The developers will still be silent
For all that people hate Cryptic with enough force to power a laser, you've got to admit that at least they respond to players. It's not with self-flagellation, but it's at least enough so that people know they're listening. But through the past eight years in Final Fantasy XI, we've gotten used to no substantial communication from the developers.
There's an assumption made by some that this is going to change -- but why would it? What possible benefit could there be to changing the way the company operates now?
Okay, there's an obvious benefit to us, but trying to convince several programmers that they need to talk more is like trying to convince your cat that you don't want it to wake you up by yowling in your face. They'll listen, but they're not actually going to bother processing the information. That means that players will still be in the dark about how a number of gameplay elements are supposed to work. And if you honestly believe that it won't be that bad, I point you to any number of statements made after the fact about Ninjas having never been intended for the tanking role.
This has a bigger ripple effect than might seem immediately apparent. One of the chief ways that players can tell if something is broken is when they complain and the developers agree "yes, it's broken." (Or, alternately, inform them that it's fine and they don't understand correctly what it's meant to do.) Not knowing either way is going to leave us in the dark on what's supposed to be hard or inconvenient.
The world will start much smaller
Remember how last week I was praising the size of the endgame in FFXI? Part of that is due to the fact that the developers at Square are really good at finding different things for players to do. (For further reference, take a look at any other game in the series, or even the mind-numbing Gummi Ship minigame from Kingdom Hearts. Different parts in the studio, I know, but the philosophy is consistent.) But another part is that they've had a long time to develop, expand, and improve upon initial content releases.
That's not going to be the case with FFXIV. The endgame will still be polished, but when you compare it to the breadth of options in Vana'diel, you're going to feel pretty constrained. As a result, a lot of people will rush to the end of the leveling curve and find themselves distressingly locked out of doing anything.
Oddly, part of the problem is going to be that it looks a lot easier to level Disciplines than Jobs have traditionally been. Starting back at Level 1 for every new job was irritating, to be sure, but at least it meant hitting 75 on your first job still left you with eleven others to level at launch. Shorten the climb, you shorten what every character has to do.
It's still a console game
Okay, I admit it: I don't want an MMO on a console. I don't like the idea of using a controller as my primary input device, I don't much care for the hardware hurdles, and I don't like the idea of sitting and having my console patch for an hour and a half. (Usually consoles are great specifically for those patch times.) But I do have another reason why this is a bad and disappointing thing, so please wait until I finish this bullet point before firing up the hate mail or enraged comment.
They've said before that the graphics of the game will be split for the PC and PS3 versions, which allows the former to be upgraded past the PS3 hardware. That's good. But there are still inherent limitations borne of the fact that everything has to work on the PS3 just as well as the PC, and part of that is going to be seen in development times for expansions and updates. Two platforms means twice as much work, or it means that the code on one is running in a shell emulator that can get touchy and memory-heavy.
Remember when the Windows key was the bane of FFXI's macro system? I know I do, and I know I spent a couple fights dying because our healer accidentally hit the wrong key in the heat of battle. I do think Square has learned enough to not have FFXIV essentially emulating the PS3 when it runs... but the risk is there.
(On the plus side, the USB cord for PS3 controllers means we could conceivably plug them in and go without complex driver software. So, hey, bonus if you own one!)
We don't know what lessons they're learning
Eight years ago, Final Fantasy XI was released. It was developed at the time that EverQuest ruled the land, grinding players relentlessly within its gaping polygonal maw, and it's very clear that the developers learned a lot of lessons from the ruling body at the time. We could be arguing all day about whether or not Square improved on the design, although most of the people here probably feel that they did, but the fact remains that the influence is felt.
World of Warcraft, needless to say, is the reigning titan at the moment. It's naive to think that the development team isn't taking a look at the game and learning some lessons from what it does right -- and we can all be mature enough to say that there are things it does right that FFXI doesn't.
The question becomes, however, what lessons are they taking from the current lord of the land? Some lessons are worth learning -- more accessible leveling, fewer insurmountable gates for latecomers, less punitive traveling. But we really don't want World of Warcraft with moogles. (Well, most of us don't.) We don't want the endgame to be a nonstop parade of twenty-person alliances running through instanced content. But it's hard to be sure that we're not going to essentially get instanced Dynamis right out of the gate, and that's a little worrisome.
We'll be flying completely blind
I have to admit that I'm kind of looking forward to this one for a nice full-body shot of schadenfreude. If you were around during the North American launch of FFXI, you might feel the same. After all, we all remember people complaining about how the game was so biased toward Japanese players who had a huge headstart on all of us.
What was less frequently heard was any sort of consideration that those same Japanese players had been doing a lot of the hard work of figuring out where things were, how quests were completed, how classes worked, and so forth. It's a lot easier to translate information than it is to do all of that math ourselves. For a new game, we're going to be stumbling around with no idea how things work for a remarkably long time.
On the one hand, yes, this means that it'll be a little while before gear/class/whatever elitism kicks in. On the other hand, which is instinctively curling into a fist, it means that we will have a whole lot of things where we have to puzzle out how we're supposed to fit everything into a larger framework. How abilities and classes are supposed to work together, what the best stats for each class are, whether or not you can manage a gathering profession reasonably into a combat character, and even what abilities will actually develop over time... yeah. We aren't going to know any of that until we've had a chance to make guesses and come up with a lot of wrong answers first.
All of this, of course, doesn't mean I'm not excited as heck for the game. But we need to temper our expectations just a wee bit from time to time.
Next week, it's time for yet another community spotlight, so feel free to mail in any interesting threads around the web to Eliot at Massively dot com. Or even just comments or hate mail about the fact that I don't want a console MMO. I'm open-minded. Sort of.