I’ve done it again: I’ve succumbed to a temporary lapse of reason which involved diligently leveling up my character in Final Fantasy 14 while ignoring everything else. The scope of it dwarfs my previous engagement with WildStar in which I went from the mid-twenties to level 50 on my Stalker in one extended Thanksgiving weekend. It even surpasses the multi-week Christmas marathon sessions which saw me set out to get Nexus completion as close to 100% as possible; I fell over, defeated, somewhere around the 90% mark. This time, however, the average length of my play sessions has remained, for the most part, not entirely unreasonable.
Final Fantasy 14, after a few fitful starts, has become my new darling and for good reason: it’s got all of the things I like and doesn’t have most of the things I don’t like. It does most of the things I like so well that I do not feel the need to examine its mechanics and question its inner workings terribly much. I can simply let myself melt into the surroundings – the perfect, unblemished, teenage surroundings. I’ve found my One True MMO successor. Will I play it for nine years, as I did World of Warcraft? Can anything still last that long nowadays? We’ll see about that. Such questions are largely irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. I’m too busy playing and having fun to notice or care.
Yes, I actually had fun for the majority of the time during which I was acquiring three centuries and a dime’s worth of statistics and experience. Eventually, I got to the point where I had discovered the min-max method of advancing and this made things a bit of a chore, but I powered my way through it. I needed all the things, even if I wasn’t going to use them. At least, not right away.
I’ll explain briefly how it works: one character can be every class. This is an automatic win for someone like me who strongly prefers playing the same character all the time. Switching weapon types switches your class. At level 30, you can equip a soul crystal (after acquiring it) to switch to a job which is basically a specialized, more powerful version of that class. However, in order to do this, you must also have leveled a secondary class to 15. In the case of my main job, Paladin, I need to level Gladiator to 30 (sword/shield tanking) and Conjurer to 15 (healing magic).
It doesn’t stop there, if you don’t want it to. There are cross-class skills that can be used by jobs as well. In the case of Paladin, you’re able to use cross-class skills from Marauder (two-handed axe tanking) and Conjurer. There are thus recommendations for every job in terms of how far you should level their cross-classes up in order to obtain the optimal cross-class skills. In my case, it’s Conjurer to 34 for Stoneskin (shields you against damage) and Marauder to 26 for Mercy Stroke (HP restoration if delivered as the killing blow).
At the very least, it’s a clever way of getting players to go out and explore the world. The guild halls for Gladiator, Marauder, and Conjurer are located in three different nation-states which means up-and-coming, well-rounded Paladins will be questing all over the world. So will lots and lots of other players; you’ll be bumping into them and perhaps even helping them complete FATEs (Full Active Time Events) which are public quests or dynamic events that award respectable amounts of experience.
It’s also a clever way of getting you to play classes you might not otherwise try. I found myself leveling my Conjurer up to 26 in dungeons before I tired of one-button spam healing. There are other tools in the Conjurer’s arsenal, of course, but they don’t come into play until a little bit later. The complexity ramp-up in this game is a nice, slow ascent. Too slow, at times. I got over it, though.
With a soul crystal equipped, your cross-class skill choices are limited to two specific classes based on your job. Without a soul crystal equipped, you can use any skill designated as a cross-class skill from any other class you’ve advanced to the required level. Armed with that knowledge, I thought to myself: what if, some day, I decided that I wanted to play a healer? Or do melee damage? Or try another style of tanking? It was then that I decided that I needed to, at the very least, acquire all of the soul crystals. The need to acquire every cross-class skill – including one which can only be used if you don’t have a specific soul crystal equipped – did not come in until somewhat later: the point at which ambitious became somewhat crazy.
So, I played everything. You get story missions every five levels which do a nice job of giving your chosen class some character. Here’s what I played (minor class story spoilers):
Gladiator (Paladin) to 30: Sword and board tanking mixed with healing magic. My archetype of choice. Awareness at 34 (nullifies critical damage). Constantly taking out “Assassins and Assailants,” some of which are undead.
Lancer (Dragoon) to 34 for Blood for Blood (increased damage done/taken): Ideally you stand behind stuff and shove a giant lance up its rear end. I wasn’t able to bond with this class. There’s some cool-looking armor if you stick with it, but it’s not compelling enough for me to go the distance. The “Evil Lancer” story line was all right.
Archer (Bard) to 34 for Quelling Strikes (reduces enmity a.k.a. aggro/threat): My favorite physical damage class. Plink at range, low-health big-damage attack, don’t have to run out of bad stuff on the ground quite so much. The story was “You Guys Suck” mixed with “Kitty Redemption.” Good personal candidate for damage-dealing class to 50.
Thaumaturge (Black Mage) to 26 for Swiftcast (insta-cast your next spell) and then to 30 for its soul crystal: Easy to play. Easy to steal enmity. Blow stuff up with fire magic until out of mana, then throw ice at it to regenerate mana crazy fast. The “Evil Lalafell” plot did not grab me.
Arcanist (Summoner and Scholar) to 34 for Eye for an Eye (chance when struck to reduce attacker’s damage): Multi-dotting mixed with heals. Blast your dots to multiple targets until the Thaumaturge yells at you for breaking Sleep. The “Misadventures of the Adorkable Battle Librarian” were cute. The Summoner job is pet damage on steroids. The Scholar gets a shield heal and fairies. I went with Scholar for fast duty queues and pretty sparklies.
