Category Archives: Final Fantasy XIV

Quote of the Day

“Wait, so you’re annoyed that you’re getting what you wanted?”

“I’m an MMO player […]. What am I supposed to do when they actually listen to us?! It’s like they have no respect for the process!”

I’m completely out of the MMO loop, again. I feel like the pendulum might swing back soon, though. I still hope for some posts to flow again.

The Curious Case of Healer Queues, Part 2

I’ve mentioned it before: healer queues for dungeons are surprisingly long in FFXIV. Green Armadillo added, in a comment to my last post, that from his experience, healer queues are almost as long as DPS queues. That’s an unusual situation, then. I wonder why that is?

First things first, the Tank:Heal:DPS ratio is probably more less (thanks to Green Armadillo for pointing this out;  I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that) favorable to DPS in this game than in most others I know, being 1:1:2 (=2:2:4 for full parties), in contrast to, for example, WoW or EQ2, which run with 1:1:3 (with EQ2 adding a support in their sixth spot for “canonical” group setups). Rift, though, is similar, with the same ratio as FFXIV (again, adding a support in the remaining slot).

I’ve witnessed healer queues in these games before, but never to that extent. It seems that there must be an awful lot of healers around. Are they that popular in FFXIV? And if so, why? I enjoy playing one, of course. But I did so in other games, too, so I’m not a good data point. But since that’s all I can go by at the moment, I’ll give some anecdotal input of why I like my healer. (This post also sneakily doubles as “what I’ve done in FFXIV in the last two weeks”.)

Higher-Level Healing

Classical game design, as far as I understand it, tries to increase the difficulty over the course of the game. This is mostly to offset the players getting better at the game. As they better understand their abilities and how they work together, the difficulty needs to be increased, or the game will become dull. In addition, many games design the very beginning to be faceroll-easy (at least these days) to give you some fuzzy sense of achievement early on. It’s a thin line, though: ramp up the difficulty too strongly, and the game becomes frustrating towards the end; too slowly, and players will get bored.

With RPGs, you have the additional dimension that, as you progress, you get new abilities. That way, you can never stop learning how to play your character, because the conditions change.

In FFXIV, my impression is that healing actually has become easier as I level. Not to the point where it’s getting boring; more to the point where it’s not frustrating any more. I’m not sure whether that’s simply because the spectacularly bad groups seem to be confined to the low end of the level spectrum… I haven’t had a tank unable to hold aggro on more than one mob, and DPS running off in different directions… but I think part of it lies in the ability toolbox. In the beginning, you start with very few abilities: one heal, one cure for debuffs. Your mana is also very limited. Depending on how bad your fellow group members play, you can feel helpless as you try to keep them up, but either run out of casting time (raw throughput) or out of mana.

As you level up, you get additional abilities that fundamentally change how you play. For me, these were Regen (a HoT), Stoneskin (an HP shield), and Shroud of Saints (instant threat reduction and mana regen over time). Stoneskin, cast on the tank, means that you don’t have to heal them for the first few seconds of every pull. You can then start with Regen instead of a direct heal, which means that I now rarely have the problem that half a pull beelines for me. It allows me to feel in charge when it comes to my threat generation. Stoneskin also has a long buff length, so unless it gets consumed, it will stay on you for 30 minutes. Which allows you to also buff up the DPS with it, which gives you more leeway in healing. It also allows you to “preload” some healing before boss fights, which saves you a little bit of mana during the fight itself.

The big Achilles heel, from what I had read before, is a white mage’s mana consumption. You can put out spectacular healing, but you won’t be able to keep it up for long. Thankfully, this is where Shroud of Saints comes into play. The mana regen is very helpful, and I don’t think I’ve run out of mana on a boss fight more than once since I got this ability. That doesn’t mean you can be careless: you still have to precast and cancel, fish for free heal procs, and all those things. But SoS allows me to heal and even battle-rez careless DPS, and still have the mana to keep the tank up 30 seconds down the road.

I feel much more in control, which makes me happy. I also very much like the planning factor of playing a healer. When do I cast heals on who? Which ones? How can I make sure I will have some mana regen phases? Even though four abilities account for 90% of my casts, the class doesn’t feel dull.

Maybe other people also have noticed that, and enjoy it. Maybe that’s why we have so many healers.

And if playing a healer gets so much more rewarding at higher levels… I should really play my paladin more again. I used to love tanking. Maybe I’ll rediscover my lover for it.

Plus, you know, instant queues.

