Did FFXIV’s story finally get good for me?

So there’s like this… adage, this maxim that you often hear from FFXIV players that goes like, “Just stick with the game, the story gets good! It gets amazing! It’s just a little slow at first.”

And as I learned, this was akin to saying to ice age dwellers, “Stick with humanity, it gets really good. Internet and vaccines and everything, just hang in there.” Life doesn’t move fast in the FFXIV world is what I’m saying.

When I first played the game last year, I spent four months wondering when this story was going to get good. To be fair, there were moments of interest, charming bits of character studies or some fascinating developments. But by and large, it was… average at best. Lots of backtracking, nods employed in bulk, and characters breaking every two minutes for another cutscene of people talking about world events in an office. By the time I quit, I was about 80% through the 2.5.5 content and had my fill of all of this “good” story.

In what might be a slight stroke of irony, it turns out that I quit right before the story actually did get good. The other night I was a little excited to be plowing through the last few quests prior to Heavensward — the official end of A Realm Reborn — and was hit with one of those notices that you only ever see in FFXIV. Only in this game are you served with a warning that the next 30 to 45 minutes of your life will be spent doing nothing but watching a long, long string of cutscenes. And THEY ARE NOT KIDDING.

I don’t mind these, as long as they’re entertaining, and this one actually was. In fact, the longer it went, the more my eyebrows lifted and my heart raced with excitement. What it felt like was the end of a TV season when the writers have gotten a little sick and tired of their convoluted plotlines and characters… and they just decide to employ a tactical bomb and reset the playfield. Blow things up, wipe out pieces, and reset the story (or at least throw it on a totally different track).

In the space of about 20 minutes, everything I had known about the MSQ changed. Characters died, killed, were framed, fled, sacrificed, got limbs chopped off, betrayed, and performed spectacular fight moves reserved for top-level Final Fantasy summons. I wasn’t dismayed that everything was changing but rejoiced that something was finally happening. Something awesome. Something that felt vastly different than what we had gotten up to this point.

And I got to see Yda’s eyes! Well, one eye, but still, it’s something I always wanted to see. I actually liked most of the Seven Scions, save for Midriff Barbie, and sure, it was a little dismaying that disaster had unfairly come upon them. But sometimes you need that Long Dark Night of the Soul for stories to get interesting. Being a world-saving hero isn’t so gripping if you’re always surrounded by a team of super-skilled fighters and a personal army. Time to get rid of that and head into the expansion to see what lays in wait there.

I hope this isn’t a fluke. I sincerely hope this isn’t the only good story beat I’m going to get for the next 200 hours. It’s a good start, at least.

Oh, here’s something small to brag about: I used all of my tomestones that I had accumulated to buy a full healer’s outfit. Not only does it boost my healing ability in group, but it’s easily the best I’ve looked in this game to date. The white/black/grey design pops.

Here’s another look of me and my fairy off the shores of Costa del Sol. I guess it’s waterproof, too!

As a total aside, can I say that I’m starting to soften up on my contempt for the Lalafel? Tataru is totally winning me over with her little escapades. And that hat! The flower! Maybe I should change my character to one of these little guys…

Dreamfall Chapters review

Over the past weekend, I finished up the fifth and final book of Dreamfall Chapters, putting a cap on the most recent entry in The Longest Journey saga. It feels more or less like the end of the series, although I could point out enough loose threads that a new game could be made if there was enough demand and desire to do one.

So what did I think? The Longest Journey remains one of my all-time favorite adventure games, although Dreamfall was a let-down in comparison. Dreamfall Chapters is somewhat more interesting than Dreamfall, although now that I’m done and can step back and look at the game as a whole, I have to say that it, too, is a slight disappointment in storytelling, gameplay, and world-building. It’s not a terrible game by any stretch, but for this series and this dev team, I really expected so much more.

Someone asked on Twitter if they could just jump into this game, not having played the first two. Honestly? I don’t think you really can. You need all of the background from the first two games, since this is a direct sequel, so in my opinion Dreamfall Chapters doesn’t stand well on its own. As a continuation and culmination of the story, it does answer a few questions and give some resolution, but not always in a satisfactory way.

Let’s run down the pros and cons, just in case you were thinking of giving this a try.

