This piece has no spoilers for FFXIV’s A Realm Reborn and Heavensward content. It mentions a couple publicly-available features that are gated behind content, though, so if you’re insistent on being blind the entire time, this is your warning.
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I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIV for the last couple months, and through some miracle, I’m not in the middle of a crippling addiction or burnout. In fact, I’m actually having a lot of fun, and contrary to my previous adventures with playing MMORPGs as an adult, I feel like I’m balancing the goal of being present with my desire to actually have a real life pretty decently.
I’m always a big fan of the introspective question of “what’s changed?” because it gives me a chance to internalize improvements I might’ve made in the interim. When I last wrote about my experiences with World of Warcraft: Legion, I think I was in a much more desperate mental place; I hadn’t solidified as much confidence in my skills as I do now — admittedly, this still needs work.
Legion was one of many flavors-of-the-month that popped up in esports, and I felt that I wanted to participate because everyone else was. More face-time meant more networking opportunities. With this in mind, my rush to get to maximum level in order to raid with everyone else meant way too much pressure to force something I wasn’t really in the mood for.
That’s different this time. Somehow.
The FFXIV Diadem (or “how I learned to love to mine”)
FFXIV is different than World of Warcraft in that anyone can play any class (or using the game’s terminology, “job”) they want to, without needing to create a new character. In WoW (or at least when I played it), your character chose one class, and two professions, and were pretty much stuck with those without either paying money to re-class for the former, and losing a lot of time spent to reset the latter.
In FFXIV, your character is a base, and once you get into the game world, you can choose to visit guilds associated with each job, and start an independent quest line. This means you can put time in wherever you want, and as long as you meet requirements, you can pick up the Main Scenario Quest (the main game storyline, or MSQ for short) with whatever job you’d like.
This means that it’s very easy to ping-pong between jobs, and over the past month, I felt like the area that I’ve enjoyed most is Gathering professions. Fishing, Mining and Botany in FFXIV are similar to Fishing, Mining and Herbalism in WoW, both in the activity and the benefits: you’re basically doing the same thing, over and over, and you can use the materials you harvest to grow your other Production jobs (like carpentry, goldsmithing, blacksmithing, or cooking).
Normally, I would hate the idea of monotonously traveling from node to node, and at first, I did. Once I completed the Heavensward expansion, I unlocked the ability to travel to the Diadem — a series of floating islands with non-hostile monsters, and endless respawning gathering points.
Through time, developing these jobs, which started as a “nice to have,” turned into a bit of a challenge for myself: instead of leveling my gathering classes with the aim of “not having to do them later”, I suddenly began to ask myself if I could max these jobs out before any main combat class.
And well, through a bunch of hours (albeit, less hours than I thought), I did.
With WoW, I felt the compulsion to just get to the current content to be able to join the people I wanted to spend time with, mostly because I wanted to feel useful. With FFXIV, I found myself wanting to choose my own goals, and not stressing about whether I was “using my time for the best reasons.”
I’ve had a challenging couple months mentally, and for the most part, all I had the bandwidth to do was hit nodes, level up, and sell my stuff so I could get my own in-game apartment.
There was nothing nudging me farther, or walling me off; since the Diadem scales with your character, you can literally go the whole distance from a level 10 Gathering class to 80. Screw it. We did it. I made my first million gil, and I now have an empty apartment.
Shifting Gears in FFXIV
The gear shifting of classes and pacing was kind of was facilitated by the structure of Final Fantasy XIV itself. As I said before, the idea behind the Job system is that the player gets to choose where they spend their time, and if they want to take time away from the MSQ, they can.
I ended up taking long breaks from the plot of the game, and incidentally, that’s not what’s driving my play time right now. Instead, I find myself more drawn to the idea of benefiting my guild (called a Free Company in FFXIV) by leveling more crafting professions.
I don’t feel social pressure to do this, because ultimately, I am not living in Eorzea in all of my spare time, like I would with World of Warcraft. Through my grinding spree and my quest to get to the Diadem in the first place, I tackled a patch of content a day on weekends, and pretty much left FFXIV during the week. This wasn’t for the lack of time to spend on the game, and I was surprised that I didn’t feel any urgency or “I am wasting my game time by not playing.”
Instead, I was choosing to feel rewarded for my efforts when I chose to, and slowly — and I mean slowly — becoming more comfortable with the idea of playing “just to play.”
I’ll add my voice to the chorus of people who found the original A Realm Reborn content to be a bit of a slog and loved the plot of the first expansion, Heavensward. However, I’ll also say that I am not playing FFXIV for the plot. I’m still finding myself drawn more to the social element, the flexibility of that social element, and how I never truly feel “left behind” by people I know at max level.
