You know what I usually hate? Superhero fight discussions. Any fight discussion, really. Asking “who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk” always has the same two answers: whoever the writers want to win, and neither of them because people have more fun discussing it than actually reading about it. At the best of times, you’re looking for proof that your personal favorite is going to be marked as the winner.
Not that this stops us. The fact of the matter is that we like having competitions. We like seeing two competitors enter into a match where only one leaves. And thus, this feature, a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun examining two different MMOs and asking which one has the edge on the whole.
This first time out, we’re taking on two big titles: World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV. The former has been the top dog in the MMO sphere for over a decade, ruthlessly crushing all competition, while the latter has quietly risen from a terrible original release to being a pretty big name in the MMO sphere. I’ve seen former WoW players call it the better game, and I myself have even named it as a worthy heir to WoW’s best-loved expansion. But is it the better game? As the sixth expansion for WoW is out in full force, which game has the edge all down the line?
Setting and lore
I’m starting with something that’s barely even a contest. Eorzea is a land that is very carefully crafted down to seemingly small details, built heavily to provide a setting and a world that feels consistent. The lore is set up to support a game world that lives and breathes with or without players, a place filled with consistent fiction and replete with details. By contrast, the most consistent part of Azeroth-and-environs is the overall cosmology… and even that isn’t tremendously consistent, since we keep getting a different version of Sargeras and what his deal is.
At its best, WoW crafts some pretty great setpieces and has some really great world design. I’m pretty heavily invested in a lot of it. But it just doesn’t have the richness of detail and culture of Eorzea, which has its own slang, dialects, regional cultures, and so on. Sure, that means Blizzard can just drop an entirely new version of Draenor into the game if so desired, but it doesn’t make the world feel like a place so much as a pastiche.
When FFXIV was first developed, it was with the express intent of keeping all of the races from Final Fantasy XI in the game. Unfortunately, that also included removing several of the more distinctive features from those races, so Roegadyns lack the tails of Galka, Miqo’te lack the thin fur of Mithra, and so forth. The Au Ra are novel, but you still wind up with a racial lineup of Humans, Children, Teenagers (with cat ears), Elfy Humans, Big Humans, and Scaly Humans.
By contrast, WoW has given us Angel Devils From Space, Actual Werewolves, Panda People, Native American Minotaurs, Snarky Corpses, and Mean Girls (Elf Edition). It is wonderful. I love nonhuman races that are really nonhuman, and several of WoW’s races have appreciably alien thought patterns and concepts. There are weak points to how the races are handled, but the sheer diversity to them is astonishing.
Sure, FFXIV also has the beast tribes… but once you open up the doors to non-playable races WoW brings in stuff like Vrykul, Murlocs, Ogres, Nathrezim, and Arakkoa. So it’s still ahead.
While my wife and I were talking the other day, I noted that FFXIV and WoW don’t approach their storytelling as even the same animal. WoW is a monthly superhero comic, while FFXIV is a carefully plotted manga. And the analogy works in both directions.
FFXIV has a very concise, tightly paced plot in which something is always moving. There are always more battles to fight, but there’s also a real sense of moving onward, achieving victory, and getting to know the various people you’re working with. This is all good. At the same time, it also means that the story relies heavily on your ability to recall and memorize what’s going on. All things tie back into the main scenario, and you have no chance to aggressively deviate. If you forget something? Time to go look it up.
On the other hand, WoW feels much more disconnected; the events of each expansion stand pretty much on their own with a fair bit of catching up. It lacks the sense of a critical, connected narrative. That also means that it can shed the weaker parts of its storytelling with minimal impact, though, and that each expansion starts off with a box of toys to play with rather than plot threads it has to address right away. Its good runs are very good; it just doesn’t have the advantage of consistency.
Is one better than the other? Heck no. They’re both different, but the heights of both reach similar points, and while the nadirs are different they’re both there.