Pros:

  • Very good and funny voice acting for the most part
  • Slow burning story that has some captivating moments and kept me playing
  • Choice and consequences, both big and small, sometimes felt like things mattered
  • Felt more like Longest Journey than Dreamfall, with Crow, House of All Worlds, etc.
  • Some great secondary characters, like S***bot, Bip, and Enu
  • Enu’s verbal torrents were flat-out hilarious and made me love her
  • Enu, Shepherd, and Zoe’s character models were well-done
  • A few gut-punching moments
  • Hanging out with Crow again was awesome, he definitely was a highlight here
  • The oppressive regimes in both worlds lent a great dystopic feeling
  • The epilogue was really great and again hinted at what this game could have been.
  • Team is working on a final cut of the game with more polish and some more gameplay, so some of the criticisms I have might be addressed.

Cons:

  • Way too much backtracking and being confined to the same city maps. You want adventure games to GO places, not to stay put. For the most part, you’ll be going through the same two city maps over and over again.
  • Lead characters seem half-asleep and inexpressive during most dialogue scenes
  • No easy-to-access map for navigation
  • Some character faces are decent while others are PlayStation 2-levels of bad. I mean, really, really bad. Super-stiff and ugly with little expression.
  • Animations, especially during cut scenes, are stiff and incredibly awkward. Again, the art and animation is all over the place — sometimes good, sometimes bad, but it’s like they had no one coordinating the art effort to make it all sync up.
  • Still no April Ryan as a main playable character
  • The warden’s nose was cartoonishly big (I know, petty detail, but it is INCREDIBLY distracting). Some characters (like Hannah) were just visually off-putting and didn’t look like real people at all.
  • Dialogue scenes offered too little in the way of speech prompts, so mostly you’re just standing there watching two people stiffly talk for a long time with little to do.
  • Puzzles seemed half-hearted and random. Didn’t feel like the game’s team really wanted puzzles but straddled the line between the old style of adventure games and the newer Telltale style of interactive storytelling.
  • The story fell apart toward the end and started making less and less sense.
  • Zoe’s dream powers kind of came and went depending on if the devs wanted her to have them for a puzzle.
  • I played though this game for 20 hours and still didn’t get answers to some of the mysteries that were dangled. That really felt cheap.
  • Both worlds weren’t that fun to explore, which was part of what made TLJ so enjoyable.
  • Huge inconsistencies in character development, especially with Kian. Again, felt like different writers were working on the project without coordinating efforts.
  • The end hour was so boring that I kept trying to skip through all of the cutscenes.
  • Feels like the creators wanted to make political statements, but these were undermined by the convoluted storyline and hamhanded approaches. Coming away from the game, I don’t even know what these statements are supposed to be. Marxism is good? Racism is bad? Corporations want to control your dreams? I dunno.
  • So many tropes and bad stereotypes. “IT WAS ALL A DREAM” yeah expect that a few times.

The real shame here is that the game’s most captivating character and best sequences all starred Saga, who gets the least screen time of them all. It seems obvious to me that the whole game should have been about her instead of dull Zoe and dull Kian doing mostly dull things.

Would I recommend it? Maybe if you’ve played the series and wait for the final edition to come out. But my gut says that this Kickstarter-backed game was made on a shoestring budget and under the gun, and it shows at times. I was really let down here and all it made me want to do was play the first game again and forget this happened.

Guild Wars 2: Retreading the past

My current reluctance to log in and play Guild Wars 2 comes from having content that I don’t especially want to do in front of me instead of the content that I do. Honestly, I’d rather be either doing zone clears or progressing into some of the story that I haven’t seen yet, but I feel compelled to wrap up Season 2 before anything else. Want to get everything wrapped up all nice and tidy-like before the next expansion comes out.

And here’s the thing: Season 2 wasn’t bad. Not Season 1 disjointed-and-grindy bad. The episodes are interesting, the storytelling and characters got bumped up a notch, and there are some genuinely clever locales. But it’s all the sort of thing I’d rather have only done once and never again, rather than being excited about repeating it.

One of my favorite cutscenes. Just really great blocking as a short silent film. My only quibble is that the ghost sister looks really weird, like she has doll makeup on or something.

Oh! Had some gems burning a hole in my pocket, spent them on aviator sunglasses. No buttflaps and floppy hats for me. I look like space police now.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand — the combination of very long story instances, odd mechanics, and having pushed through all of this in the past is less an attractor and more of a detractor for my interest. Maybe if the instances were broken up more? Sitting through a 45 minute instance like Hidden Arcana and having to master some brand-new techniques is very attention-intensive and exhausting in the end. Not terribly, but when I knew exactly how long it would take, my mind kept thinking about what was ahead of me and was left to do instead of just enjoying the moment.

