A review from the perspective of a Final Fantasy XI player.
After roughly twenty days, I’ve experienced the greater portion of FFXIV’s content, and gotten an idea of how it will come together as an mmo with its community. As the result of years of feedback, tweaking, and re-tweaking, FFXIV tries to strike a balance between its roots from Final Fantasy XI and with the ever changing mmo landscape. This is how I view the game, strictly as a long time player of its predecessor.
To start, this game’s world and its visuals are very much the successor to FFXI. The races are all derived from that game’s choices, and the wildlife are all based on Final Fantasy lore. This will give any fan of the series, and of Final Fantasy XI, a sense of familiarity while still being fresh with its unique world. Sadly, this is where its similarities to FFXI largely end, for better, or for worse.
Talk to any person that played FFXI for longer than its free month and they will tell two things. First, that it was brutally hard, and second it had a very strong community. While the first was true of most mmos of FFXI’s time, its community was something to behold. Players from around the world all working together to advance forward, because without teamwork, players were met with utter defeat. There was constant communication in all of the game’s cities, and many of its dungeons. Players would look for people to level with, quest with, or take on the game’s biggest challenges. FFXI, in a way, forced gamers to become part of their server’s community in order to succeed. It wasn’t uncommon to become close with your in-game friends, and really get to know them outside of the game. To this day, I remain in contact with a few of them through facebook still, despite all of leaving the game behind over five years ago.
FFXIV completely flips this script by following the precedent set by World of Warcraft, and almost all mmos since. No longer must players fear the wildlife. No longer must they grind mindlessly for hours just to level. No, FFXIV allows its players to reach its level cap simply by completing its storyline quests and some of its sidequests. Even the largest of normal class beast can be defeated by any combat class, given their levels are the same. By contrast, in FFXI, a player would be decimated by a monster the same level as them beyond level 25, unless they were one of a select few jobs that could slowly kill the enemy. This difference has lead to a very different leveling experience, and a less connected community. Journeying with others simply does not happen, unless you go out of your way to form a party, and it will take convincing to have people join you.
Further fragmenting the community is the method by which the game allows players to advance through the dungeon raids of its story and endgame. These instances are some of the only group based content the game has to offer right now. In FFXI, people would shout to form a group for content such as this, and XIV still does have that going on, but its from desperation, rather than necessity. That’s because FFXIV features a duty finder that automatically groups people seeking for the same dungeon by role, in order they queued for the instance. This function groups people across all servers to speed up the process.
At its core, this is a good feature, as it greatly speeds up the process of forming groups for harder content. The downside is team work can be sloppy, since its usually random people, and there’s no reason to ever remember the people you play with. In FFXI, having a good group for something meant making friends, so you could take on future challenges together, and have less risk of sloppy groups. In FFXIV, it’s a dice roll every time you decide to take on a raid or boss instance. It’s not until the endgame when you’ll really learn who’s good on your given server, and make groups the old fashioned way.
As for the content itself, these raids are a mixture of old FFXI fare, and the more traditional style content of other mmos. The dungeon raids are very much modeled after WoW raids, giving hour long bursts of battles that closer resemble FFXI’s experience grinding parties, except you’re not pulling to camps, and instead moving forward to bosses and going for loot, rather than experience to level. The boss fights, and the boss instances are akin to FFXI’s boss battles, better known as High Notorious Monsters, or HNMs. While hard, however, they still do not quite reach the challenge of FFXI’s content just yet.
Having said all of that, FFXIV still has a lot of the charm that FFXI had. It’s world is rich with lore, and while it can be a lonely journey at times, there’s still plenty of group content, and given the drive, opportunity to get to know people from all over the world. It’s story is more fleshed out, and thanks to its quest system, players will experience it much better than FFXI ever offered. FFXIV’s community is still young, and is just starting to find its way. However, with its modern features and generous difficulty curve, it will probably never come close to reaching the socially active community that FFXI had. In many ways, it will appeal to the FFXI community. Players looking to recapture that magic of nostalgia, however, won’t find much of it here.
This past tuesday, Paramount released Star Trek: Into Darkness to home formats, including DVD, Blu-Ray, and various digital markets. Not surprisingly, retailers, both physical and digital, received exclusive content, packaging, and bonus sets to try to snare consumers. This is certainly nothing new, but Paramount’s handling of this, one of their biggest releases of 2013, has given its name some much added weight, and irony.
In the USA, Star Trek fans have no less than seven different packages of the movie to choose from. You have your 2D, 3D, combo packs available at every store, and from there, things get ugly. Target, Bestbuy, and Walmart all have their own special versions of the movie to offer, each with their own bonuses. Now, having exclusive extras is done with practically every major release these days, but STID (It sounds like a fancy disease!) takes things one step further. This isn’t a case of everyone getting the same set of bonuses with one retailer snagging a special bonus featurette. Instead, they just cut the bonuses right down the middle between Target and BestBuy. Sure, everyone is still getting some 30 minutes of features, but the vast majority of what are usually home release norms have been excluded to be part of these retailer exclusives. On top of that, many of the exclusives require using online services to access them, with some being nowhere in sight on this side of the hemisphere. For example, all signs point to Australia being the only territory to get deleted scenes and Germany as the only country to get the IMAX version of the film. What about Walmart? They get a Hotwheels model of the Vengeance. I have not seen this model in person, so I cannot comment on its quality, but its Hotwheels, so don’t hold your breath.
This isn’t the first case of such a wallet sucking spread of features. It makes me remember some of the other blatant cash grab lashings of the consumers major home releases have pulled off in the past. Remember Avatar? That movie’s first home release really took advantage of people waiting with bated breath, as it was only the movie. People that couldn’t wait shelled out 30 dollars, and got the barest of discs. It wasn’t until months later a new 2 disc set was released with bonus features, and it was even longer still before a 3D release came out.
Another example is the Harry Potter Ultimate edition releases. These blu-ray and DVD releases came in large book style cases. Year 1 through 7. Rather than have each year’s set include special features for that movie, however, they instead had each one include all of the features of a certain type for all eight movies (or however many had been released at that point). This baffling choice was only made worse when WB abandoned the idea of extended cuts of the films after the 3rd year of these releases, making movies 4-8 the same old deal you saw in the theaters.
So, Star Trek: Into Darkness has take a new spin on a very old trick, one that could stand to further alienate an already divided fan base. This treatment of the fans, and yes, something this is only hurting the fans, as basic consumers aren’t going to care, really is taking the series Into Darkness. Retail Darkness.