Choose My Adventure tours a new MMO every month — with you, the reader, as the co-pilot, voting for how the writer plays from week to week. Our current captain is Eliot Lefebvre. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
first came out, I had very low hopes for it. The game already was launching into a crowded field, and it was doing so while basically just taunting
Blizzard to invite comparisons to World of Warcraft
. Seriously, the game had that remarkably ill-advised “We’re not in Azeroth any more” ad campaign, that looked like a bad idea then
and looks even worse now. I didn’t play it before launch, but at a glance I had thought, “this looks like a good free-to-play title but it can’t go up against WoW
To put this in street fight terms, this is the 98-pound weakling kicking the head of a motorcycle gang in the shins, then asking him what he’s going to do about it.
Fortunately for everyone, that story did not end the way you might expect. Sure, RIFT did not in fact take the entire world by storm, but it has been running successfully for several years now, pumping out expansions and big updates and generally managing to keep its head above water. And it no longer looks, at a glance, like WoW with a lick of paint despite that being its initial design.
Here’s the weird part about this week’s column: I’m going to tell you, in short, that Final Fantasy XI is still a good game once you get past the initial hurdles involved. I am also going to tell you that it is a game which has not aged well, in part because of those facts. Which no doubt is going to sound kind of weird, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in.
There are really two things you have to look at with this particular game. The first is whether or not the game is approachable by someone who hasn’t played the game in years or ever, whether or not you can make reasonable progress when you start playing. The other is whether or not the game gives you slightest idea about how to do so, or indeed about how to do anything in the game. Because all of the systems in the world don’t help if you don’t know what they are.
All right. When last I left off my Final Fantasy XI time, it was… wait, June 7th?! What the heck happened? If not for the fact that my posts still show up here regularly, I wouldn’t blame people for assuming I was dead, and I certainly wouldn’t blame people for thinking that I had dropped the column altogether. But neither of those things occurred, and I’ll happily explain… past the cut.
The important thing is that after the last column, my goal was back over to leveling and to seeing how far I could get within my one month of playtime. The answer is… well, about as far as I initially thought, but it didn’t look like it at first. After all, at level 25 and having hoped to hit the game’s first level cap before my playtime was up, it sure seemed like it would be a tall mountain to climb, even if I had at this point gained some fifty-odd levels across multiple jobs.
You wouldn’t think this was something that would frequently slip one’s mind, but somehow I manage to repeatedly forget that Dancer was made in no small part as a job to settle people tired of dealing with Final Fantasy XI’s nonsense. It seriously has a bit of everything. Want to dual-wield? Great, it gets that slower than Ninja but it’s still perfectly capable of handling it. Curative magic? Yes, and it doesn’t cost MP. Movement speed boosts? Naturally. Sneak and Invisible in one ability so you can stealth without items? By all means.
This comes up as a relevant fact whilst doing missions because FFXI has a weird approach to handling missions. It has no level requirements for any mission, just progress requirements… but it also barely needs level requirements, as several of them will absolutely murder you below a certain level. And that’s just in the process of getting to where you need to go for those missions, much less the challenges involved in the missions themselves.
Some weeks you have more time or less to do stuff. I managed to get a fair chunk of time in for Final Fantasy XI for my first week with the game, but circumstances conspired that I just didn’t have as much time for my second. So I had to reluctantly admit that I would only be able to get up to around level 20 on dancer after I unlocked it.
It would have been higher, but you know, there was some rigamarole that had to be done ahead of time to unlock the job; you understand, I’m sure.
There’s a very different feeling to the game at this point just because of the differences in leveling process, because historically FFXI has often been a game in which progress was slow and laborious. It was reliable past a certain point, yes, but it always carried a certain risk with it. Nowhere is that more evident than when you’re dealing with the advanced job quests, which could sometimes feel like balancing on the edge of a knife back in the day.
If I have to summarize, in brief, how much Final Fantasy XI has changed since its launch in the United States? In half an hour before leaving the house I made a character, started the first nation mission, and reached level 6 in the process of smacking six bees. Most of the way to 7, at that.
This may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but if you played the game before your remember it primarily for being insanely brutal and slow. The idea of reaching the limit breaks in the course of a month would require hardcore play and persistence along with lots of high-end help, which is why I specifically stated I’d be getting none of that. My playtime with this characters sits at around 9 hours right now, which is a fair chunk of time, but it’s not much when spread over the course of four days.
But yes, I am now ready to pick up my advanced jobs helped significantly by the fact that my adventure started in Windurst. So let’s start talking about the mechanics of the game, how you can end-run so many parts of the system now, and how bad the game still is about telling you these things.
This is actually a Choose My Adventure that I was somewhat reluctant to do for a long time, simply because… well, in some ways, it goes against the entire spirit of Choose My Adventure. Or at least the spirit that I’ve always used as a guiding principle for these columns, for however much it matters.
