MMOs of 2015: FFXIV

Last year my MMO adventures included five games primarily: FFXIV, ESO, Trove, SWTOR, and WildStar. At the end of 2015 I saw a number of bloggers doing a “review” for the year however as I was not actively writing at the time I missed out. Instead, over the coming weeks I’d like to write a little on each of the five titles I focused on, noting what I liked, what I didn’t, and what factors ultimately led me elsewhere (if any). First up, it’s Final Fantasy XIV.

I started playing FFXIV off and on in the fall of 2014 but started the new year with an expectation of staying with the game long term. It had many of the features I was looking for in an MMO: I could progress all classes on one character, the combat while slow at first was the classic tab targeting I preferred (that’s changed since then), the atmosphere was beautiful, the community was friendly, and there was a steady cadence of content that included dungeons which were and are my favorite form of group content.

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The day I earned my Ninja merit badge.

 

Previously I had hopped around between jobs but with the introduction of the Ninja I had finally settled on a main class and leveled my way up to 50. Even now the FFXIV Ninja easily ranks as one of my top three favorite classes to play. I loved the layered rotation, having to manage one set of abilities on the surface while weaving in another set in between. It was fast, complex, and very satisfying to execute well. Had my decision been based purely on class mechanics I would probably still be playing Final Fantasy, but eventually I moved on.

Unfortunately I don’t remember all the specifics of why I took a break from the title, but I do remember why I never picked it back up. When I stopped my subscription I was a little burnt out and figured I would take a little break before Heavensward. There was probably another game I was planning to play in the interim (maybe Trove?) but I don’t recall. I hadn’t finished the main story questline but assumed if I popped back in a few weeks before launch I could finish it up and be ready. Then I learned that the reality was far more complicated.

For whatever reason, Square Enix has designed the story aspects of FFXIV like a single player game, locking players out of the next tier of content before the previous one has been complete. Of course all MMOs do this to some extent but generally provide a way to “catch up” when a new expansion is launched. That’s what I was expecting, for Heavensward to be a kind of equalizer and help me catch up to those players who had been around for much longer. Once I realized that I had a solid month of content (and that was if I played nothing but FFXIV) including group dungeons and raids before I could even step foot in the new expansion I decided to move on.

While I wouldn’t mind seeing the conclusion of the story, I didn’t then and I don’t now want to work through the gear progression necessary to access the dungeons and raids that make up the rest of A Realm Reborn’s storyline. Heavensward sounds like it has been an enjoyable expansion but now with even more content between me and everyone else playing the game I don’t think I’ll ever return. There’s simply too much barricading my entry. To some extent, this “laziness” is just an illustration of how I felt about the game in general, it was good, but never great. It didn’t grab me like it has other people and with the way the game is designed I would have had to work harder than I was willing to be on par with the current patches.

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Preparing to ride off into the sunset to see what other MMO worlds are just beyond the horizon.

 

I’d rate Final Fantasy XIV as one of the best MMOs on the market, and I love that so many people are enjoying the game. There seems to be a really healthy community coupled with an exemplary rate of content production; you can’t ask for much more than that. That said, it’s not for me. Between the required subscription and the gated content it’s one of the few games from last year to which I don’t think I’ll ever return.

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State of the Rez: Invariably Variable

Commitment is not a strength of mine; I’m more of a visionary. That’s true of both my blogging endeavors and my MMO gaming habits and while I’m conscience of this tendency toward good intentions with little follow through, having it on display via blogging heightens that self-awareness. A few weeks ago I decided to post three times a week— Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday— with specific categories in mind for each day. I was able to maintain that schedule for a week or two but quickly realized it was too much. I’m now committing (as I did at the start) to once a week with anything else being optional. That said, I have in mind to improve my speed as a writer and may attempt one or two additional posts per week, limited to 30-45 minutes for completion. (If any other bloggers have advice for writing quickly and briefly, I’m all ears).

Around the same time I set a goal to write on a schedule I also wrote a post about Final Fantasy XIV, stating that it would serve me well as a “home” MMO. I’m no looking for permanence in my virtual spaces, I’m more of a world traveler when it comes to these games but nonetheless I was enjoying the title so much I thought surely it had become the homestead amidst my nomadic exploration, a place for hat racks, area rugs and of course, ninjitsu. As with every venture I’ve had into Eorzea it begins well but ends with a fizzle. On paper it fits with what I’m looking for in an MMO and I imagine I’ll revisit the game in the future but for now I’m finished with Final Fantasy XIV.

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The deciding factor was Elliot’s post at Massively OP listing the steps necessary for a fresh 50 to be prepared for Heavensward. When last I left FFXIV I had just reached 50 and was planning to take a month off before returning to finish the main story scenario up through 2.55. I did not realize at the time that completing the story would require a certain ilvl. To be ready for Heavensward I would need to devote my time more fully to FFXIV rather than casually playing through a series of quests as I had expected so instead I uninstalled the client for now. I may return in the future but at this time I am put off by the prospect of having to go through the end game grind of A Realm Reborn before entering the next expansion.

Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t the only game I removed from my hard drive recently, either. The WoW token was released this past month and I had more than enough gold to purchase several months of game time and could do so from the character selection screen. Warlords of Draenor still offered little of interest for me but I had intended on leveling my followers and setting up my garrison in such a way that I could passively earn enough gold to continue my subscription indefinitely. After two weeks of logging in daily to send my followers on missions with little desire to pursue any other objectives in game it dawned on me: if I’m not having fun in WoW anymore, what’s the point of having a garrison able to cover the cost of a subscription?

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At that point I made the decision to not only uninstall the game but also the other Blizzard titles I own, the battle.net client, and to delete all the bookmarks to the WoW related podcasts and news websites that I have followed for the past three years in order to completely distance myself from the game. In all this time I’ve been playing other MMOs, I’ve never completely left WoW. Even when I wasn’t subscribed I continued to follow the news and listen to opinions on class design, content release, and lore. I was like an ex-boyfriend too curious about the current status of an old flame. As such I would inevitably return to the game but I think it’s time now for a clean break and a cleansed palette. That’s not to say I will never play again, but that if I’m going to return it will be refreshed and curious, rather than jaded.

Several other titles were uninstalled as well leaving only those games I am currently playing and a few others I may pick up again in the coming months including Star Wars: The Old Republic, Marvel Heroes, Rift, The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, and Trove. As for my current favorites, I have nestled quite contentedly into Star Wars: The Old Republic and Marvel Heroes. Coincidentally, the former was the title that a little over a month ago I thought was unable to compete with the others on my “must play” list. With both expansions purchased and having played for a month as a subscriber I have subsequently changed my opinion. It turns out I’m quite happy with the Star Wars flavored WoW clone, theme park, combat lobby MMO. In fact, I believe those words— often used derogatorily by many a Massively OP patron and columnist— describe the elements I enjoy most in the genre. It’s liberating to recognize and be content with the fact that I am happy with the mainstream model. Besides, if I wait long enough the genre will shift and I’ll get to tell the new MMO youngsters about the glory days of dungeon finders and gear treadmills.

“You mean characters used to progress vertically grandpa?” my cyborg grandchild will say.

“That’s right Mark-I,” I’ll nod, remembering those nights of chaining dungeons and raiding for hours with guildmates. “And we use to gamble on loot pulled from the corpses of dragons once a week as well.”

“You mean you didn’t have to wait in these lines? What about the crafting overlords, weren’t they mad you didn’t have to buy their stuff?”

Reality will wake me from bittersweet reminiscence. “That was before the rise of OPnet and the Bree-800 series cyber-economists,” I’ll say, resisting the tears. “That was before #Sandboxgate ruined everything.”

And then of course I’ll send my cyborg grandchild back in time to prevent the Sandbocolypse by stopping the development of Star Wars Galaxies at all costs. As his form vanishes a Bree-800 series android will burst into my open world housing plot and overcome my avatar slowly but assuredly with item decay.

….what was I talking about again?

Right, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Marvel Heroes. With 12x XP arriving on May 4th, I plan on diving into the class story of my Scoundrel however lately when I log in I spend most of my time healing in Warzones and Galactic Starfighting. With most MMOs in the past I’ve engaged in PvP sparingly and sporadically, but in SWTOR I am uncharacteristically preferring the leet pwning of noobs over PvE questing and Flashpoints. I’m not great at either Warzones or GSF but this past week has seen a couple of significant milestones for me in these arenas. During my last GSF match I managed to rack up eight player kills, three of which were rapidly one after the other. It was exhilarating. I attribute this relative success to my upgraded striker as much as any skill development on my part. As a healer in Warzones I managed to heal one million HP in a single match at level 35 this week and over 650k HP without a single death in another. I accomplished something similar in the 10-29 bracket but that was largely due to the fact that few people knew to target the healer at that stage. This time I survived because I had a better grasp on when and how to use my defensive cool downs, crowd control abilities, and cc breakers.

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Whereas SWTOR is my new favorite MMO, Marvel Heroes is more of a guilty pleasure. I recently leveled my first hero to 60 and rather than explore the end game for max level characters I have decided to level the other heroes I have in my roster. At first I was working on Ms. Marvel but with the announcement that the Avengers would be receiving an additional 50% bonus to XP, I decided to give Black Widow a try. In a handful of days I’ve leveled her to 40 and I fully intend to blitz my way to 60 before the event concludes. Afterwards I’ll pick back up where I left off with Ms. Marvel or set this game aside for a while as I tend to play it in bursts.

A lot has shifted over the last month with both my gaming and my blogging. My intention with this post was to outline some of those changes and to put my current blogging expectations in writing and to mention what I’ll be playing over the coming weeks and months. Expect one post a week with one or two writing exercises in brevity as well. I’ll be chronicling my leveling progress in SWTOR as well as Marvel Heroes and hopefully I will also get back into the habit of writing reflectively on scripture once again. David and Goliath Revisited was one of my favorite posts of this past month and I’d like to do more in that vein going forward. Of course, given my proclivity for writing down one set of plans and then taking off in another direction entirely, next week I may be chronicling the adventures of a fictitious time-traveling, cybernetic grandson instead. One never knows.