Final Fantasy XIV has two systems that I think do a great job of making people feel welcome, especially when playing with people who have a big head start: the Roulette system, and Level Scaling. Both affect one another, but demand some different explanations:
- Roulettes are a system of daily queues that you can enter for your role (damage, healer, tank), which will allow you to join dungeons, raids and scenarios from all the ones you qualify for based on your level. If you’re level 40, you’re only going to be able to join the experiences that meet your level.
- Level Syncing means that you’re able to enter a group at an appropriate level and gear level, as determined by the game. If you’re level 80 and joining a level 16 dungeon, you’ll only have access to the skills you would have at 16, and your gear’s stats will automatically adjust.
Because the veteran player gets incentives for performing Roulettes in the form of specific currencies, along with the ability to change to another job, there’s more reason for friends to play together, as no one is inconvenienced. A veteran can even switch to a lower-level job they need to level, or switch to another role (like a healer or tank) that might fit the party’s needs better.
In World of Warcraft, it felt a bit awkward to have friends power-level you through dungeons, because you’d both get less experience and also not have the fun of the dungeon itself. It was also awkward to convince someone to create an alternate character that they wouldn’t be playing apart from with you, because you’re asking them to do more work to keep to your pace.
With Level Sync, you’re still doing the dungeon “properly,” and there’s less social awkwardness with asking someone (who might have other things to do) to take time out of their schedule to help you. This makes the whole experience better as a whole.
The Social Element
At the beginning of this current stint of Final Fantasy, I did the unthinkable: I spent money to transfer my character to a new server.
Normally I don’t bother with this kind of thing, but the idea of starting from scratch makes little sense when your character can feasibly do everything, and their narrative is cumulative. Also, I wasn’t doing A Realm Reborn‘s content again: eff that.
I did this because two of my friends were involved with a Free Company (or guild) that seemed to have everything I wanted: activity, friendliness, and people talking.
Then I got invited to my first catboy wedding.
My aforementioned two friends, Min and Chasca (their character names) decided to get an in-game wedding, and turned it into an event for the whole Free Company. They made professionally-designed invites. There was an encouragement to dress up.
While attendance wasn’t mandatory, I actually made the decision to skip out on dinner with my family for that day; I actually felt myself looking forward to it, purely because it was different, and unique. Hell, I even got a costume together. After all, I had appearances to keep up.
A good couple-dozen people chilled in a Discord voice channel while the cutscenes and ceremony went on. As soon as they finished, the chapel became a bit of a free-for-all, as most people changed to less… conservative outfits.
There were strippers on the altar, and people doing backflips off of it. There were efforts to melt other peoples’ GPUs with the sheer volume of effects from the congregation.
Was it some epic, life-changing moment for me? Not particularly. Some people joke about doing it purely for the ability to teleport to your partner (an in-game bonus), but hey, love is love.
More importantly, though, it felt like the essence of what MMORPGs are “supposed to be like”; a bunch of people having fun with some escapism for the moment.
In treating the situation “seriously” (in the sense of planning and dressing up for the occasion), it gave people in the guild something to look forward to — it felt as rewarding as any other occasion where people are trying, regardless of how it makes them look. You, in turn, don’t feel so silly for caring in the first place. Everyone wins.
It’s a nice reminder that sometimes even hanging out with people in a voice chat channel without a particular purpose — like we did afterwards, at the “after party” — is a nice change from the constant need to be moving forward. It felt up there in memorable moments with my first level 60 in WoW, or first clear of a tough Argent Tournament boss when I was still raiding seriously, albeit for completely different reasons. It was this cool thing that people can do with their time and money that signified both a connection to each other and a game they love.
So yes, I am 1-for-1 on successful catboy weddings, so far.
This wasn’t meant to be as structured as my other blogs, but more of just a general update with how I’m finding FFXIV, and how my relationship with “service games” has evolved. I still struggle with the time aspect, especially the ticking clock of a subscription when I’m not particularly feeling enthusiastic.
Like I said, though, there seems to be less pressure here, and I’m not sure if that signals a change in myself, or something completely different that can be attributed to Final Fantasy XIV.
For the moment, I’m going to stop trying to analyze it and just have fun. Maybe when I’ve finally completed the latest expansion, Shadowbringers, I’ll have more to report.
In the meantime, stay safe in these current stressful times. Find away to get what you need to sustain your sanity, even if it’s in an unconventional way, like hitting mining nodes over and over.
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