FFXIV’s aether currents are a better way to handle flying in MMORPGs

When The Burning Crusade added flying to World of Warcraft back in 2007, we all felt like it was the most liberating move the game had done yet. Having the ability to move about freely and explore this game world in a new way was a heady rush — and one that hasn’t really gone away since. I had previously loved City of Heroes’ flight for many of the same reasons: it was a boon to explorers, it was convenient, and it was simply fun.

And while flight is exhilarating to be sure, it introduces a significant problem into MMOs. By using flight, players can simply bypass the landscape obstacles, journey, and challenges below. Questing ends up being a helicopter experience of flying in safety to a spot, landing and doing the objective, and then airlifting out. Danger is vastly reduced and the sense of going on an actual quest, complete with meaningful travel, is eliminated. This isn’t even touching on another issue, which is that flight removes the player distance-wise from the crafted landscape and keeps them from getting immersed into the world that developers have made.

World of Warcraft has struggled with what to do with flying ever since Burning Crusade due to these issues. Flying is fun, but in non-superhero settings it doesn’t seem to work when left toggled on all of the time. Blizzard has erred on the side of grounding players for a long long time and then making them doing a lengthy grind with each expansion just to “earn back” flying. That has rankled players and feels like a clumsy solution.

Now that I’ve been going through Heavensward in FFXIV, I’m inclined to agree with my MOP colleague Eliot — Square Enix developed a much better solution with aether currents. The idea here is that flying is unlocked on a zone-by-zone basis, with the only requirements being a handful of quests and locating ten or so floating misty orbs on the map. Since both the locations and quests are discovered as you go through the main storyline, there’s no way to blitz ahead and unlock it too early. But around the time you finish up the main storyline in that zone, flying is unlocked for future use there, and so it doesn’t feel like it took that long to accomplish.

It’s a Goldilocks scenario: Neither too long nor too short. You do have to spend some time grounded, but I never am resentful of this because I feel like at every step, I’m earning that flight. I don’t get the impression that the developers are yanking away my privileges. After all, FFXIV is a game that’s all about unlocking features, one step at a time, and this fits into that format well.

I wouldn’t mind seeing this sort of approach spread to other fantasy MMORPGs with flying, to be honest. It is a darn sight better than what Blizzard is stubbornly clinging to with WoW.

Flying high in Final Fantasy XIV

You know that scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Sam stops in a field and has that realization that if he takes one more step, he’ll be the furthest away from home that he’s ever been? I had my own Sam Moment in FFXIV last week as my character finally caught back up to where my original character was — and then pushed deeper into Heavensward than I ever have before.

It was actually a really good feeling. I’m not blazing on fire for FFXIV, but ever since my re-return a month or so ago, I’ve been wondering if I would be interested enough to catch up to where I used to be. It was a tiny bit of a grind getting Mechinist up to scrap — and then, hilariously, I switched back to Scholar anyway because I liked having a healing fairy at my side — but overall I didn’t experience much difficulty getting here.

I want to get through the entirety of Heavensward at least to give the much-vaunted story a real chance. Fans rave about this expansion as being the start of the “real good” stuff, and so far? Well, it’s not horrible, but it’s not page-turning excitement either. At least Alphanerd got a coat to cover his weird pants-tights he has going on. And any scene with Tataru is gold. And the ninja girl is more than tolerable.

Part of my middling feelings is that right here is the narrative nexus between dragons and elves, two things — you might recall — I am less than enthusiastic about. I’d be alright if Heavensward ends with the dragons eating the elves (one does, but it’s sort of a love thing? They kind of lost me with that.) and then the dragons dying of indigestion. Listening to people fawn all over majestic sky-lizards hurts my eyes from the rolling.

At least I’ve gotten to the point where my small party is on an actual journey instead of dithering around in zones and then returning to Ishgard for yet another pow-wow in the Count’s quarters. The forward momentum makes me want to log back in to see where I go next and what happens.

