My First MMORPG: Final Fantasy 14

My whole life I’ve been avoiding MMOs. Not because they’re bad, but being the addiction-prone gamer I am, I figured getting involved in one would be the end of my real world life as I know it. Goodbye sunlight, goodbye relationships, goodbye job and social life. I’ve spent so long listening to people talk about how good they are, it’s only natural that I might start to build an unrealistic expectation of them.

So when I did finally cave and decide to try one, I was somewhat surprised to find out that the world of MMOs isn’t all I thought they’d be. It seems “The Perfect Games” that I’ve been avoiding might not be as perfect as I once imagined.

This is the documentation of my first ever MMO, and by extension, what any other gamer who hasn’t played one before might experience.




Picking the Game – A Rational(?) Choice

Working at EB Games/Gamestop does have its occasional perks. You might find it a surprising claim, but a large portion of its employees don’t actually have an interest in games. It is, after all, a business, and having customer, sales, and work skills is more important then having an interest in the product. Required knowledge can be learned on the job. And occasionally, this also goes for managers.

What this means is that when the monthly “free managerial copies” of games come through, more often then not it’s the casuals that will receive them as handy rewards or incentives. Booyah! So when a promotional copy of FFXIV arrived, I thought “What the hey?” and decided to give it a try.

Why FFXIV, you ask, and not WoW? Considering the entire Warcraft collection can be picked up for mere pitons and is (so they say) an infinitely better game?

Well, at the time I still didn’t trust that I wouldn’t become addicted to an MMO if I played a good one. I also have an aversion to paying subscription fees. With FFXIV’s recent worldwide condemnation, and subsequent Free-to-play status, it seemed the perfect way to be introduced to the MMO realm without the risk of becoming dangerously hooked. Having also received the base game for free, it meant I had no monetary stake in it at all. Money could in no way influence my experience.

I took it home, installed it, and one hour later I was ready to play. Was this the beginning of the end? A one way path to ultimate nerd-dom? You never know until you take the first step…



Final Fantasy XIV – The First Day

This is Celaneo. Isn’t she gorgeous? I don’t think I’ve ever made a female character as cute as she is. Just look at that nose, that adorable fringe-flick. Aaawwww.

It was a pleasant way to start the game. FFXIV’s character creation list has a limited number of features to choose from, but thankfully they all seem to fall under cute, cuter, gorgeous or stunning. It’s almost like the developers didn’t want their world populated by uglies. “Only beautiful people shall exist in our MMO!” they seem to cry. (Hey, I can live with that, but feel free to start a hate site and bring those insensitive bastards down.)

I choose a number of other seemingly pointless stats and traits, pick a starting location – forests are always nice – and finally, the game begins.

Wow. Straight off the bat I can see this is a pretty game. So pretty I overestimated my slightly-obsolete video card’s power and had to turn the graphics down. Just the opening cinematic of my girl walking through the forest, getting harassed by people falling from the sky and then assaulted by wolves, is boggling to look at. Beautifully rendered character models, generous splashes of colour, and fitting music? This was looking good! And then the gameplay started.

Moogles: Plushy Incarnate

Er. Hm. Huh? So yeah, apparently one or two lines is enough of a tutorial when it comes to XIV. I awkwardly fiddle and push buttons and eventually find a way to make Celaneo attack things. Slowly. Very, very slowly. Damn, not exactly action packed, this combat.

Five minutes later, the wolves lie dead, and I’m treated to another cool cutscene of my character being harassed by Treants and Moogles. It’s still fun to watch, but the earlier gameplay taste has me worried, so I’m less eager to get to the meat of the game now. Eventually, however, all the cutscenes and story things end, and I’m released into the big wide world to do what I want!

…which would be cool, except I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t know what I can do. Once again, the game distinctly lacks anything in the way of a decent tutorial, attempting to explain to me the jobs system in roughly two sentences. Here I am, in a world so massive it probably covers six screens, and the only thing I have for a guide is a small window in the bottom left that might as well be a retard’s twitter feed. How helpful.

Feeling somewhat overwhelmed and fast becoming bored, and decided to play with the emotes, and made my sweet Celaneo sit down to observe the scenery. Pretty! At least the game was still nice to look at.

And then salvation arrived:

“Do you need some help?” the friendly Telly-Tubby asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “I’m lost. This is my first MMO. No idea what I’m supposed to be doing.”

