Cursed Shore, the Ruins of Orr

The Bitter End

I’m now embarking on my mandatory, once-per-lifetime, mid-life crisis. Its defining epiphany is that my digital accomplishments might make for a nice footnote in a short booklet summarizing my life and not much else. Nobody is going to care whether my Stalker had pink hair or blue, nor how many Elder Gems she had when she logged off for the last time. Not even me. It could also be because I’ve finally broken my spirit on the mountain of poopsock that is Final Fantasy 14 that I now see laid bare before me – for a brief while, anyways – the lack of depth in a game predicated on grinding, grinding, and more grinding.

In the midst of this slog, I took a much-needed breather and made a brief precursor sortie back into Guild Wars 2. I spent $30 of real money to win the game on my Staff Elementalist who had been leveled to 80 primarily using Tomes of Knowledge acquired via the daily login rewards. Because almost everything in Tyria is equivalent to gold, I was able to stroll up to the local representative of the Black Lion Trading Post and buy all the gear, accessories, weapons, runes, and sigils I needed for open world events, dungeon runs, and WvW backline support. Some of the sets overlap and the application of Staff skills is twitchy, spammy, and straightforward. It’s a good bridge profession for someone like me who operates on a different wavelength than The Vision. And this non-guy of decidedly medium stature is perfectly at home in a high-risk, challenging environment in which the reward is having done something – when I’m not spending months or even years slavishly underachieving.

Staff Elementalist v2.0

I don’t feel bad for having paid to win. I’m unable, even after all these years, to drop the “Best in Slot” mindset; items and gear that can be acquired by simply navigating the variably transparent or opaque layers of liquidity afforded by the phenomenon of gold equivalency are thus interchangeable pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that can be put together in different formations to yield different results. The dynamics of play are the reward.

Having incinerated my soul on the pyres of the seemingly boundless Eorzean grindbot army, I’ve come to understand this in a personal, meaningful way for the fourth or fifth time in my game-playing career. Whether I’ll actually concretize this realization within my lifetime could very well serve as fuel for an unsuccessful gambler’s eulogy.

I didn’t pay to win because there’s nothing to win. The only win condition in Guild Wars 2, as far as I can tell, is having fun. Did you have fun? You win. This is the way I should be playing games. Not should have been, because I was playing them the way I wanted to and was therefore doing what I thought was fun. But we’re at my mid-life crisis, remember, which means that some sort of life-changing philosophical shift is in order. You know, one that has been apparent to other people for longer than I’ve been alive: games are about having fun.

Duh.

In this context, levels can be seen as the numbered chapters in the novel one writes from the perspective of their character as they play the game. They simply serve as guideposts – you did these things in this order and here’s how you can readily reference them. I don’t need to acquire levels in pastoral settings with low creep density to have a good time. I admire those places in part because the starter zones seems to be where developers invest a lot of their time given that the statistically highest percentage of players are going to be seeing, using, and exploring those zones and making decisions about whether to continue playing based in large part on their initial experiences. I also enjoy them because I’m the sort of person who can quite easily settle into a novel such as Anne of Green Gables in which the characters have all sorts of domestic adventures which don’t require them to venture much further than the outskirts of the village at times and certainly not into parts unknown which often, as Eri has mused, resemble alternate planes of reality not fit for human habitation.

You wouldn't want to live here.
You wouldn’t want to live here. The inhabitants don’t want you to live here, either.

Flying in the face of this is my Staff Elementalist who is currently swift-running randomly through Cursed Shore, a maximum-level area, using points of interest, waypoints, and vistas as travel guideposts. I’ve been creating meaningful objectives for myself. The Persisting Flames Grandmaster trait needed for the Fire/Conjure open world event participation “meta” build required me to discover Death’s Anthem, a point of interest inconveniently located on board a zombie pirate ship; I meandered on over in that direction while learning how to combat zombified creatures. (It’s quite satisfying to swap to Earth and press 3 for a shield that reflects projectiles on demand.)

I then went off and participated in the chain of events leading up to the assault on the Temple of Melandru in which you fight off waves of creatures while the Pact works their cleansing magic. Completion awarded me with an Earth Grandmaster trait which I don’t see myself using. It’s nice, though, to have unlocked something that would otherwise cost 3 gold and 20 skill points. I can buy my way through the first part, but the skill points must be acquired via scrolls, map completion, and leveling. I’m out of levels and scrolls and I don’t have the patience for map completion as a primary activity (having already done 100% completion for the sake of completion on my Mesmer), so I’m left with actually completing tasks in order to acquire the associated traits.

