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The Mog Log: What we know we don't know

Eliot Lefebvre

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All of the information we've been getting about the Final Fantasy XIV beta has us spoiled beyond belief. Really, it'd be best if we just stopped looking for a while, because we're in knee-deep, and we aren't getting a clear picture any longer. Which would be bad enough if not for the fact that we're all pretty sure we know exactly what's going on in the game.

I found it interesting from the beginning that Square-Enix told players outright that the beta testing was going to be neutered, for lack of a better term. There are huge chunks of stuff that we know are meant for the game eventually but don't presently exist in the actual test client... stuff that we know nothing about aside from its promised existence. So it's not really fair to judge Final Fantasy XIV just on what we know without considering what we know we don't know. And thus, we're writing this column to let everyone know what we know we don't know. You know?

We don't know the crafting

This comes first because in so many ways, from my perspective, this is a little thing. I mean, if you asked me on the street whether I liked crafting in MMOs, I would answer that I do, in the same way I like having an absurd number of stars in any given Mario game. I'm glad that it's there, but after about the halfway point I accept that it's no longer really for me.

Now, crafting in Final Fantasy XI was complicated. As did many other FFXI game systems, crafting frequently crossed the line into being unnecessarily complex, but the complexity was a draw for a lot of people. And crafting and gathering are clearly meant to be an even bigger part of FFXIV, since several classes are devoted to nothing else. What sort of non-crafting abilities can these classes teach? Do they allow characters to level normally? Do they have useful combat abilities within the crafting? Are they vital for players or wholly optional?

Some of these questions we can make reasonable stabs at -- it's unlikely that crafting will be mandatory for players, for instance -- but we don't know any of it for certain. Square has been playing these classes close to its chest. And that's a big part of the game, more than half of all known classes. But we don't know what kind of impact they'll have on the game.

By way of comparison, describe how to play World of Warcraft with only druids, rogues, shaman, hunters, and mages being cited for examples. You might wind up with a few gaping holes in the picture you paint.

We don't know the story

Ask gamers to describe the hallmarks of the Final Fantasy series, and once you filter out the people who feel the need to repeatedly cite that the men aren't manly enough, you're usually left with "story" coming up pretty frequently. I mean, who could forget the way the Opera sequence in Final Fantasy VI tied up so many plot threads? Or the impact when Tidus realized exactly what he'd been saying through three-quarters of Final Fantasy X? Or the point where everyone in Final Fantasy VIII started talking about an orphanage, at which point you took the disc out of the system, snapped it in half, and mentally crossed that game off the list?

OK, everyone has his own favorite storyline moments. But it's something the franchise does well, and something that Final Fantasy XI did an excellent job with. So what's the story going to look like in FFXIV?

Well, I'm laying bets there will be some sort of evil thing that needs killing. Other than that, it's all guesses and hopes.

We know that the plot is going to be linear, which in and of itself isn't unusual (though some games are taking aim at that; there's nothing inherently wrong with a good linear plot). But what the game will actually contain within that plot is anyone's guess. How much it will have to do with your starting nation is, again, anyone's guess. Whether or not you'll be able to deviate from that plot in any way is... you know, there's a theme here.

And story is important. People looking forward to the game are excited about this, and I can't blame them, because I'm in the exact same boat. One of the major selling points that I admitted about Chains of Promathia was how good the storyline was, even when I wasn't a big fan of the expansion as a whole. The shape of the story is going to make a big difference to the game as a whole.

We don't know the endgame

One of the amazing aspects of FFXIV -- to my mind, at least -- is that there are two different systems of leveling, both of which are largely independent. Characters level vertically with their physical level, and horizontally as they level various classes. Will physical levels and class levels advance at roughly the same rate? Will one be more important than the other?

I don't know. I can tell a convincing story in which characters are more or less done with leveling at max physical level; I can tell one in which physical level is almost trivial to reach and class levels are the real bottleneck. And that's just the most basic question about the endgame -- how many different things do you need to level? How long do they take?

Beyond even that, we don't know whether reaching max level is even a prerequisite for taking part in meaningful activities. Through a mix of level caps and gated content, FFXI had players taking part in important long-term stuff early in the game, and I'm hoping that continues. What important content will be released early on? What different things can characters do?

None of that is even in the testing. We don't have the slightest idea about what all of this will look like when the game goes live. And that's going to mean a lot for the game's accessibility and staying power. We know less about these things than about anything -- all we're going by are vague speculations and statements about how the designers want to let people always get something out logging in.

In short? We know very little. We know how low-level combat and a handful of quests look, and we have a vague outline of what the game might look like beyond that. So perhaps we should accept and revel in our total lack of knowledge.

As always, feel free to tell me I'm full of it in the comments or via Next week, we're going totally scientific -- or vaguely scientific, at least. So head on back for an experiment in a week.

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