“Where are you up too?”

“I just started.”

“Do you want to do the main story?”

“I guess. If I have too.”

“Ok, let’s go. I’ll show you around”

And so with renewed interest, I followed my stout friend and skipped into the unknown. Along the way he taught me many things; crafting, maps, journals, gear, teleporting, quests, you name it. The amount of stuff the game contained was staggering, and ultimately begged the question: if I hadn’t found someone to teach me, how the f**k was I supposed to figure this all out by myself?

For two hours we wandered about, exploring and talking. I soon discovered that a very large portion of your MMO time will be spent walking. And walking. If you want to fast-track, you’ll have to pay a penalty of sorts, which really sucks ass. Why the hell should I be punished for wanting to skip lots of pointless running about? Artificially extending playtime? Why the heck would a game this size need that? Pphhh.

My first fight was disappointing to say the least. Facing off against a Deadly Mushroom of Death (see above), this time I decided to really get into it: strafing, dodging, using the few skills I had. Until my new friend proclaimed “You know, moving doesn’t make any difference. You can just stand still, they’ll hit you regardless”. Well. That’s deflating. So I just stood and pushed a single button for another five minutes until it died. Yawn. So this is what MMO combat is like? Well it’s nice to know that my skills are on par with this guy:

Homer Simpson had the right idea

At last it was time to call it a night. The following days would be abundant with new activities, I felt sure. I said goodbye to my friend, added him to my friends list, and closed the game down.



Final Fantasy XIV – The Next Week

The following week I got quite busy at work, and so didn’t have much time to play FFXIV. I managed maybe one hour a night. During this time, something was becoming quickly apparent: this game was filled with enormous, unashamedly obvious time sinks.

The most noticeable one was the quests. At any time you can pick up a few quests, revolving around combat, environment or crafting. Each one will develop one of your skills, and give you rewards. Sounds easy, yeah?

Well, it is. Very easy. It’s just really, really, really, really freakin boring and time consuming. Every quest requires you to journey somewhere, and every activity can take between ten and twenty minutes to complete once you get there. This would be fine, except that every single damn action in the game requires a skill, and each skill has to be developed individually. You can’t help but feel overwhelmed when you have a hundred different skills and it takes thirty minutes to level up just one of them.

The worst part? They’re necessary. Or at least, they are if you ever want to wear something different to the stuff you start the game with. See shops don’t sell many (if any) gear, and when they do it’s so insanely expensive you better be prepared to donate some organs to make up the difference. If you want items without paying through the nose or killing enemies that are out of your league for another fifty levels, you have to make them yourself.

To do that, you need raw materials. Which means harvesting them. Better materials require higher skills, so you have to develop those. Then, even when you get the materials, you need the skills to craft them. But don’t expect it to be just one skill. Want to make so new leather clothes? You’re going to have to learn weaving and leatherwork equally, and anything else needed along the way. It would probably take you hours upon hours, maybe even days of constant work, just to make one item.

You'll be doing a lot of this. A LOT.

Once again, maybe this would be ok, if crafting wasn’t so mind numbingly dull. Sitting there, pressing enter. Over. And over. And over. It was probably around the third day that I thought “You know, this isn’t entertaining. Hell, this isn’t even interesting. This isn’t even a game! It’s just a waste of time!”

Resolving to leave quests and crafting behind, I decided to follow the story missions. But even they were just an endless stream of “Get from Point A to Point B” sequences. It was now very apparent that if I was ever going to get to the “fun” part of this game, I’d be looking at a month or more of constant work to even get established. I’d also need to join some sort of guild or group, since soloing was almost impossible even in the starter areas.

Disgruntled and over it, I closed the game and went on my merry way. Perhaps the promised updates in the future would make things more interesting, but somehow I don’t think that was the problem. The issue seems to be deeper then that. I soon came to terms with the fact that I did not like the core of MMOs after all. The problem was me.



The Aftermath – “Well Duh!”

I talked to a lot of people about my experience. When they asked “Oh? How did you find it?” I responded:

“Well, I’ve probably played ten hours in total, and all I’ve done is waste a hell of a lot of time crafting, doing pointless quests, developing pointless skills and killing the few miniscule animals I can. I’ve been stuck in the same 2% of the map where I started the whole time. It’s pretty boring.”

