Tag Archives: Guild-Wars-2

FFXIV and the #Heavensward expansion – too much stick and not enough carrot?

Costa del Sol at dawn

Costa del Sol at dawn

When Final Fantasy 14 came out in version 1, it was vilified by the majority of players because it worked so badly. There was no auction house, no bank, no end-game content – all pretty much standard fare on MMOs. And the servers simply could not cope with the demands of the game. You could wait for seconds for a menu to open, and lag was endemic on all but the most powerful computers.

Nevertheless, as someone who played it from start to finish, I have to say that version 1 did at least try to be innovative. One of the good things it did was to break with its predecessor’s mold when it came to solo play. In FF11 [the first Final Fantasy MMO], even ordinary mobs were so hard, only a competent group could take them down, hence a group was needed for all progress beyond level 10.

By contrast, Final Fantasy 14 Version 1 allowed casual players to progress by themselves! It also allowed players to progress via battling, crafting or gathering – i.e. if you liked crafting better than fighting, you could do your crafts and level up your character without ever having to fight.

For those who did like to fight, anything was possible. You could customize your character’s skillset by taking cross-class skills from other melee and casting classes – i.e. your warrior could use a ranged skill or cast a spell if that was how you wanted to play it. The choice was yours.

And finally, although Version 1 did have a very interesting storyline, it was an added ‘extra’, meaning you could spend time on it or not. There were a few things you ‘had’ to do, but mostly the choice was yours. In this sense, it was more like what we now call a ‘sandbox’ than a standard MMO.

For those who don’t know, the term ‘sandbox‘ refers to:

‘… a style of game in which minimal character limitations are placed on the gamer, allowing the gamer to roam and change a virtual world at will.’

Too much choice? Too much freedom? Or simply a case of throwing the good out with the bad?

I don’t know, but a very vocal segment of the Version 1 players hated the game and felt ‘cheated’. As a result, the version 1 team was dumped and a different team took over. They rebuilt FF14 from the ground up, and when version 2.0 finally launched, it was as bright and shiny as a newly minted gold coin. Everything worked [except the payment system], and everything was beautiful.

The world was graphically stunning and did not require bleeding edge computer hardware to run. There was no lag. Everything ran like clockwork and crafting was once again an exciting mini-game where ‘luck’ was balanced with skill.

But to counter all these goodies, some of the most desirable early features – ‘carrots’ – could only be unlocked via the main storyline, and the main storyline required that you complete a number of low level dungeons [the ‘stick’].So, for example, you could not unlock retainers [a kind of ‘bank’ mechanism] without completing the first three dungeons. To unlock the ability to ride a mount, you had to complete a 4th dungeon.

Now I know that 98% of gamers will not find the running of dungeons a hardship. In fact, I know that most would be devastated to find that a game did not have dungeons, so these gamers would not even see the carrot-and-stick mechanism at play. They are the norm, not old ladies like me. But even young gamers can resent the lack of choice.

The linear straitjacket of the main storyline came into sharp focus with the advent of version 3, Heavensward. Not only would gamers have to be at level cap – i.e. at level 50 – to play the new content, they would also have to complete every last bit of the main storyline from the previous version.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the main storyline comprises scores and scores of quests, dungeons and trials. Skip any part of the storyline and you can’t even see what the new Heavensward areas look like.

So let me recap. To play the Heavensward expansion, players need to:

  • buy the expansion
  • reach level 50
  • AND complete the entire version 2.xx storyline

As someone who hates dungeons, it literally took me months to complete the storyline requirement, but even a ‘normal’ player would need at least a week. That is a lot of delayed gratification for someone who’s already at level cap.

Like me, a lot of returning players did slog through the storyline to get to the carrot, but I wonder whether they thought the effort was worth it?

I’m about half way through the expansion, and I have to say, I am disappointed. Heavensward was promoted as this new, shiny thing with lots of yummy toys, but the reality falls short of the hype, at least for me.

One of the pretties we all looked forward to was flying mounts, and sure enough, once I slogged through yet more of the storyline, I was given a rather elegant black choco – the first of the flying mounts on offer. But, of course, the damn chocobo wouldn’t fly, would it?

In Heavensward, you may get a flying mount, but the ability to make it actually fly requires that you unlock all the aether currents in an ‘area’ [or zone]. You are given a kind of aether current compass and told to go exploring…on foot. No problem. But then you discover that there are two kinds of aether currents:

  • those you can discover via exploration and
  • those you can only unlock by doing quests

I should point out that these are sidequests, not part of the main storyline. Yet, lo and behold, one of the aether current quests in the very first area sends you to…a dungeon. And you have to unlock ALL the currents before you can fly.