I need to grasp and cling to the moment in these games. I’m bad at that, constantly running down a checklist of everything that needs to be accomplished to get where I want to go — usually all of the way through the main storyline to get to the current spot where everyone else is. Having a whole bunch ahead of me can feel oppressive if I let it. But when I just dial it back, get into a little groove, and focus on the present, it gets more enjoyable. And I know that if I keep taking steps forward, I’ll get to where I want to be in the end.

LOTRO: Dead man’s party

Hi-five there, Mr. Skeleton! Keeping it jaunty and friendly in your old age, aren’t you?

Year Eight of the scavenger hunt is upon us, and this week there were a couple of decent options available. I pushed Gimli aside in favor of a relatively quick jaunt around the local haunts and tombs of Middle-earth. Start to finish, it took me about a half-hour, with most of the locations in Bree’s Barrow Downs.

Again, this is why I love these scavenger hunts, because they take us to places I either have never seen before in the game or back to a place long forgotten. I’m having fun being a total tourist, taking pictures left and right. Feels a little… wrong, doing this in all of these tombs, but since the residents are walking around, I think they probably like the attention.

OK, maybe I’m a little weird in MMOs, but one thing I like to do when a mob isn’t aggroing me (if I have stealth or am much higher level than it) is to get really close and take examine it without worrying about it thrashing about in combat.

Here is a side view of one of the decaying walking corpses. It’s an older model, but check out the internal organs of that guy. Wonder what was going through the artist’s head the day her or she made this. Probably, “I could really go for some liver and onions tonight!”

This zombie model really amused me. Lots of sagging skin which makes it look like a mole. Really, what did he look like in life? Probably not much better, I can tell you that! Also, he has a combover, and I cannot be afraid of anything with a combover.

My four-year-old got offended at this guy, saying that he was “naked.” I think he was referring to the patches of skin that were missing, not so much the loincloth. Show some modesty — you’re dead, not buried!

There are so many great tombs in this game, and yet I don’t remember a lot of quests taking me into them. Nice to explore them at my leisure.

True story: I had some lowbie message me, asking me what was up with all of the level 105s running around the place. Apparently this player didn’t know about the anniversary scavenger hunt (or at least this week), so it was really bizarre for him to witness.

I was captivated by whatever dark ritual these ghouls were performing in one of the tombs. Is that blood? Grape-apple juice? Vaporized evil? Or maybe they’re just cooking a stew.

KOTOR 2: Telos Jedi Academy

(This is part of my journey going playing through Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As we transition into a new area, what I assume must have been a gas leak into the devs’ office occurs. It’s the only explanation for all of the sheer stupidity that happens over the next few minutes.

OK, so my team grabs a shuttle and heads for Telos’ polar cap where, presumably the stolen Ebon Hawk was stashed. At this point, the following chain of events occurs:

  1. A team of HK-50s barges into the military base following our departure and lament just missing me… but they see where I am going.
  2. The same team, presumably, then BEATS ME to the polar cap so that it can fire on my approaching shuttle with a rocket launcher. Either they run really fast or there are a bajillion HK teams all over this planet.
  3. Both of those scenarios are ridiculous.
  4. For the SECOND TIME in this game — on this planet — my shuttle is shot down.
  5. All three of us are somehow thrown clear of the shuttle without breaking the glass and getting hurt.

What? Just… what? This isn’t just unfair, it’s not remotely feasible. I’ll tell you what it is: It’s lazy writing and plotting, and it deserves to get called out as such.

Another fun coincidence: We just so happened to land right on the roof of this top-secret Jedi academy that’s populated entirely by female albinos for some reason. And, naturally, the lead lady, Atris, knows me and is bearing a grudge because she used to look up to me, and I failed her somehow.

This is the kind of frustrating part of this game, that you have this unknown backstory that everyone is reacting to, yet you (the player) didn’t actually do nor deserve all of this response. Anyway, I am as diplomatic as possible.

OK, so I’m being a six-year-old and choosing every antagonistic option available. But really, I’m not taking any guff from these bleached Force-wimps. All I need is a pair of blasters and a starship to take me across the galaxy.

Meanwhile, Kreia and Atton have an interesting in the prison cells. Kreia, for lack of a better term, mind-rapes Atton and finds out his deep — and currently unknown — secret. Something about him being a murderer with ties to my character’s past or something. Kreia uses this information to blackmail Atton in to being her pawn. Nice lady.

There’s surprisingly not a lot to do here at the secret academy, other than gather up your crew and get back on the Ebon Hawk. About the only diversion, other than being rude to the handmaidens, is challenging one in unarmed combat. I tried this, but since I can’t use force powers and my character hasn’t exactly specialized in hand-to-hand fighting (who really would in this game?), I get bested.

