It’s OK. Solid, if not spectacular, and fans of the single-player series will probably flock to it, while those who aren’t will ridicule them for being “fanbois” and “fangrrls.”
Of course, I’m cleverly referring to two different games.
Last week at QuakeCon, I finally got a chance for my first hands-on time with The Elder Scrolls Online, which you can read about here. While I was waiting for my play session, I thought about Final Fantasy XIV. I know people who are stoked beyond belief for it, and, having played in the most recent beta, I can’t for the life of me figure out why. It’s not terrible, but, pretty graphics excluded, there’s nothing about it that excites me.
By the same token, I know people who can’t understand why I have the slightest interest in ESO. I understand that, on their most basic level, both games are the same – fantasy MMOs with dudes with swords, quests, monsters, leveling, crafting, and even the requisite cat-person race. Basically, they are part-and-parcel MMORPGs, in every way. Unlike, say, SimCity.
I haven’t played a Final Fantasy since XII. Since then, I’ve played hundreds of hours in Oblivion and Skyrim and also Nehrim, a total conversion mod of Oblivion. So naturally I’m more interested in ESO than FFXIV.
But is that the only reason people are interested in one over the other? Neither game is revolutionary, so I doubt either will pull in many players outside of their established fan base.
Here’s what I think irks me the most about FFXIV, and far too many other MMOs: From the start, nearly every single quest is some variation on kill 10 rats. We’re told how important it is that we cull the population, beat back the hordes, “send a message”… and when we do, what happens? The critters are still out there, and the next person to come along will get the exact same plea, along with some blah-blah about the dire consequences that will result if this horrible threat is ignored.
Granted, that’s not totally avoidable in any MMO, though ESO seemed to do a good job with its phasing tech. And if you’ve played an Elder Scrolls game, you know that while “Kill X something” quests are very rare, they’re typically replaced with “Kill this one guy in a cave” or “Get this one item from a house”-type quests. At least in those cases, I feel like I’m accomplishing something, that I’m more hero (or villain) than pest control specialist. (And please, please, don’t give me the “It gets better once you hit level X” line.)
Now, the beginning area of ESO that I played, with its interesting storyline and “wandering” feel of questing and exploration is maybe not indicative of how the game will play as a whole. All I know is that after I went through it and was nearing the end of my play time, I wanted to play more. I wanted to explore Morrowind, I wanted to play with my build, I wanted to create an alt. After a weekend and ~8 hours of playing Final Fantasy XIV, I wanted to… well, do just about anything else.
And I don’t think that’s directly related to the game world. I used to love Final Fantasy games. And to be honest, if ESO was just “Fantasy Game #382 Online,” I might not give it much of a second look; the “Elder Scrolls” part of it definitely lured me in. But if you set me down in front of both of those games, and I had no concept of their publication history, I can’t imagine I’d choose FFXIV over ESO — at least based on their respective first few hours.
If the two games were reversed — if FFXIV played like ESO and ESO played like FFXIV — I think I’d be more interested in FFXIV, because of the questing issues mentioned above, but I won’t deny that the allure of playing in Tamriel, of visiting regions I’d heard about or read about for a decade would be strong. That said, despite my interest, I’ve been pretty much on the fence about how much I’ll play ESO until I got my demo time last week, which served to solidify my interest. If I’d had similar feelings and encountered what I perceived to be subpar gameplay, it might have been enough to drive me away.
I suppose it’s like what someone told me about why he still plays Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it basically boils down to: he’s an MMO player and he likes Star Wars. He knows the game has its faults, and he’s not a glossy-eyed fanboi who laps up everything BioWare does. I imagine the same is true of me with regards to ESO and in regards to other people with FFXIV. As long as the games aren’t total train wrecks (like the original FFXIV was, which still had its diehard supporters, along with a very tiny percentage of level-headed players who admitted the game’s many faults but stuck with it anyway), we’ll play them. It doesn’t mean we’re not discerning gamers; we just like what we like.
There are way more innovative titles coming out than either of these games (though I’m still reserving judgment on and not yet drinking the Kool-aid that is WildStar). But if you prefer one TESO or FFXIV, I’d love to hear your reasoning. Is it just because of the game world, because you love the series? Or is there something else about it that sets it apart for you?