Over at Party Business, an MMO blog I only recently discovered and that you should check out, Kunzay talked about getting his Chocobo and what he’s generally up to in FFXIV. Having only just completed the Chocobo step of the main storyline myself, I can say that I haven’t been this satisfied unlocking a mount in an MMO for a good while –
It’s true that FFXIV makes you work for almost everything: unlocking mounts, dyes, cosmetics and more. Nothing comes for free, except for that very generous bagspace – someone at Square Enix must really hate bags in MMOs. That’s okay though because thus far, all of the perks are reasonably attainable for the normal player and usually tied to the main storyline, anyway. It gives me satisfaction to unlock new features as I go and I’m already knee-deep in the multi-classing system which has always been this franchise’s big forte.
I don’t know what endgame will hold and I’m in no rush to get there; endgame is made for achievers, not explorers such as myself. This is the good time right now, this is my time in a new MMO when there’s still a vast, strange world to explore and so much to see and smell and listen to. For me and my kin, MMOs tend to get smaller and smaller the closer we move towards endgame, not bigger. I do not wish to complete this part of the journey.
The world is beautiful (new gallery!) and the story is well-told. It puts a wide smile on my face whenever I meet old friends or hear familiar tunes, like the time when I embarked on my first airship journey and parts of Liberi Fatali from FF8 played in the background. I even love learning the lore of the three different cities and main factions, granted the quest text and speech bubbles get a bit too much at times. You can tell that storytelling and world building are SE’s bread and butter – if they can’t do this type of stuff, who can?
On Immersion in A Realm Reborn
I’ve been debating if FFXIV:ARR suffers from its loading screens between zones as opposed to more persistent worlds such as Azeroth or Tyria; I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not really the case except for the loading times inside cities that get somewhat tedious. Eorzea for one, shares the virtue of a very life-like and authentic topography with LOTRO, whose wilderness and nature are second to none in MMOs. Even majorly important and too often overlooked aspects of immersion, such as scale and sound effects, come close in FFXIV where a forest sounds like a forest and thanks for that. Ul’dah or Limsa Lominsa aren’t quite Bree, yet they don’t feel as anachronistic and oversized as Divinity’s Reach and offer the more interesting and fun “NPC life” by far. Furthermore, SE employ a neat little trick to make outdoor zones feel more connected: even when you approach zone gates, you can in fact see the adjoining zone. It’s a very effective illusion and example of how small things can make a big difference to how big the world feels to the player.
Eorzea’s day-night cycle is somewhat frequent which allows players to enjoy the changing light conditions which, along with the weather effects, are pretty spectacular in FFXIV. When it’s not foggy, cloudy or sunny, there are at least three different stages of rain I’ve experienced so far, from a misty drizzle to a soaking curtain and windy gush (leaving your clothes all glossy wet). What I will say is that the transition phases I love so much aren’t celebrated the way they deserve: dawn and dusk happen far too quickly for my taste but this is hardly a make or break criteria.
If I have one big gripe where immersion is concerned, then it’s the invisible walls in FFXIV that seem so random. There’s rocks you can jump onto, hills you can climb and edges you can jump down from and then, there’s those where you can’t for no discernible reason. There are caves you can stand in front of and gaze inside but never enter for that invisible hand keeps pushing you away. Now to clarify, this issue isn’t nearly as big as in games such as Witcher 2 which boil down to “generously railroaded wilderness”; for the most part FFXIV is perfectly traversable. However, that just makes the random, invisible walls stand out all the more.
Last but far from least, the music deserves a special mention: I don’t know why I came to Masayoshi Soken’s work so late (maybe because the entire soundtrack is such a royal pain to acquire) but the music for A Realm Reborn is nothing short of delightful, an incredible companion to my adventures in the field. Nevermind the heavy-handed and complex multi-phase pieces for the primal battles which players seem to upload more than anything else to youtube – it’s the city and town tunes where it’s at, the zone music and battle themes. Right now, the FFXIV soundtrack makes up 50% of the reasons why I am playing and having such a great time, so really check it out sometime and let me leave you with three of my favorite tunes for the day!