Once More Unto the Breach

ImageA lot has changed over the past decade. I’ve gone through two phases of life, and the same can be said for online gaming. What once was a small niche among select FPS, strategy, and a very small group of MMOs has now become one of the biggest ways to game for any genre. Now you can play along or challenge other people around the world on just about every game being made today. This process has been one of trial and error, finding what works, and what doesn’t.

MMOs grew during this process from their toddler stage to what can now be seen as a mid-life crisis. In the wake of World of Warcraft’s unprecedented success, the MMO landscape shifted. Wanting a piece of that 11 Million subscriber pie, a lot of MMOs gradually shifted to WoW’s bread-and-butter model. Leveling through quests, auto-matching groups, and raids, raids, raids. That model has endured for well over seven years now. This is a model I’ve experienced in several MMOs, but I never did play WoW.

My days of playing MMOs started in 2003 with Final Fantasy XI. While I had some experience playing Everquest whenever I visited my cousin, FFXI was the first MMO of my own. It was a game that captivated me for four years. Since quitting, I’ve tried many other MMOs in hopes finding another title with the same pull. This brought me to Guild Wars, Atlantica, Vindictus, SWTOR, and Tera, among others that didn’t last long enough to really mention. All of these games were fun in their own way, but none came close to FFXI for me. So now, nearly five years after quitting, I find myself rejoining the world of Vana’diel.

Things are quite different now from five years ago. The level cap is 99 instead of 75. There’s probably twice as many areas now than there were when I left. Most striking, however, is the shift away from group play. In order to address complaints that solo play was nearly impossible, Square-Enix has implemented a few changes over the years. First, the experience table has been greatly increased. What once was worth 12 xp is now worth 80. The result is someone playing solo on easy targets can earn xp faster than a traditional party did the last time I had played. Additionally, field books were added to all of the pre Treasure of Aht Urgan areas as a means of fighting over crowding popular grinding spots. These books give training quests tasking players to kill six to eight mobs of certain types. Completing these tasks gives the players experience points. Indoor areas will also give buffs, as well as increased rewards each time a task is repeated.

This has drastically changed the game. In a week’s time, I got my first job to level 50, unlocked my first advanced job, did two level cap quests, and got that new job to 56. My first time through this game, doing all of this probably took me half a year. This was done almost entirely solo, as the new xp tables and field books have rendered most traditional grind parties obsolete. It’s not until the 30s, when kill times start becoming longer that parties come back into play, but even those have changed. Instead of having six people fighting hard monsters for maximum experience per kill parties involve having as many people possible killing easy targets for fast kill times to do what is called “book burning”. The result is getting 2400xp in four minutes in Garlaige Citadel. That used to take an hour. All told, I went from 37 to 56 in about four hours.

Indeed, a lot has changed. The new frantic pacing has me jarred, yet newly motivated. While it’s true to nostalgia isn’t quite there, the same enjoyment still manages to creep in through the cracks.

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