So far this year has been an unsurprising one for MMOs, nothing new has flabbergasted us, yet all the oldies have only gotten better. There are two games I’d like to focus on today. Ageing like a fine wine, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft gave us Legion, their sixth expansion since launch late last year. And few months later we were given Square Enix’s Stormblood, the second expansion for FFXIV: A Realm Reborn.
After recovering from a dreadful launch, FFXIV has steadily grown in popularity. I myself tried the 1.0 beta out, all those years ago. And through the dreadful UI and clumsy combat, I found a graphically outstanding and adventurous MMO, albeit it had its work cut out would it want to triumph over such other contenders at the time. WAR was just beginning to crumble, and Aion was competing for the top PvP scene. Whilst WoW was trying to follow up its most successful expansion of all time with Cataclysm.
As a side-note: for more information regarding the production and development cycle of FFXIV, I would eagerly refer you to the just-released documentary by Noclip.
Eventually when I did take my character around the world of Eorzea, at first for 2.0 and then Heavensword. I appreciated it for what it was. Grand, scenic, story-driven and a largely homogeneous PvE game with a fantastic and supportive, loyal community. Unfortunately for me, as a PvPer first and foremost, I never put FFXIV and PvP together in the same sentence. Playing FFXIV and wanting to have a PvP mindset, was a thing you just simply didn’t do. I played the game for different reasons.
A funny example, writing this, here on Ed’s blog, there is a category or tag to talk about most major MMO releases in the past few years, be it Guild Wars 2, RIFT, or Archeage. Yet Final Fantasy is nowhere to be seen. I can’t speak solely for Ed, but as a keen PvPer I assume he didn’t give it a glancing look either.
Now don’t get me wrong, they have always tried. The team at Square Enix and Producer-cum-Director Naoki Yoshida; (rather affectionately known as Yoshi-P) has implemented PvP in an extremely largely PvE-centric game, developed on it, and pushed it to moderate success. A PvP scene had developed over time, and updates came thick and fast. New modes, ladders, leader-boards, fame, fortune, special recognition gear, pretty much everything you could want as a PvPer. Yoshida-san himself has stated before, that as a fan of WoW PvP and WoW in general, he takes no shame in taking from the best and delivering it in his own way.
Unfortunate then, that when I first got my Paladin up to level 50 (the prerequisite level at the time!) and finally had my first match of FFXIV PvP, I immediately dismissed it. Players were floaty, as a melee, chasing others around constantly while not feeling my connections was a nightmare to say the least. Little feedback on what was happening and why it was happening was also an issue. I barely managed to get my head around class balance when I just outright decided enough was enough. It just didn’t feel right.
Maybe I was too used to WoW, where everything feels spot on and reactive. Whilst FFXIV felt sluggish and unresponsive. Part of me admits that after you play a game like WoW on and off for years you will inevitably get attuned to that engine, and so of course other games will feel off, and that it is up to you as the player to adapt to that.
Undead Fidget Spinner
Fast-forward to now. I’ve played Legion, the first expansion I’ve invested in greatly since Cataclysm. And it isn’t just Mage that’s different, every class is. Referring to Ed’s last post on Class Customization, WoW has come a long way since its original conception of 3 trees per class with tens of points to delve into, your own way. Of course there will always be cookie cutter builds for this and that, but part of the fun is figuring those builds out, and part of the fun for people like myself, is to turn away from the norm, and do something different, challenging and unique. Most just want to be the best in PvP, some would rather the opportunity to thrive as a special snowflake.
This is no longer possible in WoW, and has been for some time. If you are unaware, here are three calculators to play with.
Blizzards PvP designers went in the right direction with honour talents. Now there are a whopping twelve decisions to make, instead of the previous six to make beforehand. It is a statement that when you have six more choices to play with, and you consider that a good thing, that something’s not quite right…
Without getting into too much detail, Blizzard wanted choices to be meaningful. They’ve done this, and no doubt it is much easier for them to balance when it’s just a few choices here and there, but for the players used to vast choices like Pre-Cata WoW, RIFT, Archeage and the likes, this is almost bare-bones game design, and boredom sets in fast. An Arcane mage is an Arcane Mage, a Protection Warrior is a Protection Warrior. No one is unique outside Legendary procs and trinkets, and they only work in non-rated or instanced PvP for balance reasons.
Ed and his blog has always specialized in PvP analysis and eccentric theorycraft for the insane. Just a few examples like M.A.S.H healer, and Riftblade Warrior, these are fun builds that I had the pleasure to experience first hand when we enjoyed our brief time in RIFT together. If this trend of simplifying and pruning continues, Ed won’t have much to talk about anymore.
Maybe we don’t get to choose what we want to be down to a T, but maybe we find something else worth staying on the scene for.
Legion introduced PvP stat templates. So for everyone new to an arena match, freshly geared and freshly dinged, your stats of health and other numbers will be defined by a ‘class template’. You should have at least a good to great chance of winning the match with little gear in PvP now. However, every item level over a specific threshold gained you a single percent above that template. See below for a simplified example.
New max level mage with item level of 720;
- Item level rises to 800 in PvP, (template buffer zone).
