Oh, it was probably my subconscious working out what I’d been pondering lately, but I did actually wake up the other morning fresh from a dream in which I dipped into FFXIV to hang out with some online friends. Maybe it’s part of this summer wanderlust that I’m experiencing with trying a smattering of other MMOs, and most definitely it’s part of the current hype (and blog posts) that everyone’s doing about this game and its expansion, but I found myself shrugging, reinstalling, and squirming through a rather atrocious account interface to sub up for a month.
Two years ago, I played A Realm Reborn for about an hour before pushing myself away from the desk and declaring that I was done. Earlier this year I pronounced my interest in the Final Fantasy franchise RIP, part of this ongoing love/hate thing I’ve had for it. And even last week when I was thinking about trying it again, I acknowledged that it was my disillusionment with FF tropes and style that worked hard against a possible Syp incursion.
But to paraphrase Doc Brown, sometimes you say, what the heck and do it anyway.
So why? Why was I staring at a way-too-long intro cutscene and contemplating sharing screen time with moogles and chocobos and Limsa Lominsa other words that belong in a Dr. Suess book? Other than how dreams and whims can work on a person, I logged in because I really did want to hang out with the Cactuar blogging crew (including Belghast, Grace, and Syl), and partially because I’ve been missing dungeon runs and healing as of late. Some MMOs are better for this than others, and WildStar’s instance setup isn’t for me, nor is The Secret World. Kind of miss the old RIFT/WoW runs, to be honest, and everyone seems to go on and on about FFXIV’s dungeons.
Oh! So I think I figured out an answer to my own question from last week (or at least part of the answer) about why it’s sometimes hard digging into a new game and figuring it all out. With FFXIV, I had an entire morning to play last Saturday with little else to do, so my first session was something like three or four straight hours. And let me tell you, having a sizable play session as your first into a game seems to make a world of difference in really getting to know it. Maybe part of my problem with other titles was trying to get to know them initially with only small bite-sized sessions.
I rolled up an Arcanist and entered into the game, feeling a little bit of deja vu from my 2013 trial. At least Square-Enix gives you a small discount on a monthly sub if you’re only playing a single character per server, which was certainly nice. Two game subs now plus podcast hosting and other monthly bills, it all adds up. FFXIV is really going to have to work hard to woo me in past a month, but I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt until the 30 days is up.
There’s no doubt that FFXIV is a pretty, screenshot-addicting bit of eye candy. Music is beautiful too, although it loops the same tracks too much for the amount of time that I’ve spent in these intro zones for my taste.
What’s interesting (both good and bad) is how the game starts you out after the cutscene. I think it was an hour-and-a-half, if not two hours, into the game before I even got into my first fight with a mob. I can’t remember the last time a game waited that long for a fight (maybe TSW, and even that had a bit of a weapon tutorial). Instead of instantly sending me off to fight 10 rats, the game forced me to get to know the starting city and FFXIV’s quirky systems one chunk at a time.
While occasionally frustrating to slow down and take all of that in, the end result was impressive: I knew this city inside-out after a while, had my game and map bearings, and felt a little more immersed in things. Of course, I was doing all of this immersion without proper pants, because why give you the security of a pair of trousers when the game can just throw you into a shirt, panties, and thigh-high boots so that you feel threatened by drafts?
The guild was very welcoming and instructive, especially for folks who are already at level 60 and deep into the new expansion. One thing that was conveyed to me repeatedly is that FFXIV does things a little differently than the norm — not always, but often — and that you kind of had to roll with it. So for every one thing I enjoyed, there was another that annoyed or at least befuddled me.
Good? Charmingly detailed mobs, including mouse-sheep and these giant toothy rock-guys. Bad? No cosmetic system (glamours) until you’re level 50. Good? A handy teleport system to zip across zones. Bad? A map that was often hard to read and not always clear where quests were in relation to you. Good? Some genuinely funny bits of quest dialogue. Bad? Lalafells. Those little guys and gals creep me out (sorry Bel!). Good? Breathtaking sunsets and starry skies. Bad? Very slow combat that’s taking some getting used to.
From what I’m told and what I read in some beginner guide research, this game is a little more on rails than usual, which is a mixed blessing. At least I don’t feel totally lost; just follow the breadcrumbs and watch the game slowly open up. I’m so hideously behind the expansion crowd that I feel no pressure to rush, but instead probably my greatest enjoyment is soaking up the environmental details and dredging up good Final Fantasy associations (and ignoring the weird New Agey crystal fixation that the series has).
If I stick around, my plan is to gradually develop a Scholar and try my hand at healing in groups. To the game’s credit, there does seem to be a very robust set of grouping features, including incentives to include newbies on runs and try out random dungeons together. But that seems like it’s a ways off for this level 12. Right now, I’ll run around in my ridiculously puffy shirt, beating up sheep, and trying to figure out what’s hooked this game for so many — and whether that’s for me.