We used to do a column called Why I Play on Massively-that-was, and while I didn’t originally plan on rezzing it here today, I did return to Eorzea this week and have been enjoying the hell out of the place all over again. That old column was nothing if not a love letter to the author’s favorite game — or in my case, the favorite game of the moment — so in the interests of maintaining my recently acquired positive momentum, let’s talk about why Final Fantasy XIV kicks large amounts of ass!
The class system
I hate alts. I have a godawful huge pile of them across hundreds of MMORPGs, but I only have them because developers force me to have them. If I had my way, I’d use a single character in every MMO, both because I occasionally roleplay and would prefer to focus on one character and because I don’t really have the time to become an expert at eight, or 12, or 26 classes anymore! I do like to see all of the content in a given game, though, and in many games, the only way to do that is to roll one of every class.
Not so in Final Fantasy XIV, thank funk, as Square has allowed me to switch classes at the drop of a hat. All I have to do is change my equipped weapon and presto, my Black Mage is now a Summoner or a Scholar or any other class that I’ve bothered to level. Yes, you can even swap between casters and fighters if you like. It’s awesome!
Now, bear in mind that if you’re just starting out, you will have to advance your starting class quest to level 10 and then talk to a guild master NPC before you can switch to something else. But that’s a small price to pay, in my book, plus the game’s story isn’t half bad and you’ll want to experience it at least once. I’ve long been an advocate for skill- rather than class-based MMORPG design, but FFXIV has proven that class systems can certainly avoid the suck. The overall flexibility and the niceties like cross-class skills are something that future MMOs must imitate.
Final Fantasy XIV’s crafting is that rare MMO bird that combines a fun mechanical aspect with useful end results. Seriously, MMO devs, you should try this! Much like the game’s adventuring classes, the crafting classes are many, varied, and hot-swappable on a whim. The process itself isn’t an AFK-fest like the afterthought tradeskill chores in most modern MMOs; here you’ll need to choose crafting actions on the fly to boost quality, durability, speed, and so on.
It’s basically a little minigame where you aim for the highest possible quality before your durability bar reaches zero, and even if I weren’t predisposed to MMO crafting, I would find it fairly addicting based on the process alone.
In a weird way, Eorzea reminds me of Vanguard’s Telon, and before anyone attempts to tar and feather me, realize that I mean that as a compliment. Vanguard’s overworld was a joy, and it was split into three vast and distinct nation-states that each boasted a lot of variety in their geography, topography, and cultural representation. Thestra, Qalia, and Kojan certainly don’t resemble Gridania, Ul’dah, and Limsa Lominsa directly, but it’s the same idea, and it lends both an air of authenticity and the feeling of vast distance to Eorzea that’s missing in many contemporary MMORPGs.
Unlike Vanguard’s open world, FFXIV is composed of many interconnected zones, but they’re big, they’re beautiful, and they boast a broad range of NPC types, armor designs, and audio ques that make for a convincing illusion of life.
Can we go ahead and stick a fork in that silly sentiment about F2P types helping an MMORPG with their presence? Because FFXIV proves how ridiculous it is. I have never in my overlong MMO life seen a server as consistently jam-packed with players as Final Fantasy XIV’s Balmung. It doesn’t matter whether I logged in in the morning, the afternoon, or the evening this week; there were always hordes of people flooding Ul’dah, Limsa Lominsa, and most of the zones that I frequented while leveling. I even got a couple of dungeon pops as a solo DPS.
Not only that, but I couldn’t even create a new character on Balmung because the freaking thing was locked! Seriously, every time that I tried! This is two years after launch, folks, and the server is so crammed full of players that I was prevented from rerolling for aesthetic purposes multiple times this week. In fact, as of press time, I still haven’t been able to make a new toon and have instead resorted to changing classes on the character I made in 2013.
This is nothing new, either, as anyone who played during A Realm Reborn’s launch week will tell you that the queues were a nightmare to the point that Square suspended purchases until it could bring the demand under control. Think about that. The firm literally had to stop selling the game because its servers couldn’t handle all of the people storming the gates. Lots of F2P titles love to crow about their launch-week logins or created accounts, but it’s a bad joke since few if any of those people paid to be there. And not only does FFXIV feature an up front client purchase, it also features… a monthly subscription! I know! Shock and horror! How dare they charge for their product!
Except, yeah. Millions of FFXIV players are completely cognizant of the fact that $15 is practically nothing, and it’s even more nothing when it buys you unlimited monthly access to an MMORPG of this quality.
I’m not necessarily a Final Fantasy franchise die-hard, but I did start with VII when I was a wee lad, and I’ve played all of them since. As such, I love seeing (and hearing!) nods to the series sprinkled throughout Final Fantasy XIV, none moreso than the world-famous victory riff and the lullaby version of it that follows my avatar into bed when I log off for the night.
Yes, my character crawls into bed and curls his tail up behind him at the end of a long adventuring day, and yes, I’m writing about that as a positive, along with the way he wags his ears after a successful dungeon stint. And that’s probably as good a place as any to end this week’s column. I’ve got that curmudgeonly rep to maintain, after all!