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.

It turns out it’s true though; the story does get better. And I’m not even into Heavensward yet.

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.

Footnotes

  1. Short of purchasing a story-skip from the cash shop.

Naithin

Gamer, reader, writer, husband and father of two boys. Former WoW and Gaming blogger, making a return to the fold to share my love of all things looty.

13 Comments

bhagpuss · July 13, 2021 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for quoting me there. I have so much to say on this topic it’s really starting to make me itch. The problem is, I know if I get started it’s going to take me hours and hours and I don’t want to commit the time. I might have to, though, if it keeps on nagging away at me.

It is possible to play FFXIV as an mmo. You can ignore the main story completely and still find plenty to do. There’s open world group content and lots of non-combat stuff, plenty of races and jobs/classes. I would guess I could probably get six months or more out it, playing it as a main game just under the free-to-60 scheme. I got that long out of Rift from launch and there’s clearly a lot more content in FFXIV base game and first expansion.

You’d need to be someone who just likes to potter around in mmorpgs doing your own thing, though. As soon as you factor in doing stuff that other people want to do as well you’d be on the story train, I fear. Your post is a more polite version of a comment I read on MassivelyOP yesterday, where someone said they’d enjoy FFXIV if it wasn’t for all the cut scenes and got told it wasn’t the game it was them. “This game is not for you” were, I believe, the exact words. Basically, like it or lump it, which is exactly the reason Mrs Bhagpuss and I quit after a month. It’s the entire design approach – you’re here to watch and listen to a story so sit down and shut up – and I always found it oppressive and rude.

In the end, though, it doesn’t have much to do whether the story is good or bad. It’s whether an mmorpg is an appropriate platform to tell it. I wouldn;’t contend that it never is and never will be – there may be ways we haven’t yet seen to use the form in innovative and original ways to tell stories that couldn’t be told better elsewhere – but lifting single-player RPG storylines root and branch and planting them inside an mmorpg wrapper isn’t one of them.

    Naithin · July 13, 2021 at 10:06 pm

    I suppose I should be clear too, in saying with this post or my thinking that I’m not advocating for any change here. It was more about putting words to a solidifying realisation that FFXIV is very much attempting to be a FF game first and foremost, but is then, as you say, pushed into an MMORPG wrapper.

    I don’t think this is a good or bad thing, it just… is.

    For the most part though, I’m inclined to agree with you that MMORPG might not be the best vehicle for telling this sort of story. It plays more like a visual novel with the odd interactive moments strewn between the cutscenes feeding you the story.

    I remember though your earlier posts on pottering around FFXIV ignoring the MSQ entirely. It was quite a quirky way to play, to my mind, and I enjoyed reading about it. But it isn’t a way I could ever play myself given how many unlocks there are behind various story and quest elements.

    But it would really be that latter point holding me back as I can quite enjoy a sandbox game experience when it truly IS a sandbox,

    I’m curious to see how my opinion on all this evolves as I get through the story though. Once I reach the end of the story, will I be ‘done’? Will the core MMORPG genre elements keep me going?

    I dunno yet!

    All I can say with any certainty at this point, I think, is that I’m no longer playing just to get to the end. Which is different from any other MMO I’ve ever experienced.

Chris · July 13, 2021 at 10:46 pm

I am sorry you cannot start with this game is not and MMO, and then add this ” 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” which essentially tells the reader that this game is not YOUR type of MMO, because it is as the statement above says!.
Secondly its an MMORPG, same as wow used to be, the fact that you in some form want a sandbox MMO doesn’t mean its not an MMO.
In the established rules for MMO is has to have multi players online.. check, to be a RPG is has to have a story.. also check.
Your whole story is based on what you believe it is not in what is the established norms, norms that people expect, its is far far from a single player game, and as an MMORPG it is one of the best at story telling, just because its different and you don’t have to rush t “end game” doesn’t mean its not an MMO.
Seriously your “story” is exactly what it is a story, not based in fact and its realistically a statement of opinion, even if it is incorrect.
If you are going to bother to spend time writing at least get it right.

FYI “What defines a MMO?
massively multiplayer online game: any online video game in which a player interacts with a large number of other players.”

    Naithin · July 14, 2021 at 6:15 am

    But Chris, I didn’t start with saying FFXIV isn’t an MMO, I said I’m not currently experiencing it as one.

