FF14 – There Be Flying About

I’ve professed a fondness for FF14 and that really hasn’t gone away.  I had stopped my subscription just about a year ago due to lack of time to play and things just haven’t aligned since to get back on.  ESO & Wildstar took up the late spring/summer and WoW is up on deck likely ‘til the end of calendar.  RIFT looks interesting, as Syp’s posts certainly have me itching.  We’ll see how the cards are dealt in that one.

But back to FF14 for a second.  I left just before the housing issue (crazy prices) and 2.4 seems pretty neat.  The next expansion is in February (?) and has a few highlight items, in particular a job with no class (Dark Knight).  Classes/Jobs in FF14 are pretty darn well thought out in general and with the 2.5s GCD, it’s more about strategy that is moment to moment button spamming.  The skill cap is lower that WoW or Wildstar but the base difficulty is higher than most other games.  The “ramp up” or training wheels period is super smart and the fact that 1 character can take any role is even smarter.  Account-based progress is done superbly here.  It is the best “pure MMORPG” out there – and subscriptions reflect that.

I keep rambling.  I want to get to the concept of flying mounts in FF14 as a prospect.  After having recently done Blasted Lands with only a ground mount, after ~4 years of flying around for the majority of my play, it was quite a shocker.  FF14 monster placement is such that there are spots you don’t want to walk through for fear of a chain stun/knockdown.  It provides a sense of scale to the game.  Not that travel is complex as each place is fairly easy to access once you know the paths.  We’re not talking about MMOs from 10 years ago where you spent more time walking than actual doing something.  The game today just isn’t designed for 3D movement.

Flying worked in BC because the zones were poorly designed and the concept of travel flawed.  It really was something for the devs to split content from the leveling folk and max level (like the Netherwing faction).  Flying mounts will never work in SWTOR due to the significant amount of zoning involved.  It would work in RIFT but there really isn’t a need due to the Portal system.  I personally see flight as a band-aid solution to poor design decisions.  It provides a massive convenience for the player that removes a ton of value from the actual content and thought process.

WoW-Cataclysm is my go-to argument for not including flight.  There are whole swaths of that expansion that I’ve never seen because I flew over it.  Heck, I was leveling my Hunter recently and found spots in Hyjal that were new.  And I’ve done that zone 6 times already.  The entire concept of exploration just goes out the door.  MoP took out flying while leveling but kept it at cap.  Horrible flight path logic made flying at 280% much more effective at getting around.  WoD is not putting in flight at all, which I think is a great decision.  They’ve already increased flight path speed and from beta impressions, the flight logic makes more sense.

So when I look at FF14 and they say they are putting in flight in the next expansion, I am quite pessimistic at the prospect.  From initial impressions, it would seem that I am not alone in that sentiment.  Though in the same breath, I find that the devs for FF14 tend to put a fair amount of thought into each step of design since the relaunch of the game.  Sure, the housing prices were bonkers but the system worked.  Duty Roulette worked.  Class balance works.  FATES work, bosses work.  Crafting works.  Solid, if not necessarily spectacular, from end to end.  Just seems like an odd pitch for a feature that is not met with much acclaim in any other game.

MMOs – Where are they now?

Nosy Gamer’s recent MMO roundup from XFire shows some interesting developments when looking at Wildstar and ESO.  Wildstar launched at the start of June while ESO was start of April, so 2 months and 4 months respectively at this point.  They are slotted at 8 and 12 on the list.  WoW rounds out the top, even though it lost 800,000 players.  EvE and FF14 are the other 2 subscription-based games on the list.  Everything else is FTP, which makes for some interesting metrics.

I do agree that the sample is flawed and isn’t a direct representation of the population.  I mean, I can’t think of anyone who actively installs XFIRE today, so newer games are at a distinct disadvantage.  Heck, Raptr only shows WoW, WS, FF14 and ESO in their top 20. That said, XFIRE does a great job at showing patterns over time and for that I think the discussion is very relevant in that both WS and ESO are down.

While I can attribute a fair amount of that to the 60 day drop (people play box + 1 month), rather than the 3-monther Keen professes, there are certainly some additional factors at play.  We can’t just assume that the summer provides a dip here, because it should affect all the games rather equally.  The factors have to be game-specific.