It should be noted that as I descend down the path of the Dark Side, Atton starts showing some serious signs of Dark Side corruption as well. Dark Side by association? How does that work, exactly? He’s not making the bad choices, I am; he’s merely being an accomplice at worst.

Love this Jedi’s ‘stache.

So this whole section — the academy and a pow-wow on the Ebon Hawk right afterward — is a major exposition dump that sets up the real quest of the game and attempts to at least partially answer the big question: Why was I exiled?

T3 has a holorecording that he stole of my trial at the Jedi counsel, and it’s interesting if only partly revealing. As far as I can deduce, my character was one of the Jedi that followed Revan and participated in the huge battle against the Mandalorians at Malachor V. Something happened there, something horrible, and the counsel called all participating Jedi to answer for their crimes. I was the only one who came back to do so, and as a result, was stripped of my status and had to turn in my lightsaber.

What’s interesting here is that this move wasn’t merely a punishment. The counsel sensed something in me other than dark side corruption, some sort of emptiness, and decided that by exiling me, they’d set me loose to go on a journey to figure stuff out.

And they’re being withholding with the infos, because Jedi are sneaky, cowardly morons. I’m sorry, I love Star Wars, but the whole Jedi order thing drives me up a wall with their moral relativism and large-scale cowardice. So there’s some more stuff that I should know but they’re not telling me… but at least I know that much, thanks to the holorecording.

Due to the Jedi purges following the end of the first game, there isn’t a counsel in operation right now. There are, however, several members of this meeting still alive and scattered throughout the galaxy. The game then reveals itself to be a roundup of Jedi — get all of them together, force them to admit the truth.

Next stop, Nar Shadda!

Happy 20th birthday, Mutant Reviewers From Hell!

Some of you (maybe just a few!) might know that my writing career got started a long time before Massively, Bio Break, and WAAAGH! I, along with several friends, used to write movie reviews daily about cult films that would tickle our odd fancy.

So the story goes that back in 1997 when I was in my junior year of college, an internet friend named Kym and I were talking about our mutual love of strange movies and decided to start up one of those fancy “world wide web sites” that were all the rage. I registered for a free Geocities account (yes, Geocities!) and started cobbling together the site that would eventually be called Mutant Reviewers From Hell (MRFH).

It was dorky only in the way that ’90s websites could be: distracting backgrounds, animated gifs, MIDI jukebox, web counters, guestbooks, and the like. Yet it was also the spark of something special. Kym and I would post short and (hopefully) entertaining counterpoint reviews about the same movie, giving readers multiple perspectives on various flicks. At the time I was working at video rental stores (look those up in your history books, kids) and had an unlimited access to all sorts of crazy films.

What started as a hobby between two friends became a passion project. Mutant Reviewers started accumulating a lot of content and readers, and while we lost Kym early on (she turned to other hobbies, she’s still alive!), the site gained a team of six or seven dedicated writers. Every day I’d wake up and format a handful of reviews in HTML, and every evening I’d watch a movie or three. Most of us were college-age students forming our own little internet community, and it was a blast. By mutual recommendations, we ended up sharing some of our favorite films with each other and growing as writers and budding movie critics.

We covered movies rather extensively but started to branch out into all sorts of side features. We did annual award shows, full-length written commentaries for special movies, TV reviews, comic strips, YouTube videos, and theme weeks. By the mid-2000s, the site was starting to buckle under the weight and clunkiness of the old HTML format, so we transitioned onto WordPress and made MRFH into a blog.

For me, it was a wonderful hobby that helped to keep me sane during some tough years as an early adult who lived alone and didn’t have a lot of friends nearby. I was already watching movies by the bucketload; writing about them with friends helped to give that time more purpose. It’s weird to think now, but back then I would often have so many reviews written in advance that it would take weeks if not months to get through them all while interspersing them with the other writers’ contributions.

Even better, we became friends. Looking back over 20 years of Mutant Reviewers, I’d have to say that the friendships outstripped what little popularity (we got mentioned in Premiere magazine once!) and following we had. I cared about our crew and we watched over each other. Some came to my wedding in 2005, and several times some of us — who were never geographically near each other — would make trips to hang out in person. We were all as different as could be, but watching and writing about cult films brought us together.

Time went on. Things changed. And us fresh-faced college kids grew up. We got married, got jobs, had kids, and saw our priorities change. One by one, the original Mutant crew resigned, most always due to a lack of time and interest in movies. We promised to stay in touch, and indeed, many of us still wave to each other on Facebook and Twitter. We would hire on new staff and the cycle would repeat.

