Playing Final Fantasy XIV over the past few days has been a weird experience for me. On the one hand, there’s so much more cool stuff to do, and that’s awesome. On the other hand, there’s far more stuff than I can get a realistic picture of in a short timeframe, and this isn’t like Ninja, for which I had the time, will, and (most importantly) connection stability to just log in and grind like a maniac.
I have and will have a lot to say about the expansion over the next few weeks, but right now I want to just talk about the early access period. I think a lot of things have been done really right with this particular launch so far, but there are also some missteps in the mix. There’s also some stuff that’s really annoying, and it becomes hard to separate “annoying but inevitable” from “just plain wrong” at certain magnitudes.
See, by and large, Heavensward is stable. I’ve had a few server disconnections, but far fewer than I would expect from an expansion launch. More to the point, the staff behind the game clearly anticipated and planned for what it knew was going to happen. Instancing was implemented in what were always going to be the most congested early areas, the AFK timer was put back in place, and none of the tools put in place to fix congestion back during the game’s launch had been removed. And as a veteran of that experience as well, I can’t say that this was in any way worse. It was actually far better: Servers were more stable, logins were not nearly as volatile, and crashes were very uncommon. My disconnections were mostly a result of the entire server crashing, not a result of the arbitrary whims of overtaxed systems.
But of course, they were overtaxed. And that has to color perceptions, and it has to be taken into account when the developers kick off a Welcome Back period right as the expansion launches. When players are already struggling to connect and play the game that most of us have been waiting for, it seems like a matter of just inviting trouble.
At the same time, it’s hard to really blame the powers-that-be for that fact, too. Servers always strain with a new expansion. People log back on. What can be done? Is there even a solution that could have prevented all of this?
I honestly don’t know enough about the game’s network architecture and networking in general to answer that question. What I do know is that this is a really unpleasant state of affairs for people who are looking forward to playing the game, and it’s an easy way to sour people on what is, overall, a pretty damn great expansion.
This has been helped, somewhat, by communication. I wouldn’t say that communication is the best here that it’s ever been for the game, but it’s solid enough that I do feel as if the stuff that’s going on is known and understood. As irritating as hitting lobby server errors have been, I do see that there’s some acknowledgement of them.
Higher population servers seem to have been the hardest hit, which is to be expected and also kind of irritating when one of those servers is the roleplaying server. (Unofficial, sure, but hey.) And it’d be ridiculous to say that the designers should be beefing up just those servers.
Things will get better post-launch because they always do. It’s better than it was during the initial launch. But it’s still really, really irritating. The team is aware of this, but something needs to be done, and it’s debatable how much can be done short of splitting the two highest population worlds into two separate data centers.
The other big technical hurdle for the expansion launch as making sure that the DirectX 11 client works, and that, I can say, is a pretty notable success. My now-aging card has needed some adjustments, but the reflections and lighting both look gorgeous, and it looks even better with settings maxed out. The technical side of things is fighting with the actual experience of the expansion, which has been wildly positive for almost everyone.
Instancing, thus far, is working smoothly and without notable issues. I don’t care for the fact that you can’t swap between instances anywhere other than a zone line, which is troublesome for players who don’t have ready access to zones early on; you need flight unlocked to slip between them, after all. But I also don’t think this is an expected and intended function of the game; it’s something that the designers put together to deal with a specific problem.
Most of the mechanical and content stuff I don’t want to spoil, and a lot of that will go into my first impressions, not to mention that some of my complains seem superfluous at best. I do wish there were some new content for the new jobs starting at level 30, for example, but I understand that there’s already a huge amount of content further up and everything takes time. It’s an irritation, yet possibly not one that could have been fixed without great difficulty.
I will say, though, that the actual expansion has already felt like a win. It’s good. It’s far better than I would have expected, and it’s been aided significantly by the decision to keep the endgame rolling out in staggered waves rather than all at once. Most of the changes we can see were changes for the better. Content is tuned and interesting without requiring painful numbers of attempts to decipher. Areas are gorgeous and well laid-out.
But those technical hurdles do affect the game, and they’re not exactly new. You can see which servers have had character creation restrictions in place basically through the entirety of 2.0. These servers are taxed to near capacity, and that really, really needs to be addressed, despite the fact that these are the minority of servers.
I’m not sure exactly what can be done. Free transfers and the like are an inelegant and unhelpful solution; merging servers and then improving the ones that remain doesn’t seem great either. And for a lot of people, things are working well. It’s the ones who are stuck with connections that aren’t working as well that are having trouble, and I worry that the approach is going to be “wait until some people get annoyed by that and leave, then everything will be fine.”
That’s an uncomfortable and discordant note when the game has launched a really great expansion that deserves to be a source of high praise. No, we don’t need to drop everything and fix it right now, and no, I’m not going to rake the studio over the coals for it. But it stands out.
Feedback and your own login woes can, of course, be left down in the comments below or mailed along to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please avoid any spoilers down there for the stuff that you have seen; it’s not fair to the people who haven’t seen it yet. Next week, I’m going to hopefully have space to talk more about the proper launch week, the new jobs, and a more stable environment.