Welcome to the third installment of Exploring Eorzea, a continuing chronicle of my time spent in Square Enix's MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV. If you've missed the earlier installments, you can find them here on the site with a simple search.
Last time I checked in, I explained how I quickly went from level 1 to level 10 doing Guildleve quests at Camp Black Brush outside of the starting city of Ul'dah. The grind to double digits was really fast (far faster than it was in Final Fantasy XI before Square Enix made leveling so much quicker in that game). With mobs in the region giving less experience and skill points (experience needed to grow in physical levels, SP needed for leveling your specific job or class), I decided it was time to head to the next Guildleve hub—Camp Dry Bone.
Dry Bone is a bit of a hike east from Black Brush—and you'll have to hoof it the first time you go. Once you arrive, however, you can inspect the Aetheryte in camp and you'll be able to teleport there instantly for four anima (which is a sort of magic point equivalent used for things like recovering after death and teleporting—you get 100 anima, but it replenishes over time). The walk to Dry Bone is lengthy—like all traveling in the game at this point—but also quite safe. Nothing between Dry Bone and Black Brush will aggro (an MMO term for a monster that will attack a character without provocation) you—although one time I did see a level 38 antling on the path. That would definitely aggro and kill you in one hit (something I learned the hard way...), but I've never seen it there again and I suspect it was some kind of glitch.
Along the way, you will zone out of the first area near Ul'dah. I was excited, because zoning into a new region generally means new geography, a new look to the environment, and new monsters. So, imagine my disappointment when this new area loaded and it was exactly the same as the last one...
Arriving at Dry Bone is not much different than Black Brush. It's a tiny encampment with some NPCs who will provide crafting quests and an Aetheryte for Guildleves. I popped into camp, selected my first GL, and set about killing. Fortunately, there are at least some new monsters in the area—I spent time trying to kill level 15 Giant Dodos (which are large birds) and Sand Yarzons along with the traditional Marmots and Coblyns. Like in Black Brush, I immediately died on the first leve. Then I died again. And again. I had to try to kill three Dodos that were 5 levels above me—it didn't seem possible. I couldn't kill one while the other two were beating me to death. I was using all the tools I had (damage over time spells, status effects, and direct damage), but I was still, in the parlance of the game, getting "pwned."
With frustration starting to set in, I got to thinking "what I really need here are some Area of Effect spells (AOE)—then I could nail all three of these guys at once and probably win." FFXI had AOE spells, but you didn't get them until you were higher level. Figuring that logic applied here as well, I wasn't sure what to do. So, I tab out and do some reading—and then feel like a total idiot.
For some reason, Square Enix loves to not explain things in this game. It's like they consider it a badge of honor if you actually have to tab out and go read a message board to figure out how to play effectively. I got used to this with FFXI (which, nine years later, still has elements that people don't understand exactly—including one entire job, Puppetmaster, that remains a bit of an enigma even to people who've leveled it to 90...), but this is a new game, and I was hoping Square Enix would have worked to remedy this issue in their quest to be more casual-friendly. I was wrong.
Turns out, you can AOE pretty much any spell from level one. When you go to cast, there's an AOE button that pops up on the screen. The screen is so cluttered that I never really noticed it. Needless to say, I'm embarrassed by this. So, with the ability to AOE these mobs, I make short work of them and continue leveling.
Around this time, my good friend Arliman shows up (a guildmate from my FFXI days and a fount of MMO knowledge). Arli's got characters at 50, characters in the 30s, hell, he has characters at lots of levels and most of them are nearing the current cap. He comes out to Dry Bone and shows me how to "leve-link," which is the real key to earning good exp in the game.
As I mentioned last time, you can only do eight leves per 36 hours. Only, that's not quite true. You can only take eight leve assignments from the guild. However, you can team up with other people and do your eight and their eight and so on. See where this going? Plus, with more people, you can crank up the difficulty on the leves to the max level and get even more exp/SP. Just teaming up with Arliman nabbed me several levels in under an hour. Now almost level 20, I'd be moving camp again. This time to Camp Horizon.
After that, my tour guide gave me a look around the world—leading me to the other major cities, showing me where the guilds are, guiding me to Aethercytes so I can teleport about more easily, and explaining the fishing mini-game to me.
Armed with this new knowledge, it was time to try another way to get experience: Behest.
In every camp, on the half hour, an NPC will appear. This person is that camp's Battle Warden, and talking to them will allow you to sign up for Behest. Behest is basically like a group quest—you sign up, and up to seven other people can join. Form a party, then when the event starts, you all wander out into the wild to kill X number of various mobs and then a boss. The enemies in Behest are decently leveled, but a level 33 Behest mob isn't really comparable to a level 33 regular—the Behest monster seems easier, probably to allow for runs where only two or three people sign up for the event.