ESO first.  The VR wall was my “I win” bucket.  The fact that the game was anti-social certainly didn’t help.  Mind you, recent reports say they are trying to fix both issues, among a pile of kitchen sink additions.  I do think that once VRs are gone, the game will be in “ready to launch” state, some 5 months after actual launch.  I think of this compared to Marvel Heroes, or Neverwinter’s “beta phase” but both of those had no price point for entry.  It will have cost box + $60 to get to launch with ESO and that’s a price point people can find more value elsewhere.  In particular GW2 from a FTP perspective or FF14 from a subscription perspective. There’s certainly a chance it comes back up to the top, what with WoW likely not launching ‘til December.

Wildstar next.  While I am still enjoying my stay, I do know a lot of people who have left due to lack of progress past 50 – or heck, even mid-game.  Wildstar’s approach to combat is extremely divisive, and scales at an inappropriate pace.  There’s very little transition for people entering group content, just a wall of bodies at 20.  There are very few reports of successful PUGs anywhere, to the point where Carbine had to make change to the rewards system, in order to avoid group crumbling after 5 minutes.  And this doesn’t even get into the craziness of level 50 and raiding.  Sure, you could do the attunement and farm gear in dungeons/adventures but there ain’t no way you’re going to raid.  Everything up until that point can either be accomplished solo, with 5 people or with random PUGs in a zone.  The dungeon medal requirement is crazy, to boot.  But the cherry is getting 40 people to do it and then getting them to raid with you.  Bluntly put, the investment requirement for raiding has either been accomplished already by those with a want to invest or never will be.  That means two distinct parts at issue.  First, you need to accept the combat structure (difficulty + pacing) which is not going to change, outside of adding some “learning” zones.  Second, you need to accept that you’re likely never going to raid.  This part has been beaten to death on many blogs and I would like to think that Carbine, like Bethesda, is actually paying attention.

I do have to say that I’m less surprised with ESO’s tumble than Wildstar’s.  The ESO beta was not kind, and there were significant rumblings before launch about readiness.  It’s clearly still popular if it’s on lists though, so that’s good.  And there is active development, also very good.  Wildstar’s issues seem to be more condemning.  It had a relatively clean beta and had significant groundswell at launch.  Many people have issues finding a flaw with the game outside of the inability to find attachment to justify investment.  That is a massive problem for MMOs in general and one that doesn’t bode well for the future.

Combat and Art Styles

Pegging off Tobold’s post on appropriate art style, I think it bears mention more than just a couple games.  And I won’t really go into what looks better because that’s a very subjective argument.  This is really about the practicalities.

We have WoW art style, with distinct character outlines since the start. However it’s moved away from tab target to smart target, and red/blue markers on the ground. WoD will finally have target outlines as well. It’s evolved.

Neverwinter, a LAS/action game, uses outlines and AE effects given the mouselook aiming features. It’s a more realistic art style, making it damn near impossible to find someone in the thick of things. BUT, since it’s soft lock and AE for nearly everything (including healing), it works.

SWTOR uses cartoon style graphics for a seemingly endless supply of humanoids. I found it a mess in regular PvE but the group instances aren’t too bad as the character types are often different. Plus tab targeting helps drastically.

FF14 uses tab targets and a full skill bar, though in reality few skills. The art style is VERY unique and it’s fairly easy to spot individual players, let alone NPCs in combat. In fact, you rarely have more than 2-3 enemies at once. Of course, with a requirement for focused combat and targeted attacks, this is vital for success

FF14 - Ifrit

ESO is LAS + mouselook. Many attacks are AE or smart target. Every frigging enemy is the same though. PvP turned into meat walls of AE spam because you can’t focus target effectively. It also means many skills lose all value if they aren’t multi-target. Plus everyone blends in together and the background. So it’s less about aiming and responsiveness as it is about mashing AE attacks and hoping the numbers are in your favor.

Big Boy

Big Boy

Wildstar is LAS but tab/free target combat. Everything has an AE target as well, making aiming very important. Plus the character diversity helps you quickly ID the players in the field. The more quickly you can make an assessment, the better your odds.

