Final Fantasy XIV has long been the contemporary gap in my MMO resume, one made ever more conspicuous by how often it seems that people only have nice things to say about the damn game. So fuck it, I thought, and after handing in my capacity to grow facial hair for some cat ears, I dove right in to my full-immersion introduction to weeb-land.
Suffice it to say that my Final Fantasy experience has been pretty limited, having never really played any of the prolific, preeminently ironically named franchise’s prior entrants in any serious way. If I’m remembering right, I played a little bit of X-2 years ago, before setting it down for reasons that I can’t really remember anymore. I’m told it’s the bad one anyway.
I’ve reached level 50 now – the game’s original level cap – and I’m working on progressing through the vanilla patch content before getting into the Heavensward expansion’s content – which is actually a requirement of the game, oddly. It’s enough to have a basic idea of what’s going on, and as the servers are currently down and I have nothing better to do, let’s strap in for an arbitrarily settled upon number of short, early thoughts on what it is Final Fantasy XIV has to offer.
01. Holy shit, there is a lot of content in this game.
Let’s start with the obvious one: it is staggering how much there is to do in this game. It’s honestly been overwhelming learning all the different types of content available, and as I’ve started working on unlocking everything the vanilla endgame had to offer, just, damn. There are more dungeons than I have any idea what to do with, world events, radiant repeatable quests, a ton of story quests, a casino full of minigames, and a whole lot more.
02. There’s a roguelike dungeon, and it’s really cool.
Of all the game’s content, perhaps the most unique is that they built a legit roguelike into the game. You progress through the Palace of the Dead’s 200 procedurally generated increasingly difficult floors, with a self-contained system of advancement, special consumable items, and unique rewards to extract in the main game. It’s a really unique form of non-trinity content that’s been a blast to do, particularly as a way to earn experience for alt classes. And the best part? They’re adding another in the next expansion.
03. Huh, so you can actually have a decent story and be an MMO at the same time.
Final Fantasy XIV might be the first game I’ve seen to actually strike a balance between a focus on story delivery and actually being an MMO. It’s not winning any awards for its presentation, but the way the story actually leads and forces players into the MMO’s group content creates a product that feels consistent with itself, rather than feeling like two separate, conflicting design objectives trying to coexist in the same product. There are a few more filler quests than I would like, and you know, maybe putting 45 minutes of cutscenes into an 8 man dungeon wasn’t the best idea (thankfully, you can skip these and watch them later at an inn), but overall it’s nice that the developers never seem to have forgotten what type of game they were making.
Additionally, the main story in FFXIV isn’t like so many other MMOs, where you only return to it every so often after a couple hours of side quests. Nope – there’s a ton of it, so much that you don’t really have to do much outside of it as you level your first class.
04. The world design is super immersive.
This has been a controversial opinion in The Errant Discord, but I really enjoy that the great majority of your time in the vanilla game is essentially spent in only three different geographical areas. This isn’t your typical modern themepark ride where you only see each area once – you’ll backtrack and revisit towns and NPCs you’ve already dealt with before all the time as you progress through the game’s main story quest, which is an effective tactic to ground players in the game’s world. I hear Heavensward wasn’t designed this way, and that’s really a damned shame.
05. Combat rotations are a lot more complicated than your average MMO.
Take my class – the Dragoon. My rotation goes something like this: first, I open with a damage increasing maintenance buff, which does more damage if hit from the side. Next, I chain three abilities that combo off each other, applying a physical resistance debuff and applying a DoT. The final ability deals more damage if done from behind. I then apply another DoT that’s not part of any combo chain. After this, I have another three ability combo, the last of which is my hardest hitting ability before which burst cooldowns should be used. I have three off-GCD “jump” abilities that I use for additional damage while trying my best not to land in a void zone during their animation. In the final ten levels, I’ll unlock four new abilities. The first is a maintenance buff that increases the damage of my jumps. The next two abilities are both added on as the fourth hit to my second combo chain; they can only be used while the new buff is active, and which one will proc to be used is random. On top of that, they both gain increased damage from different positional requirements, and add time to the maintenance buff’s duration. Lastly, I’ll unlock a powerful frontal AoE that reduces the remaining duration of the maintenance buff on each use.
It’s a lot take in, and in times, it still feels like one of the more straightforward classes due to its rotation being relatively static.
06. Tanking is hard again.
This one took some getting used to. Apparently FFXIV‘s creators decided that aggro management should still be a thing. Oh, and if you want AoE threat abilities? Better use them sparingly, or else you’re going to run out of resources, fast.
Honestly I like this quite a bit, but it was jarring after having been away from this kind of system for so long.
07. Some of it is really, really slow.
One of my least favorite parts of the game is that combat, particularly with trash mobs in dungeons, can take a very, very long time to get through. I think the high time-to-kill (commonly abbreviated TTK) is a side effect of the game’s complicated rotations, and while it’s nice being able to get through them fully sometimes, ultimately, I think I’d still rather spend a lot less time fighting uninteresting mobs.
08. This includes the starting experience.
One of my more unfortunate observations is that Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t really put its best foot forward with the starter experience. Rotations take a long time to really come together, and with the high TTK, this can make the early game extremely repetitive for some classes. The main quest doesn’t really pick up until you join a Grand Company, which is a decent chunk of the way into the game. And while it’s not entirely unexpected, the dungeons don’t really start to become mechanically engaging until you’ve almost reached the original level cap.
09. Some parts feel a lot like older MMOs.
This one’s purely subjective, but there are a few parts of FFXIV that light up the ol’ nostalgia meter just a tiny bit, and it’s not just threat being a mechanic you have to pay attention to again. Leveling each class on one character feels a tiny bit like a return to the skill based systems of older MMOs, particularly when grinding away at mobs in a FATE world event. The game’s instanced housing is set in static neighborhoods that remind me just ever so slightly of a player city, even if the social systems surrounding community governance aren’t actually there. Sure they’re only a shadow of days past, but it’s something. But the best way FFXIV reminds of the good ol’ days, well, that deserves its own section header.
10. There’s no in game cash shop.
This straight up blew my mind. unfortunately the game does have a cash shop, but due to it not being included in game, I’m basically never reminded of its existence. God is that a breath of fresh air. I did check it out once, having felt the need to sate my morbid curiosity, and I didn’t see a single thing I actually wanted or that had any kind of impact on gameplay. Man – I could get used to this.
It remains to be seen how long Final Fantasy XIV will hold my interest. Admittedly, an Eastern themepark with no PvP worth mentioning isn’t really checking off a lot of the usual “stuff Isarii likes” checkboxes, but I’m having a really good time nonetheless.
I originally picked up FFXIV to see if I could find why so many people seemed to enjoy it so much. Despite my initial skepticism, after a few short weeks travelling Eorzea, I have to admit that it wasn’t hard to find at all.