Tobold's Blog
Friday, July 02, 2010
Lacking an opinion on FFXIV

To avoid derailing a previous comment thread, I'm answering a reader's question on what I think about Final Fantasy XIV in this post instead. The truth is, I barely read up about FFXIV, and am not really well informed about the features it promises. Nevertheless this is a game I'd be willing to buy just based on trust, and my previous experience with FFXI.

I played the previous Final Fantasy MMORPG, numbered XI, for 5 months from end of 2003 to spring 2004. And there were a lot of things I really liked about it: The storytelling by cutscenes was in 2003 already there where EA Bioware hopes to get with SWTOR in 2011. I liked the "blind" auction house system, which is a lot less easy to manipulate than the WoW one. I liked the world, which wasn't so generic fantasy, but had more unique twists. I liked that my characters could switch from one class to another. I liked the international servers, and playing with groups of Japanese, using the automatic translator for communication. And I liked the control system with the gamepad, although I'm aware that many other players hated it.

Unfortunately in other aspects FFXI was way behind the curve of MMORPG development. It basically was a prettier Everquest, with forced grouping, harsh penalties for failure, and not very casual friendly at all. The simple act of login into the game was already a major hassle. But what ultimately killed FFXI for me was the group xp system, which was probably the worst design possible: XP of a group were determined by the level of the highest group member compared to the monster level. But if you were more than 2 levels below the level of the highest group member, the combat system was designed in a way to make you nearly useless to the group. Thus every group *had* to be within not more than 2 levels of each other. And the penalties were harsh: If the highest group member was one level higher, the xp for the whole group dropped by half. Thus Final Fantasy XI was the only game I ever played in which leveling in a group looked like this: Ding - Grats - Groupkick.

The narrow level requirement, combined with a lack of quick travel, plus the impossibility to solo after a point, had a lot of unintended negative consequences: To find a group you had to be in the most popular zones for a level range, for example the Valkurm Dunes. There were other zones of the same level, but as they were a bit less popular or harder to reach to start out, people couldn't find a group that easily there, and ended up moving to the dunes, in a vicious death spiral draining people out of all other possible zones. Thus every character class I had ended up leveling through exactly the same mobs in the same zones, until I just couldn't stand it any more.

And of course the age of harsh games with slow leveling, and forced grouping, was coming to an end in 2004. I hope Square Enix learned something, and makes Final Fantasy XIV more accessible than XI. The game is going to be released on September 30th, with preorders getting in on September 22nd, so I'll see soon enough. Some bloggers mischieveously suggested that Blizzard would try to deliberately sabotage FFXIV by bringing Cataclysm out in September. My guess is that Blizzard has enough internal constraints determining release dates, and wouldn't even consider FFXIV as a big enough threat for them to shift any date around. Nevertheless Cataclysm is most probably going to be released this fall, so September 30th is maybe not the most auspicious release date.
The other problem with FFXI was that the community was absolutely addicted to the fastest possible rate of exp gain, even if attaining that rate was not feasible for the average PUG.

You can force your long-term vets to go back to the newbie areas to level sub-jobs, and sub-jobs for their sub-jobs (won't get a group to level your sub-job if you don't have if the right sub-job for your sub-job), but you can't make them like it, and they'd rather gnaw their own arms off than stay there one minute longer.

The only problem is, that manifested as "if we can't survive chainpulling the toughest mobs, I'd rather wipe, disband, and look for a better group than plink along at a low but non-zero rate of exp that our grop can actually handle". Not a fun experience for the newbie.
I think the other thing to mention is that the game is marketed as much (and probably more) for the eastern audience as for the western audience. The kinds of games that you consider "behind the times" are very popular outside the West. Not saying that means you should play if you don't like it (I won't be playing this), but its just worth it to recognize the target audience.
since they introduced levelsync the whole party xp thing is massively improved.
My biggest issue with FFXI was the lack of concern that Square-Enix showed for their customers or the quality of the game that they had created. They made the game and for several years, and through several expansions, refused to address any of the issues that made the game so painful to play, ie. forced grouping, inability to play with friends of different levels, and the terrible (nonexistent?) class balance.
I enjoyed the style of FFXI much more than WoW but WoW has always won out in a more enjoyable gameplay and far superior attention to their player's concerns with the game.
@Tobold, I think if you play FFXI again now, you'd find things have changed a lot compared to your previous experience about the game.

They made the game and for several years, and through several expansions, refused to address any of the issues that made the game so painful to play, ie. forced grouping, inability to play with friends of different levels, and the terrible (nonexistent?) class balance.

Forced grouping? Solved with more and more non-party things to do such as Fields of Valor for those who prefer to solo, or Campaign battle for those who want to join random people defending or taking over the forts.

Inability to play with friends of different levels? Solved with Level Sync.

Class balance? What's broken about the jobs in FFXI? Why the need of job balance when there's pretty much no PvP in the game? It seems that your knowledge about the game is very outdated.
Good post, tobold! I hope to see more of your thoughts on FFXIV in the future too!

Now to some fun facts: S-E of 2002-2005 was absolutely horrible at maintaining an MMO. There's no way around that. They implemented some great features, but they were too stubborn to bend their ideal to fit the preferences of players.

Why did the game last so long without losing lot of it's subscribers though? It's because the developers actually changed their ways. That happened after several hundred thousand players shifted over to WoW- which was the only real way to make them listen really, because if you paid them every month while they could do about anything, why should they have changed? The playerbase clearly didn't mind too much, until 2004-2005.

But yeah, what we should look at is the current FFXI and current SE, which are completely different beasts from the 2004 era. Of course they could and would not change everything about the game and chose to make a sequel instead, but most complaints about the game these days revolve around "too little, too late" rather than "omg X sux! Why did they do Y!".

