"It is streamlined to a degree that a designer can't help but admire."
Mike and Derek provided their thoughts on the reboot of Final Fantasy XIV in the first two terrific journal entries. They were overwhelmingly positive. I guess somebody had to be the bad guy.
Some people like pickles.
Stay with me here.
Some people like pickles and are able to appreciate the difference between a finely crafted, zesty style pickle and a more run of the mill, mild dill. Those people will eat just about any kind of pickle and be able to appreciate it, but will eat an entire jar of the best pickles they can find.
Other people would just rather be eating olives.
Final Fantasy XIV is a fantastic pickle, but I guess I'd rather be eating olives.
Just so I can stretch this analogy to the breaking point, what you've got here is one of the most streamlined MMOs ever, crammed full of familiar mechanics that we have seen many times in other games but honed to an Aristotilean form of the ideal
possible implementation of that particular mechanic. These things aren't thrown into a blender together. They are presented elegantly in front of you as individual components of a five-star dish you might get at an expensive restaurant. You want to do fetch quests? Enjoy fetch quests with the absolute optimal distance between points to keep you rolling in xp. You want to kill x number of foozles? Those foozles are right there, and you can scale those foozles up or down in level depending on how big of a challenge you want. You want to do escort quests? That NPC only needs to go the optimal distance to keep the pleasure centers of your brain firing the entire time. You want random group quests that pop up on the map all over the place? You want group dungeons? World Bosses? Crafting?
It's all there, and it is streamlined to a degree that a designer can't help but admire. I have made the argument many times that the reason Torchlight 2 is amazing is because it distills everything awesome about the Action RPG into the purest form of the medium of all time. There is artistry in perfecting something that already existed. But if you don't like action RPGs, Torchlight 2 is not likely to convert you.
I guess the problem here is that I stopped playing World of Warcraft for a lot of reasons, and Final Fantasy XIV hasn't changed the discussion around any of those reasons.
There is a critical moment in Final Fantasy XIV's main plot where you have to complete several dungeons in a row, and to do this you will either need friends whose schedules coordinate with yours, or you will need to use the group finder. If you are a tank or a healer, you will have no problem getting in. If you are anything else, you will need to wait for an indeterminate amount of time that is often longer than an hour. I don't know what the actual amount of time is because I've never, ever successfully joined a group using a DPS class with the group finder. I have waited as long as 90 minutes before giving up, so I can't tell you what the actual length of time could be. The solution to this is to make sure you have a healer or tank class leveled up so you can get through those areas before switching back to a DPS class, but hopefully I don't need to illustrate why this is dumb. There is a reason why people don't like to necessarily play tanks and healers, and when your solution is to force
them to play those things whether they want to or not, you have not actually solved a problem. You have presented a new one disguised as a solution.
The alternative, of course, is to persuade your friends to play and/or join a group of like minded people you meet online (or here at RPGFan; we're all pretty awesome folks). But then you need to either get lucky with the folks that happen to be online at the same time as you and get their help or work your schedule around theirs.
And this leads us to the oldest MMO problem since the genre was invented. Real life vs. virtual life. MMOs are the only types of video games that often require
playing with others to complete content. "That is the point
of playing an MMO rather than a single player game," many argue. I'm not sure they are wrong.
But when you require partying to complete main quest line content and you don't have tools that are up to the task of matching people interested in that content randomly, or you have tools but the player base is so out of balance that you simply can't make matches with those tools, you are now requiring players to schedule their day around your game. And as soon as that happens and
you require me to pay a monthly fee for the privilege, you have lost me.
The biggest difference between an MMO like Star Wars: The Old Republic and one like Final Fantasy XIV: ARR is that I can continue my main quest in TOR without being required to team up with others. There is tons of multiplayer content there for me any time I want to do it, and there are incentives to team up with people, but it is not required
. That means I can hop on and play at any time, and if none of my friends are on, no big deal; I can still make progress in the story. Again, one may (perhaps rightly) argue that it is dumb to play an MMO without the expectation of having to team up with people, and I agree with them for the most part (and EA might also, given SWTOR's numbers). But I like having the option
of not being forced to do so precisely because, as much as I love video games, I am not willing to be forced to plan my days around making time for a game, even while on staff at an illustrious video game website.
If Final Fantasy XIV: ARR had been released during the years I played World of Warcraft, I would have played it until my eyes bled. I know this because I played
World of Warcraft until my eyes bled. I made friends playing World of Warcraft and even got some of my existing friends into the game at the time. I would have absolutely done the same thing with Final Fantasy XIV: ARR, because ultimately it is a better game.
And just like when I finally stopped playing World of Warcraft, that same pang of missing out on the quality times when you did
get a chance to play with friends together pulls at me, making me want to come back and play some more just because the best part was less about the game itself and much more about spending time adventuring with fun people.
But all those times your friends aren't there when you log on, the illusion collapses. And you're still going to get charged every 4 weeks whether they are or not. And for that monthly price, I can buy a Steam game on sale and play it whenever I want and progress whenever I please.
What I'm getting at, I suppose, is my taste buds have changed. I'd rather be eating olives.
Note: The author actually likes pickles AND olives, but the analogy was too (dare I say) delicious to pass up. And yes, I'll show myself out.