Final Fantasy XIV is my first real MMORPG experience. When I was growing up I watched my brother descend into an EverQuest addiction that left me treating the very concept of online adventuring with the same trepidation that the DARE program taught me to avoid drugs. What can I say, fear works on me. I'm a scaredy cat.
That said, I did get a review copy, and I had a friend who assured me that she would be my Navi, albeit less annoying, in teaching me the ropes of MMORPG gaming. She's real private about her identity online, so we'll call her Lufia Mooglekicker.
Lufia has been doing this sort of thing for more than 20 years, and was a hardcore player of the last FF MMORPG to boot. So she had more than enough clout to teach my noob ass. Plus, she actually got on beta before I got my review copy, so in reality she's probably better qualified to do a review than I. I owe at least half of this piece to her insights.
Overall, I think the game lacks something on console systems. The interface was clearly designed for upclose PC play, and even on the big screen HD TV I have in-game instructions and actions are more or less too small to read on the PS3 version. That said, I've been doing regular RPGs long enough to get the hang of it. Still, anything but the most basic play would probably be better on a laptop, with console play being better for basic gathering and farming.
It is fun though.
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The thing that most surprised me was that I wasn't immediately set upon by other players in order for them to hoard precious resources. You have to remember that pretty much my entire vision of MMORPG play is based off memes and Cracked.com articles. In short, I expect the online world to be full of rampaging insane people willing to knife you in the back if it would net them a slightly better piece of gear.
For instance, one of the very first little quests that happened to me in the game was a woman who dropped her money on the ground and I was supposed to pick it up. Simple, a monkey could do it. However, when I got to the last pile of coins I saw another player standing in front of it.
I stayed back hesitantly. If I picked it up would he, like, kill me? Am I breaking some basic law of etiquette that will result in the death of my character? Nope, he just strolled off and the money was still there.
That's the beauty of Final Fantasy XIV for people like me. It's not based on scarcity. Every person is in his own little quest line and what someone else does with the local mushrooms or whatever has nothing to do with how you interact with them.
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The way I understood it from Lufia and other reports that kept me out of such games over the years was that resources in most online worlds were kept deliberately scarce in order to breed worth. That meant that if you were going to go out and acquire ten pieces of Macguffinite, you might go to the Macguffinite Mines and find out that a dozen other players on the server had already drained it dry.
No big deal, right? Just wait and they'll replenish. True, but the reality was that in order to get rarer items it meant doing something inane like waking up at 3 a.m. when fewer people were playing to catch the source before it was harvested. For someone like myself who gets to only play at certain times of the day with my job and family, this isn't really feasible. Considering that playing video games is part of my freakin' job, you realize how ridiculous this is.
It also breeds an unfounded sense of entitlement where resources are owned by an "elite" group of players who have that sort of luxury in their time. It doesn't really matter if I play the game ten hours a week for a whole year, there are simply going to be times when hard work will never be equal to a teenager who can pass geometry on four hours of sleep.
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Final Fantasy XIV doesn't do that. As Lufia puts it...
You go out and find some trees or plants and start harvesting the nodes you find. Another player runs up and starts harvesting the same node you're working. How does this affect you? Not one bit. The nodes are instanced. You get your own private nodes to harvest. The player next to you, working the exact same spot, is working his own private node that has nothing to do with yours.
If you're in an area that has trees or grasses to harvest, you'll see four or five nodes on your mini map. As soon as you empty one node, another will pop up. I've never seen fewer than two, no matter how fast I work. You can't run out.
Bear in mind, this is pissing a lot of people off. Mostly the people that are used to shortcutting by lurking near nodes, playing at odd hours, and just in general trying to slip the system beyond what was really intended.
Maybe I'm spoiled from Xenoblade and only having to answer to myself, but questing should be simple. They tell me to go kill ten of something, I do so, I get a reward, and a new assignment until my brain seizes up. That's pretty much the basis of the whole system.
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The more elite "hardcore" gamers don't like that because it was the artificial scarcity they manipulated that allowed them to hog the best gear that others couldn't really hope to ever get because no matter how good you get at a game you'll never be better than someone who has unlimited time to work around the edges.
When you add in the materia system, which encourages you to break down your gear to turn it into materia, incentivizing you to seek out new stuff, it keeps the whole in-game economy flowing much better by not allowing rare items to rest exclusively in the hands of a ruling class.
I'm not sure I'll ever be much of a MMORPG player, but I'll say this for Final Fantasy XIV... I have never seen a game go so out of it's way to make a player feel like they could really accomplish anything in-world.