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.