Did I mention I hate dungeons? Not only do they stress me out, they also eat into my life because on my server, the only time I can realistically expect to get a group is in the morning [timezone disparity between Australia and the rest of the world]. But I work. I have a life. Bah…

Suffice it to say that it’s taken me weeks to get around to running that stupid dungeon. I can now fly, but only in one area. This means that all the gathering I need to do in the next [higher level area] is on foot, again, because of course flying in that area is not yet unlocked.

And this brings me to more of the Heavensward straitjacket. The new map is huge, yet I can only access three areas of it:

  • Cloud Top
  • Western Coerthas
  • Dravanian Forelands

Why? Because the higher areas can only be unlocked via the main storyline. And you guessed it, the next part of the main storyline requires that I do a dungeon, one that even experienced dungeon runners describe as ‘tricky’.

I can understand how connecting up all the content would make sense, from a game developer’s point of view. If you force gamers to complete the majority of the content in order to progress, you are getting the most bang for your buck from that content. But that does not necessarily make for a great gaming experience…for the gamer.

To me, a great gaming experience is one in which there are independent content streams that allow me to control how and when I play. If I want to do nothing but crafting, I should be able to do that. If I want to play solo, I should be able to do that. If I want to chat to people and develop in-game friendships, I should be allowed to do that without being forced into some artificial model of ‘community’.

In other words, I should be treated like an adult and given the right to choose. It can be done. In fact it has been done, very successfully, by MMOs like Guild Wars 2 [GW2].

I played GW2 for quite some time in between Final Fantasy 14 versions 1 and 2, and I really enjoyed it. Fun and innovative are two things that immediately spring to mind. It was also a free-to-play MMO. But there were things it lacked – like player housing, and mounts. And although much more attractive graphically than say, World of Warcraft, GW2 has never been as beautiful as Final Fantasy 14.

It may sound a bit twee to talk about beauty in an MMO, but there are times in Final Fantasy 14 when I literally catch my breath in wonder at how lovely a scene is. The game has weather, and a day/night cycle, and lighting that shifts subtly with the time of day and the weather pattern. It feels as real as a 2 dimensional world can get, and I love it…

But as an adult, I feel as if Final Fantasy 14 is squeezing me through one of those sausage making machines, and I don’t like it.

Will I leave? I don’t know. I’ve been subscribed to FF14 for over 720 days. That’s a long time, and I have a lot invested in the game, including my house. If I unsubscribe, my characters will probably remain in storage on some server somewhere, but I know that my house will be ‘repossessed’ to allow other gamers the privilege of owning a house. Because, of course, there is not enough housing to go around.

So there are consequences with leaving, even just for a few months.

For now I’m going to trudge my way through Heavensward, but with Christmas approaching, I may start hinting to the Daughter that I wouldn’t mind being given the new Guild Wars 2 expansion. She has been playing it and loves it. And many of the things she tells me about the game sound innovative and fresh and new…





Momentous days and interesting nights

I am winging it a bit with this post so apologies if it’s a bit disjointed. The big news, for me at least, is that my wonderful editor Laurie Boris has returned my MS and the editing is not going to be as horrific as I thought it would be!

What? You didn’t know I’d sent it off to be edited? Oops, sorry. I try to be open and honest on this blog but I do tend to keep scary things to myself until I can resolve them in some way. And trust me, waiting for the MS to come back has been scary. I was imagining all sorts of horrible things from masses and masses of stupid mistakes to … well, I’m pretty sure every writer out there knows exactly what awful things I was imagining. Anyway, they did not eventuate so now I’m literally chomping at the bit to get stuck into the final edit and polish.

While I’m on the subject of scary things I have to say that the Harper Voyager post was a bit of an exception for me. It was scary alright but it was a kind of scary I just had to write about because I knew I would not be able to resolve it from within the confines of my own head; I was being tugged in too many directions to make sense of the issue. That was why I really needed your perspectives and your affectionate advice to sort the wheat from the chaff. My thanks to all of you by the way for clarifying the question so beautifully. Thanks to your input I can now officially say that  – I will be submitting!

The turning point in the submit/don’t submit debate came when I realised that the only thing I would lose by submitting to Harper Voyager was fear. Fear was at the core of all my vacillating. Fear of being rejected [hah!] Fear of losing my self-confidence [double hah!] and fear of change [because I had devised a plan as an indie and feared to change it in mid-stream].

