Final Fantasy XIV: Initial impressions

August 6, 2014

My wife and I recently started playing Final Fantasy XIV, in part because it’s been a long while since we played an MMO together, and also because her chain-playing LoL ranked games isn’t healthy for anyone. Currently we are level 13, and the game overall has been enjoyable.

In terms of graphics the game is pretty fantastic IMO, even better than ESO. FF avoids a lot of the uncanny-valley problems ESO ran into with character models, and in terms of landscape I’d say they are about even. Effects and such seem more impressive or appropriate in FF, and I think it blows ESO out of the water in terms of animations, story presentation, and just the overall impact the graphics have on the enjoyment of the game.

We both play at 1900×1200, and on my current machine (i7 Sandbridge overclocked to 4ghz, ) I can easily run the game fully maxed out at a stable 60fps, while the now 6 year old Alienware runs the game near the default “standard desktop” settings well-enough. The only notable issue is that sometimes, quest NPCs don’t instantly load on the older PC, which is a bit annoying as my wife sometimes has to wait a few seconds for them to appear. After some settings tweaks this happens less often however (maybe once or twice per hour).

Sound isn’t always a huge factor in MMOs, but in FF it most certainly is. From the awesome nostalgia of the classic FF theme used on the home page, to mixing in the battle theme after a fight, FF14 is an MMO that uses its rich and storied IP and puts it to good use, rather than feeling weighed down by it ala ESO.

On the gameplay front so far everything feels solid. It’s most certainly a themepark MMO, but rather than trying to mix in a thousand things to try to be something else, FF14 embraces that model and refines it down to the best parts.

It has a central storyline quest chain, but unlike in say GW2, here you actually are the central hero actually doing stuff, rather than a silent and nameless sidekick. At the same time, it’s presented in better fashion than the “you are a god slayer on day one” that was the ESO main chain. It’s also build into the zones, so you aren’t returning to the ‘main chain’ instanced hole in the ground. It’s a bit early to definitively say if the story and progression fully pay off, but so far it’s interesting and something we look forward to rather than just being in item on a checklist.

Speaking of checklist items, I do like the fact that FF14 doesn’t flood you with 10 quests the moment you step into a quest hub, but rather seems to always have 2-4 quests at a time, with more opening up as you finish the first batch, often with logical references or reasons as to why someone now wants you to do something. It might seem like a small thing, but IMO it really does help you focus on each item rather than just looking on the map and seeing where the concentration of ‘stuff to do’ is highest. To me this is a perfect example of refining the themepark model to make it better. Sure ultimately most of these quests are pretty standard “kill 5 of this”, “collect 3 of that”, “go talk to that guy” tasks, but how they are presented and their pacing goes a long away.

This ‘less is more’ design also extends to items. Rather than being flooded with random junk or ‘white’ items, so far it seems like questing is the main source of upgrades (haven’t gotten into crafting), and they are paced well. The game auto-loots mobs for you, but since most times you just get a bit of money, you aren’t really focused on killing something for what it drops, but rather because it’s a quest objective. I very much appreciate not having to play the “dump 90% of your inventory at a vendor” game after every questing session. The lack of gear flooding also means it’s easier to focus on questing and actually playing rather than on constantly fiddling to gain +1 to whatever stat.

Finally but perhaps most importantly, I’m really enjoying the combat. This is again another example of refining themepark combat rather than trying to do too much. FF14 is pretty standard tab-target combat, but I think it’s slower than games like GW2 or ESO in terms of global cooldowns and how often you mash skills, which IMO is a plus (I can actually watch the animations rather than focusing on a hotbar!). If I want FPS-like combat, I can play Darkfall or, you know, a FPS. I don’t really need or want my MMO with target locking to half-ass ‘action’ combat just to say it has ‘action’ combat. You don’t; you just have more annoying/spammy tab-target combat.

Currently the only stuff we haven’t been thrilled with have been the public quests, called Fates in FF14. So far almost all have been ‘kill a bunch of stuff until the bar fills’, and then they just end. I think what really made WAR’s PQs great is they had stages, and each PQ felt like it escalated during those stages. Stage one was normal mobs, stage two was tougher mobs or larger waves, and stage three you got a boss. That felt like an event; and at the end you left feeling you actually accomplished something. With Fates you just feel like you killed a few mobs for a bit of XP. I think the lack of a more meaningful reward, combined with the lack of a visual leaderboard and ‘end of PQ summery’ screen, also diminish the experience. WAR’s PQs felt like they belonged to the zone they were in, Fates feel like someone put a spawn circle at random spots in the zone and called it a day.