Anyway, completing Behest in under the 20 minute allotted time earns you experience and some money. I settled into a routine at this point: Behest on the hour or half hour, ten minutes to finish it, then twenty minutes spent crafting or tabbed out playing a game on my Xbox 360 or PS3, then another Behest. I understand the inherent silliness of playing a game for ten minutes and then sitting and doing nothing for twenty—but if you play MMOs, you kinda just deal with the time sink elements. At least I can still play other games in the downtime.
I was ripping along with Behest experience, well into the mid-20s, when a strange thing happened. I get a message after a kill saying I'm fatigued and that I will now earn less experience. Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot?
To be honest, I'd heard about the dreaded fatigue system way back in the early days of Beta. Essentially, Square Enix wants to control how fast players level and burn through content (because, as you'll eventually see, FFXIV has no content. Some notorious monster fights, Guildleves, crafting, and Behest are about all the game has to offer at this point as far as I can tell). Sure, they like to act noble about it and insist it's to make the playing field level for everyone (meaning guys who can only play a few hours a week will be able to keep leveling at the same pace as people who have no lives and play 17 hours a day), but it's really not. It's a scam to control how players progress through the game. In an MMO, where people pay a monthly fee to play, they should be allowed to play as much or as little as they want.
Basically, fatigue has several levels. Players hit the first one after spending eight hours in a week killing things for experience. Then, after that, each hour spent killing things increases fatigue more, earning the player even less experience. Supposedly, fatigue wears off if you don't play or you go craft. I don't believe this system really works, though. I got fatigued and stopped playing for two days and came back and was still fatigued. Luckily, your fatigue meter resets once a week—but people could level for eight hours in a day or two in an MMO—do you want to pay to spend the next five or six days being unable to do what you want or being penalized while you do it? I know I don't...
The real kicker is, you don't have to stop playing. You can keep going for less and less experience (which many players do, as fatigue becomes a constant companion as you level from late 20s through to 50) or you can stop and level another class. Every hour spent leveling another job reduces your fatigue level on your main job by an hour. So, Square doesn't really give a shit about you logging off and having a life or casual players so much—they just want to let you play your main character in eight hour increments and then force you to level other classes. This seems very clever when it comes to controlling how players progress through content and pretending there's more to do in the game than there really is, but the reality is that doing the same Guildleves/Behests with a different job doesn't really count as new content at all. It's just milking the paltry amount of material that's there for all its worth. Worse still, the dearth of endgame content available now means there's no reason to even hit 50—because there's nothing to do once you get there.
Needless to say, I think fatigue is arguably the worst idea I've ever seen in a game as far as a mechanic goes. It's not up to Square Enix to tell me how to play the game I paid for (and yes, even though there's no monthly fee right now, I still paid for the game) or how often I can play it. If I want to burn through the content and then go do something else, that should be my right. I shouldn't be forced into leveling a bunch of other jobs if I don't want to. If you only want to level one job, eight hours a week means you're basically paying a monthly fee (when they implement one again...) for 32 hours of playtime. That's outlandish.
The worst part of all this? It shows how clueless Square Enix is in general. If they'd taken the time to look at the semantics of what they were trying to do, they'd have realized fatigue has a negative connotation. World of Warcraft never forced players to not play, but you did get what Blizzard called a "Rest XP Bonus" for not playing. If you didn't log in for two weeks, you could basically gain two whole levels in half the time because you were getting double experience since your character was rested. That sounded much better and it helped keep the casual player moving through the grind at a pace comparable to his friends who played daily. That was a reward thing. Fatigue is purely punishment—and a big clue that Square Enix learned absolutely nothing from FFXI. They're still incapable of getting out of their own way, it seems. If there's a wrong way to do something, rest assured Square Enix will find it, run with it, and then take forever to admit they were incorrect.
The only silver lining here is that with the new development team onboard, the game is getting some major overhauls this summer—so major, that I'm guessing a lot of these entries will be irrelevant once they're implemented. One of the things on the chopping block is fatigue. Let's all hope it gets the axe. Honestly, though, between this and the no AH thing, you have to wonder what the previous dev team was thinking. If their goal was to make the most unpleasant and unfriendly MMO around, they were on the right track. FFXIV currently feels like a shell of a game—an Alpha build of something that might be ready to hit Beta testing in eight months or a year from now.
Because of the game's current condition, it's hard to muster much excitement to log in. There's a honeymoon period with any MMO—those first few days/weeks where the newness and thrill of leveling up and learning mechanics makes the game fun before the inevitable grind sets in, but that eventually ends. A good game has enough positives to keep players interested once that new love period wears off. Final Fantasy XIV isn't one of those games. Within two or three weeks, players realize that their options are limited both by a distinct lack of content and a design element implemented to try and hide that dearth of things to do from players for as long as possible. It can't be hidden forever, though—and once players get a peek behind the curtain, it becomes fairly obvious that the Emperor isn't wearing any clothes. Can Square Enix fix this? That remains to be seen—but tune in next time when we'll take a look at what they're planning to update in the game during the course of this summer. If all of these changes make it through, FFXIV may be salvageable. Until then, I reactivated my FFXI account—that game may be nine years old now, but it still looks decent on a PC and there's no shortage of things to do.