Most of the time, at least. And not so far. Out of the gate, I’ll caveat this by saying I’m not at the end game. Not by a long shot. But with that out of the way, I can say I’m certainly not playing or experiencing Final Fantasy XIV as an MMO.
This changes my motivation for playing significantly. It isn’t about a mad-cap rush to the end. I don’t have a burning desire to be max level “because that’s where the game begins”. In many ways, it’s almost as if I learnt to love the journey at long last. Almost. But not quite. As I don’t think this shift in perception actually has anything to do with me at all. Rather it feels quite external — that the design of FFXIV is the driving force here.
FFXIV’s design forces the story in its entirety upon you1, much more akin to a typical single-player RPG. Which, for me, means the game as a whole lives or dies on the strength of this story.
The last time I played FFXIV was almost two years ago, and… well… ‘Strength of the story’ was only present as a future promise. The Horrible Hundred had me firmly in its grip, and this was before the quest streamlining that occurred in the 5.3 patch. I’m not sure I have the words to describe the tedium adequately. And I do mean in the story too, not the admittedly also tedious gameplay.
So while I didn’t disbelieve those telling me ‘it gets better’, at the time — particularly with a veritable smorgasbord of other gaming options on my backlog — it wasn’t enough.
Going back to the caveat from the start of the post — I know there are plenty of MMO elements. Heck, I have already had to go through numerous dungeons and trials and even a set of raids to get this far. I don’t mind them. For me, they don’t weaken the game like the forced nature of them seems to for certain others. But how much do they really add? Would I miss the 15-minute intermissions of waiting in the duty-finder to progress the story?
Ehhhh. Looking at the game through this lens – as something other than an MMO… No. Probably not.
Changing tack for a moment, Aywren recently wrote about the importance of story in MMOs. Specifically the importance of good writing in MMOs. I wasn’t sure I entirely agreed at the time. Rather my thoughts ran most closely with Bhagpuss’ position of, “I’m strong on the need for lore (aka “history and culture”), because without those you don’t have a virtual world, just some virtual scenery.”
An MMO can be enriched to no end with the inclusion of history to be uncovered. Events that had nothing to do with the player that shaped the world. Asheron’s Call did a wonderful job of this, with scraps of lore to be discovered around the world and in dungeons that helped shaped our understanding of what was going on in a way, far better, in my opinion, than being told a direct and linear narrative.
Detail and write this well, and players can have a field day with it. Those who care can inspect every blade of grass, building stories of their own, sometimes better than anything ‘intended’ by the authors. Meanwhile, those who care not for a story in their game can tromp all over it and take their fun where they can find it elsewhere.
I can’t say yet whether I think Final Fantasy XIV would be a better game if they had taken this approach. My suspicion lies strongly with the view that it wouldn’t but I’ll have to experience the remaining story before I can decide that. But I do think it would have made for a better MMO.
Whether that’s actually a good thing or not though is harder to say. I’m possibly on the edge of being burnt out on the typical MMO format. Certainly my tolerance for the genre is not what it once was. As long as the story continues to at least the quality I’m finding as I close out the 2.5 ARR content, I think I prefer FFXIV as it is. But that would be true even if all the MMO elements were stripped out. Or perhaps just made into a more typical online co-op experience.