Like many of them, I started drifting away from my days of watching a ton of movies in my off time. When my son came along, I had a lot more to do at home than ever before, and movies were an easy thing to cut down on. And when 2008 came around, my interest shifted hard toward MMORPGs as I began to blog about them. Oh, I continued on putting up a post every now and then with the crew that was left, but it was clear that MRFH was on the wane. By the beginning of 2015, I had fallen away for good, just as most of my friends had.

It didn’t mean that Mutant Reviewers was dead, of course. You can keep a wordpress blog up just about forever, or at least until the company changes its policy or shuts down forever. And we still have one writer — well, YouTuber now — who has been faithful in keeping the flame going. It makes me happy to know that the site is still there, that people can still read a lot of our reviews (which, at one point, neared 5,000 or so) and enjoy the effort we put into this multi-decade project.

Twenty years is such a long time to me now, but Mutant Reviewers is a weird bridge back to a much different era of my life and the stops along the way. I might not have become a blogger without it, and I certainly would not have met some wonderful people.

Do I miss it? A little, to tell the truth. I love my passion projects, and when we had a nice-sized community, we’d get a lot of discussion going on these films. I still have a fondness for ferreting out bizarre movies and sequels that no one has heard of to review, but honestly, that stuff takes time, and these days I’d rather be with my family and play MMOs than sit on a couch for two hours taking notes on a pad of paper. So I recognize that my time with the site is past, but I wanted to acknowledge this milestone.

Happy birthday, Mutant Reviewers. You were one heck of a ride and we loved every mutated part of you. And for those who have never read it, maybe take a few minutes today to peruse our categories and see if we can’t entertain you or point you toward some interesting flicks.

FFXIV: Homecoming

Amazing how fast it all comes back

When I get an idea in my head for a project or pursuit, I don’t tend to sit on it very long before taking action. And so I went from mulling over a possible return to FFXIV to making it happen within about a span of a day. I felt like I could justify this, cost-wise, with the elimination of my World of Warcraft subscription, and besides, $13 isn’t that much these days.

For having been gone well over a year, it’s amazing how fast all of this came back to me. The MMO is installed on a new machine, so I had to tweak the keybindings again. A memory cascade flowed down over me and my reentry learning curve wasn’t as steep as I originally anticipated. Plus, there were all of those little pleasant surprises of the kind that one gets when returning to a game after a long absence and rediscovering neat features — the music! the thunderstorms! the class flexibility! — that were once taken for granted.

I spent the first two nights back gradually sorting out everything. There have been some changes to the game since I last played; for instance, I don’t remember seeing the featured quest icons before, so I was running around and snapping those up to unlock various features that I had missed. I took inventory on what I had, reordered my hotbar setup, refamiliarized myself with rotations, picked up my mail, and jumped into a Belghast’s guild.

Full steam munchkin

Of course, one of my big reasons for returning was that I was missing playing as a dungeon healer, so that’s pretty much most of what I’ve been doing for my play sessions (I also needed these runs to clear out some featured quests in my logs). I was a little nervous during the first run, but soon my confidence — and the relatively simple rotation — returned, and we were off like a rocket.

The only dungeon that I had problems with was the Ultima trial. Our group just could not overcome this boss, and after five full wipes, we called it. It probably didn’t help that all of my gear was shattered by about the second wipe, which taught me to make sure I repair before queuing up.

I’ve been reading up on the wiki and news, absorbing a lot of information about the game systems and all of the changes that are in store for the expansion. As of right now, I think I’ll attempt to straddle two jobs: Arcanist and Bard. Good to hear that Bards are getting insta-cast spells and some reworks, because that’s a class I always wanted to play more of. I need to look through my bank and make sure I carry two full sets of gear, probably have to level up the Bard too (my Arcanist is at 53 at the moment).

The long road ahead

Resisting the urge to reroll upon return was definitely the best move in my case. My character is just nearly to the end of 2.5 content, which means that I’ll have all of the new-ish stuff ahead — and a lot of it. I don’t think I’ll be in want of main story quests for a while to come, so I’m settling in and not rushing myself. No way I’m going to catch up with the crowd for an expansion launch in one month anyway, and why would I want to?

Instead, I’m making a list of things that I want to accomplish: get through the MSQ, level up Arcanist to the cap, think about a secondary job, maybe look into a gathering profession for money, and save up to buy an apartment and furnishings.

All in all, I feel like this is a very good decision where I’m at with MMOs. With LOTRO, GW2, and Secret World Legends in my rotation, I’ll definitely be keeping busy this summer.