Has it really been two years since Final Fantasy XIV launched? My collector’s edition box was purchase two years ago, and I wrote my last anniversary column a year ago, so I guess it must have been. And yet I still don’t feel as if it’s actually happened yet.
You’ll note that last year’s column was mostly about what happened as a result of the game’s launch. That wasn’t by accident. Launch led to a massive restructuring of the game’s design team, and not too long after the one-year mark, the team announced that it was basically remaking the game from the ground up. That fact has dominated the past year, and it’s impossible to overstate the importance that announcement has had for the Final Fantasy XIV community. Everything circles around the promise of 2.0 these days.
What has that meant for the actual years of the game’s operation? Sadly, nothing good. The game has made huge strides, but we as players have been stuck in a nasty little loop.
When the game’s launch turned into what amounted to an endless free trial, it didn’t take long for players to draw the obvious conclusions. Some people were sure that it was going to fold in a matter of months; others thought it was going to be more or less scrapped and redone. That turned out to be close to the truth: Not long after we hit the two-year mark, we were treated to our first previews of what would eventually be dubbed A Realm Reborn. (I’m not a big fan of the subtitle, but that’s neither here nor there.) This was to be the apotheosis of all the patches that the new development team had been working on, a new game with the same name.
Of course, the result is that the game right now is a set of training wheels. We’re playing in the prequel to the real game, the one that comes before people get to play what Naoki Yoshida seems to consider the game as it should have been at launch. And that makes the past two years feel just a bit pointless.
It’s not that we’re going to be losing progress at all, as we’ve been told repeatedly. But everything is changing, and as soon as you get used to the current round of changes, everything is changing all over again. One week battle mechanics work in a certain fashion, and the next they’re all different and you have to relearn how to play all of your classes. Then jobs come out, and you had to relearn how to play again. Then there are point allotments that you need to learn about now because they matter a whole lot, to the point that your level 50 Gladiator is hitting with a wiffle bat unless you spend those points properly…
To be brief, it’s been two years now that the game has been in a heavy state of flux. And the improvements have been great, and they’ve brought the game much closer to realizing those core elements that the game had when it roped me in with the beta. A lot of irritations have been stripped out, and a lot of cool bits have been added, so I’m more fond of the game now than ever.
But… there’s still this sense that we aren’t really playing the game just yet. We’re getting closer to the game’s finished state, but it’s still in testing and development, and maybe next week you’re not going to be able to do something you enjoyed any longer. I personally got to walk through Gladiators being a useless class to being the tanks to end all tanks, and I got tired of relearning what I was doing every week pretty quickly.
It also makes it really hard to say whether or not you like the game. With the pace of major patches filled with new content and new mechanics, an element you like this week might not work next week. I think all of the changes have been pretty positive (I don’t think tanking is fun, but it’s certainly less awful now), but I know some people who have hated them. Heck, I know people who hated the first wave of crafting revisions, complaining that the system was being dumbed-down to the level of World of Warcraft’s crafting.
These people have clearly never played World of Warcraft. I digress.
Right now, the game is an endless cycle of waiting for what comes next. Players aren’t making plans for what to do in the game right now; they’re making plans for what to do with the game when it relaunches. And why not? Everything we see is about a cool feature coming out soon, not about what’s awesome in the game right now. We’re actively encouraged to look forward instead of focus on where we are.
The net result is that after two years, it’s hard to have an emotional attachment to the game itself. I’ve got a lot of emotional investment in my character and the things I’ve done with her, but the game itself is stuck looking so far forward that it loses sight of the present. I know what’s coming down the road, but I don’t have a clear picture of where we’ll be in a week.
I like what I’ve seen of this game. I enjoy the world and the setting. I’m really hoping that after two years, sometime soon I’ll get to actually play in the game instead of the endless ramp-up.