In fact, SE no longer nerfs any class. They're only buffed. Although it is funny that when a buff comes but it is not as good as players thought and has been "nerfed" a bit to make it more balanced, playerbase now complains about that instead. There's no way to please people.

The gripes you had about XI no longer exist in the game, Tobold (at least in such a drastic way, it's hard to change the game mechanics completely). SE has shown a shift in it's ideals (although it doesn't bend over with every single thing- it's their game after all) and the change can be seen in XIV when the time comes.
I wonder just how much of a cross-over there is between WoW and FFXI/XIV. While launching against Cataclysm could never be an optimum choice for any MMO, I would imagine the core FF market is fairly well-established and of a reasonably predictable size and loyalty.

Assuming that FFXIV stays around as long as its predecessor, there should be plenty of time for everyone to try both it and Cataclysm if they so wish. Personally, if they end up coming out at the same time I'll be trying FFXIV first and getting round to Cataclysm later.

(And from what's been released about the game so far I think most of Tobold's negatives from FFXI won't be carried forward.)
I don't think Cataclysm and XIV are even in the same league.

Release of one won't probably affect too drastically on the release of the other. Both will keep doing their own thing, with their own players.
@Blaise: I know they've made all of those changes now, but it's been how long, 7 years? 8 years? I played the game for 3 years and not a single one of these issues was addressed. I know they've addressed them now, my point was that it took them way too long to even acknowledge the problems with the game that everyone who played it knew were there. If you played back then you'd remember how difficult it was to get a group as a thief, or even worse as a dragoon.

It really isn't hard to see the difference in customer service going from FFXI to WoW. Blizzard is (and always has) constantly adjusted classes and spells when it was needed and has also been responsive to customer concerns. Square took way too long to patch up a game that was hemorrhaging players for the sole purpose of stopping the bleeding. Too little too late for me, I doubt I'll ever play another Squeenix MMO.
I played the game for 3 years and not a single one of these issues was addressed.

At that time, there was no need to address those "issues". There's a fundamental difference between FFXI and WoW as a game. FFXI is designed and fully-intended to be group-heavy because Square-Enix intended the game to be all about community where players work together with each other. I'm not saying that one is better than the other, it's just a different concept of a game.

So why did Square-Enix finally changed things up in FFXI? My own opinion is that it all started with the project of FFXIV years ago in which they wanted the game to be way more casual-friendly (like WoW or many other MMORPGs). Thus, they started adding things in FFXI to test the waters and basically a mock run of what FFXIV is going to be like.

Personally speaking, I never really have issues with the forced-grouping as a concept. Yes, it can be frustrating at times to get invite, but it's not impossible. And on the flip side, I managed to find many many good people through random PUGs just to level up.
"The other problem with FFXI was that the community was absolutely addicted to the fastest possible rate of exp gain, even if attaining that rate was not feasible for the average PUG."

That sounds like the bane of all MMOs.
Blaise, I don't have a problem with forced grouping per-se, my big problem is with the way in which it was implemented in FFXI. To sit in a zone for several hours waiting for a group and not being able to do anything else while you wait is REALLY ridiculous, and I can remember this happening over and over and over again simply because the class I enjoyed playing the most, thief, was somewhat underpowered compared to other dps classes. I couldn't even imagine what it would have been like to try and get a group as a dragoon. That is why class balance is so important, even in a game without pvp, and why Squeenix's ignorance of the issue made the game unplayable for me after a certain point. If they had even acknowledged these issues when I was playing I might still be playing today.
It wasn't that bad.

Get to level 20? It's time to move to Jeuno, which took maybe 20 minutes tops, and introduced you to a main hub. When you hit 20 after 4 levels in the dunes chances are your gear was out of date, and at 20 you got spells and weapons. You could also start the quest for faster travel with chocobos. You always got new abilities, armors, spells, and weapons at those 2 level gaps.

It also wasn't that slow, even at its hardest. Mostly getting the party was bad, but thats where your linkshell and friends help.

I look forwards to it. You may not like the whole group-based levelling, but I'll take it over solo quest grinding any day.
You may not like the whole group-based levelling, but I'll take it over solo quest grinding any day.

Oh, I love group-based leveling. I just think that there should be tools to find a group and to teleport to their location, like the Dungeon Finder does. Who wants to spend half his evening waiting in a zone and spamming group requests?
I really think that "ignoring the flaws of grouping by making everything soloable"-era is about to end. It started with dungeon finder, and it'll continue with FFXIV.

"Casual grouping" is still an unknown concept for many. I hope the situation is addressed sooner than later.
Oh, the lovely times I had in the dunes spamming lfg as a dark knight/whm =P

I think the crafting system(Disciples of the Land/Hand) should be worth checking out, since not only do are they full blown classes with their own type of guildleves, in a party they also provide combat bonuses and maintain the party's equipment (!)

The crafting sounds similar to EQII's. I say "sounds" because the videos were taken down =( anyway this is the page that describes it. video

I'm just hoping this doesn't turn out to be another warhammer =(
In other tread derailing news, has anyone noticed TF2 is finally releasing the engineer update?
I think some posters are missing the point. When FFXI came out, it was quite literally light years ahead of their competition in terms of graphics (or art style), gameplay, and world design/story.

Even when WOW came out, if they had been more responsive about solving the lack of solo ability, and the terrible login mess and they might have given WOW a good run for subscribers.

But that's hindsight. Most gamers will not re-subscribe to an MMO after they have tried it out and rejected it for reasons other than lack of content.

Like tobold, FFXI made a good enough impression on me that I plunked down the pre-order for a collector's edition without thinking. Cos I'm hoping and praying that I can solo my BM/WM moogle all the way to max :) So damn cute.
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