ETA: Longer than Expected

I’ve been back into FFXIV. I’m slowly making my way up to 50 on my White Mage. Quite slowly: it’s my first class, and even though I was out of the game for three weeks since the launch two months ago, that’s still not blazingly fast by any stretch of imagination. I wonder whether I’ll be able to find a good FC once I’m at level cap. But that might be a topic for a different post.

The game runs really well overall. There’s some creaking along the seams and some almost-to-be-expected things that are not 100% polished yet. Every couple of days, the game becomes almost unplayable during the later evening in the crowded zones: everybody will freeze in place for 10 seconds, then scramble in fast forward as the game catches up. I blame server overloads. Oh well, I play something else on these nights or read a book (cf.: why I’m slow on my way to 50). About 50% of the time, the game doesn’t close properly when I quit and I need to kill it. The weirdest quirk, though, is this:


Not quite the definition of "spot on".

Not quite the definition of “spot on”.

I’m not really sure why this happens. It happens all the time, though. Not necessarily quite as extreme, but I don’t think I’ve had it happen that I got into a dungeon (sorry, duty, or whatever) in less than the “average wait time”. Doesn’t sound very average to me. Even if you assume that tank queues are instant (which looks like it) and DPS queues are no worse than healer queues (a bold hypothesis, seeing how I typically pick up “my” two dps almost instantly), that would still mean a combined waiting time of 60 minutes split among four players in that scenario. Not exactly “less than 5m” either.

I don’t know what goes wrong in their calculation, but something seems to. Oh well, I got used to it. Maybe I’ll finally finish my copy of “American Psycho” that way. Only 80 pages left.

Intermission: Zany FFXIV Items (1)

I’m currently away from my home, so I can’t play any games. I also have little time to post about games. I don’t want to keep this blog completely silent in the meantime, though. So until further notice, I’ll run a couple of screenshots of zany FFXIV quest items.

I feel like a lot of a game’s soul can be in the tooltip flavor, if used well. It’s a great way to tell a funny side story in 2–3 sentences. It would rarely ever be enough for an engaging quest description (which game was it again that prided itself of having twitter-length quest texts?), but it works for amusing asides.

This time: goblin cheese. (Goblins in FFXIV always wear snout-like masks, in case you don’t know.)


The Curious Case of Healer Queues

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a duty finder queue as a white mage. And sitting. And sitting. I first thought it was broken, because I didn’t even get any DPS to keep me company while we were waiting on a tank. Earlier on, I did eventually get a group, though.

FFXIV might be the first game I’ve played where at least in the mid-game, healers seem to be in less demand than DPS. (I can tell from LFGs that it’s not the case at the level cap.)

Or maybe the duty finder is indeed just buggy, after all.

Oh! At least now it decided, after 10 minutes, to give me an ETA. 22 minutes. Great.

I should’ve continued leveling my paladin…

10 Days of FFXIV

Yes, I know it’s been out longer than that. But I also ran into the “realm full, please try again” problems after launch, so I decided to wait a bit and focus on other things. I picked it up early last week, which makes it now 8–10 days since I started again (don’t know exactly any more).

At the moment, I’m enjoying the hell out of the game. I love the visual style, the quirkiness, the wonderful English localization. Some people complain about too much to read, but… really? I think it’s great! Some people make it sound as if reading was a chore? I never got that. In fact, the game is best when it uses text for conversations. The voice actors are not all that great, in my opinion. Thankfully, you only have voices in rare important cut scenes, everything else is text, so it allows me to imagine voices that are much better than the voice actors.

Some obligatory "beautiful scenery" picture.

Some obligatory “beautiful scenery” picture.

White Mage

It’s my current “main” class. Again, I really like it. It would be great if I had another attack abilities or two… playing offense feels a bit like a WoW frost mage around 2005… but I won’t complain. It has some refreshing simplicity, and I don’t expect to do a whole lot of attacking once I reach max level anyway, so it’s a transient thing.

Healing-wise, white mages feel awesome. Especially now that I also got a HoT at 35, I feel quite powerful, and there’s little I think I can’t heal. Except for stupid. Can’t heal stupid. I had it a few times with people in groups who don’t move out of stuff. Here’s the thing, though: I can still heal them through it most of the time, if it’s not an insta-kill thing. But I won’t be able to keep that up, and I will probably run out of mana towards the end of the fight.

