ffxiv

Earlier in August, I mentioned my thoughts, feelings, and hopes for Square Enix’s shiny new MMORPG. Now that a month has passed, I feel it’s only right I update my opinions on FFXIV.

First and foremost, let me start by saying that all of the connection errors and maintenance issues with the game were solved by the middle of its second week. I do occasionally have to wait on a queue to enter the game (on weekends and Friday nights mostly), but the longest I’ve waited is 10 minutes. Square Enix delivered on their promises to fix the server problems like they said they would, just as I thought. I am pleased that the whining and threats to ditch the game have finally gone silent as a result.

With that out of the way, I’d like to address my thoughts on the game’s difficulty. In a way, I am both impressed and intimidated by FFXIV’s end-game content: the amount of strategy and positioning and hardcore teamwork sometimes can be really overwhelming to think about, let alone deal with on a mission you need to complete in order to advance the game’s excellent story. On the other hand, the game really forces you to be good at your job. You can’t just click a button every once in awhile until you beat the enemy; you need to be aware of everything!

To illustrate an example of the game’s difficulty incline, I will provide brief descriptions of the three Primal fights that are currently accessible in FFXIV: ARR.

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Ifrit

Your first Primal battle that occurs around level 20. You and three other players find yourselves in a large, open circular arena surrounded by fire. The Tank and Damage Dealers attack Ifrit while dodging Area Of Effect Attacks, which he occasionally shoots towards the Mages / Healers; when a fiery circle appears below you, you have to immediately run out of its range, or you’ll take damage. There are a few seconds in between the circle’s appearance and the damage being dealt, so most players can avoid taking damage so long as they’re mindful of where they’re standing.

At half health, Ifrit drops a stick-shaped object in the middle of the arena called an Infernal Nail. You have about 20 seconds to destroy this target. If you do not destroy it in time, Ifrit will perform a 9999 damage attack that will wipe out your entire party. If you do destroy it in time, Ifrit still attacks — but doesn’t do nearly as much damage. After this, all you need to do is damage Ifrit until he dies.

Titan

Once again, Titan’s fight takes place in a circular arena. Titan starts off using a move called Geocrush, where he jumps up high above the arena and crashes down. When he jumps up, a large red circle appears on the ground of the arena. Instead of moving OUT of this circular range, players need to move to the very edge of it — if you stand outside of it, you’ll be thrown off the arena and into the lava below, instantly killing you. Titan will also do a straight-line-across-the-arena attack that will do massive damage; this can also knock you off the arena if you’re too close to the edge.

At half health, Titan will randomly trap one of your party members in a bundle of rocks (I would like to say that in a dungeon before this, the boss does a similar thing to party members with bubbles; this is an intentional practice phase for players before they take on Titan). The three remaining players must then attack the rocks encasing their teammate, because otherwise s/he cannot do anything. Titan will also spawn a new target for you to focus on called Titan’s Heart; you must kill Titan’s Heart as quickly as possible, because while it is on the field, Titan cannot be targeted/harmed.

After this, Titan uses a combination of the Geocrush, straight-line attack, and rock bundling mechanics over and over again. By now players should know how to react to each move and after dealing some more damage, Titan will fall. This fight is around level 35.

Garuda

According to my brother, who has already beaten the main scenario story quests and most of the dungeons, Garuda is the toughest fight he has had to face. Here’s why:

Garuda stands in a circular arena surrounded by a vortex of wind, with four pillars in a set up in a square shape in the center. The first phase of her fight is imperative because you WILL NOT survive her second phase if those rocks are destroyed.

Garuda will focus on the Tank most of the time, but is NOT bound by enmity — even while completely focused on the Tank who is in her face, she will randomly send a whirling ball of wind towards the other players. If the other players are too close to a stone pillar, she will hit it, and the pillar will break a little bit. Each pillar is made up of 4 stones, with each hit demolishing a stone. Multiple people can hide behind the pillars, but you need a pillar that is 3 or more stones high to use it as a shelter at the end of phase 1.

Throughout the fight, Garuda will send out several feathers to float towards the stones and try to destroy them and/or do damage to the other players; Garuda will also teleport around the ring four times. If you are not standing on the other side of a pillar from her (if she’s standing North, you need to be on the South side of a pillar), she will hit you and you will die.

At the end of Phase 1, Garuda’s fourth teleport puts her in the middle of the pillars where she performs an attack that hits everyone in the arena. Even with the pillars, players take significant damage, so Tanks are expected to use their Limit Break move (built up over time during parties by how much damage is done), which increases the party’s defense for a short amount of time. After a quick group heal, the players should be ready for Phase 2.

In Phase 2, the stone pillars are completely demolished and the area shrinks about half in size, surrounded now by a purple vortex; straying into the vortex will cause you damage over time, so the players are relatively stuck smushed together while dodging Garuda’s attacks and even more of those harmful Feathers, which fill the small area. Garuda also begins using a Line Of Sight attack, which means there is no flashing red box or circle to indicate if you are targeted; if she is facing you when she stops to begin this spell, you need to get away from that general direction, or you’ll take heavy damage. Phase 2 is unbelievably chaotic, but persevering and keeping mobile will earn you a solid win. This fight is level 45.

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As you can see, FFXIV gets tough. If you don’t know the strategy and the people you group up with don’t feel inclined to share or let you in on what to do, you will die. A lot. Repeatedly. Some parties will break up in frustration, or time will simply run out.

And this leads into my concern for the game, which mostly bases itself in the (North American/English-speaking) community that plays it.