    Nor do I frame that in a negative way, or advocate for any change to FFXIV as a result. The way FFXIV is right now? It gives me something different to the other MMOs, something I’ve in the past tried to achieve and couldn’t. Namely, the ability to not be in a madcap rush to the end for the endgames sake.

    My entire premise though, is that Final Fantasy XIV, through the power of being a FF game first and an MMO second, is that the game as a whole would be (as I’ve experienced it so far) as fun whether or not it was an MMO.

    And of course that’s opinion! :)

    Even by your definition though of what defines an MMO (which I don’t disagree with), I would reiterate that I’m not currently experiencing that in FFXIV. Most of the time, time is spent heading from one instanced solo-duty/cutscene point to the next.

    The XP curve of the game used to entail a lot more time spent in the open world, interacting with non-instanced content. That might change again for the future expansions, but it certainly isn’t the case currently.

    Still, I’m curious to see how it all balances out down the line. :)

Rakuno · July 13, 2021 at 11:57 pm

Before I get into my argument, let me say this: I don’t think all MMOs need to have heavy storytelling. For a sandbox-ish MMO, a strong lore is the way it should go, in my opinion.

But if you are going to make a heavily theme-parked MMO and put a story on it… Then I agree with Aywren, go all in with the story and make sure it is as good as possible as make it feel like the player is the actual hero of the story. Even if it does make it weird there are all these all other people who are also the “chosen ones”. XD

For me, personally, the way FFXIV does it works pretty well. I never played MMOs for the “end-game” or the “challenge” or anything like that. I never found raids enjoyable for a lot of reasons. For me, I always played MMOs for the journey, for the fantastical places to visit and to do small group content with a few friends. In this way FFXIV and it’s story works for me. I get all of those plus a good story on top of it that explains why my character is fighting the bad guys or going to a new land.

It is because of all that I believe FFXIV might be the last MMORPG I play. I find all others lacking in those departments. As for the only other interesting alternative I could think of, sandbox-ish MMOs, there aren’t any that interest me right now either. And I don’t see any of those changing in the near future. In fact, the MMO genre feels so stagnant for me that I gave up on keeping on the news for it.

    Naithin · July 14, 2021 at 6:29 am

    I didn’t really get into the detail of it in the post, but I do for the most part agree with Bhagpuss that there are better vehicles for telling the kind of story FFXIV does. Even within the realm of gaming genres, I think that’s true.

    But! Be that as it may, my enjoyment of what FFXIV is (now that I’m through the worst parts of the horrible hundred, at least) isn’t diminished.

    My typical approach to MMOs is almost the opposite of yours — typically I’d be all about the rush to the end to start the ‘real’ content. I’ve even written about attempting to open myself to a wider mindset on this in the past, but never quite got there.

    However, FFXIV by power of its design is a huge assist in getting there. It doesn’t really give you any choice in the matter. You either get on board with enjoying the ride or… you get off.

    It has actually been really interesting to me watching Asmongold go through the stages of ‘The story is going to be the worst part and I’m going to hate it’ before playing to actually being quite invested as he’s gone through it.

    If it can change someone like him then daaang.

    Also agree with your last comment though, on the MMO genre feeling so stagnant at the moment. As noted in the post, I’m on the edges of being entirely burnt out by the more ‘typical’ MMO experience, which makes FFXIV (so far) a refreshing change from that perspective, too.

Aywren Sojourner · July 14, 2021 at 1:18 am

I think you hit the nail on the head with one of your comments – FFXIV seeks to be a Final Fantasy game first, and then wraps MMO elements around it. I acknowledge that doesn’t work for everyone, but I do think this game is more about the journey than the destination. In fact, the journey becomes so important that the game is built around a sequence of between-expansion patches that come more or less within a specific frame of time just to further that journey (story) and build up to the story of the next expansion.

I would venture to say that once you hit end game, FFXIV feels a bit more MMO like. Though, I guess that depends on what your definition of MMO is. Running raids? Logging in to do dailies? Logging in to run dungeons to earn daily currencies to upgrade gear? That stuff seems more monotonous to me, personally, but it might fit more what people think an MMO should be(?)

