon or raid equivalent, the game could be completed solo. The player character is the famous “Warrior of Light,” a practically messianic figure who is literally saving the world from “the darkness.” Every quest or unlockable focuses on having the player learn more about the world and characters in the game that are in some way connected to the player character. Even the most basic of quests might have a player travel across the entire map of the game simply to say hello to someone connected to the player. The game provides a fast travel system to support this allowing the player to simply teleport to places at will.

Content is locked until the player has completed elements of the story that contextualize said content. In WoW a player can access any raid (current or past) so long as they are of requisite level. Of course, this wasn’t always the case as raid access used to require lengthy attunement processes that were phased out as content grew old. FFXIV solves this problem by making the old content attractive for all players. Veteran players at max level get paired often with players attempting to complete the lower level story content. These players have their power level scaled down so the content still feels difficult.

All this promotes a world that really connects the player and their character. Instead of having new players rush to current content without experiencing the old players learn everything that’s happened to get them up to speed. And, as I mentioned earlier, this is a double edged sword. From a gameplay and social perspective there is an extremely long amount of playtime required for the player to get to current level content. If the content on the way isn’t enjoyable as it’s being done then FFXIV would be a mess. Fortunately this is not the case. The aforementioned fight against Nidhogg was thrilling to participate in even though it wasn’t the current tier of content. Experiences like this are spread throughout the lengthy process to get to the current content. Old content in FFXIV doesn’t feel old, it feels important and impressive. I rarely felt myself yearning to be at max level but rather eager to see what was the next trick in the game was.

When I sample new MMOs I usually feel resigned to a multi hour grind through old content before I get to the current content people are raving about. Leveling is usually just a vehicle for the player to get to the end game where the cool stuff happens. FFXIV has increasingly cool moments as the game goes on that are presented in some spectacular cinematic but more often as really interesting boss fights that make you go wow.

I’m still gathering all the elements that make me most impressed by FFXIV, this is just a fresh take after finally getting up to date on current content. I’m aiming to follow up with another post about the boss fights themselves which continue to impress a seasoned WoW raider like me after hours of fighting them. There are some really fresh ideas and concepts worth dissecting.