One to X: Finishing What I Have Started

While brainstorming ideas for this blog, one that came to mind was a regular series tracking my progress through several MMOs as I work toward max level. Ever since I began wandering through multiple games I never really made it past the opening levels, generally stopping in the teens and twenties before moving on, always rerolling when returning to previously visited landscapes. That process has left me with quite a few unfinished characters across several MMOs but no opportunity for end game activities in any of them.

One to X is a chance for me to go back through and try to complete what I have started. I won’t be doing this for every MMO I have tried in the past, only for those I enjoyed. And while I may comment from time to time on my progress as I level, I’m mostly interested in writing down a few thoughts about each MMO as I complete the trek to level cap. To begin this series I want to talk about two games in which I recently finished leveling, Final Fantasy XIV and Marvel Heroes 2015.

My journey through Eorzea began back in August or September of last year. When I first purchased the game I created one character—a Thaumaturge—and leveled into the thirties in one go with one detour to earn the fifteen levels needed as an Archer to unlock the Black Mage job. Generally when I start a game I play into the teens on my first class, then try another, and so on. Playing one class into the thirties lead me to think that perhaps I would stick with it to the end for once. Unfortunately, that was not the case and after a couple of months my interest waned.

Since then I’ve returned a couple of times and every time I have started up a new class rather than completing a previously leveled one. The same can be said for this most recent return, however this time I made it all the way to 50 on the Ninja job. One of the reasons I often lose momentum in a game is due to the process of deciding on a class. Final Fantasy does this better than by allowing you to play all classes on one character meaning you do keep some of your progression even when you make a switch. However the initial run of levequests, dungeons, hunting logs, and guildleves needed to power level up to wherever you left off in the story can be grindy.

Nevertheless I pushed through and was able to pick up the main storyline where I had left off. Ultimately I still out-leveled the story and thus while I am technically at max level, I’m not really able to participate in the end game content because I am behind on the story. This is one of my biggest complaints with Final Fantasy XIV—content, systems, and progress in general is gated behind the story. It is clear that Square Enix still considers Final Fantasy XIV a traditional RPG first and an MMO second, and for some veteran players gating every branch of the game behind the storyline progression may be off-putting. At times it has been for me.

This brings up a good question as far as my goals in One to X; am I looking to simply reach max level or do I have a specific progression goal in mind? With Final Fantasy XIV I have decided that for now being level 50 is enough and going forward I will make that decision on a game by game basis. Perhaps once I have a few more characters at max across several MMOs, I’ll circle back through and work on progressing those characters into whatever the end game has to offer.

Which brings me to my other recently achieved max level character, X-23 in Marvel Heroes. I couldn’t tell you when I started playing Marvel Heroes, but I do know my first character was the Human Torch. At first I enjoyed both the game and the hero but quickly I grew tired of both. When X-23 was announced she looked interesting to me and when I discovered she was only going to cost 200 eternity splinters I quickly made the purchase and started anew. It was the best hero purchase I have made (and I’ve made too many).

I have been playing this game off and on in short bursts, but bit by bit I have made progress with X-23 and just this weekend I decided to make the push to 60. The thing I love about Marvel Heroes is that you can really level in several different ways. I’m sure someone somewhere has figured out the optimal way to level, but as for me once I had completed the storyline on normal mode I continued my leveling via legendary quests and grinding in Midtown. Both allow you to get right into the action, and with the amount of story and cutscenes in some of the other games I’m playing, I welcome the shoot first and never ask questions later approach of Marvel Heroes.

Once I reached level 60 I realized how little I knew about this OARPG. There are so many currencies you earn along the way, so many different types of gear (and ways to earn it) that I really wasn’t sure where to begin. After some research this morning I purchased a legendary weapon and began running some of the terminal quests on a higher difficulty level. I know there are raids as well but I’m not sure if that interests me. For now when I play X-23 I’m going to focus on a complete set of level 60 unique gear and leveling my legendary weapon.

But then again, why worry about end game at all? Instead of pursuing the best gear and maxing out every other form of progression as a level 60 hero you can start over with a new one. Another feature I love about Marvel Heroes is that it is possible to treat leveling alts as a kind of end game, and it is supported through several bonuses granted for having multiple high level characters. For me I think this “end game” path is the one I will focus on. Sure, I’ll do a little work on X-23 here and there, but for the most part I plan on leveling a second hero to 60.

Now that I’ve finished leveling in these two games (which were admittedly low hanging fruit) where to next? Well, currently I am playing SW:TOR and this game is an excellent example of one in which I have returned many times and started many classes and characters but never made it further than the teens on any of them. Therefore I think either Iron’weakness, my Jedi Sentinel or Lone’weakness, my soon to be healing Scoundrel will be the next contestant in this One to X project.