Mana is the big Achilles heel of white mages, anyway. You can pump out lots and lots of healing, but your burn through mana sooo fast… bards with their MP regen song have become my best friend. Especially if I don’t have one in my group, it becomes management game: when can I stop healing to regen? Can I afford to use small, cheap heals to fish for the proc that gives me a free heal? More than once, I was OOM and medding for the last 20% of a fight (typically if I enter a dungeon at the low end of its level range), and the fights got really close, losing either a DPS in the process, or a tank at 5%, with burn phase hilarity ensuing.

If I get my white mage to level cap (and I assume I will), I wonder what the end game will be like. I’ve never played a healer to level cap, so this would be a new experience for me.

I have no idea what the sign says, but it looks like an awesome beach bar.

I have no idea what the sign says, but it looks like an awesome beach bar.

Got to have a tank, too

One downside of the free classing system in FFXIV is that I can’t decide. I ping-pong between conjurer/white mage and gladiator, with my prospect on the paladin advanced class. I seem to do this a lot more than I other games, where I would have to roll an alt. The barrier for switching around is much lower.

My first experience tanking for groups on my gladiator was miserable. I won’t sweet talk it. Between 16 and 19, you do your first three dungeons within the story line. The problem is that at that point, you’re missing vital tanking tools (you only get a snap aggro “taunt”-like ability at 22), and the ones you have are weak (the AoE aggro builder is almost useless until you get the improved version at 20). As a result, tanking at low levels feels like a constant uphill battle. I was close to throwing in the towel, especially since I’m still somewhat scarred from my last long-term tanking experience before I stopped playing WoW.

I tried again in the mid-20ies though, and it’s a much smoother experience now. I’m slowly getting to the point where I feel more at home with the targeting system, too. It seems like every game has an ever-so-slightly different implementation of tab-targeting. They behave differently, and it can be infuriating if you try to quickly switch between mobs to taunt them back or distribute aggro abilities. The click system also took some time to get used to. I still miss a way to have non-overlapping name plates, but for now I resort to the “aggro list” at the left of the screen, which also gives you rough estimators of how your hate is compared to your group members. I’m a bit annoyed of the calibration of that thing though. Aggro is denoted by four icons (green, yellow, orange, red), so DPS has a quite fine-grained information about when it gets dangerous for them (green: guns ahoy! yellow: doing great on the damage, mate! orange: Awesome, you might want to be a bit careful though! red = OH MY GOD GET IT OFF ME!). You simply lay off in case you hit orange. On the other hand, there is no advance warning for tanks. The instant a mob switches from red to orange, it takes off. Oh well, guess I’ll have to get used to that and be vigilant.

I seem to have a thing for sunrises and sunsets.

I seem to have a thing for sunrises and sunsets.

A cruel FATE

FATEs, FFXIV’s implementation of “dynamic” events, are both a blessing and a curse. They are fun if you just do them on the side while traveling (the main story line has you do a lot of traveling). The rewards are a bit out of whack, though. If you have enough people, you can wrap up a FATE in less than a minute, and you receive (depending on your participation) about as much XP as for a normal quest. That means that FATEs can be a firehose of XP. The difference is especially great to dungeons: I would assume that you can probably make about four times as much XP per hour grinding FATEs than doing dungeons. That’s just too much of a lopsided distribution. Sure, dungeons give you chances of high-quality loot. But, here’s the kicker: FATEs award grand company seals, and you can use those to buy high-quality loot, so that advantage of dungeons is non-existent either. From and XP/hour point of view, there is no reason to do dungeons more than once for story progression and map discovery XP.

As a result, people swarm FATEs. No, seriously. I’ve seen 40–50 people descend on a FATE likes flies on a corpse… or piranhas on a piece of mutton dipped into the water… or whatever other comparison you can come up with in your mind, I think you get the picture I’m trying to draw. In the evening hours, it’s so bad that I’ve had FATEs where I wasn’t able to hit more than one or two targets, because every mob that spawns was instantly DPSed down so fast that I couldn’t finish a single cast before it died. It’s probably because I’m not ahead of the leveling curve this time, because I level two classes at once. It would probably have been a better idea to focus on one first and stay ahead of the curve enough to prevent that issue. But it’s too late for that now.

There are almost two raids worth of people in this picture. That's from today; it was worse on the weekend.

There are almost two raids worth of people in this picture. That’s from today; it was worse on the weekend.

Dungeon for sale

I can see now why servers are still locked in the evening hours. I really wish SQEX would look into dungeon XP again. Because the situation is so lopsided, it’s also hard to find dungeon groups on your own server via chat. About half the time, I resort to finding at least part of the group via the dungeon finder, something that I really like to avoid as much as possible, because I’d like to build social ties to people on my server. That will probably get better at level cap, though. I see calls for high-level content in chat already.