Now I know I’m not the world’s bravest person but I have always believed that the true measure of courage is not how you feel about something but what you do about it. So what this soul searching all came down to was a very simple question and it had nothing to do with Harper Voyager. I had to ask myself if I had the courage to face this fear. My pride said ‘yes’ and so did my sense of shame; after all what kind of a writer would I be if I could not face down even one, single rejection? So submit I will!

Deciding to submit The Book to Harper Voyager was a big decision to make but having made it I then had to also make some smaller ones to ensure that I could meet the submission deadline. One of those smaller decisions was to not, under any circumstances, play my beloved games during the day. This was important because I knew I had to get back into the professional work ethic I had had while actually writing The Book.

The second of the smaller decisions was actually a little harder to make. At the moment I post three times a week and in-between times I try to catch up with all of you. Until the October 14 deadline comes and goes I’m going to have to reduce my posts to just two a week and I won’t be able to be as sociable as I used to be. 😦 I will keep dropping in and seeing how you are all going but it won’t be as often. Please don’t feel as if I’ve forgotten about you. You are all my friends and I’m not giving any of you up!

Phew! That was hard. Now to the ‘interesting nights’ part of my title. And no, I haven’t found a gorgeous hunk of a man to play with. 😀 My interesting nights revolve around my gaming and the latest game to rise up and bite me is Guild Wars 2. Against my better judgement I went out and bought the game over a week ago and it sat there on my desk, unopened and uninstalled. The idea was that I’d have it there, ready to go as a ‘reward’ for when I felt I’d done my work well…

Yes, that did not go quite to plan, or perhaps the plan was flawed to start with. A couple of days ago I stripped off the plastic wrapper and installed the game. So far I have a love/hate relationship with it but it is addictive – hence the rule about not playing during the day and no more staying up late while I join just one more event. From now on, playing GW2 will be restricted to an hour or so after dinner each night and my precious awake time will be reserved for The Book.

That’s the plan and I intend to stick to this one so… wish me luck!



Will Guild Wars 2 really push mmo’s to a new level?

I certainly hope so because after almost ten years of playing mmo’s I’m getting… bored.

In the beginning every new mmo was exciting and fresh but now, after approximately eleven mmo’s, I’m finding that they are all starting to feel the same.  I stress the word ‘feel’ because there is a great deal of superficial variety in mmo’s. Some are biased towards pve [player versus environment], some towards pvp [player versus player] and some try to be all things to all people – with varying degrees of success. Some have beautiful graphics and some do not. Some have exciting battling systems and some force players to mash the same buttons over and over again. Some have interesting storylines and some are just a pointless grind…

Enough said. There are differences between mmo’s but when you strip away all the gloss you are left with one basic model – play to become more powerful to get more gear to become even more powerful so you can get uber gear that only a small percentage of players can boast about. That’s it. The best mmo’s do have ancillary benefits – such as meeting interesting people and playing in bursts of high-excitement groups – but at the end of the day all that effort boils down to very little.

This is where Guild Wars 2 may or may not break the mold and set us all free. From the reviews I’ve read GW2 aims to make its players’ efforts and choices count. As I understand it players will have the ability to change their own storyline in a meaningful way by making choices which will then determine the paths that will open to them. In theory this should result in a living storyline rather than one that is imposed from the outside. It should also mean that players will be given a sense of purpose, somewhat like the sense of purpose they get when playing single player console games such as the Final Fantasy series.

That, at least, is the theory but will they be able to pull it off?

The reason I sound so skeptical  is that I know Final Fantasy xiv tried to break out of the established mold – and failed. Part of the reason it failed was that hardware [i.e. servers] lagged behind vision so the promise was never fulfilled. Another reason was that the game was just too raw; FFxiv was beta tested but apparently commercial considerations outweighed player feedback and it was released without addressing many if not all of the known problems. The third reason however was the worst – players wanted to be able to do the things that they were used to doing in other mmo’s, including ffxi.

Now I know that the development of GW2 has been very different, including their timeline for development, however I cannot help wondering whether all the innovations will actually deliver the excitement that players have come to expect. Will they embrace these new ways of playing or will they too demand a return to the familiar?

Personally I think GW2 is on the right track and I am looking forward to playing it but I fear that the game’s ultimate success will depend on how deep the playing public’s appetite for change truly goes. Gamers are no longer defined as 14-something fanboys but there are still an awful lot of them around and their vote still counts. Then again mmo’s have been around long enough now for some of those fanboys to grow up and demand more from their mmo’s. Let’s just hope that there are enough of them to push mmo’s to a new and much needed level of sophistication.

Until then we’ll just have to wait and see.

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