As you reach the even tougher fights, certain Bosses will hit for a certain amount of damage. If a player, especially a Tank, is not wearing a certain set of armor or has their attributes set up in a particular way, they cannot win. It is statistically impossible, you cannot fulfill your job, and so people will spend months farming for items and making money and doing speed runs of upper-level dungeons in order to obtain the ingredients and cash needed to create/purchase that specific armor set. People are shouting in the level 50 zones “Looking for Geared/Experienced Players for X Dungeon Speed Run”.

And I don’t think that’s right, because if you ONLY seek someone who has x gear and x experience…what happens to the people who don’t? What happens to the people who haven’t done x dungeon before, to the people who don’t have the time or patience to run the same dungeon 1000 times to get that particular drop? I certainly don’t! And that’s really what worries me: the exclusive attitudes of others.

Now the way to resolve this logically is to join a good Free Company (Guild) with nice, patient players who will teach you the ropes and help you out! It IS a MMORPG after all, and community is key. But I’ve had dungeons where I start off saying politely, “I haven’t done this before, can someone please explain the strategy” and people have simply left. That is wrong, unaccommodating, and rude. People have no patience with other players, and I don’t understand why when they were newbies at it once, too.

And that’s something that you cannot avoid, so it’s up to the game designers to adjust the content accordingly so that X monster can be defeated by a party that isn’t specifically “geared” to a certain extent. The strategy is one thing–you can Google “how to defeat Garuda” and people have already written countless guides and uploaded videos on how to do so. But having a monster hit so hard that people have to waste their days farming, otherwise they’re useless? There has to be a way to change that, and I hope that Square Enix does so.

I feel that you should definitely be ABLE to farm for the BEST gear possible, but it shouldn’t be a requirement. Although you know, that could just be the community’s attitude towards it; perhaps a well-working party without that special gear can defeat it, but players just don’t want to try without it. Again, there are some things that game designers cannot avoid, and so they have to accommodate them as best as they can. I only hope that my little White Mage doesn’t get turned down from parties because she doesn’t have the Darklight Healer’s set or whatever it’s called because I have no intention of burning out my love for this game. Farming is work, and I don’t play a video game to work.

(But that’s just my humble opinion, of course, and I’ve only ever been exposed to the community of the Diabolos server!)

The next concern I want to bring up is the exploitation of FATE grinding. FATEs are real-time events that pop up on the map that are meant to be tackled by multiple players in a particular area. For example, I’m running around the North Shroud and a FATE pops up on my map, highlighted by a blue circle. I run to the Blue Circle, where a handful of players have already begun carrying out the FATE’s objectives, which appear once I get close enough: Kill the rampaging Antelope. A plethora of Antelope with special purple markers over their heads have filled the area, and players are quickly killing them as fast as they can. Once a certain number of Antelope are killed, the FATE is complete, and the contribution I made equals the amount of Experience I receive as a result. This usually comes out to how much damage you did, how much enmity you grabbed, or how much HP of various players you healed.

But here’s the thing — some of the upper-level FATEs can get you a LOT of Experience Points. Like, 20-30,000 experience points! And killing individual monsters can get you a good 100-300 chunk of experience, too! So what do players do? They form FATE parties — 8-man groups that run from FATE spawn to FATE spawn on a map, contributing as much as possible by hitting EVERYTHING they can as fast as they can. This results in 100-200+ people moving in giant herds across the map, causing chaos and even lag for everyone involved. But who cares? People have FATE grinded ten levels in a single day, providing they play repeatedly for hours on end doing the same fights over and over and over.

I’ll admit I’m guilty of FATE grinding myself on occasion, but I’ve never stuck around in a group for more than an hour; again, this is an exploitation of a game mechanic that allows players to level up quickly without having to follow the story. And, as I mentioned previously with the Titan fight example, certain elements of the story teach players how to perform their role in a party properly. People who FATE grind from 30 to 50 are happy they hit max level, but still have a level 30 character’s experience…at max level. This isn’t always the case for everyone, but it’s still a little concerning.

So, why do people FATE grind at all? Well, that’s because there are not enough quests when you reach the end game content. You get a good handful along the way and you can always do the same five guildleve quests over and over (although you’re limited by how many leves are available to you that day), but there have been several cases when I level up to 45, do several story quests, and then…the next story quest is unlockable at 46. I’m halfway there, so I do the surrounding area quests. Then  I’m about 3/4 of the way there…and I have nothing else to do but monster grind, FATE grind, or do leves. This isn’t a huge problem, but here’s the thing: only guildleve quests are repeatable.

So once I’ve taken my White Mage to level 50, there are pretty much no other quests for my lower level job — say, my Level 15 Thaumaturge/Black Mage–to do. All I can DO is grind, and the experience points you get from dungeons aren’t anywhere as high as the ones you get from FATEs…

But fortunately, the dev team has already addressed this issue and has said that they will be adding more things for players to do at the upper levels, as well as adjusting the amount of XP you receive from FATEs and dungeons to better balance the game. I’m very excited for this update, which I believe should be happening around December; this update will also include the addition of a Salon (change your character’s appearance), player housing, and hopefully the PvP arena, the Wolves’ Den. And more content of course!

Balance is the key. I am aware that my attitudes towards the game may also be a bit “casual” in flavor, seeing as how most Japanese RPGs are hardcore grinders, and it’s quite possible that the “issues” I’ve addressed are entirely intentional. If that’s the case, then good show! Whether or not I enjoy these mechanics, a game that does what it sets out to do is a success in my eyes. Still, I’d like to be able to keep up with Eorzea nonetheless.

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