Some of those though… are not quite what I would’ve liked to see:


Drama seems to be the resident server-first guild. I’ve seen them advertise with “raid every night”. I don’t have a problem with that, more power to them if that fits their play style (I’m getting too old for such shenanigans, I think). I’m not a huge fan of the “sell spots for dragging” though. Especially that early in a game’s life cycle. There is so much else you can do if you can’t finish a certain dungeon at the moment. I can understand if some people aren’t interested in gathering or crafting, but there’s also leveling other adventuring classes (which might also give you additional abilities for your main class to use).

On the positive side, I’ve had a lot of fun with runs staffed with people from Moogle. I think the most fun so far was with a tankless group. We ran content almost at-level (two DPS were +2 levels, one was +1) and it worked great! Better than many runs with tanks that I had. It probably helped that one of them was a bard… remember what I said about bards earlier? I added all four to my friends list. I’m trying to fill that list slowly but surely, because I can’t really decide which type of guild (free company, I mean) I want to join.

Of course I forgot to make a good "victory picture", so this will have to do.

Of course I forgot to make a good “victory picture”, so this will have to do.

FFXIV: Beta 3 Impressions, Part 2

It took me a bit longer to get around to writing this post, due to the holy trinity of EVE Alliance Tournament, EQ2 double-XP weekend, and awesome summer days over the weekend. So let’s finally have a look at the points I scribbled into my notebook and that didn’t fit into my last post.

Social Interactions

In the beta, social interactions were a bit of a mixed bag. At first, I was appalled at how little people spoke in general channel. This was until I realized that there is no general channel. Now, I’m not a big fan of the inevitable “Anal Barrens” chat that seems to follow large groups of people in MMOs. In that way, it was very nice not to see the ugly side of the community exposed like that. On the other hand, I have to wonder whether this really is the better solution? There are still shouts, after all. Thankfully, nobody abused them much during the beta. I wonder how that will play out on live though.

The training dungeons I mentioned in the last post were pretty bad when it came to interaction. Nobody seemed to talk except for an occasional “hi” or “よろしく” in the beginning. No communication meant some fights didn’t go as well as they could have gone. In the actual dungeons, communication was a bit better. It very much depended on the group. Most people were still pretty quiet, but those that talked mostly were quite nice. I even had two dungeon groups with people I noted the names down (friend system didn’t work properly during the beta) because it was so much fun to play with them. The only outright negative experiences I made in dungeons were one person who was obnoxious and berated our tank who, to be fair, was quite terrible. He said he was new to it though, and became better and better during the run, all while I was telling the impatient DPS to STFU and encouraging the tank and giving suggestions. It pays off sometimes to be a class in demand. Who knows whether I might’ve been able to do the same if I had been DPS. The other situation was with a a person who seemed extremely clueless and didn’t listen to the helpful explanation by someone who had done the dungeon before. I suspect language differences might’ve been a problem here, although the player claimed to speak English.

Speaking of language differences: One of the coolest features of the game, and one I’m looking forward to, is the language choice in the dungeon finder. When you choose dungeons to run, you also choose which servers (from which language group, not individually; sadly , no “local only” option) you are willing to play with. This gives me the possibility to play with Japanese players, which I’m looking forward to a lot. I’m not sure how realistic this hope is, but at least on the weekends, I should be able to have ample time overlap with Japanese players. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to practice my Japanese a bit that way!

Mouse+Keyboard or Gamepad?

This is obviously a trick question, because I don’t see how you could ever play a game like that with a gamepad. Of course, I also have no idea how you could ever play a first-person shooter with a gamepad, so it’s probably a question of just getting used to. To be fair, the gamepad input is actually not too shabby. you choose “wheels” with the shoulder keys and then an ability on the wheel by pressing the dpad or button direction. I assume the game will not end up with the huge amount of abilities that, for example, EQ2 has, where a keyboard is almost not enough any more to access all your abilities. For casual strolling around and easy fights, I can see myself using my gamepad every now and then (which works well on my PC). For anything serious though, it’s back to tried and true input systems. There is not a lot of use to the gamepad in group situations either, because I’d need the keyboard anyway to write. I hope most PS3 players have a USB keyboard by now, because without it, the game will probably be very frustrating for them. Good thing you can get a cheap one for a fraction of a monthly subscription.


Maybe not being able to use the gamepad in hot situations is also because I have the feeling I haven’t understood all UI elements yet. Have a look at this picture I posted last time:

Overall, the UI looks sleek and not overloaded. A lot of information is conveyed via icons that take little screen estate, which I like. However, I simply haven’t figured out yet what a lot of them mean.