The nice thing about playing the game at a casual pace is that we now just skip over Fates and continue on with the stuff we enjoy, and the game doesn’t punish us for it. If anything, it seems we are a bit ahead of the XP curve just from questing.

Couple of quick questions for FF14 vets:

I think the group size is 4, is that correct? And I’ve heard that if you duo, you can fill the other two spots with combat pets? Details here would be cool. I’m playing a tank and Aria is playing a dps mage, can we get/hire a healer and another dps NPC? So far we haven’t come across any such option.

When does dungeon content start, and how does that work? Group finder?

I’m pretty sure at end-game you have raiding, but is there anything else? Something that would work well for our duo? How is the raiding overall, if we decide to go down that path?


What happened to all those WoW-babies?

August 4, 2014

TAGN, in a post about the closing of Vanguard, brings back a theory that was pretty popular around the 2006(ish) timeframe; mainly that those who played WoW would ‘grow up’ to eventually play a ‘real MMO’. Let’s revisit that theory today.

As I mentioned in the comments section over there, I think a good number of WoW players did ‘grow up’ and went looking for something better/deeper. How many is the impossible question, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if WoW never happened, the MMO genre wouldn’t be the size it is today, supporting all of the different MMOs we have out. To that extend, WoW did bring in a lot of new players, and those players did ‘grow up’ to look for something else.

The problem today is ‘something else’ is either EVE, meh at best, or minor-league garbage. Now let’s be very clear here; no MMO was ever or will ever be a ‘WoW-killer’, but that is mostly due to the fact that WoW was a pop-culture phenomenon. Yes, prior to WotLK it was also a very good MMO, but it wasn’t 12m+ players good.

The same can be said today about League of Legends, the ‘real’ WoW killer; it’s a very good game, yes, but it’s not 40-60m or however many active accounts Riot has. LoL right now is benefitting from similar pop-culture status that WoW did, though arguable to a lesser extent because ‘vidyagames’ are more common and accepted today than even in 2006, so playing something popular isn’t front-page news-worthy.

I think a similar story can be written about the current massive success of Clash of Clans (the #1 grossing app still). Farmville laid the groundwork, and without doubt some of those players ‘graduated’ to a ‘real game’ in CoC. Because much like WoW and LoL, CoC is a great game, but is its design really “highest-grossing app out for over a year” great? Or did the pop-culture snowball effect kick in at some point and millions upon millions of people started playing because everyone else was, or because TV told them to?

Let’s get back to MMOs, or more accurately, the lack of either a great one or few with proper aspirations. I think the market size for a great MMO ala EVE is around the 500k-2m range. EVE is the king for virtual world design, but even by its own admission is somewhat niche. It might be the perfect version of Excel in Space, but at the end of the day it’s still Excel in Space. But I think a more mass-market, well-done MMO can get and retain around 2m players. Problem is every title that has tried has been horribly flawed and failed. LotRO, WAR, Rift, SW:TOR, ESO (I miss anyone?); all aimed at millions and fell well short, as each just isn’t great (or even good).

Then we had the problem of niche titles not defining their niche correctly. I think (hope) we are somewhat past this as indicated by titles like Pathfinder Online, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. None of those titles have promised to be a WoW killer, or to be the next big thing. All, from what I have seen, are embracing their niche, and I hope that embracing extends to the business plan and surviving on 50k players or so. The only big whale I see crashing is Star Citizen, and even that has already kinda made its money (which is insane, but a totally different topic).

So yes, the WoW babies grew up. Not all 12m however, which confused not just readers but also the industry as a whole for a number of years. Seems like people are finally figuring it out, and now we just have to wait for the results when the next wave is released.


Dupes and dupes?

May 27, 2014

Finally back from work travel and a short vacation; has the genre fixed itself yet? It hasn’t, has it?

