Final Fantasy XI introduced me to this idea in a roundabout way by giving every player a single quest ("accomplish something") and forcing him or her to group for pretty much all of it. I didn't need a group to walk around San d'Oria, but pretty much anything else required a full group. It made me give up on Dragoon, and it meant that I've spent most of my life feeling that forced grouping is one of the worst things that a developer can implement.
That having been said, I think Final Fantasy XIV might have actually gotten it mostly right. Not perfect, but considering that the development team felt it was important to include these quests, I think they've at least provided us with the best possible implementation for this content. So the inclusion doesn't really bother me after all.
Let's get something out of the way before we go any further, however: Not wanting forced group quests is not the same as wanting to play a single-player game. Final Fantasy XIV comes from a long line of single-player games; you can be fairly certain that most of the people playing are familiar with that fact. There's a number after the title, for example.
I've written about this before, but the short version is that there are lots of reasons to play MMOs that don't necessarily correspond to being in a group at all times. Having group content is very different from having your story stop and demand that you get a group together right now to progress. Group quests are often a whole other ball of wax.
For starters, a lot of them don't actually coincide with anything worth repeating; you'll be fighting enemies that reward only you despite needing other people with you. So you need people who either have the quest or are generous enough to do it despite that fact. Assuming you've actually assembled a group, hopefully your group is actually capable of getting through the content without a hitch. Plus, these quests are worth bothering with for only a small period of time, and no one wants to face a brick wall of content until you can manage to work around all these restrictions.
So let's address the last point first: Hitting a brick wall in terms of content in FFXIV is really hard to do.
I talked about this a bit the other week, but the fact is that even if you never dip into the group content of the game and thus block yourself off from further exploration of the story, you are still awash in things to do. You've got class content, you've got leves, you've got sidequests, you've got crafting, and you've got hunting logs. I haven't tried this for various reasons, chief among them being the fact that the game is not yet released, but I'm willing to bet that if you really wanted to go from 1-50 without ever grouping up, you'd be able to do so.
Beyond that, there's the simple fact that the group quests currently in place amount to "go into these dungeons." Not "do something strange and time-consuming in these dungeons," just "go in and fight your way through." There are time limits in place, and truth be told even amateurs can clear a given dungeon in about an hour with some dawdling, less with an efficient group. This is not painful content to complete.
More to the point, though, it's content that's meant to be experienced multiple times because it's a low-level dungeon with stuff for lots of classes and plenty of experience to earn. People will be queueing up for this even if they've already cleared the quests because there are rewards to be earned all the same.
And even more to the point, it's still worth experiencing even if you're overleveled. If you get distracted and wind up leveling past the usual range, you can still queue up and just sync down to the appropriate level with no real loss of time or reward. Or switch to a class that is level appropriate. There's no statute of limitations, no point at which a dungeon becomes completely obsolete. That is a big change from other games, one that allows you to enjoy content at many levels without diminishing the experience.
I keep mentioning queueing for good reason. Remember, FFXIV launches with a group finder. It would be problematic if the group content you needed to do were all quests, but the group finder (all right, Duty Finder) works effectively and lets you set up for all of the things you need to do at this point. Instead of trying to chase down a group, you have groups just waiting for you to ask in. How readily available they will be down the line is a bit more questionable, but at least for the moment they're in steady supply.
About the only thing that Yoshida hasn't done to make grouping better is physically changing people to be more capable in group content. And I don't think that's within his power.
Do I like having the story throw a forced grouping curveball at me midway through? Not especially. But I can recognize the thought process that goes into it. And it's done in such a way as to be as unobtrusive as possible while still giving players incentive to team up. I'm as leery of forced group quests as the next person, but this won me over most of the way.
Feedback is welcome down below or via mail to email@example.com, same as every other week. Next week, with the testing period over until the final phase, I'm going to mention an array of little things that have made me even more excited for August.
From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.