Sometimes, when I have a series of columns planned, I start off by saying, “Hey, here’s a series of columns I plan.” And sometimes I let it just be unstated and see how many people expect the followup because if it’s not obvious by now that I enjoy having at least a bit of cheeky surprise in the things I do… well, there. Now it’s been said outright. Welcome to here; hope you have fun. The point is that I had always planned to make this a second part following up the initial column about Final Fantasy XI because it’s a logical continuation.
There’s not really any space to argue that Final Fantasy XIV isn’t a successful and good game, and as in any successful game, there are a lot of people whose critiques are based on pre-existing conclusions with dubious basis in reality, personal hangups, or just a need to kick at Popular Thing. Bad-faith criticism comes with the territory. But there are plenty of things to actually criticize that aren’t flaws of legacy code or anything beyond awkward, bad execution of core concepts.
1. The story is slow and has to play out as such
Does the story of the base game suck? No. It’s all right. It’s fine. But I mean that in the same way that I mean a perfectly acceptable meal you’ll forget about five seconds after eating it is fine. It’s not something you really want. It’s not bad, and that alone is a good thing, but the fact of the matter is that the story really doesn’t pick up until the end of the base game as the writers learned what they were doing and finished with all the foundational backdrop.
And look, it pays off. By the time you hit later expansions, the story is really freaking good. But that payoff requires a lot of setup, and there’s no real way to split the difference, and while Square having completed its first major story arc and started the second is a good thing, it also still relies on that prior foundation. The story gets really good, but you have to go through a lot of “just all right” stuff to get there, and there isn’t really a way to skip and get up to speed faster.
2. Jobs lack meaningful interaction on single characters
If you have mastered every job in the game, you… have done that. What, you wanted that to be in some way significant? You want having a level 90 everything to in some way make your character mechanically distinct from someone who is a level 90 Dragoon and has never touched another job? Too bad. No crossover, no extra advantage, not even the option of same. That’s kind of a bad feeling, especially when the list of jobs keeps expanding.
Yes, we will come back to this.
3. Trading (to NPCs or players) is annoying and limited
One of my goals here, as implied in the opening, is to avoid the areas where limitations are imposed by legacy code. This one is a questionable case. I would believe that things like “you can only trade a million gil at a time” or the awkward interface for giving NPCs items are in some way legacy elements the team is stuck with. But it’s still really obnoxious, and I don’t find the extra step of “click the bespoke key items that can go only to this NPC” for most trading quests to be somehow better than the NPC just taking the items only that NPC can take.
4. Level design is “all bosses, all the time”
At some point FFXIV‘s designers decided they were good at making boss encounters that are mechanically dense and fun. This is accurate. So now that’s just 90% of the gameplay. Normal raids are differentiated from trials only by arbitrary metrics because normal raids drop you right into a boss fight in a closed arena. Alliance raids are six boss fights with two that are technically trash fights. It’s not that the bosses are bad; it’s that trash exists only in dungeons, and it’s not meant to be interesting or unique or even require much extra attention beyond a spot of dodging.
5. Grand Companies are a clearing house for vestigial features
It bothers the living heck out of me that your choice of Grand Company is treated like a major decision when it offers merely a handful of easily forgotten cosmetic items. That’s it. You don’t even have a full choice of companies to join. Would it make sense for your character to sign up with Ishgard’s finest? Maybe Doma? How about Ala Mhigo? All of these nations are part of the same alliance, but you can’t join them. Why? Because this is low-level forgotten content that’s still updated but never updated in a meaningful sense. I like the ideas here, but they don’t mesh well.
6. Alliance raids have not been balanced around roulettes
Alliance raids consist of three raids that will generally produce a 15-20-minute run (LotA, Syrcus, and Void Ark), a couple that produce 20-30-minute runs (World of Darkness, Dun Scaith, Mhach on a good day), and a bunch of others that are 40-minute runs when everything goes right and everyone executes with skill. That is… not great for a random draw! That’s going to cause problems! It’s like having a random side dish generator offering corn bread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, beef wellington, or a chocolate chip muffin; even if all of those options are good in and of themselves, they don’t belong in the same pool.
7. Crafting is one job with eight skins
Thank goodness that FFXIV has crafting where you don’t just select ingredients and wait for something to happen. Crafting is a whole game mode where you have to balance the needs of durability and quality against progress, with its own rotations and potential advantages based on circumstance and randomness.
But it’d be really nice if it weren’t one game mode reskinned several times. Crafting a hammer is the same as crafting a potion, both of which are the same as cooking a nice meal. Red Mage, Summoner, and Black Mage all have the same basic pattern of “kill things by casting spells” but they’re not identical by any stretch of the imagination; crafting, sadly, doesn’t get that much distinction.
8. A lack of job customization
This ties into that lack of meaningful job interaction. The only way to generally differentiate players is gear and how you choose to meld that gear, and this is exacerbated by the fact that there are actually right and wrong answers. If you choose to emphasize Skill Speed over Crit on your Paladin, for example, you have made a pretty bad decision, and even that is kind of weak sauce as customization. There should be space for some customization, and the lack of it is a bit annoying.
9. Upgrade procedures are frequently unclear to new players
So you upgrade your crafted equipment by trading it to an NPC, who gives you coupons for that equipment. You then spend tomestones to buy another item from that same NPC. Then, you can trade those coupons and the other item for new pieces of gear. It doesn’t actually have to be the same gear you just traded, though; it can be other things.
Yeah. Can’t see how that would be at all confusing to a new player.
10. Storage space is a continual issue
As someone who got used to both FFXI and other games where you start with a piddly little piss inventory barely enough to hold the pocket lint you start with, I appreciate that FFXIV starts you with a sizable inventory. I do not, however, appreciate that your inventory and bank space are fixed. You have gotten all the space you are ever going to get, and there is no way around that… except buying extra retainers for real money. There are enough free ways to store extra stuff that it’s not quite “create problem, sell solution,” but it ain’t a great look just the same.