Darkfall just had a fun bought with a massive dupe bug, one that apparently was very easy to reproduce so lots of people took advantage. AV did a three day item rollback (which missed some of the impact of the dupe), disabled the source of the dupe (markets), and has started banning some accounts.

I’m now just of the opinion that the game needs a full and complete wipe once the class removal update is put in. So many economic factors have been changed, this isn’t the first dupe bug to be abused, and with the upcoming updating has already had a prowess respect announced. Bite the bullet and full reset AV, there isn’t a whole lot to lose at this point.

Moving on, Jester did his outgoing post about ESO, stating what a lot of us have stated; ESO is an online sRPG. Certainly around blog circles that’s not what most of us are looking for, but I do wonder if that opinion is somewhat limited to ‘hardcore’ MMO players. Would I be shocked it ESO sub numbers are tanking right now? No. But would I be surprised if they aren’t as bad as the blog circle suggests, because there are a lot of casual players who enjoy an online sRPG of ESO quality (again, it’s a good game, just not a good MMO)? Not that surprised, no.

I find myself wishing some of the kickstarter MMOs would hurry up already, which is depressing on so many levels. For now it’s down to skill training my main pilot, stomping zombie skulls in Dead Island, and playing my daily LoL rank game. Save me Steam summer sale, save me!

#DFUW #ESO


ESO: If you have played one zone, you have played them all

May 14, 2014

If you have played one ESO zone, you have played them all.

I think the above is the best way to sum up my feelings as of right now for ESO. It’s so simple, and yet I’m having trouble fully understanding why. Is it ESO specific, is it my continually growing distaste for themeparks, or a combination of both?

ESO gets a lot of major stuff right. The graphics are good, the sound is good, performance is great, and it had a solid launch from a technical perspective. I like the character progression system in terms of modifying skills and selecting 6 to fit into your hotbar, as well as being able to mix armor. At least, I like those on paper. Actually, I think one of the major issues is I like a lot of ESO on paper, and then in-game I’m either indifferent or annoyed.

Quick example; recently my character dug up a treasure chest that contained two blue weapons that were exactly at my level. They replaced two green weapons that were a level or two below at the time. This should have been a large, noticeable boost in power. Maybe statistically it was, but man it didn’t feel like it when I went into combat the next time. I felt just as powerful after equipping those weapons as I did before, and that’s just terribly lame.

Another example; exploring in ESO is better than in most themeparks. There are lots of chests, nodes, and skyshards to be found off the beaten quest path. In the first zone this truly felt like exploring, and it felt rewarding. By just the second zone, this all felt like going through items on a checklist, and while the rewards were the same, they didn’t get me excited or had a noticeable impact on my experience. Again, terribly lame.

Third example; The huge PvP zone is a giant improvement over GW2’s WvW. Bigger map, better siege equipment, better combat system, better performance; just all around superior. Yet I’m as excited to spent time there as I was in GW2; not much. Other than PvP for the sake of PvP, what am I doing there? I really don’t feel connected or care about the outcome, large or small. Dying is an annoyance in terms of respawning, and losing an objective just means a change in spawn points. There are rewards, but they don’t really mean much to me.

Combine all of the above with the general flaws of a themepark (levels, zones, level-based crafting, etc), and ESO flamed out fast for me. What’s different about ESO compared to say Rift for me is that ESO isn’t bad, it’s just not good-enough for me to spent time with. Trion ruined Rift for me with 1.2. That was clear separation. With ESO, it’s just a slow drift away.


ESO: Turn right, always turn right

May 5, 2014

This image, showing just how often ESO uses the same layout for dungeons, is a great illustration of why what worked well in Skyrim doesn’t work as well in ESO.

It’s almost part of the IP that you reuse stuff in Elder Scrolls. It was done in Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, and as we see, now in ESO. The critical difference is that in the single-player, sandboxy games, you have options. In ESO, you progress from one zone to another, without choice. And even within a zone, there is a somewhat linear path that you ‘should’ follow. Because :themepark:

To put it a different way, imagine if Skyrim forced you to do a dozen “kill the bandit leader” quests before you could advance the main plot and get to experience some of the better quest, and during those dozen required quests, the game sends you to a dozen specific caves that all look and feel very similar. That’s ESO at its worst. You COULD do exactly that in Skyrim, but you can also completely skip all of that stuff and JUST do the unique stuff. The option to do either, or to jump between the two, is the key.

