A Realm Reborn – Quests and Combat video

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.

Genre's have staples, Kupo!

Seriously, the Browns will pull it off this year, Kupo!

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.

 

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10 Responses to A Realm Reborn – Quests and Combat video

  1. Valk says:

    Pretty good read. I agree with most of what you wrote and especially the WoW comparison part. I really wish more people would understand that almost every MMO is going to have a similar questing structure. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a feature of the environment/setting MMORPGs are built around.

    And good luck with your new site!

  2. Ryahl says:

    Valk,

    Thanks for the comment (our first one at EorzeaReborn!). I agree, there are a number of great features out there in MMO’s and it’s a good idea to not reinvent the wheel when someone’s done it right.

    In fact… this idea has me thinking about a series of blog posts…

    More to come!

  3. Alex says:

    You can’t say that we want a different genre. By traditional MMO you’re just saying WoW-like MMO, because what you described could be used for many other genres. Even FPS games have all, or almost all the features you said there.

    Pretty good read overall, but I kinda dislike when people start to defend big corporations and their lack of innovation. Even Coke has made innovations by branching out on the “Soft Drinks genre”, we have many different flavors that are not different things, they’re still drinks, so why can’t we have innovative MMOs that are still MMOs…

    • Ryahl says:

      Alex, thanks for the comment.

      I wouldn’t say WoW-like, I’d stick to the diku-mud label for the genre (it’s more time-accurate). WoW simply codified and standardized a lot of what was already happening in MMO’s.

      FPS games don’t typically have a grind/advancement model built into them (unless they have radically changed in the last couple of years). But, FPS certainly have a very recognizeable set of common features.

      Good product development is part innovation, certainly. But it’s also part imitation. Within a segment, your customers have a set of standard expectations. If you fail to offer those – or even just fail to meet a minimum standard with those – you will fail just as badly as if you fail to provide a distinctive edge to your product.

      That’s my point with the TERA reference. The game certainly innovated with its BAM’s and action combat. But, the core staple pieces of an MMO (closer to an RPG than a FPS) were bland and half-way developed. ++innovation with –imitation is just as bad as the inverse.

      • Ryahl says:

        On a second point, there’s a difference between innovation and segmentation.

        Take the action style combat of TERA. There are a number of MMO’s building around action combat or action-like combat: Tera and DCUO being pure action. TSW and GW2 are action-like. They retain the target locking system of older MMO’s, but build around a more visceral dive-roll type combat common to action games. You also have a very action oriented combat game in PS2.

        Now, it’s possible that action combat is simply going to define what an MMO is going forwards. However, I think we might be about to see our first clear segmentation in the genre – between the newer action combat games and the more traditional “quasi turn-based” combat which used to characterize MMO’s.

        FFXIV, at least for the moment, seems like its leaning towards the older style. What we see in alpha videos involve longer cast times, casting setback, and lengthy recycle between abilities. Combat seems to be more about sequencing than movements. That makes sense if they are going to work in a party maneuver mechanic like Limit Breaks.

        Whether FFXIV is a throw-back, or whether we might see a clear segmenting of combat types might be a step towards what you are asking for in the statement “why can’t we have innovative MMOs that are still MMOs…”

        • Jimmy says:

          You are right. I don’t understand some of the people who complains about certain game in forum. If they have a problem with game, then all they have to do is don’t buy or stop playing that game and stop reading that games forum.

          • Ryahl says:

            Thanks for the comment Jimmy.

            It’s one thing to have opinions one way or the other on how things work out. It’s another to go hyperbolic and vitriolic. It often seems that forum opinions can only run in (a) I really like this or (b) ZOMG YOU ARE GOING TO CAUSE THE MAYAN ZOMBIE APOCOLYPSE!

            I’m sure there’s range in between, we just rarely see it.

  4. Matt says:

    It is not so much that we rarely see in between opinions it is just like real life though the extreme opinions tend to drown out the middle ground. Cause they are usually stated in language that gets them more attention. I tend to do a lot of beta testing and you will see it a lot in the new F2P games forums.

    On a side note I like what Yoshi P has done with the game and look forward to trying out the beta. I just hope that they branch out the side quests in requirements not just kill X, Kill X and bring me Y, do Z here, or bring this item to somebody else. I realize that most quests will fall into these basic categories but I have to admit if there was anything I liked about WoW it was the redux of the old world with Cata. Most of the quests had a unique idea that tied them together like the caravan quest through EPL.

  5. Pai says:

    I’ve felt for years that there has been a large segment of the MMO population that actually doesn’t like the genre very much yet continues to play it for some unfathomable (to me) reason. That’s the impression I get sometimes hearing people complain about genre conventions (or mocking people who ‘care too much’ about lore or PvE) and who seemingly should be playing FPS games instead of an RPG.

  6. Ryahl says:

    There are a number of players in the genre who make demands that are, seemingly, at odds with producing a good MMO.

    1. Solo to max level has led to watered down content, watered down classes, or both in the case of GW2.

    2. Balanced PVP has led to the death of CC and the gradual “everyone is a dps class” mentality.

    The thing is, there are ways to achieve ‘solo to max’ without sacrificing class identity. You could probably draw from the companions of TOR and simply provide NPC’s to cover for class weaknesses when soloing. Then, content could be designed around the idea of groups again while still leaving paths for the full time soloist.

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