Do me a favor. Go download and install the Storyline addon, then do some questing in World of Warcraft. Then ask yourself why it isn’t the default. That addon alone takes away the biggest advantage of Final Fantasy XIV‘s quests: presentation.
FFXIV does questing quite well, but it has a very limited number of different quests, and it doesn’t nearly approach the breadth or diversity that WoW has gotten over the years. It also has some of the same problems that other games have in that it pushes too far in the direction of giving you fewer quests; by contrast, WoW has hit a good medium with usually giving players 2-4 objectives in a given area before moving on to the next one.
That’s not to say that questing in FFXIV is bad. It’s just that it’s not as good as questing in WoW. And that’s without even getting into how keen World Quests are.
If we were having this discussion before Legion, it might be a different discussion. But we’re not, and the fact of the matter is that both combat systems have their ups and downs. FFXIV‘s frequent ground effect indicators and combos are certainly satisfying, but so are WoW‘s straightforward and effective rotations that wind up doing about as much (with fewer buttons) as FFXIV‘s more elaborate setup.
I feel like quite a bit of Legion‘s combat is taking pages from the feel of combat in FFXIV, but I consider that a positive rather than a drawback, and they’re still both very distinct. At the end of the day, I can’t call either one better than the other; the former is slower and more strategic and management-focused, while the latter is faster and more immediate. They’re both fun and both well-handled.
WoW has such a fundamentally messy crafting system that Legion basically throws the whole thing out and lets you start over in the expansion with an entirely new system of learning, and it’s still just a matter of “run down these ingredients, then wait for a bar to fill.” There’s some quests for learning stuff, but that’s it. FFXIV, by contrast, has eight whole classes devoted to crafting with their own mechanics, equipment, design, and challenges.
All of this goes for gathering as well, although there are only three gathering classes; I’m grouping them together here simply because WoW doesn’t make a distinction between gathering or crafting as a skill. But there’s really no contest.
Two big things work to WoW’s advantage here. The first is that many chunks of leveling can be bypassed through several means; you don’t need to always do zones in the same order on an alt, and can easily bypass some or all through dungeoneering, especially with massive increases to experience earned along the way. That’s helped by the fact that the trip from 30-40 is something a given character needs to make once, unlike the multiple trips for FFXIV characters.
Ultimately, though, it all comes down to the simple reality that there’s more to do on the leveling path on WoW, more focused on single experiences rather than repeated ones you’ve had before, and less need to go back if you don’t want to. It’s an edge worth noting.
The Final Fantasy series has a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to classes simply because so many of its entries are pretty much the established default. White Mages, Black Mages, and Warriors are kind of expected options in most games; they don’t exactly prompt unbridled excitement at their novelty. And FFXIV is new enough that we’ve only begun to get into more esoteric territory with options like Astrologian.
Still, though, I have to give the nod to WoW’s more diverse individual classes; Death Knights have more going on than Dark Knights do, I prefer WoW Monks by leaps and bounds, and there’s no equivalent to things like Shaman, Demon Hunter, and Druid. This might change by the time the next expansion hits, sure, but we’re here now.
Here’s the thought that originally inspired this entire feature: As I ran the new dungeons in FFXIV‘s latest patch, I couldn’t help but thinking that the game is really kicking WoW up and down the curb in terms of dungeon design. But of course, it’s helpful to understand what I mark as “good” design by point of comparison.
FFXIV has dungeons without a complete absence of trash, but also with a minimal quality to it. You won’t be drowning in trash pulls, but neither will you be fighting several dozen enemies between bosses; nor do most of the later dungeon designs allow or encourage you to skip several pulls along the way. Each boss and many trash encounters are very much designed as encounters, specific pieces with mechanics for players to understand and engage. Those mechanics can be understood on the fly, but the emphasis is on creating an interesting experience through which attention and careful play are rewarded.