At the top left are the party bars. That’s easy. Name, class, health, mana, buffs, debuffs. The “S in a circle” means that the player has been mentored down automatically. If you join a low-level dungeon group, you area automatically mentored to an appropriate level. What do the “L” and the “A” mean, though?

When you look at the other group members’ name plates, you see a “play”-like icon next to their name. Does that mean they’re in a group with me? I saw people with different kinds of icons next to their name over the course of the weekend, but I never figured out what exactly they meant.

What stumps me most, and gives me the feeling that I haven’t figured out a vital method yet to improve my performance are the bars to the middle left. They show a list of all enemies you are engaged with at that moment. Each of them gets a letter that starts at “A” when you enter a zone, and just increments and cycles over after reaching “Z”. I’m almost sure it must mean that I can choose enemies directly via that character, without having to click them on the field or resort to tab-targeting (which feels awfully clunky and unfocused in the game, btw). If there is an easy way to choose your target from there, it will give an immense increase to my gamepad performance, too. One of the biggest problems I had with the gamepad was targeting the right mob, and jumping back and forth between them quickly if necessary. Then again, the markers are letters, so I’m not sure how that would tie in with a gamepad.

What will I play at launch?

I started the game as an archer with my eyes on the bard class. Bards are a combination of archer and conjurer (30 ARC / 15 CNJ) and trade in some DPS for group buffs. However, at the moment, I’m not quite sure about them. From what I’ve read, it feels like bards are a far cry from purebred bards in other games. FFXIV’s bards really sound more like “archer DPS with some minor buffs”. In addition, I realized that I like the conjurer class quite well. So I’ll probably start with that. It gives me the possibility to switch to bard via archer later on, or to pick up gladiator levels and go the “prime healer” white mage route (30 CNJ / 15 GLD) or become a tank by going for paladin (15 CNJ / 30 GLD). To be honest, I think being able to fill both roles with so little overlap is almost ridiculously good.

One thing I like about the conjurer is a toggle ability called “cleric stance”  that allows you to increase your DPS and decrease your healing. It’s almost insta-cast, so it allows for a lot of stance-dancing during fights. Switch into cleric stance, do some damage. Switch out when people’s health starts dropping. Heal a bit, switch back. It’s hard to put into words, but this seesaw-like play feels very engaging: nuke enemies a bit, then pick up the tank when he’s starting to drop  then go back to nuking. With a few mixin spells from the Thaumaturge, the damage might actually be respectable for someone who’s primarily brought for heals.

Final Words

I’m looking forward to FFXIV’s release. I’m still not convinced about every last thing in the game, and I’m not sure it’ll stay in my rotation for more than the proverbial 3 months, but I have some hope. Finally, there is one thing going for the game: Since WoW, I don’t think there has been an MMO released to such a powerful gaming franchise. There were games such as SWTOR, but they were not backed by a franchise that is primarily about gaming.[1] That might be an important factor in retaining your player base. You know better who you’re catering to, it’s more of a known entity than if you franchise comes from outside gaming. If the player base stays stable, I think my chance of staying in the game will also rise. The number of servers doesn’t seem to be ludicrously high, either, so there might not be the typical wave of expansion and contraction, which will probably help a lot if it works out.

[1] Hmm… Ok, so there was WAR, but let’s not talk about that. Plus, I don’t think FFXIV will fail like WAR. If only because WAR failed so hard…

What makes fights good or bad? (or: why do most dynamic events suck?)

When I described my experiences with the FFXIV beta, I also talked about their implementation of short, in-the-world, invasion type events (Rifts, public quests, etc.):

FFXIV adds the en-vogue public event things, were you have a marker on your map and then rush off to mash your buttons like crazy to kill stuff and get XP. Never been a big fan of those either, because it seems the best solution to large amounts of players that developers have come up with so far is scaling the HP of mobs to ridiculous levels, which makes these events tedious, but still not really a social thing, because everybody just mashes buttons and then leaves without a word after the enemy keels over.

Bhagpuss argues in a comment:

[M]y favorite innovation in MMOs of late is the huge all-pile-on fights you don’t like. I can happily mash buttons for hours in a huge crowd fighting a big monster – what’s not to like about that?

I’ll try to give my personal answer to this question in the form of a post. I’ll probably make it sound like a law of design, but I’m quite sure it isn’t. I just tried to order my thoughts into categories that make sense to me. The “why” is certainly an open question to me, and you’re welcome to point out flaws or suggest additional aspects.

