It is not a surprise that Final Fantasy XIV wants you to play the game a certain way. There are mechanics in place to make that happen. If the developers do not want you to pull beyond a certain point in a dungeon, they know how to put barriers in place to ensure that you simply cannot. Yes, it might be a bit arbitrary, but both designers and players have long since accepted that this is the way the dungeons are the most fun to play, so… that’s how it works, arbitrary or not.
But there are also ways that the game clearly wants you to play even if it never says so, and I think those ways have a lot to do with the game’s overall community and how it presents itself. Heck, I think it’s one of the reasons some players (especially immigrants from another title) sometimes misunderstand the game’s community or focus on parts without understanding the whole. So let’s start by looking at some of the things the game expects but never really speaks to.
For example, the game expects you to talk to your duty finder parties – maybe not have elaborate conversations, but at least it gives you the spaces for it.
There are lots of times in each dungeon when you are just running to the next objective. Almost every single dungeon or alliance raid features a longer period when you can say things to the group, from “hello” to “I’m new, please help me” to making stupid jokes about the content you’re all taking part in. Any and all of these things are encouraged, and you’re given the space to do exactly that.
You will never be penalized for not talking, of course. But the thing is that it breeds a certain degree of expectation. If I need a moment in a dungeon even if our pace is great, I feel no problem saying, “Hey, can we wait for a moment after this pull? I need to take care of something, it’ll be a minute.” And 90% of the time at least, the party is fine with it; heck, 5% of the time they’re not fine, they’re like, “It’s cool, we’ll just go ahead and stop at the boss.” It’s exceedingly rare for any actual friction to result.
Again, no part of the game will tell you “this is how you’re supposed to play the game.” But it is there, and it leads to a cascading element of the game’s social fabric. No, not that the community is unusually nice, but that you aren’t expected to look up the game outside of the game.
“What are you talking about? There are tons of dungeon guides and raid guides and everything online.” Believe me, I know! I read some of them; I’ve even written some of them. But the game keeps doing more and more to reduce that reliance. Do you want to know where to gather a time-limited item? At this point, the game will show you right in the gathering log and let you set a timer to alert you when it pops. Unsure of how to get all of the framing options for your adventurer portrait? Don’t worry, the interface will point you to vendors.
That doesn’t mean there’s no process of discovery to be had; the game just doesn’t intend to make you constantly ask what the heck you’re doing. You should be checking sites to learn “how do I get this obscure item from two expansions back,” not “how do I upgrade my current tools for current content.” And the game is also forever trying to make changes to make the process more transparent for new players, to add more guidance along the way.
It also expects you to try a lot of different things. With every enemy in the game dropping something used in some crafting recipe or another (or at least almost every enemy), it’s pretty clear the game expects you to give crafting a shot at some point. It doesn’t expect you to necessarily stick with everything – there’s a lot of stuff you can do, after all – but it does expect you to at least try it.
This is where I think some friction can occur because the game’s clear idea that you can do any combination of things can bump up against the reality that it expects you to do only some of them.
On some level, this is reinforced by mechanics. Even if you equally love every single job in the game (unlikely, but possible), the simple economic realities of how many tomestones you can get every week will mean that you have to specialize to a certain degree. You just can’t keep every job in the game up to the same level at the same time, but the game also doesn’t expect you to, by and large. It expects you to specialize.
Remember how your first couple of trips to the dining hall in college, you saw that you could pick anything from the buffet and felt compelled to take some of everything? And then you realized that you were overeating? It’s like that.
And therein lies perhaps the most potent issue that can also be incredibly hard to understand. The developers have given the game a wide assortment of options, but the majority of it isn’t mandatory. And a lot of people do understand that objectively, but they get lost in the weeds of things like “I hate when this option comes up in a random roulette” or “but I need to do this to get certain rewards.”
Yes, you might need to do certain content to get certain rewards, but most of those rewards are aesthetic rather than mechanical. You are not going to be hampered if you don’t want to chase PvP rewards. You will not miss out on anything crucial; you will miss out on vanity items. And if you do not like PvP but like the vanity items…
Well, yeah, that kind of is unpleasant. You know the thing you want but you have to go through content you don’t like in order to get it. But there has to be something to reward people who do different things in the game, and every single form of content has something. PvP and Expert roulettes both have gear you can only get through them, but you can do every new Expert dungeon exactly once and then never again and then do PvP forever.
It’s a hard mindset to move on and accept that every list of tasks is just a list of options. But it is how the game expects you to play, even though the mechanics will never tell you that. You can do countless things, but you must do very little. And that is meant to be a source of freedom, not an additional list of obligations to fulfill.
At least, that’s how I see it.
Feedback, as always, is welcome via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments down below. Next week, I want to do something unusual that is hopefully going to be cathartic for me, and I am going to paint you a little portrait of a moment after the Calamity.