Except for that trait that requires 100% map completion of Gendarran Fields. I might just buy that one from the trainer.

Which means I’ve somehow forced myself to drop the obsessive mindset of the completionist who completes for the sake of completion and assume the mantle of one who is playing a game as a game rather than as a job. It has the side effect of allowing me enough time to actually become acquainted with the history, sights, inhabitants, and overall dynamics of the ugly, putrid, violent, and strangely enchanting Ruins of Orr. I had previously blitzed through the area on my Mesmer while incrementing map completion numbers and essentially ignored what was actually going on around me to the extent that I could. As a result, there are some places I’m coming back to now that I quite honestly don’t remember having ever been in.

So, what was it that led to this point? Did I burn myself out on Final Fantasy 14 the way I did on WildStar to which I am just now making a more leisurely return? Yes, I did. However, the depth of this burnout is far more extensive than WildStar despite the fact that I did not put in 18-hour sessions in Eorzea. That wasn’t physically possible and I don’t think I would have done it even if it had been. Rather, I put in a large number of one- to six-hour sessions over the course of a couple of months. This equates to something like a couple hundred hours of play. At the very least, I’ve established street cred for what I’m about to talk about. My only mistake in doing so was underestimating the amount of content I would need to complete in order to reach Final Fantasy 14’s combat “end game.” I’m not even going to get into crafting.

World of Darkness: final boss.
The game is a black hole. It will devour your soul.

At level 31 of the Main Scenario quest line, Jaedia doesn’t enjoy feeling forced to engage in copious story quest completion. I don’t blame her. I would like to offer her and anyone else reading this my comments on the experience of having completed all 346 of the Main Scenario quests, having acquired 310 combat levels, having leveled all crafting and gathering classes to 15 (Fishing to 45), and having acquired an average item level of 100 via hunts, all hardmode content (eclipsed only by “extreme” mode content), LotA/ST/WoD, Coil T1 (can’t stand to go any further at the moment), and other stuff I don’t remember.

You had better really, really, really, really, really, REALLY, REALLY fucking like the story and/or the game if you plan on going that far.

And I haven’t even touched the really nasty grinds.

I don’t like the story. I despise the plot mechanics. The game play, which I have done a heck of a lot of, I find to be sterile and lifeless. The high-end encounters are Nintendo disco dances with action but no soul. My Paladin tanking rotation is 1-2-3 with the occasional Spirits Within tossed in and a handful of mitigation cooldowns. My interrupt is on a 2.5 second GCD. There’s no twitch and no depth – just a beginner-to-intermediate level of complexity spread out over a library’s worth of chocobo racing and crafting and estate remodeling and quest text.

FF14 seems to like to cram as many pop culture references into its questing as possible. So much so that I think they have World of Warcraft beat in this department. So, I’ll reference a song in describing why the combat just didn’t hook me: there’s no sex in your violence, Eorzea. It’s health bar whittling that’s about as interesting as watching medicated snails race from one side of a fish tank filled with hand sanitizer to the other. The final, pre-Heavensward cutscenes were supposed to have made everything worth it. I watched them and was unmoved, but that’s because I’m a heartless monster. When it comes to fantasy fiction, I’m a world-weary vampire who’s been alive for thousands of years. Your plot’s fangs have to go pretty deep to make me feel feelings.

Wedding dressed to kill.
This is how to we dress to kill in Mor Dhona.

A large chunk of the Main Scenario quests are not available until you’ve hit level 50. Once you’ve completed the main story and viewed the credits, you’re treated to the continuation of your maximum-level adventures courtesy of Minfilia and the Scions. You’re an epic hero – you deserve it! Now go defeat some bad guys, harvest materials, deliver packages, and bring these random people lunch. 100 times. Literally. Hope I didn’t spoil anything for you.

Let’s not forget the Hildibrand quest chain and its four main multi-part story arcs. There’s also the mail delivery quest chain involving the postmoogles: a play in 25 acts. I did them all.

This is the kind of mountainous content you need – delivered in stunning, high definition, of course – in order to be worthy of charging a subscription fee these days. I still maintain that Final Fantasy 14 is absolutely worthy of charging a monthly fee for those who are attracted to its world.