I came up with three factors that make fights good for me:

  1. Meaningful Interaction
  2. Rhythm
  3. Variation

Meaningful Interaction: I am with a group of people. We see a fearsome monster. How should we tackle it? Do I have abilities that debuff the monster in ways that increases the effectiveness of my party members? Do they have abilities that do the same for me? Part of the fun can be figuring out those combos and putting them to use. That’s a bit like using combos in card games such as Magic. This kind of interaction is meaningful because it provides fun due to interaction of mechanics. Another meaningful interaction would be outside the mechanics of the game, and purely social. It’s what old EQ players like to tell the younglings when they gather round a fire. Sitting in a location for hours and talking to each other while waiting for carefully paced respawns popping. Which leads me to the next point…

Rhythm: Good fights should provide me with a rhythm of action and downtime. That rhythm comes naturally if I am on my own and not on some sort of timed quests. I can roam around and pull mobs whenever I feel like it. I can pull them as fast or as slow as I want (provided I am careful with social or proximity aggro). It can also happen within a single longer fight, where high-DPS abilities and phases with longer cooldowns alternating with slower phases with less damage output. In a group with meaningful interactions, this can be even more pronounced by cooldown pacing of all members of the groups, stacking them or at least keeping track of other member’s abilities.

Variation: The Romans knew it already: variatio delectat. Alternating melee mobs with casters, high damage dealers with healers, and so on, provides variation that can prevent dullness. In larger and longer fights this can appear as fight phases with different tactics, or with specialized roles for players that may even be rotated among them (e.g., an ability has to be interrupted or an item interacted with every 15 seconds, but doing so gives you a 60-second cooldown).

Now, I don’t think it’s required to have all these things at the same time, all the time. But in the absence of all of them, dullness can creep in. The type of “dynamic event”/”public quest”/Rift/Fate (is there a generally-understood umbrella term for those?) I’m thinking of has none of those three, more often than not. It does not have meaningful interaction, because everybody mashes buttons as fast as possible, without any regard to other players. Rhythm is invariably off. In larger groups in Rift, most public event monsters died before I could even finish a cast as a mage. In FFXIV, we had events with single monsters that didn’t do anything but hit like a wet towel, but had the HP of an oil tanker. The fact that they didn’t do anything but hit the player at the top of the aggro list also meant that there was no variation to the fight.

I’ve seen this happen too often with dynamic events, which is why I think most of them produce bad fights and nothing good enough to offset that. They often feel like a missed opportunity. Maybe there are design decisions or limitations that make it incredibly hard to make engaging events, but the current iteration stinks.

FFXIV: Beta 3 Impressions, Part 1

This post is getting much longer than I expected, and I’m still a bit short on time, so in the end, I decided to push out the first part for now, and hopefully will be able to write the second part until Friday. The length is mostly because I kept meandering from topic to topic, so even though I tried to structure this post a bit, it’s still somewhat stream-of-consciousness.

Beta 3, the first one I got a key for, has come and gone. Our characters are by now all tossed into the bit bucket. If the next step is open beta, like the plans seem to say, we’ll get a freshly wiped slate, but those characters then will roll over into live. And I said this phase was a publicity stunt… Anyway, now is a good time to write down a couple of my impressions from the beta: memory still fresh enough, and nothing else to do anyway (well, there’s of course playing other games, which… no, I’ll stay strong!)


The leveling is mostly quest-based and follows the tropes of “kill 10 rats, collect 5 bear asses, deliver this letter to over there”. Some quests are a bit unusual though, as the one that required you to get ready for your new challenges and present yourself in all gear that requires at least level 5. Too bad that none of the quest actually reward pants! I think this dearth of pants is starting to become a conspiracy, I tell you… It felt like this quest showed FFXIV’s heritage as a console single-player game, in that I had been sent to check out the NPC vendors as introductory quest when I first reached town, and I guess I was supposed to just buy pants from a vendor. Which I eventually did… after all other means were exhausted and I was already level 10. So, note to self: vendors in this game might actually be useful occasionally, instead of being just a reverse vending machine you dump all your trash loot on. Speaking of which: I don’t think there is any. Everything that drops is used in some way, mostly for crafting.