That's a big gun

That’s a big gun

I guess it boils down to offense vs defense. A more realistic game favors defensive style of play and 2 types of skills. Either you spam and get lucky or you cross that skill gap to “elite” and run amok. FPS shooters I think show that well.

A more cartoon, or rather distinct character set, provides more offensive options as you can’t really hide. Everyone knows who you are and you have more information to make the right decision. It removes the skill gap and includes progression.

I wouldn’t be able to say which has the higher skill ceiling as that is more game-specific. It’s certainly an interesting topic.

FF14 – Quasi-Review

Right off the bat, my subscription expired and due to the lack of free time for the next while I won’t be re-subscribing until the new year. This is the first game in a very long time that I have not level capped a character in the first 30 days, which is honestly a great feeling.

The idea of this post came up when I was talking to a friend about gaming and he wanted info on FF14. Like it or not, you have to compare to other games to get an understanding. Wow being the baseline in nearly all cases. So here we go, feature wise and in no particular order.

Character Diversity
there really isn’t much here unless you’re a tiny guy/gal or big hulk. Everyone looks the same in armor but only within a class line. There are 9 classes (not counting crafting) so 9 overall looks. Wow has race and class distinction, which is a plus. GW2 is the one that does this best I guess.

Class Diversity
This is odd. There are 9 base classes and combinations of these give advanced jobs totalling 9 as well. It seems complex but in reality somewhat straightforward. There is no skill bloat, so you have 5-7 skills you will use for the given class – great. Better implementation than GW2 and less confusing that WoW/RIFT. The downside is that there is only 1 healer class and they are super in demand. The good side is that any character can be any class – just swap weapons. No need for alts. In fact, alts are a hindrance.

Social tools
This is probably the best part. There are guild tools and levels (5) that provide minor benefits. There’s a guild board and ranks. Guilds work great! There’s and LFD/LFRish tool as well and that is super. No game should launch without. There are random FATE events similar to open world events in WAR/RIFT/GW2. They are the prime way to level. There are many and diverse enough. Crafting is dependent on other crafts as well. Everything seems integrated and there’s a lot of benefit for grouping. There is no solo work at max level.

Since I haven’t raided in large groups this’ll stick to Dungeons. They are well designed and challenging. CC is required in most fights and Leeroy’s are extremely bad news. Bosses can and will kill you in 2 hits but you have a warning and the ability to avoid most of it. The Esper battles are a super example and occur every 10 levels or so. You have a boss with abilities but 1 particular one that will wipe you if not addressed. One downside to this difficulty is that it has little forgiveness for bad play and the general MMO tourist won’t hit 40 because of it. Also, you have to do Dungeons to level up in the main quest. So social is baked in.

Character progression
This is fairly smooth but has some “hell levels” in the 40s. Rested experience is needed and FATE grinds are required. That’s not the end of the world. Gear upgrades are odd in that they are either crafted, come from a quest or drop from a boss. At level 43 my best item is +8, which is nice compared to games with +953 as a stat. Skills are well spread out and make sense. Character battle flow is good. You can level a 2nd (or 9th) class on the same character but at a faster pace. All great stuff.

There’s a 2.5 second global cooldown. This is more than twice what most games have. It is therefore not action oriented but strategic, like real FF games. You have time to think. This does mean attacks deal more damage when they connect but odds are you had time to avoid/mitigate before hand. Boss strategies have stages and complexity without gimmicks. Tank and spank just doesn’t work. It’s good, it’s smart and it’s fun.

End Game

This is where I am missing data.  There are dungeons, hard modes and some raids.  There’s a gear gear portion, similar to other themeparks.  That said, once you’re at max level you have two options.  Grind for gear (token based) or level an alternate class for he same character. Housing is coming soon.  If you want more than dungeons, then this game is likely to disappoint.

Complex and level based. You can be a level 50 crafter and never have to kill a thing. There’s a crafting mini-game or sorts that affects quality and experience from the act, even partial quality. Plenty of skills used so you can increase durability with one or hasten with another. Super smart. It is however daunting for the average player.