In fact, I struggle with the MMO elements of this end game the most in FFXIV. I love the progression and the story and all the world has to offer but I straight up dislike the gear treadmill elements that people would most likely associate with the MMO genre. In fact, I often choose to forgo that part of FFXIV whenever I can. Maybe that’s why I have so many alts in a game that doesn’t need them. :)

And the nice thing is, FFXIV gives you ways to get around the MMO elements if you so desire. I don’t get shiny best in slot stuff, but I don’t NEED it because after playing this game for almost 8 years, I’ve come to realize that’s not what’s fun for me. My goal is always to be at a proper ilvl to experience the content in the next patch and the story when it releases. Everything I do in between those patches is just my choice.

    Naithin · July 14, 2021 at 6:52 am

    Much of my reply to Rakuno I could echo again here, but to add, I think the parts I was mostly referring to as being ‘missing’ from the MMO formula (but never actually said in this post) with where I’m at, and where I’ve been for a while even before I left last time, is more interaction in non-instanced spaces.

    There’s really no call for doing things on the world map, where interactions with other players may occur.

    Rather it’s almost entirely teleporting from one space to the next and heading to the next interactable spot for a cutscene or solo-duty.

    I absolutely understand this is a choice on my part. I could stop and slow down even further to do more FATEs and the like but it’s really the story driving me forward at this point.

    If FFXIV slowed down the pace of the story and required this all in the name of making it more MMO-like… I think that would be in detriment to the game.

    I think perhaps what I most woefully failed to get across in the post, because it’s a short footnote at the end, is that I do think FFXIV I prefer FFXIV as it is now vs. making any changes toward being more MMO-like. If anything, you could take the MMO elements out and have the game be at least as enjoyable as it is now, possibly more so depending on the scope of the changes made to adapt it to some other form.

    Still, given I’m not even into HW yet — I completely acknowledge that the balance of the game’s elements has plenty of scope to change, and I’m pretty interested to see how/if they do, even ahead of the end-game.

      Aywren Sojourner · July 14, 2021 at 8:10 am

      This is true if all you’re doing is following the MSQ. But once you hit current content, that changes a bit.

      The one thing that I lament about FFXIV is that the basic open world content isn’t as enticing as a game such as GW2. I know we have FATEs to try to fill those holes, and the team has really tried to beef up the rewards you get them with a gem system in Shadowbringers. That works for a short time, until folks earn their rewards and move on. I still do see folks doing normal open-world FATEs from time to time, but it’s nothing like when everyone was fist leveling during the early expansion.

      Once you get to level cap, there’s Hunt Trains you can join that also work to fill that open-world void. You have to be tuned into the Discords to know when those are happening reliably, however. They are super fun, LOTS of people participate in them, and they have good rewards that keep people coming back.

      Even beyond that, there’s the Bozja areas, which are just maps with nothing but FATE-type content that everyone works together to complete. Some of these aren’t your standard easy to clear FATEs, either. Again, though, this is for level 70+. You can even use this area to level from 70 to 80 as well as farm out the current Relic weapons.

      So, I think some of the things you’re looking for are here, but much of that interactive MMO type content is weighted towards Shadowbringers content right now. Focusing down the MSQ and enjoying the story is the right move for where you are, and likely most folks around your level are just doing the same thing. Just know that’s definitely not the only thing that FFXIV has to offer!

        Naithin · July 14, 2021 at 9:58 am

        Thanks for all the additional info! It’s going to be interesting to see whether I end up liking those components of the game any more or less than what I’m doing now.

        One of the things I did already know, but your comment reminded me of, is the optionality provided around gearing up. And I love that. Multiple paths to the top (or near enough to) is a fantastic design choice for an MMO in my opinion. :)

Hannah · July 15, 2021 at 3:57 am

Gosh I hate that “it gets better later”… it’s taken me YEARS to complete the vanilla ARR story, and it is starting to get better, but also WEEEEH.

    Naithin · July 15, 2021 at 4:02 am

    I’m juuust about done with ARR, after years for me, too. On the second to last quest of the 2.5 (final post-ARR patch) now after a stint of playing tonight. It warned me I was about to enter a long sequence of cutscenes, so thought better of starting those right now. cough4amcough

“May as well not be an MMO” | GamingSF · July 16, 2021 at 8:14 am

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