Even leveling dungeons in FFXIV have more interesting mechanics and trash segments than the highest difficulties of WoW dungeons, and the ascending difficulty levels frequently come down to “more health and more damage” or “more gimmicks” rather than actually altering the fights. Pointing out that FFXIV‘s hard-mode dungeons are entirely new experiences based on the originals is just icing on the cake. The subtle changes like fixed and marked boss arenas for each encounter just make the whole thing feel more engaging, taking the best lessons from raid encounters and using them as the default. In frequency, in design, and in engagement, FFXIV does dungeons far better.
Oh, this isn’t even a contest. If you like hardcore group progression, WoW offers you two entire tiers above its “normal” difficulty for the raiding crowd, where FFXIV just offers you the queued tier and the non-queued actual-pushing-progression tier. Considering how much of the game has pushed toward hardcore progression over the last several years, it’s not surprising that the game comes out ahead in terms of serious challenging endgame progression.
Whether or not this is a good thing will depend on your perspective. See next entry.
At the end of the day, your option in WoW is progression raiding. That’s what you’re “supposed” to be doing, and that’s what the game is pushing you toward. It’s rather unambiguous in that regard. You will hit walls before then, and so much of the game tells you that if you don’t want progression raiding, you don’t deserve much of anything.
By contrast, if you don’t like hardcore progression content in FFXIV? The game doesn’t care. I have no interest in Extreme Primals or Alexander (Savage) and have never run out of things to do to continue advancing my characters. There are trials, dungeons, full raids, Alexander (Normal), PvP options (that still reward PvE tomestones), and so forth. You can make an entire endgame out of crafting while only doing the minimal necessary amount of PvE content. There are people who devote all of their PvE time to delving into maps and Aquapolis, and that is valid. There’s plenty to do!
There is a small amount of stuff that’s locked behind hardcore progression content, specifically how fast you get to upgrade to the highest tier of gear and dye options. But that’s it. And the net effect is that you have a lot of options for how you like to play the game and what you enjoy, right down to being able to make the game’s random roguelike dungeon into your entire endgame. (And it’s awesome.)
I would be remiss in saying that either game isn’t gorgeous; WoW still looks wonderfully dynamic and colorful, and FFXIV has an austere and surreal beauty shooting through the entire game. Ultimately, I give the nod to FFXIV mostly because it gives you far more options about your character aesthetics; sure, you have a smaller pool of appearances to draw from overall, but your choices within that pool are far more diverse. It’s a slight edge, but I’ll grant it.
FFXIV: Patches every 3-4 months with an absurd amount of content including multiple new dungeons, new voiced story content, and entirely new game systems that most games would make a centerpiece of an expansion.
WoW: Patches are highly irregular, as are the contents of those patches, leading to an expansion cycle that came out after a year of inactivity which had two patches, one of which mostly just added Twitter integration. Followed by another year of inactivity. Complete with promises to “improve” that have come with every expansion since the first while the rate has gotten steadily worse.
Wait, how do both of these games have this? For that matter, how do they have such vastly different systems? Seriously, FFXIV added in an entire strategy game in the middle of an expansion cycle based upon an April Fool’s Day joke that people liked, and WoW basically just lets you play Pokémon But With Critters Instead.
You know, I can’t even rank this.
Tally it all together, and you wind up with FFXIV coming out very slightly ahead. And, frankly, that seems right to me. There are a lot of things that the two games do similarly which come down to personal preference, and when you put a lot of the more objective stuff head-to-head (like dungeons or patch cycles) FFXIV comes out ahead. Not by much, but by enough to nod and say, “Yeah, it’s a little bit better.”
Of course, a lot of that can also come down to personal weighting. After all, if what you want more than anything is progression content, you’re going to prefer WoW. If what matters to you most in the world is crafting and avoiding fighting things, you’re going to prefer FFXIV. And if what you really want is to kill other people who aren’t bothering you at all, you probably want to stop reading and go play Darkfall.
Thus ends the face-off, and it ends in the favor of cats, lizards, job crystals, and taking orders from a shiny rock. That should settle that debate forever, right?