So here’s something cool: I finally got to fly in FFXIV! I took a few minutes to figure out the aether currents system, which fortunately proved to be a lot more straight-forward to navigate. Basically, you unlock flying zone by zone. There’s about 10 or so exploration points you have to find and five quests to do, and that’s it. Ding! It’s only slightly gated (with the quests appearing at a point in the MSQ), but I felt like I unlocked it at a good point without being strung along for too long.

Compared to World of Warcraft, flying itself in FFXIV feels slightly more clunky, but that’s true of a lot of this game’s controls. It works, but it’s not as… tight as I’m used to in WoW. I did have fun zipping around the zone, exploring the spots on the map that were hidden, and checking out things from a high vantage point. Good stuff.

FFXIV: Moving Heavensward

Hey, look at that! A title card for an expansion, at last. Can’t think of any other MMOs that use title cards for the start of their expansions, unless they force you through a trailer or something. But at least this officially marks the end of my exile in the wasteland of 2.X quests and the achievement of a significant goal — to get to Ishgard so that I could swap my class over.

Story-wise, I find it really irritating that Alphanerd is the one Scion that survived the palace escape to go on this road trip with me. He’s useless and self-pitying, and for the life of me, I do NOT understand how he got to be where he is in this game. Is he a trust fund baby who is throwing money around so people respect him? At least he’s wearing real pants for once.

And I’m all for having Tataru along. Complicated feelings on Lalafel aside, I love her character. She’s the adorkable mascot that you wish you had in real life. So I guess it’s up to the three of us and an ignorance as to how long we can overstay our welcome to figure out how to come back from the terrible defeat that I had zero part of or say in.

But the second I switched over to Mechanist, I had to put a bookmark in the main story quest, seeing as how I got demoted down to level 30. Getting those 20 levels became the priority as well as doing all of the Mechanist quests along the way for skills and amusement.

No hard feelings from me on this, actually. It’s probably a good thing to have to grind out 20 levels with a new job just to get a handle on how it functions. I’m pleased to report that the Mechanist is pretty much what I expected and wanted out of a class. I get some utility, a lot of pew-pew, and a cool steampunk aesthetic. I hear there’s the promise of a robot at level 80, but that’s going to be a long time coming.

While I did some FATEs and whatnot, mostly I leveled through dungeons. Hitting that once-per-day leveling roulette quickly became my gaming priority, because the XP bonus there was immense. Like, 1.5 to 3 levels worth of progress in one run. Plus, again, I got to learn the rhythm of my class (although in those lowbie dungeons, it was mostly spamming the single AOE skill I have while watching TV). It’s also helping me stock up on tomes so I can gear up at level 50 without breaking my bank.

I have a favorable outlook on the future. I’m not going to get distracted by side quests here; I want to get through this expansion and see whether or not FFXIV can finally stand on its long-touted storytelling merits. If it can, I think I’ll stick around for a while to come.

FFXIV: Who decided it was a good idea to give an army to a 17-year-old kid?

I’m very happy to report that last week’s expeditions into FFXIV paid off handsomely. I progressed through the Seventh Astral Era 100 quests much more quickly than before, partially thanks to skipping every cutscene until I got to 2.5 and partially thanks to a couple of unexpectedly long play sessions.

While the story and activities weren’t anything to write home (or to you) about, there were a couple of beneficial factors. The first was that jawing about the story and offering up observations with my free company helped to forge some early friendships and give me someone to talk to about the weirdness that often pops up in FFXIV. We talked about “fantasy pope” and “Alpha Nerd” and whether or not Lalafel lack souls and have to devour others when they get the opportunity. I know the story is very old hat to some of these players, but it’s a point of commonality that everyone has an opinion on, and that helps to build relationships.