To my surprise they all looked at me blankly and said “Yeah… but that’s what all MMOs are like. You didn’t know that?”

I guess I did not. I’d avoided MMOs for so long, I’d never even read up on what the start game was like. It also didn’t help that all the cool things like raids and instances that my friends talked about took place after hundreds of hours of play. Here I was, expecting to get hooked on a genre within the first few hours, and it’s simply not the case. Who would have thought that I’d need to work so hard to get addicted to something?!

The one thing this experience did do was help me put things in perspective. Sure, FFXIV is a terrible MMO, and WoW or Rift would be a much better choice. But the same core features still apply to them: crafting, questing, skill developing, walking and combat where a single fight can last longer then some FPS storylines. So with that in mind: who the heck has time to play this genre?



The MMO Crowd – How Do You Do It?

Seriously. I just can’t comprehend it. I mean, I don’t have much of a life compared to non-gamers, I’ll admit that. I’m a pretty serious hobby gamer. It’s basically my life, my passion, and one of my few interests. But even I have a partner, a job, parents to visit, social functions to attend, general household duties, and a regular sleeping pattern. Not even kids at the moment!

Yet I know people who have all that and a few Level 85 WoW characters! Wtf?! How? How is that possible? If I played ten hours and barely got anywhere, exactly how much time would it take for someone to get not one, but multiple character to Level 85? And that’s just the start. What about the people who get into the top raiding guilds? Or earn the “insanity” achievement? The rare mounts? The highest ranked gear? Apparently these things take thousands of hours to get! Who on earth has the time for that?

Or at least, who’d be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to become that involved in the game. Work would surely suffer. Relationships definitely would. Your whole world would start to revolve around this fake one, and everything else in your life would become secondary. Now I know how long these things take, I can see why the terrible gamer stereotype of “lives with parents, no job, no partner” has developed: for dedicated players, MMOs have forced that kind of lifestyle!

My god, who spawned this evil gaming entity into existence? How has it been allowed to continue? It must be quashed for the very sake of mankind! It might as well be demanding a neutering on top of their subscription fee.



The Verdict – Freedom is Sweet

Ok, so maybe I’m over exaggerating by… er… a little. But it’s the honest feeling I got while I played.

My brief foray has been an enlightening experience. It helped me abolish my fear of genre, though not in the way I expected. I once considered the MMO to be my perfect game. And now I know it is not. Once again, not because the games are bad (I’m sure WoW and Rift are as good as they say), but I simply don’t have the time or devotion needed to reach the enjoyable part of the game. I’m not the “target audience”.

From my point of view as a hobby gamer, an MMO is a game you play when you can’t be bothered to (or have no interest in) buying or playing other games. It’s what you choose when you just want to sit down and work on something and watch it progressively improve, not for a few days or weeks, but perhaps years. It might be slow, it might even be boring, but at least you know you’re getting your moneys worth. After all, a full priced regular game can end in only four hours nowadays.

The other perk is the social opportunity. It’s a great way to meet new people online, make friends, and stay in contact with them. It took me mere minutes to meet someone nice, and had he had Steam I’m sure we would have played something together. For shy people, or those that live in rural, sparsely inhabited areas of the world, the MMO is a glorious portal to sociality. It’s still not worth abandoning your real world friends and family for someone you know mainly as text on a screen, but at least you wouldn’t feel alone if you lacked those things.

My desire to go solo and not join a Guild is not the games fault; it’s a personal preference that simply doesn’t mesh with the genre. I’d love it if MMO’s let you solo a little easier, but hey. Can’t be helped. It’s obviously not for me, so there’s no point whining that they should change something that works for everyone else.

And so it seems Celaneo and I must part ways. Not that she looks all that broken up about it:

I think she may have gotten sick of running in circles, endlessly grinding that crafting board. I don’t blame her. I’ll return every now and again (it’s free-to-play after all) to check on her and see if they ever manage to patch the game to playable levels. Maybe my opinion will even change in the future?

For now, I’m going to enjoy my freedom, and return to the safety of my regular games that only taken a couple dozen hours to finish. One thing’s for sure: I’ll never take the ability to buy my stuff from merchants for granted ever again. God bless those overstocked bastards!

(Please queue your comments on my misinterpretation of the games you love below.) banner


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