So I’ve been playing FFXIV for about two weeks now. Yes, I’m one of those people who is playing the free trial, let’s just get that out of the way. I’m not an MMORPG kind of person. I’ve never been. Previous to this, the only MMO games I’ve played have been Guild Wars (that I played through the entirety of with an almost-girlfriend) and The Old Republic (that I played about 2 hours of and then never touched again).
I’ve now clocked at least 50 hours into FFXIV over two weeks. Maybe 60 or 70? I don’t really know and I’m glad there’s no way to tell how much time I’ve spent on it so far (and don’t tell me if there is). Hands-down it’s the MMORPG I’ve spent the most time playing. So after finishing the main storyline of A Realm Reborn – FFXIV’s 2.0 base game rework after it’s initial shitty launch – I decided I’d formally put together my thoughts on the game.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s also amazing. But it also sucks. But no, it’s great. Actually, it’s kinda terrible. No, really, it’s awesome. But it stinks. But you should play. But never play it.
Okay, so I guess I’m conflicted.
Final Fantasy XIV is frustrating in exactly the way that other MMORPGs have always kept me out of the genre. There is a lot of pointless dilly-dallying in quests. Important story beats are followed by fetch quests that amount to nothing except busywork which kills any actual pacing the game’s plot has. There’s an exorbitant amount of side quests that actually aren’t really about anything except experience, which are helpful in the early game but once you reach around level 15-20 you really don’t need to do sidequests at all – that’s about when I just started powering through the main story and ignoring all the other little exclamation points on the map.
A Realm Reborn doesn’t respect the player’s time. Towards the end of the main ARR story quest you get an airship, and I use “towards the end” here loosely because it is towards the end of the plot but there’s still a bunch of filler before you actually get to the end. After you acquire the airship, you’re sent on a quest to get a special crystal that will give you access to Garuda – a “primal” – which is FFXIV’s version of big boss fights. You’re riding high off getting the airship and excited to fight another primal.
But after spending a good 30 minutes running around doing random shit to get this crystal, when you finally obtain it the quest-giver is like “oh, you wanted THAT kind of crystal? oh no, this isn’t THAT kind of crystal, you have to go somewhere else to get that!” And that happens not once, but TWICE. Yes, the second person you go to get a crystal from IS ALSO A FUCKING IDIOT. I’M LEVEL FUCKING 45 MOTHERFUCKER WHY ARE YOU ADDING PADDING THIS LATE IN THE GAME.
The explanation, of course, is that FFXIV is an MMORPG that gets its money from a subscription service. So the more padding there is, the longer people will play and be subscribed. It fundamentally comes down to the fact that this extra, monotonous, momentum-breaking fetch quest shit is baked directly into how the game is designed because they need players to be subbed as long as possible. If a few extra completely worthless late game quests pushes a person over an extra month of a sub so they can see the endgame, well it’s tripe worth adding.
And the whole main story quest is like that. You spend two or more hours doing pointless errands to “prove you’re worthy” to fight another primal, Titan, earlier in the game. Other quests often involve going to another city, talking to a person, then going back to whoever it was that gave you the quest in the first place, only to be sent to ANOTHER city.
My character went down the black mage job skill tree, which meant I got to have a ton of fun trekking into the middle of nowhere to get the next job-related quest and new spells. Now story-wise this actually made sense – the quest givers are part of the beast tribes that are hated by the main cities in the game, so they can’t get near them in fear of their lives. That’s fine. But every time I killed the enemy or did the important thing I needed to do for that particular job quest, I had to trek all the way back out there to “complete” it and get the reward.
Just give me the reward after the battle! Just give it to me there! Please! Spending an extra 2-3 minutes of teleporting and riding a chocobo does not enhance the game in any way! Also I’m sick of the chocobo theme now and that’s not supposed to happen! Thank you!
The MMO format also lends itself to ruining the big story beats in the actual gameplay. The last two dungeons of the game are big, eight-player experiences which I guess is, in theory, supposed to be getting you ready for the idea of raids and bigger party engagements. However, at this point in the game the people doing these late-game dungeons are about half sprouts like me (sprouts = people who haven’t finished the main story yet or clocked at least 168 hours of play time) and half people who are max level and just rerunning dungeons to get extra rewards. And the people who are playing for the extra rewards are just trying to finish things fast as possible.
