In this latest bout of FFXIV play, I’ve spend a lot of mental time sorting out the pros and cons of this MMO. Despite what white or black knights might purport, there’s more than enough to fill two solid columns’ worth of features, almost to the point where (for me) it’s a 1:1 ratio.
I don’t really care to go into this list, save to discuss the one feature that could be seen as either a pro or a con, depending on what your preferences are and how you like to play. And that’s for Final Fantasy XIV’s tendency to be, for lack of a better analogy, a homeowners association.
An HOA dictates the laws of the neighborhood it governs, requiring home owners to comply in how they handle their property and house. It limits free expression in order to gain a theoretical higher standard of community beauty and cleanliness. HOA neighborhood cultivate a copy-and-paste look among its members’ lots. And if you enjoy everything looking that specific brand of nice, like having access to certain amenities, and like having someone else take care of these rules for you, then I suppose HOAs are enjoyable places to live.
Of course, if you’re all about free expression and using your home and property as you see fit, an HOA is a constricting beast indeed. Your choice is either removed or pared down.
That’s FFXIV in a nutshell. Looks great, and if you’re into its specific brand of progression and play, it can be a lot of fun. You don’t have to worry about gimping your character, because the game handles your leveling and balance. You go into a dungeon, you don’t have to worry that other classes will be missing essential skills or talents they need, because they’ve been given the same boilerplate build as everyone else.
But if you prize choice and freedom, especially in your character’s progression, then FFXIV starts to feel very restricting. There is some manner of choice: You can choose gear (although you can’t progress past certain points in the storyline if you can’t pass an ilevel check). You can swap jobs to play whatever class suits you that day. You can customize your appearance, house, and fling out whatever pets and mounts you collected.
Yet compared to most other MMOs, FFXIV is a barren wasteland of character choice. There’s nothing in the way of stat distribution or skill selection (although there used to be). No talent trees. No alternate specs. Once you pick a job, you’re playing the same exact job as anyone else that picks it. You may be more or less skilled as others playing that job, but you won’t have a different toolbox than they will.
I guess that when I don’t think about it too much, I can avoid having this HOA feel bother me. Of course, I do think about it. I am not nearly as attached to my character in FFXIV because of this design. I don’t really look forward to leveling as much because my path has been fully predestined by the developers.
I do miss how the game used to be, back when I first played. At least then you could collect cross-class skills to mix-and-match as a sort of secondary system. That wasn’t perfect and was already on its way to being outdated, but I thought it was a good idea. A combination of collection and choice.
Oh well. It is what it is. I’m sure a lot of folks have made their peace with this design, such as my FC when I asked them what they thought of it. In a way, it makes FFXIV a lot more like some single-player action or adventure games rather than one with RPG flexibility.