The more I see about Final Fantasy XIV’s relaunch, the more anxious I get.
If there’s any doubt remaining in the minds of others, let me be entirely transparent: I’m a big fan of Final Fantasy XIV. Wonders never cease, I know. To say that I’m looking forward to the new version is pretty much irrelevant. Of course I’m going to play it when everything changes over; I’m playing it now and would continue to do so even without the promise of rebirthing realms.
But while I was discussing the game over dinner with Ms. Lady a few nights ago, she said something that struck me as very relevant: “It’s going to need to really be awesome to pull me back.” And she has a point. I’m getting a bit anxious because the new version thus far seems to set the bar at a very respectable level that’s still nowhere near as high as it needs to be, and I wonder whether it’s even possible to hit the mark it needs.
High water and low tides
When FFXIV launched just about two years ago, no one would or could deny that it had some seriously frustrating elements. It had some brilliant elements as well, but those were easily lost amidst a sea of questionable design decisions and frustrating choices. I’ve gone on record as saying it’s not as bad as some would claim, but I’ll just as happily go on record as saying that this stuff should have been caught before launch, and could have been, too, but admonishments in that department are long since useless.
Since then, a lot of people have moved on. And I do mean a lot. When FFXIV failed to provide the home that people were looking for, they went in other directions. Not surprising, really; we’ve seen some big titles launch in recent years, each of which hits some of the angles that FFXIV promised while delivering a more polished overall experience.
The trailers we’ve seen for the new FFXIV are certainly a lot better. But so far, none of them provides a compelling reason to go back to FFXIV for those who’ve left, and that’s problematic. The game looks solid in the trailers, but it’s not one that blows other games out of the water or offers a compellingly unique experience.
Naoki Yoshida has acknowledged this. He’s said outright that he doesn’t want to show off a lot of gameplay trailers at the moment because the game on display seems to be mostly on par with other MMOs rather than something unique. The problem is that all of the materials we’ve seen from the development staff are pushing the angle that the game is just another MMO.
Developers talk about adding quests into the game as the main content path as if this were some new development instead of the industry standard for nearly a decade. There’s talk about having a single global cooldown that changes the combat system — again, an innovation that has existed everywhere forever. It’s heady stuff if your exposure to MMOs is confined to Final Fantasy XI and FFXIV, but otherwise, it all feels like a rundown of the same old song and dance.
I believe that Yoshida gets this. But I’m also not sure where the next stage comes in because this is all stuff that should have been in the game when it launched two years ago.
The shock factor
The funny part is that Yoshida has his angle laid out for him. The new version is supposed to feature housing, pet breeding, intricate crafting and gathering… you know, things that a lot of players have been hoping to get out of games for a long while now. The idea of marrying that to a quest-driven experience, of recognizing that these two elements aren’t at odds with one another — that’s something. That’s a worthwhile target to aim for.
We’ve heard nothing about that.
In fact, as far as we know, a lot of the game is going to play out almost exactly the same as the current version with jumping and quests. We’ve been told that the combat system will change, but we’ve heard nothing to indicate that Gladiator A will be any different from Gladiator B with the same cross-class skills. I can comfortably list everything we know about housing for sure in three words, four if I add a qualifier to the statement.
For me, that’s all right. I’d like to see things like better specialization options for the classes, but as I said before, the game doesn’t need to sell me on anything. I’m already playing. The people whom Yoshida needs to sell on the game are the people who have either moved on or been warned off. And that is honestly not good.
Back during the original beta, we were repeatedly promised that we weren’t seeing the whole game, that there was awesome stuff waiting in the wings. But none of that supposed awesome stuff ever got hinted at beyond a promise that it exists. And while we’re getting a lot of promises that there are awesome features in the new version of the game, what we’ve seen is… stuff that should have been in the game at launch.
That’s not going to cut it. Having a smooth and coherent set of quests combined with housing and crafting isn’t going to make people look up as they’re playing games that already have those features. Why, exactly, should someone choose to play FFXIV instead of anything else in the world?
You and I are the converted. We’re going to play FFXIV because we like FFXIV. But anyone who wasn’t already sold on the game has no draws beyond “it’s not a mess.” Anyone scared off already has to be given good reason not to come back, and so far the only thing shown off is that the game has reached the level at which it should already be. I’m happy to point out that there are a lot of former bad systems that are no longer in place, but I have yet to see anything that I can point to be as being new and uniquely good. And that’s problematic.