The goal of Choose My Adventure has always been to take someone who is either wholly unfamiliar with a game or at least not an expert at it and throw them into a game with as little support as possible. There’s no way that I can realistically hit the level cap and make major headway into the endgame, of course, but I can at least try a game with fresh eyes and see how it plays, while presenting those thoughts in a non-tedious fashion.
And then we have Final Fantasy XI, which I cannot possibly look at with new eyes because I know this game very well. If I had to list the MMOs I know best, FFXI would probably be third or fourth on the list. Which is why for a long time I didn’t bring it up, because… I know all of this stuff, right?
Yes, this is going to come in as the shortest Choose My Adventure series, but I feel it’s got a good reason to be so. I went into Ultima Online with a very simple question: Is the game worth playing now as a free-to-play title for the curious? I very quickly got the answer to that question: No. Definitely not. And writing a whole lot more on it is just going to continue to harp on that point.
That’s not to say that there aren’t at least a few more words to be spared on the subject, of course. There are a lot of games with a free-to-play option that players have said don’t feel like free-to-play titles; you can technically play without paying, yes, but the game doesn’t seem to want you there and keeps hitting you with paywalls. That wasn’t the problem I ran into with Ultima Online, though. If anything, it seemed like the game didn’t want me there at all. Not as a free player, but as a new player.
So… this is an interesting situation for me. I’ve had a number of games that I’ve played for Choose My Adventure that I haven’t particularly liked; some of them because they’ve been fine games that just don’t agree with my sensibilities, some of them games that are actually just flat-out not very good. (You know where the archive link is.) But Ultima Online at this point is the one game that seems to genuinely not want me to play it.
I’m not talking about system impenetrability or anything like that; I’m talking about the game itself falling into all sorts of paroxysms of not working for no readily apparent reason. More to the point, falling into paroxysms of not working in ways that do not even appear to have technical solutions, or ones that I can suss out. It’s like the code is rebelling against letting me log in or something.
So, yes, I did actually play some Ultima Online. Or I tried to play some Ultima Online, at least. I’m not sure that most of what I did was actually something that I would call “playing,” although it involved me being in the game and ostensibly interacting with it. And it’s times like this that I particularly dislike my job, because this puts me in something less than a comfortable position.
I don’t know how many of you reading this right now are fans of UO, and as I established in my first column, I don’t really feel as if I’m equipped to critique the game as a whole because this is where everything started. This is the original of the species. It’s like that gag in Dr. McNinja wherein Ben Franklin is mentioning that inventing things during his original lifespan was easy because all you had to do was pay the slightest bit of attention.
The interesting thing about this installment of Choose My Adventure is that it’s probably the only time I could ever do this particular title. Not because it’s going away anytime soon, by all indications, but because there’s little to no way that you can actually talk about Ultima Online in the present.
If you don’t know anything about Ultima Online, it behooves you to do some research. This is really the origin point of MMOs as a whole, the game upon which all other graphical MMOs were based in no small part. You can quibble as much as you want about whether or not something else might have been a little bit further along or deserves a bigger nod, but at the end of the day it’s not an argument that actually matters. This is the starting point.
Which means discussing it at all can, at times, feel rather silly.
It’s funny how presentation problems can have such a huge impact on the same product.
Warframe, as a game, is almost crippled by its lack of guidance and the poor resources it has to explain things to players. Some of this, as has been noted in the comments, is the result of a general design philosophy that producing more fun stuff is more advantageous than providing guidance, but some of it is also a result of having a philosophy that doesn’t seem to take full advantage of its business model. Better tutorials and direction would do a whole lot to redeem the game.
This would be a good thing because Warframe is also strikingly unique and fun in a lot of other ways, and it seems to be to be the logical apotheosis of a lot of game design aspects. It has flaws, it could use some streamlining and refinement, but at the end of the day it’s a slick and fun experience that is mostly let down by its failings in guiding players. And it’s another game that I’m not really done with even though my month is up.
So, for this week’s antics in Warframe
, I bought a frame.
“Shenanigans!” you cry. “The poll went against your buying a frame!” And it’s true, the poll did go against that… the week that I put up that poll. But there was no poll last week, and thus I declared executive privilege and went with the frame that I’d been eyeing for some time as a perfect compliment to my playstyle. Which, despite what many people have suggested, was not one of the most stealthy frames.
My reasoning, ultimately, was that there was no real way for me to reliably farm up the materials to build an additional frame and actually start playing with something else in the time I had remaining. Thus, rather than continuing to tool around with just the Excalibur, I felt that it behooved me to give another frame a shot so that I could at least realistically say whether having a different option altered my opinion about the game as a whole.