FFXIV adds the en-vogue public event things, were you have a marker on your map and then rush off to mash your buttons like crazy to kill stuff and get XP. Never been a big fan of those either, because it seems the best solution to large amounts of players that developers have come up with so far is scaling the HP of mobs to ridiculous levels, which makes these events tedious, but still not really a social thing, because everybody just mashes buttons and then leaves without a word after the enemy keels over. But that’s not really a FFXIV-specific problem, I’ve seen it work like that in every game so far that had these types of events.

The main story line seems to be ok, though it’s hard for me to get massively engaged into it yet. Who cares though, main story lines are more of a distraction anyway. An important distraction in this game though: you can’t play dungeons before your story line gives you a reason to go there and explore them as a quest objective. Thankfully, you will only have to do endure this kind of gating once because there really is no reason other than personal preference to ever roll an alt. Combat is harder than in many more “mature” (=older) games, probably because the game hasn’t gone through several rounds of mudflation and streamlining. I actually died quite a few times over the weekend. Things will probably get easier naturally over time, because of multiclassing and in the future, having helper abilities from your other classes even when starting out at level 1 with a new class again.

Class Design

This is the main reason leveling will get easier in the future, and why there’s no reason to roll alts from a game mechanics point of view. FFXIV has no limit on how many classes your character can be. There is nothing that prevents you from being a 43 Archer, 17 Gladiator, 34 Thaumaturge, and 26 Conjurer. However, you can only have exactly one “main class” at any point in time. Switching is as easy as changing your weapon (which defines your class), but you will only be awarded experience toward your main class. However, depending on your main class’s level, you will be able to mix in 1 to 10 abilities from other classes. In a way, the system is like a more restricted version of TSW’s ability wheel. The order in which you acquire abilities is fixed (like in level-based games), you only have one main class (as opposed to two main weapons), and each class can only mix in some abilities of other classes instead of the total freedom TSW gives you.  For example, a Conjurer can use very few Archer skills (because I guess you need a bow for most, duh), but a somewhat larger amount of Gladiator spells.

This makes sense in a way, because on top of classes, there are “jobs”, something that other games might have called “prestige classes”. For example, once you reach 30 Archer and 15 Conjurer, you can become a Bard, and at 30 Gladiator and 15 Conjurer a Paladin. This will award you some extra prestige abilities, though I’m not sure yet how exactly you level your job. It might either be tied to the higher of the two contributing classes, or maybe you can then choose that job as a class that will level on its own.

Overall, I like the idea of that system. Even at low levels, it can be fun to mix one class’s cooldown into another class for some extra hurt or heal. It will probably allow for some experimenting with builds, though sadly not to the extent TSW allows. Then again, TSW is famous for giving you the opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot really bad with gimped builds, so I guess I can’t blame the FFXIV developers for trying to limit players from doing too much harm to themselves. Different philosophies, I guess.

World & Dungeons

I had the chance to try out the first three dungeons in the beta. The first one is a cave with lots of pirates, the second a mausoleum with cultists, and the third an overrun mine. (See how many tropes you can spot there if you compare it to popular low-level dungeon settings from other games). As starter dungeons, these all felt appropriate in their difficulty. Most mechanics are obviously on the simple side: kill adds, prevent adds from spawning by clicking item, etc. By the third dungeon, the complexity scales up a bit by requiring you to kill mobs in a timely fashion, either because they multiply, or because they will prevent your from triggering an ability to made the boss vulnerable.

Tabascun as a conjurer. Much more modest.

Tabascun as a conjurer. Much more modest.

When I noticed that dungeon queues were quite long for my Archer because he’s DPS (surprise!), I decided to try out the conjurer class. It’s the only healing class at low levels, and I wanted to try it out anyway. Suddenly, I got instant queues (surprise again!). First of all, for those that weren’t happy about the archer’s care-free way of (not) covering himself, let me tell you that mage-affine classes seem to be more conservative in their attire choices. Not much uncovered skin here! And while I didn’t play a female character, this seemed to again hold true across gender divisions.

I never really broke much of a sweat healing those early dungeons, except for once, when I mistargeted and healed myself instead of the tank, which promptly killed him and wiped the group because I noticed too late and couldn’t recover. While I can’t comment on the quality of pug healers for obvious reasons, pug tanks seemed to be a mixed bag. Many seemed to know what they were doing, but I also got a bunch of tanks that were rarely able to hold aggro on more than one mob, which lead to a lot of kiting and (silent) cursing on my part. Also to being chain-stunned or -silenced, and wipes. But I guess people still need to get to know their abilities, and they might be limited at lower levels, so I can’t complain too much. I’m curious what the other dungeons will bring. Not only did beta characters cap out at level 35, the list of dungeons didn’t even include any over 32, so I have no idea how many there will be in the game at launch.