So sometimes you get players that are actually helpful, and sometimes you get players who know exactly where to go and just speedrun through the entire level expecting any new players to keep up. The final dungeon, what was supposed to be the climax of the ARR story for me, was like that. Yes, I did get to watch the mandatory cut-scenes. But in between those cut-scenes I just ran as fast as my little black mage legs would carry me as the rest of my team just sprinted through the entire level and maybe fought like two-three mobs the entire dungeon.
Was it time efficient? Definitely. Was it worthy of the climax of the game so far? Absolutely not. Even the bosses were disappointing – disintegrating pretty quickly under 8 players as if they were balanced more for 4 players.
I’m sure later endgame dungeons and raids will feel better balanced, but as a climax for many, many hours of gameplay it just felt like a whimper.
But FFXIV is also great. The community itself is absolutely wonderful when they’re not speedrunning dungeons without telling new people what to do. I did have some really good dungeon experiences with other people who would point out what we needed to do and complimented me on positioning when I did well. There is hardly any toxicity or anger, just helpfulness and bad puns. Which is a breath of fresh air when you come from shooters like Valorant and Overwatch as your main multiplayer experiences.
I’ve spent way too much time in the Gold Saucer, FFXIV’s gambling mini-game arena. You can race chocobos (good), play an RTS-type game with the minions you’ve collected (meh), gamble on a weekly lottery (some day I’ll win) and, most importantly, play Triple Triad (HELL YEAH) with NPCs and in open tournaments against other players. Does the inclusion of Triple Triad, the mini-game from FFVIII that everyone loves more than the game itself, single-handedly solve all of my other problems with FFXIV? Maybe. It’s definitely a big part of my enjoyment. Where else are you going to get to face off against a Lalafell named Billbo Swaggins in Triple Triad?
There’s also GATEs in the Gold Saucer that happen every 20 minutes which range from a rail shooter to platforming challenges to avoiding Yojimbo’s blade for max money. It’s a fun mini-game hub that is a joy to run around whenever I need a break from the actual gameplay part of the game. Will I enjoy it as much when there isn’t a bonus “Make It Rain” campaign going on making me earn even more sweet, sweet MGP? I dunno, we’ll see.
It’s also a blast to do with friends. A friend talked me into playing it and doing dungeons with people you know is much better than doing it with randoms. Also just sitting around showing off outfits or surprising a friend with a fat chocobo head makes the down time between story missions more refreshing.
The month of July has been a pretty up-and-down one for me in my personal life. I was having a tough time for a little bit and the escape of FFXIV was exactly what I needed to give myself a little break. I grew up with Final Fantasy and getting to see all the little references peppered into the story and in other quests was wonderful. At one point I was introduced to a character with a different name, and I sat up and pointed at my screen like Leonardo DiCaprio and said “no, that’s Cid.”
And I was right!
Ahhh, amnesia tropes.
I think for me, getting into an MMO world that I didn’t have any previous attachment to is nearly impossible. Even the Star Wars MMO just didn’t have the pull I needed thanks to the internet ruining Star Wars. But Final Fantasy is party of my gaming identity. Moogles, chocobos, Ifrit, mythril, ultimate weapons, and all that stuff that shows up in every Final Fantasy game makes this world feel like home to me.
So yeah, A Realm Reborn sucks. It’s an MMO. That may be just my opinion, but the frustrations of MMO design are baked into the DNA of the game.
But FFXIV is great. It’s a wonderful community of people that goes beyond the MMO structure. Don’t play it for the story. I hear it gets better once you get past ARR and into the expansions, but that’s like asking somebody to watch the first terrible six seasons of a TV show because in the seventh season, that’s when it gets really good. Play it to be a part of a new world and hang out with other Final Fantasy nerds. Play it for Triple Triad. Play it because despite the MMO trappings, the writers are great at world-building.
Play it because you get to do things like name your chocobo Warkspeed and have a little cactaur follow you around.
After all, it’s free up until level 60 and includes-hey, why are you leaving? Come back! I won’t say it I promise! Oh, for fuck’s sake-