Conjurer (White Mage) to 34 for Stoneskin (incoming damage reduction): Spam Cure (heal) and sometimes Esuna (remove poison). Otherwise, pop Cleric Stance (more damage, less healing) and spam Stone (damage) while refreshing Aero (damage over time). I don’t like stances that require you to play with your tank’s life in order to do optimum damage. I’m probably wrong about it, though. What was the story…”Heal All the Things” or some such? Just didn’t feel this one. It’s not the class, it’s me.
Rogue (Ninja) to 42 for Death Blossom: This was the crazy one. Death Blossom can only be used by non-Ninja classes. It’s a multi-target attack that does crap damage. I went for it anyways. Straightforward 1-2-3 combo attacks. My favorite class story by far – it boasts intertwined complexity and politics. Not quite Wheel of Time levels of thread-weaving, but enough to make things interesting. Also helps that I am in love with V’kebbe. For a stray pirate, she’s rather young and impossibly beautiful. At level 30: “Surprise! You’re a Ninja.” That’s how it felt to me, anyways. The job feels “fast” which really feeds my ability to perform. Not executing attacks in sequence results in inferior damage. Contrast this with…
Pugilist (Monk) to 42 for Mantra (increased HP recovery via healing magic for self and party members): The only class I absolutely did not care about being good at. Requires you to be behind your target for maximum damage which does not happen very often when you are soloing. You are locked into an attack sequence (which you can start over at any time); this felt clumsy after playing Rogue/Ninja. I suppose it helps if you think of a Monk as a more structured martial artist. The “Getting My Mojo Back” story did nothing for me. I must be broken, because it’s cited as a favorite by many. You’re not supposed to macro this class, but I macroed the crap out of it: I stacked all of the attacks in priority sequence and smashed one button. This one was painful.
Marauder (Warrior) to 26 for Mercy Stroke (HP restoration if delivered as the killing blow) and then to 30 for its soul crystal: A smash-mouth tank, when compared to Paladin. I didn’t quite have the skill required to keep things off the big damage classes. Defiance at 30 is a huge stat buff and makes Warrior tanking considerably easier. “Kill All the Beasts” was standard fare. I guess I’m just not a Warrior at heart. It’s a sexy tank; maybe I’ll come back to it later.
What was the point of all this? Complete knowledge of all classes. As the person who is responsible for getting the party started, I am driven to know the basic mechanics of the classes fighting alongside me. I’m willingly putting myself in the spotlight: ego is the driver. The driver has to stay awake. Otherwise, I sleep.
My levels served as story progression markers. In this case, quite literally: every five levels, another chapter of a class story awaited me. Playing through those chapters is tied to skill acquisition, specifically and generally. I’ve learned what it takes to be a Ninja. I’m able to recognize a Thaumaturge on sight by the fireballs or ice shards swirling around them. The spell icons that pop up in combat tell me exactly what each member of the party is doing. I’m a control freak. Not only do I want to know what’s going on, I also want to be able to control it in large part. I’m happiest, most at peace, when I am able to account for everything that’s going on. I want orderly chaos. Paladin makes sense, then, I suppose; Eorzea, where nothing is never not happening, is a hotbed of factionalist warfare in overdrive and provides the perfect proving grounds for my sensationalist desires.
In the process of leveling, I also learned about the ideal level ranges for FATE participation, how to most efficiently tackle levequests, where to go for Grand Company levequests, how to look up locations of creatures in the hunting log, that there is also a Grand Company hunting log, that most classes manage at least one timed self-buff and one target debuff, the best way to navigate low-level dungeons, which cross-class abilities to select for each job, and so forth. I learned about telegraphs, poison mechanics, kiting, and the proper application of mitigation skills, even though I already had experience with these things.
Most importantly, the act of grinding out these levels taught me how to play the game.
This is as it should be. The game to maximum player level is supposed to teach you how to play the elder game. Obtaining all possible cross-class skills on my character has served as a primer. From here, I take Paladin to 50 and complete the main story line. You get a boatload of cutscenes and the credits roll. Like Guild Wars 2, it’s actually possible to “beat the game.” I’ve always thought you should be able to win an MMO. Everything after that is simply New Game+.
You can play the fashion show game if you like. The quest that confers the ability to glamour, or replace your outfit’s looks with those of another while retaining the same statistics, can’t be undertaken until you’ve reached level 50. The big hook for me is that you often also become more powerful at the same time and become eligible to take on more difficult content. The fact that it’s numerically gated is secondary to the fact that it’s usually actually Nintendo harder in terms of expectations and mechanics. I haven’t done any of it yet, but I very much enjoyed the infuriating process of eventually defeating Liadri in the Queen’s Gauntlet and – come to think of it – the other Gauntlet fights were satisfyingly challenging as well, so I don’t think I’d mind a gamut of increasingly difficult encounters in Eorzea’s end game. Sounds like that sort of self-inflicted insanity is exactly what I’m looking for.
The real insanity would begin, however, if I were to set out on the “road to 1,000.” What’s that, you ask? Well, there are nine base classes that you can take to level 50. There are also eleven Disciplines of the Hand/Land, called tradeskills or professions in other games, which can be taken to level 50 as well. They even have their own crafting-specific statistics, gear, quests, class story quests every five levels, and cross-class actions. The fact that they are given the same treatment as combat roles I find to be fascinating. It’s as if this is the way crafting is supposed to be done.
The rabbit hole goes quite deep in this one, and I’ve only burrowed out a rather large hollow not far from the surface. Time to go further.