Which brings me to the point I’ve mentioned a few times now. FF14 has a learning curve and asks more from a player than just showing up. This is a rather large shift from the past 5 years where most groups were only 75% efficient. Here, if you’re not paying attention, everyone dies. This elevated skill level means that people with level 50 characters are good players because the difficulty has weeded out the bad ones.  Sort of like what WoW had in Vanilla/BC and the exact opposite of today.  Since you have to invest, the value is higher and the quality too.

It is worth the price of admission, no questions asked.  Whether you want to stick around at max level is a talk to have in a few months.

FF14 Addendum

So further to the previous post, I redid a dungeon run with some different folk. I changed nothing on my end, same healing pattern and skill set. The tank was amazing. Not so much in terms of damage mitigated (marginally better) but in overall understanding of the role.

Taking that in for a minute, FF14 does not suffer from the heroes curse. SWTOR exemplifies that problem by having every fight be against 4-5 people, even in solo fights. There’s just no skill involved. Press buttons for pew pew, they die or you die. The go-go runs in Wow are the same.

FF14 only puts you against multiple targets in group settings and rarely more than 3 at a time. A pull of 4 targets takes a lot of group skill. As a White Mage, I need to CC (sleep) most fights to reduce overall damage since I can’t heal through. It means that every action is weighed against another and that you need to understand core battle strategies to succeed. If you zerg, you will die.

I try to compare the combat to Neverwinter, in that movement is key but the speed of combat allows for more complex situations.

It’s like comparing Hungry Hungry Hippos to Chess. Both are fun but rarely to the same audience.

Pew Pew for the QQ

The tears, they taste delicious. For what seems 5 years now, gaming in themeparks has been more or less the same ride. A few tweaks here and there but the dance has always been the same. That leads to expectations and thereby disappointment. How people deal with the latter is the subject today!

The culture of go-go-go still persists but is enabled by games that only reward success and don’t punish failure. If there’s no risk, then people try crazy things. Zubon has something along those lines.

That mentality combined with a relatively stable combat format for the past few years leaves people for little patience. If it takes too long, then it’s broken.

I started playing as a DPS back in the day. Fun times, lots of pressure to pick the right target, CC everything. WotLK came out and that model died. I stopped raiding by that point. When you level, DPS is the only option in most games. Grouping mechanics (or social ones) are typically horrendous compared to single player DPS. That path of least resistance.

This then means that unless you’ve been grouping along the path, you’re going to be a bad healer and an even worse healer. And because the model is static, and easy once you know it, people expect you to know it. It’s not so much a learning curve but a cliff.

I’ve tanked before and I spent most of my time healing now. There’s a rythm needed to do it well when the content is challenging. Overgeared only happens once you’ve gone through it. So when I see a new player come along I think “that’s brave”.

I mentioned previously that I think FF14’s mechanics are so challenging and restrictive compared to the standard that only those with interest stick around. It is extremely unfriendly to the MMO tourist. Consequently, the level of patience in dungeon runs is extremely high compared to average. Players know it’s a slog. They know CC is important and hard. They know that a bad ping can kill you.

There’s some comfort knowing the people around you can sympathize. It’s just so strange to experience again after all these years.

FF14 – Wall Breached

Previous post alluded to problems with Brayflox – namely the final boss Aiatar, a poison spitting dragon.  Challenge complete!

There were many factors to success, which I think was a super smooth battle.  1) the rest of the group was smart enough to avoid damage.  2) the tank had defensive abilities, in that she was taking half the damage of all my previous attempts.  3)  the tank avoided all but 1 AE attack.   4) I used a bit more of Cure 2 to fill in the blanks and overheal.   Super!

The actual fight is rather long for a boss fight, even by FF14 standards.  Well over 5 minutes.  I don’t think there’s any boss in WoW outside of a raid that takes anywhere close to that long today.  Heck, there are FATEs that take what seems to be 10 minutes to clear with tons of adds and damage (Cancer is a super example).

Happy gamer is me!  I also finished up the remainder of the zone quests for the Company of Heroes to get closer to the Titan fight.  This story is amazing.  I can see character progression in the writing which is surprising given the amount of dev time on this game.  ~15 more levels to go on the main quest line.   Should be a fun trek.