I’ve also been getting my “game legs” back through these series of quests. My guildies have offered some helpful hints, especially about gearing up, and I’ve been lightly experimenting with different classes. The Summoner didn’t end up being my thing, and I dabbled for a while with the Red Mage before dying far too often in group experiences. So I did, at least for these quests, jump back into Scholar just so I didn’t have to wait forever for queues to pop. And while I am still very displeased with a lot of the changes Square Enix made with the class, I think I’ve found a workable solution that lets me both quest and group. I’m still going Mechanist later on, but it’s never a bad thing to have a healer in your pocket.

I also got my character to look the way I wanted. I already said that I switched her over to a human with a bit of punk hairdo, but after a little while tinkering with glamours, I gave her an outfit that looked sensible and modern rather than some giant poofy jacket/skirt combo.

Of course, the slight irony to last week was that while I was racing to catch up in the story, Square Enix moved the goalpost even further away with Patch 5.1. Hey, more quests aren’t a bad thing, but I do start to go cross-eyed when I think about how long it’s going to take to get to where everyone else is at. I also have been making lists of other activities that I want to do at some point, such as investigating beast quests.

I’m not on fire for FFXIV, but I am feeling like I’m in a comfortable groove. It’s a good time when I log in, and when I bounce between this and LOTRO, I get my MMO needs satisfied.

As a dog returns to his vomit, so Syp to FFXIV

Yes, Syp of the past, I know. I read your note. I even heeded it at two separate occasions this past summer, cautioning me away from a FFXIV return. I know I place myself in a position of mockery for both Syp-of-the-past and commenters-of-the-now, both of whom are undoubtedly shaking their heads at my love/hate relationship with this game.

But Bio Break is a place, if not free of judgment, then freeing for me to be honest. I’ve come back to Final Fantasy XIV, and I’m even having a (cautiously) good time so far as I’ve played for over a week now. Sure, I could just not be honest and decline to write about it, but this blog is more for me than anyone else. I don’t want to lie to myself.

So what happened is the whole Blizzard boycott/leaving World of Warcraft thing. That set into motion a couple of weeks of wild experimentation in which I tried out new MMOs and loaded back up old ones, seeing what might hit the spot as a second-slot game (in addition to LOTRO) and fill that WoW void. I’ve also been going through a very crazy and stressful time that increased the need for some solid relaxation at the end of the day, so at some point I said, “Huh, well, what’s the worst that could happen?” and subbed back up for another round of FFXIV.

I almost logged right back out when I saw what had happened. Since the last time I played was pre-Shadowbringers, I haven’t been around for all of the class changes that happened with the expansion. I guess that Yoshi P declared war on Scholars in my absence, because I came back to a class that was gutted and decidedly Not Fun. I gave it a few rounds, trying to come up with a better rotation, but the huge dip in DPS and the evisceration of my pet drained me of any interest in pursuing this job.

But that was, like leaving World of Warcraft, strangely liberating. Since playing a Scholar wasn’t an option for me any longer, I was free to pursue alternatives. I looked at where I was at in the game and what I had unlocked, and decided on a two-phase approach: To level a Red Mage through the Seventh Astral Era slogfest, and then get to Ishgard where I could switch over to Mechanist. After doing a lot of research, I think the Mechanist may be a really good fit for me.

That day, however, will be a while from now. When I came back, I realized I was at the very last quest of FFXIV 2.0 (why I stopped there, I don’t know), and because of my previous journey, I knew I was in for a whole lot of dullness with the next 100 main story quests. But the change of class, the use of a fantasia potion to give me a new look, and the discovery of a pretty friendly guild all helped to change my perspective somewhat. It’s still the same FFXIV with its very deliberate pace, excessive nodding, and “pray return to the Waking Sands,” but sometimes it helps to hit a game at a new angle.

I’m hopeful that if I power through the 2.1-2.5 quest series and get to Heavensward, get the Mechanist, and then embark upon the expansions, I might find some traction that I haven’t had in a while. At least it’s giving me a relaxing and dependable experience for late at night.

