Final Fantasy XIV is definitely a traditional fantasy MMO. But it makes enough changes and innovates in enough places to make itself feel unique and compelling. If I had to pay a subscription for a game (which I hate doing), FFXIV would be the one to get my credit card number.
One of the core problems MMOs seem to face in their combat design is making classes feel different. Without careful consideration of abilities and the way they're deployed, classes tend to blur together. Final Fantasy XIV has done an excellent job of giving its classes key abilities or thought processes, ensuring no two ever feel exactly the same. The Pugilist, selected by voters as our class in the first FFXIV poll, does her damage by streaking combos together and moving around her target. The Thaumaturge, also selected by voters, manages ice and fire buffs to dish out maximum damage. The pugilist combat style is engaging enough to make fighting fun, as is the case with the two other FFXIV classes I've experienced (I have a Lancer from a FFXIV Steam sale).
More importantly, combat in FFXIV feels like the perfect hybrid of dynamic and traditional. It runs on tab targeting and action-bars, but the positional bonuses on abilities and the constantly shifting combat styles of enemies help keep it fluid and flexible. The issue with dynamic combat, to me, has always been that people don't particularly want to have the fight of their life every time they try to complete a quest, especially when there are thousands and thousands of monsters between them and max level. FFXIV requires your attention but doesn't punish you for not giving it your full focus when you're just grinding out quests and watching Netflix. This works for people who don't want to take their MMO quests as seriously as a Dark Souls boss.
Telling the story
Massively readers who know me already understand that I can't be bothered with lore or MMO narratives. I've never played an MMO for the story; I'm more interested in PvP and mechanical mastery. Thus, I have pretty much no idea what's happening in Final Fantasy XIV. Mostly this failing falls on me. However, Square Enix's insistence on making every quest important or interesting is also to blame. There's way too much text to read, to the point that I was just staring off into space rapidly clicking my mouse to advance the many pages of text on almost every quest. Maybe lore junkies love this type of stuff, but to me it seemed like overload.
That being said, I have definitely enjoyed the main story quest line and the game's primary cutscenes. Dealing with the mysterious Masked Mage and hanging out with the important folks of Eorzea helped to add some meaning to all of my fighting, even if that meaning was severely hindered by my short attention span. I appreciate the focus on story, but a more engaging method of delivery might be needed. Reading a mountain of words is just simply not something I feel like doing when I'm playing a video game. Then again, neither is sitting through a bunch of voiced cutscenes or being guided on rails through an event. Maybe I'm just too hard to please.
The most frustrating thing about playing Final Fantasy XIV for such a short period of time is probably the best thing the game has going for it: I wish I could do more stuff. FFXIV is packed with stuff that I just didn't get around to seeing, having only reached level 15 on my primary class. I hear there are cool things out there like PvP, housing, dungeons, treasure maps, chocobos, crafting, gardening...the list goes on. Each time I leveled during this Choose My Adventure it felt like a huge number of things were opening up, from new classes to guildleves to transportation. If only I had the time!
I was a little bummed to see the leveling curve slow down so quickly. Levels 1-10 seemed to fly by, but 10-15 felt like a slog. There are quite a few quests that seem like tremendous time wasters, requiring only that you run from one point to another and back a few times while trying to interpret the game's sometimes less-than-useful map. Then again, perhaps leveling doesn't feel slow when you're constantly finding new things to do. It's reasonable to expect the game stays interesting enough to carry players through to the end. One of the great challenges of Choose My Adventure is trying to sum up a title without seeing everything it has to offer; with so much tied to hero advancement, Final Fantasy XIV presents a larger challenge than usual.
What I did see of Final Fantasy XIV was polished, high-end content. Subscription-caliber content. If you're launching an MMO and you want people to give you money every month, I'd say FFXIV is the game you should be trying to match or beat. We all know that World of Warcraft is the top of the heap, but I think Final Fantasy XIV is doing quite a few things better than its lumbering, billion-dollar cousin. Experienced FFXIV players can let me know if the depth of content holds through to the endgame.
Closing up shop
I will miss Final Fantasy XIV. I will miss my Pugilist (though Lancer is more my speed). If you're not against paying a monthly fee to play a video game, Final Fantasy XIV is probably a pretty safe bet. However, Choose My Adventure stops for no cat-girl. The time has come to move on to the next month and the next game. And with a huge new expansion and millions of returning players, World of Warcraft really is the only way to go. So join me all through December as we create a new character, investigate Warlords of Draenor, and surrender ourselves to the behemoth that has dominated the MMO landscape for over 10 years.
Side Note: Does anyone know the timing on FFXIV's day/night cycle? It seemed like it was almost always dark during my play time.
Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.