Better Late Than Never… (Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the MMORPG)

I’ve mentioned in a few video game related posts that I really don’t love online gaming, especially when it requires total strangers to work together as a team. It’s my belief that developers expect to throw a group of anonymous strangers together and force them to work as a group for a map, quest, dungeon, etc. Then, when the scenario is done, the group high-fives, says “good game”, and goes about their day. (and maybe, just maybe, some friend requests will be sent). Experience has taught me that this rarely works out the way developers intended. Instead, history has proven time and time again that the more seasoned players will drag a group of newer players through an instance, berating them the entire time. When finished, the group disperses and everyone is left with a sour taste in their mouth.

Let me preface that I’m no stranger to online gaming. My CV, if you’ll indulge me for a moment: I’ve played MMORPG’s such as Everquest, Guild Wars (1 & 2), and World of Warcraft (Retail & Classic). I was a beta tester for Paragon and Blood Bowl 3. For a while, I even played Call of Duty and League of Legends nightly. Sprinkle in some StarCraft II, Fortnite, and probably a handful of other games I’ve forgotten about over the years, and you can see where I’m going with this. So let’s all agree that it’s safe to say that while I’m not an expert, I’ve had varied enough experience to know what I’m talking about here. Generally speaking, higher-ranked (as in more experienced “I’ve been playing for years!”) players like to talk down on new players. The experience can range from frustrating to extremely toxic and as a result I generally shy away from it. I’m middle-aged, and at this point in my life gaming is supposed to be a fun diversion from the daily grind. If I’m leaving the match seeing red with my blood pressure through the roof, why bother?

I should also note that unless you’re being paid to play video games professionally, if you’re seeing red every time you play you may want to find a new game (or hobby altogether). This brings me to the actual point of this post. While waiting for Valheim’s Hearth and Home expansion to arrive, Ryan encouraged me to start playing Final Fantasy XIV (A Realm Reborn). And so far, everything I’ve complained about regarding online gaming hasn’t happened. In fact, the only real frustration came from Square Enix’s customer service department, and that was because I bought the wrong version of the game. (Kids, don’t buy non-Steam expansions for the Steam version of the game. It will not work. There will be no refund.)

Final Fantasy is one of those long-time franchise games that I honestly should know more about. After all, I am a product of the Nintendo generation. That being said, I have friends who’ve played every game in the franchise; so while I never really got into the original games, I knew of the series including the Steampunk aesthetic, giant riding-chickens called Chocobos, cute and cuddly Mogs, over-the-top giant swords, Harry Potteresque magician hats, and monsters that look suspiciously like cactuses. I think the biggest reason I never adopted Final Fantasy had to do with the turn-based combat. (Which ironically is one of the things I love about Pokemon, so I’m not sure where the difference lies).

When I first logged into Final Fantasy and connected with Ryan in a voice channel over Discord, I’m sure I sounded ridiculous. I doubted every decision I was making, including spending well over an hour generating my character. I was afraid of making the wrong choice and being stuck with it forever. I was afraid that my useless character would end up being abysmal in battle because of mistakes made early on. I was afraid that I wasn’t following the meta for damage output and veteran players would call me out on it. Ryan assured me that nothing was set in stone at this point and it’d be fine. I couldn’t make a wrong decision, just pick whatever I thought looked fun. FFXIV isn’t WoW, and that’s a good thing. Take a breath – it’s going to be ok.

I settled on a Duskwight Elezen Arcanist, mostly because I favor a distanced damage-per-second casting (DPS) role. I also really liked the idea of summoning pets. I did tell Ryan I drew the line at wearing a Harry Potter sorting hat and he laughed. Getting into the game the differences between FFXIV and WoW immediately started to become apparent. The main-story-quest (MSQ) is significantly more involved than anything I’ve ever undertaken in WoW. While Warcraft favors “I need 14 wolf pelts – go get them for me” style quests, Final Fantasy’s quests usually involve character animations and multiple pages of dialogue cards. It feels like the non-player-characters have an actual agenda, and the world is much larger than the small slice you’re currently seeing. The attention to detail in every environment is stunning. Everything feels over the top larger than life, from tall soaring towers overhanging rocky cliffs and the water far below, to endless dunes in a dusty desert. All characters in the game are strikingly beautiful – even the ones that are supposed to look ugly by definition. I’m also convinced that Square Enix has employed an entire wardrobe department to come up with a seemingly infinite variety of armor and equipment that comes together seamlessly.

So far, so good. But what about what really matters – playing with other people? Shockingly, all of my concerns about toxic players simply never happened. All novice players have a sprout icon beside their name, and there’s a lot of them from what I can tell. Ryan tells me this is because of people who are frustrated with Warcraft and they’ve transitioned over here instead. My people. I joined an exclusive channel called the Novice Network where new players can ask questions of seasoned players (called Mentors), and it seems like a lot of the discussions involve welcoming “Wow Refugees”. Because all newer players have the icon beside their name, it’s immediately obvious they’re new and are going to make mistakes. Even with mistakes being made, dungeon instances all start with a friendly “Howdy” or “Heyo” between players, and when finishing the dungeon, players all thank each other and say good game. Amazing so far! But what happens when something goes horribly wrong in a dungeon and substantial mistakes are made? Would everyone still feel the same way?

Last night I had the pleasure of playing a level 44 dungeon I hadn’t yet encountered. Our party consisted of myself, another novice DPS caster, a veteran tank, and a decent non-veteran healer. Because of poor stance decisions made between myself and the other DPS caster, our healer couldn’t keep up and our party was wiped. We actually ended up wiping three times, including during the end-boss fight. When the instance was finally done and loot was being divided, I braced myself for the inevitable backlash. Our healer started to complain about us requiring more heals than we should’ve gotten because of our poor positioning. The veteran tank gently reminded them that we’re sprouts and are still learning and to let it go. Everyone said good game, and that was that. No private messages, no “you suck – find a new game!”, just “good game” and everyone went their ways.

For once, I think the game has worked exactly the way the developers intended. I’m sure that I’ll encounter some toxicity at some point, but so far, everyone seems to be absolutely lovely. Ryan was right – it’s going to be ok.

Author: Greg

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