A Realm Reborn – Quests and Combat
Final Fantasy XIV – alpha video #5
Let the controversy begin?
So, the folks at Square Enix released the fifth video of Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn. This video features elements of the new quest system and gives some indication of what low level combat in FFXIV – ARR will look like.
I suppose, unsurprisingly, this triggered the very generic fan meltdown that’s becoming a tradition in MMO design. Whether it was on the FFXIV lodestone proclaiming “just like Tera” or just the general reddit rant about how this is “a mold of every MMO that has died within 4 months,” the MMO-verse couldn’t wait to get in line to establish the “too brown” meme for FFXIV.
What I saw in the Realm Reborn Quest and Combat Video
So, my review of the quest video is a bit less jaded I guess. I see an attempt to show us some basic UI elements in play in what amounts to a fairly straight forward MMO. This includes:
- A quest UI which allows you to right click to pop-up context help
- A quest UI which contains the “use item” button popularized in RIFT
- A decent threat meter on the bottom left of the screen
- Targeting reticles that provide a clear facing indicator
- Classic MMO combat, tool-tip UI elements that are informative
- A good start at a context sensitive loot pop-up window (it still needs to pop up a side-by side of your current piece, not just the differences)
Personally, I came away from this video thinking “its looking pretty good so far.”
The angst over this video doesn’t really shock me. It seems to be a norm now to attack MMO’s on a couple of recurring elements. ”Just like WoW,” being one of them. To that group of people I have one point to make.
You don’t want innovation, you want a different genre
There are some things I have come to expect from a traditional MMO. You will level (or skill) up. You will have some soft of specialized class/role. There will be better gear as you level (or skill) up. You will engage in some repetitive activities (questing or grinding) in the pursuit of leveling (or skilling) up. There will be an abundance of vile creatures and villagers with lost dogs all willing to give you some coin, items and xp in the process of leveling (or skilling) up.
That’s the genre.
As near as I can tell, there have been 20+ games with the Call of Duty title. There are also similar competitive products. In all of them you will find two sides, shooting at each other, within an aim/fire game play system. In all of them you will see various types of weapons and vehicles. In all of them you will see various battle objectives on maps, in scenarios. I expect the next Call of Battlefield to do pretty much the same thing and I would be very shocked, and the customers quite disappointed if the franchise instead shifted to a simulation of creating falafel.
Similarly, the Madden series is up to at least its 13th incarnation in an industry with fewer competitors (although ones once existed). In each iteration, two teams face off against each other and move an oblong ball up and down a rectangular field. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains (or was that baseball?). The Minnesota Vikings will not begin using hockey sticks in Madden 14 and the Cleveland Browns will not begin winning. Sometimes a genre staple is a staple because we expect the game to work a certain way.
I could go on, but I don’t need to. A genre is defined around specific stylistic elements. Various competitors will attempt a slightly different take on these elements at times. At other points, we will start to coalesce around an industry recipe, a “best practice” at accomplishing a common task. In FFXIV, I see Yoshi-P and company using some common industry practices, I don’t see this as a bad thing.
Putting FFXIV in Context
Personally, I play MMO’s for the group game, specifically dungeons and raids. Thus, far be it from me to defend the quest hub. I don’t like them, I do them the least amount possible in my MMO.
I do, however, understand the point of having them.
Not everyone plays an MMO the way I do. A good MMO needs to have a range of well-developed alternative play approaches. Like it or not, the quest hub model (structured story-telling) works. It gives people short-term, self-actionable, objectives. It provides a clear start and finish point for an activity. It helps keep people from getting over their heads.
Some of us like the more aimless wandering, exploring type of game play. Realistically, the vast majority don’t. Back in EQ1, these folks played in a pre-defined set of camps that had been articulated as “the path” for leveling. The quest hub is the evolution of that idea as much as it is also the out-of-wedlock child of the muffin quest from Rivervale in EQ1.
FFXIV – A Realm Reborn, needs side quests. Those side quests need to give short, executable play objectives. The UI needs to support the completion of those objectives (and this one does, nicely). Take this video in that context and the game is looking nice.
If that is ALL we have to do in FFXIV – ARR, then yes, there’s plenty of room for the TERA comparisons. If any game has proven that one innovative feature does not a successful MMO make, it’s TERA. Action combat while moving backwards in quality on pretty much every genre staple is a sign for failure.
We need to see what else ARR offers. If the game consists of nothing more than side-quests and leves for leveling, that’s a wasted reboot. But, I doubt it plays out that way.
FFXI worked because the developers of that game studied the MMO genre thoroughly (well, they played a LOT of Everquest) and they incorporated the genre staples of the day into the thematic elements that make Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy. It appears to me that Yoshi-P is doing the same thing for A Realm Reborn.
You don’t have to LIKE WoW to recognize that a lot of those staples are optimized there. Indeed, the vast majority of failed MMO’s in recent years fail because (a) they don’t do what WoW does as well as WoW does it, AND (b) they also don’t do anything of their own particularly well. It’s not just the failure to innovate, it’s also the failure to execute established standards well – they fail on all counts.
I suspect fans of FFXI will find camp grinding, xp-chaining, limit breaking and combos to be an effective way to level. I suspect fans of dungeon crawling will find those available. I suspect fans of RIFTs and zone events will find the FATE system with its level-synching and notorious monsters to be enjoyable.
None of that was in a Realm Reborn video #5, though. Some of that wasn’t there because we already have a pretty good idea of how they worked in FFXIV. Some (FATE) wasn’t there because the producer letters indicate that a number of things aren’t available in the alpha client.
As far as we can tell, we are at least 4-6 months away from a FFXIV launch. The game is testing core systems and stress at the moment. Those of us outside the alpha are also periodically getting teased with these new element videos.
Yoshi-P did a great job polishing the dud that was FFXIV. He’s laid out a pretty compelling vison for A Realm Reborn in his producer’s letters. I don’t think we have seen an MMO producer quite so active in sharing his thoughts.
I think its reasonable to give him time to deliver his opus.