Dear Syp, please stop trying to make FFXIV happen

Dearest Syp,

When you read this, it’s probably been three to six months since you wrote this. The MMO world is alight with buzz over FFXIV: Shadowbringers and about half of your friends are playing it. You’ve probably forgotten — weak as your mind is — the last time you played, and so you’ve decided to comb back through your blog post history on this game to refresh your mind.

That’s why I’m writing this. That’s why I’m here to remind you that, just as much as you’re not a fan of feta cheese on salads, you just don’t like Final Fantasy XIV — and you need to stop trying to make it happen.

Trust me, I know what you’re thinking. I’m you, after all, just the you of your past. I know that, on paper, FFXIV checks off many of the boxes of “must haves” for an MMO. It’s got a strong story emphasis, a thriving population, a tab-targeting combat scheme, a robust housing system, the ability to switch classes, and a community that’s kind of crazy about fashion.

And so since enough time has gone by, you’re probably thinking that you just haven’t given it the fair shot you should. Maybe, just maybe, you can crack that code if you can approach the game with a fresh perspective or a different way to play.

The problem, dear Syp, is that you simply don’t like this game. Be honest with yourself — you really have given it more than a fair shot over, what, three years and 300 days of subscription time. You had some fun, met some great friends, and enjoyed it for a spell. But ultimately, every single time you came to the same conclusion as I am right now, that it’s just not the game for you.

Maybe it’s the aesthetics or the ploddingly slow story and combat. It definitely doesn’t help that despite that out of a dozen or so classes, you like pretty much none of them. The pieces may be good, but the combination doesn’t please you. And so every time you end up subbing for a month or so, only to become disillusioned with the taste of this game and wander away, out $12 and several hours that could’ve been spent better in other games.

It’s time to call it quits with FFXIV. It’s perfectly OK for others to like it, bashing it is not why I’m writing this. I’m just trying to remind you that your MMO gaming path going forward probably shouldn’t include this game, even if it does end up being the last title standing. Branch out. Try something new. Check out some older proven favorites. But your time here is done.

Sincerely,

Syp of May 2019

FFXIV: Search, heal, and destroy

As I may have mentioned before, my second time through FFXIV here has been a lot more organized and driven than my first. The first time around? It was all about learning and experimentation, which resulted in a lot of grinding and repeated content. This time, sticking with the same job/class has resulted in me rocketing up through the levels and greatly outpacing the MSQ levels.

In fact, I stopped doing daily dungeons for a while because I hated getting so far ahead. Plus, the lowbie dungeons are soooo boring to heal, since FFXIV level-scales you down and takes away your fancy post-30 job skills. Whee, I have one whole heal spell to use. This is living.

So I’ve been focusing almost entirely on the main story quest — and as I said, I printed out a complete list of all of the quest names to keep track of where I’m at. As of this writing, I’m almost done with the second of 16 pages, nearly complete with the 21-30 content (as my Scholar rushes into the early 40s).

And as I know I’ve said before as well, this MMO frustrates me because it’s almost completely balanced between things that I find fun and interesting and things that annoy (or bore) the snot out of me. My greatest wish for this game is for FFXIV to decisively swing over into the former and just stay there — otherwise known as “clicking.” But as I know the bulk of the story to come for the next couple of months for me and the skills I’m going to be getting, I don’t think that there’s much to anticipate other than hopefully shooting up through the content to new stuff (to me) before I lose interest.

Maybe FFXIV just needs to be one of those “every so often” MMOs for me that I can keep up on the side. I’m already starting to look around for a stronger second game, as I’m looking into SWTOR and ESO while also pushing myself to try out new games this year.

In any case, I remind myself often that there is plenty to enjoy here. Some of the story is really good and carries a more cohesive narrative than I find in most MMOs. I really do like healing and look forward to doing so in mid- and high-level dungeons. And there’s the upcoming excitement of Shadowbringers, which is bound to get a lot of attention turned back to this game. There’s something comforting about being latched on to a “game of the month” to keep one from worrying about the downfall of other titles.