- Set Health at class template of 3 million.
Max level veteran mage of item level 890;
- Item level advantage of +90 of the buffer zone of 800 gives player +9% in all template stats.
- Sets Health at class template of 3.27 million.
So we have two mages that are vastly different, but much the same inside PvP. The veteran surely has an advantage, but he won’t making one-shot montage videos anytime soon…*cough*.
This also allows Blizzard to finally balance PvP separately. Is the Demon Hunter needing specific tuning? We can do that now, without affecting the main game.
I’ve had my fun with WoW for now, for I try to reach a decent rating for each expansion I play and have my fun, see the new art, marvel at how well the engine holds up, and then take a break until the next thing catches my eye. I don’t think anyone truly quits.
And as the dust from Legion was clearing, a storm cloud gathered on the horizon. FFXIV beckoned me once again. I had been largely absent from the game for some time. But I kept up with the news. Among that news was that PvP was being completely redone. Consider me interested.
Some specific changes caught my attention:
- You can PvP from level 30 now, not 50 as previous.
- All modes are available at 30.
- Role templates borrowed from Legion.
- Gear irrelevant and cosmetic.
- Extreme pruning, most classes have a maximum of 15 buttons to play with.
- You can now gain PvE experience by doing PvP.
- Extreme CC pruning, stun-free environment
I can’t say if at the time I considered them all changes for the good. But it allowed me to be on that other side of the fence, and jump in on equal footing, from a fresh perspective. First and foremost, my time with Stormblood’s PvP has been a blast. It is different, fun, engaging and challenging enough to keep me occupied.
Not much to keep track of is it?
However, this isn’t without some faults. Yes, the ‘floatyness’ aforementioned is still there and thus playing melee is hard to adjust to. I recently learnt that everyone in FFXIV, PvP or otherwise, plays at a simulated rate of 200ms of input lag. This does explain why I could always finish an uncompleted cast, or that when you step out of AOE at the very last minute, you may have already been too late. I suppose this is to try and lower the boundaries between people on poor connections or PS4 and people who are playing on an advantageous 20ms. Since knowing this, I have adjusted my play style accordingly and some fun tricks are actually possible with this in mind. For instance if you play a caster, the range on your abilities in PvP is sometimes hilarious because although it looks like the enemy is out of reach, your spell might just clip him anyway.
Specialization wise, there isn’t much. In some ways even less so than WoW. Stormblood has probably taken the most extreme approach to this almost MOBA-like cutting room floor of PvP game design I have seen yet. A Bard will always be a Bard in FFXIV, it is very vanilla like that and I don’t see this changing. But in PvP you have a few options given to you, and a few taken away. See the Square Enix’s great Job Guide for more specific info.
On entering any PvP instance, (there is no world PvP at all in FFXIV as of yet), your hotbars are swapped for their PvP counterpart respectively. Your health and mana is set at a fixed rate per your role (Tank, Healer, RDPS, MDPS), and some combo skills are even consolidated to a single button press, (similar to how Aion did combos).
As for as customization, these are your options:
Pick two abilities out of seven (all classes can access these seven abilities).
Pick three passives out of nine (all classes can access these nine passives).
That’s it. You may say, how meaningful are they? But you’d be surprised. If I want to play a bit more defensive I can do that and take the required traits and skills. If I want to go all out, I can. The numbers are a funny thing too, if your skill says it’ll hit for 1000, it’ll hit for 1000, give or take what traits they have or if they’re buffed.
Akin to WoW, the choices are good, but if you’re the kind of PvPer like myself and Ed, you have to put that side of your gaming mentality away and hopefully you’ll get a different experience.
I had that roller-coaster emotion moment, when leveling one of the new classes, Red Mage, I gained a healing spell. This is great off-heal support in PvE, and I love to be able to have that dual personality and versatility. Cue my broken heart when my heal spell was not present on my hotbar in PvP. Again, they have gone to extreme lengths of pruning. Tanks will tank, DPS can DPS, healers will heal. No one else.
I’ve tried a few different classes in Stormblood so far, and my favourite mode is the tightly packed 8v8. The queue times are literally non-existent now that you can level via PvP, and it requires just the right amount of tactics rather than the other more zerg orientated modes.
There are some downfalls, as of about a week into Stormblood proper, I had gotten my PvP set for both my main classes, and there isn’t anything else to work towards while it is pre-season. You cannot chat before or during a match, to talk tactics or otherwise, everyone has commands that you can use (Attack my target! Out of Mana!), and I assume this is to prevent abuse but I’m unsure why it is disallowed in the smaller modes and allowed in the bigger 24v242v4 matches.
All in all, I’ve learnt to put away that side of myself in MMOs at the moment, as it seems Ed was right, class customization isn’t going to be a thing in the future. There are games that excel in that, like Path of Exile. But with more choice comes more exploitation and frustration in others, and developers don’t much enjoy the outcry response that echo afterwards and beyond.
If you’re stuck for something at the moment, and aren’t keen on World of Tanks, try something new, it might shock you. FFXIV is free until level 30. Give it a shot and support the scene and the game.
Gameplay soon to follow.