General themepark design means you don’t have that choice. And why is it that way? Because the devs are worried you will get lost, that you won’t be properly guided. And I can’t even say they are 100% wrong; how many threads have we seen about a sandbox where someone ‘had nothing to do’? A themepark is like going bowling and every lane has the bumpers up. I’d hate it, but sadly more than enough ‘gamers’ will be happy about getting a higher score and not concern themselves with the fact that failure was never even an option.

#ESO


ESO: State of the game, state of the MMO

April 23, 2014

Since Bethesda releases a State of the Game today, I might as well post mine now as well.

Overall I really like the game. I don’t know if I’d call it a great MMO, but as just a game overall I’m really enjoying it. I’m progressing slower than expected (lvl 21 right now), but don’t feel that need to catch up or hit the end-game.

Gold spam has been noticeable, and it’s disappointing that Bethesda seems so unprepared for it and that it’s now taking so much of their focus to fix. It’s 2014 guys, and you expected to launch a highly populated MMO, really no excuse here.

On a similar note, I had posted that the first few days of launch where the best MMO launch I’ve experienced. Well the first month hasn’t been. Some quests have been broken, the bots at public dungeon bosses is HORRIBLE in terms of immersion and just general game enjoyment, and stuff like unusually long loading screens and chat lag all result in a game that is not nearly as smooth and easy to enjoy as it was on day one of the early start.

The MMO parts? Pretty hit or miss here.

The 4 man dungeons so far have all been fun, and what limited time I’ve spent with PvP has shown glimpses of something much better than the mess that was GW2 PvP. I like my character, I look forward to trying other specs, and I think overall the crafting has been above-average themepark crafting.

On the other hand questing really is best done solo, to the point that having others around you is more annoying than anything else. On top of that, you basically have to go out of your way to do non-dungeon stuff with your guildmates, which just feels wrong. I should be happy when a guildmate logs on, and I’m just not in ESO.

Even stuff like taking down the elite spawns on a map together feels forced, if only because one player is teleporting nearby to the other, and more than once said elite spawn has been killed by a random coming by and helping out while your guild mate is traveling. Plus once you kill the mob, the guild mate goes back to his solo questing while you go back to yours. (Note: This aspect is particularly striking to me right now because I’m also playing a lot of Darkfall, and in Darkfall having more people is almost always a good thing, and grouping up is so natural and beneficial.)

Ultimately it all returns me to the main driving of this blog since pretty much day one; a ‘sandbox’ is how MMOs work best, but for whatever reason it always (not EVE) seems that the sandbox is limited by its budget or design details, while a good themepark makes for a good game, but it ultimately held back by the fact that it’s a themepark. Why can’t someone other than CCP make a sandbox MMO that is also a solid game?

#ESO #DF:UW


EVE: Space Famous

April 21, 2014

The latest EVE Blog Banter topic is about “space famous” individuals and everyone’s thoughts about them. Jester has his entry here.

The topic reminded me that I had previously talked about the importance of such players, here in more general terms and this post about my personal experience. I still agree with my 2012 self on the topic; the more “MMOish” your game is, the more important and beneficial the ‘space famous’ players are, at least the ones ‘space famous’ because they impact a lot of people, either directly or indirectly.

Side note but not really: It was kind of depressing skimming blog entries from 2012, in that they just had a lot more passion and drive behind them. Sure, more than a few were ‘off the handle’ rants or seemed to focus on laughing at Massively and the comments section, but overall more was happening on the blog itself and clearly in my gaming at that time.

I’ll of course lay some of the blame on the MMO genre. I mean, I’m currently playing one game I fully expect to kill itself with its next major update (DF:UW), and the other is a really fun solo experience with bits of multiplayer that, while entertaining, don’t really ‘fit’ into the game for me just yet (ESO).

On the horizon the only title I’m legitimately excited for is Pathfinder, but having seen so many similar titles not even come close to delivering, I’m not going to be a fool again and jump in head-first here. It would also help if more of the Inquisition core group was looking forward to it, but I don’t believe they are (or it’s not on their radar just yet). Blah…

#EVE #DF:UW #ESO


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