Obligatory dungeon picture. I'm not good with screenshots, so this is the best I found. This is from the first dungeon, close to the end. This one was a good run. Look, I'm DPSing! (More about that next time.)

Obligatory dungeon picture. I’m not good with screenshots, so this is the best I found. This is from the first dungeon, close to the end. This one was a good run. Look, I’m even DPSing! (More about that next time.)

I have to say though that the world doesn’t feel very large. It’s as if Square-Enix has to hide something there, because I couldn’t find a decent “world map” view in the game, just zone connection maps which never seemed to cover everything. But it looks like we get three main cities, and each of them surrounded by about 4 zones that each share a common theme: Gridania is surrounded by woods, Limsa-Lominsa by grasslands, and Ul’dah by desert. (Snow is conspicuously missing, not that I miss it. Always been more a desert than a tundra person.) The zones seem to be about average in size, so I would say we’re looking at a game world that spans one continent the size of about Kalimdor (so 50% of what WoW provided at release). That’s definitely on the light side, and when I talked about it with other players, I heard that it supposedly was the same for FFXI too at release, but they were relatively fast and steady at extending the world. Let’s hope that is true and will stay true for this game. What is definitely nice, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong level segregation: I wandered into level 30 and 40 areas several times when traveling from one level-10 area to another. That gives the world a nice touch, and maybe will help bringing high-level players out into the world close to the low-level players. That way, they could help them and maybe even level a secondary class in the process by “mentoring down” into a different class they haven’t leveled yet.

Crafting & Gathering

Crafting is quite well-designed in this game. It’s similar to crafting in EQ2 and Vanguard, though not quite as deep (especially not as deep as Vanguard). You make sure you have the ingredients, choose a recipe, and a window with additional information opens.

Durability and CP (crafting points) count down as you use your abilities. Abilities mostly increase progress or quality. Increasing the quality meter increases the chance to produce a high-quality item. Crafting ends when you finish the progress bar (item is created, with a certain HQ probability), or when you run out of durability. In that case, no item is created, and you lose all or part of the ingredients used. Beware, especially as abilities can fizzle and leave you without enough durability points to finish the item. It’s actually a quite nice mini game, and I guess at higher levels, you’ll be able to have a reasonably high chance to create lower-level high-quality items. Another way to increase your chance of HQ success is to use high-quality ingredients. Some of them are created by yourself. For example, many items need some sort of leather that you first create out of hide from animals. If you create HQ leather, you can use it as an ingredient to start with a boost during item creation.

Me kneeling over my workbench. Crafting window at the top left. CP replace MP at the bottom during crafting. At level 3, you still only have one crafting ability, which increases progress, but not quality. You get more to choose from as you level.

Me kneeling over my workbench. Crafting window at the top left. CP replace MP at the bottom during crafting. At level 3, you still only have one crafting ability, which increases progress, but not quality. You get more to choose from as you level.

From my low-level experience, the very first levels fly by, but around level 15, everything slows down considerably, and you will probably need to grind quite a lot to reach level 50. This is for two reasons: (1) Every item gives you an XP bonus on first creation, but since you only get about 2-3 new items for each level, and you need to create more and more items at higher levels, that bonus becomes less relevant. (2) Most items require at least 2-3 materials that you have to collect out in the wild. Most items not only require, for example, leather, but also some sort of crystals, for reasons I’m not sure. (I mean, I see them in the crafting window, but what is the in-world explanation for needing those? Who knows.) At level 14, I started to run dry on the appropriate crystals. So knock yourself out farming these. Maybe if you also pick up a gathering class, you will be able to collect these more easily. The concept for those “disciples of the land” sounds interesting, with gathering quests that send you out into the world and such; sadly, I did not have the time to test them out during the beta.

In any case, the grind makes it seem like it might take some time to cap out the crafting levels. I fear it might also mean that normal crafted items will be nearly worthless, because they will be created in high numbers, just to grind level. The low chance of creating high-quality items at-level might make those sellable though. Oh, one last thing: to make crafting (disciples of the hand) and crafting (disciples of the land) classes feel more like actual classes, there is equipment, as in outfits and tools, that boost your abilities to craft and gather. All of those, as far as I can see, are created by crafters, so nice touch there.

Next time

I plan to talk about a couple of things in part 2. These include (but if it goes like this time and I remember additional stuff during writing, will not be limited to) “gamepad or keybard+mouse?”, social interactions, a look at the UI, and “will I play at launch, and if so, what class (first)?”.