I can’t say that I am, so I’ll be letting my subscription lapse. After this month’s funds run out, I think I’m going to take a nice, long break from it – perhaps even a permanent one. I’ll probably do my usual contrarian thing and stay unsubscribed through the release of Heavensward. I’ve pre-ordered it, but because Squeenix didn’t do the right thing and take my money when I was ready to give it to them, I spent it several times. They might find that it’s not there when they finally deign to take it.

Which is just fine with me. Early access isn’t everything.

A Dragoon in Central Coerthas Highlands.
One of thousands of Dragoons patiently awaiting the release of Heavensward.

So I’m back on Nexus and back in Tyria, doing things. WildStar seems to be the latest game enjoying a resurgent lovefest. I just wanted to let you know that I was playing it before it was hip. I also wanted to let you know that I’m playing Guild Wars 2 after it was hip. I guess when it comes to playing games (and blogging), I just seem to do everything wrong.

At least I don’t have to worry about being successful when it comes to playing games, now do I?

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4 thoughts on “The Bitter End

  1. That’s a great post! You cover so many important issues there and so thoughtfully too. I may be referencing you in due course, if and when I get the time to go into some of this stuff myself.

    The FFXIV thing is very revealing. I posted a lot about FFXIV back in beta and for about a month after launch. I was very, very positive about many aspects of the game because there’s a lot to like about it – it’s visually gorgeous, I love the whimsy and the humor, I think the quest text is subtle and clever and it’s a very approachable, welcoming, involving game in the low and mid levels.

    I was beginning to get bored by it when I reached the low 30s. By the mid-30s I knew I had a problem. As it happened, that coincided both with the end of my free 30 days and the beginning of a week’s holiday during which I was traveling and wouldn’t be anywhere near a computer. On holiday I talked it over with Mrs Bhagpuss and when we came back we both declined to subscribe. She’s never been back and I have only dropped in to take a few screenshots on the occasional free weekends.

    The experiences of the recent spate of bloggers belatedly falling in love with Eorzea have been eerily reminiscent of my own brief flirtation. I have been biting my tongue and refraining from making would-be knowing comments but I have been wondering how many of these new converts will find their faith tested to breaking point when they emerge from the easy pickings, low-hanging fruit and frequent, substantial rewards of the first 35 levels into the cold winds of the seemingly endless grind that lies ahead.

    FFXIV is possibly the most formalized theme-park MMO I’ve ever played. It’s like a vast painting-by-numbers simulation of a world. I’ve rarely felt I was involved in something so clearly and overtly designed when playing a video game. It was easy to admire the technical facility but very, very hard to feel engaged.

    GW2, by comparison, is a disorganized mess and I have little sympathy with the apparent aims and goals of the people making it. I do always, however, feel that I have agency. Full and complete control of every minute of my playtime. I can have fun whenever I want and I can have the kind of fun I want to have. I’d pay a subscription for that in a heartbeat but ironically no-one’s asking for one.

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    1. Well, if you’re going to reference it I suppose I had better go to the trouble of updating the gold cost of Grandmaster traits to be accurate. Wouldn’t want posterity to preserve my inaccuracies.

      The game’s rigid formalism, for lack of a better term, was ultimately what turned me off. My mid-life lack of appetite for an increasingly more blatant power grind was also a major contributing factor. I could have stomached it had the game possessed more dynamism. Alas, poor Yorick, your well-defined features are a bit too well-defined.

      Had FF14 offered more fluidity, agency, and flexibility, it would have been, without question, the object of a long-term, monogamous gaming relationship.

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  2. I wonder, did you ever try Elder scrolls online? It’s buy to play these days, like GW2 and has a lot of story content, all voice acted! (I never played FF14, but I do really enjoy GW2, Wildstar and ESO). I think you might enjoy it as well! And the character builds are very unusual (each class can tank/dps and heal). Also Wildstar will go F2P in autumn! I’m looking forward to see my litle stalker again! (blue haired though 😛 )

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    1. I have never tried Elder Scrolls Online. I’ll have to start reading up on it and see whether it would be something I’d be interested in.

      As for WildStar, I’m already back in the thick of things, albeit at a more leisurely pace. My Stalker and Spellslinger will be having a fair number of relatively relaxed adventures in due course. And I’ll be staying subscribed throughout, even with the onset of F2P and whatever that may hold.

      I love blue, too. Can’t resist the pink, though. 🙂

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