Murder by numbers.

Murder by Numbers

I’m operating at a Zen level of contrarianism these days due to having spent the last two weeks binging on Final Fantasy 14’s Heavensward expansion. It’s another session of blind obsession that has seen me level to 60, complete the Main Story through the credits, and begin working on obtaining the highest level of equipment possible whose acquisition does not involve teenage angst levels of pain and suffering. I’ve narrowed down my desires to combat tanking on my Paladin job exclusively with a bit of personal room decorating and equipment dye experimentation on the side. I’ve ruled out pursuing any of the other jobs, including the three new ones which I’ve unlocked and have sitting at level 30. I will not be leveling any of the crafting jobs. I have never been a crafting person, even in games with robust and interesting crafting systems such as EverQuest 2 and Vanguard. I rarely visit the Manderville Gold Saucer these days, have no lasting interest in any of the fluff activities such as training chocobos or racing them, and am similarly not interested in acquiring any more minions or mounts than I already have. As for Triple Triad, well, I’ll be playing it in Final Fantasy VIII which I recently purchased on Steam during their fire sale. Yep, that’s the right Roman numeral. I have a hot date with the Queen of Cards – we’re going to see who has the better hands. Come what may, I suspect we’ll both end up winners at the end of the night.

Rather than engaging in my customary habit of relaying a novella-length description of my own ethereal navel-gazing, I’m going to talk primarily about something you’ll find much more relevant: what I thought of the hot new expansion to Baby’s First MMO. To begin with, we can no longer call it that as it’s made strides toward developing an endgame with moderate levels of job complexity: there are substantive, formative discussions emerging on the theorycrafting behind priority queues; the conversations regarding equipment statistics are becoming more nuanced; the top tier endgame dungeons are beginning to evince some of the demands on one’s situational awareness and ability management that we had previously only seen in the top tier raids in versions 2.0 to 2.55; and the fact that the Extreme version of Heavensward’s Trial #2 requires a preformed party of exactly eight people with no role requirements is interesting from a philosophical standpoint: it conveys the message that players are responsible for establishing motivation and party composition rather than being automagically matched up as one tank, one melee DPS, one ranged DPS, and one healer via the Duty Finder. The training wheels are off.

I’ll readily admit that these are all personal opinions based on my experience through all of the available dungeons and Main Scenario content and as someone who’s been playing MMOs for ten years or more; however, I do think that most people would agree that the expansion introduces a new, higher level of challenge for players who have reached that point in the story. If there’s one thing that Final Fantasy 14 is absolutely great at, it’s taking someone who has never played a game in their life and teaching them how to MMO from level nothing to godmode. It is very, very slow and gradual. It is guided. It is on rails all day, every day. It is also very effective.

With that said, I’m going to talk about some of the things I didn’t like. I’m in the unique position of having my head both in the clouds and up my own ass simultaneously, so take my personal perturbances with a dump truck full of salt. The music is wonderful with the exception of some of the “we’re being whimsical now” pieces in which the instrument selection is somewhat grating to my ears. Specifically, the bagpipes, which are otherwise normally totally cool. I didn’t find their inclusion among the sweeping orchestral pieces and hushed piano melodies to be thematically appealing. I rolled with the disco themes that popped up out of nowhere from time to time. I guess I just didn’t “get” it the same way others don’t “get” the zanily cartoonish super-spaz telegraph world of WildStar. The same goes for the inclusion of anthropomorphic factions whose presence in the Main Story provided all the narrative potency of Jar Jar Binks. I’m not talking about familiar factions, kupo, lest you mistakenly think that I’m slandering everyone’s favorite floating friends.

A Moogle at rest, kupo.

And the nodding – my god, the nodding. Liore dubbed it “stoic nodding” and I find this to be painfully appropriate. The level of nodding in cutscenes is over 9000. Pregnant pause? Set phasers to nod, Ensign. At one point my character nodded to a fucking dragon. Had the dragon nodded in reply I think I would have lost it; fortunately, it transcended the tiresome customs of mere mortals and alit into the sky with the flapping of wings too ancient and world-weary to care about such things. Praise the Twelve and thank you, Wind-up Chibi Alphinaud, for not leaving the fourth wall in a heap of smoldering rubble.

It’s quite clear from all of this that this is Square Enix’s story and that your character is the vessel via which their tale is being told. You are simply being given the privilege of controlling the Warrior of Light behind the scenes. This doesn’t make the story any less fantastic, but it is what it is. When I first started playing the game, I wrote about how my character’s lack of voice pissed me off. I later stated that I had come to terms with it. Having played through Heavensward to the rolling credits and beyond, I’m back to where I was when I first started playing: I do not at all like the fact that my character has no voice. It’s part of an overarching dramatic license in which the potency of my character’s agency waxes and wanes as the plot calls for it. A novice wishes to lead you around by the nose? Off you go without complaint, champion of Eorzea. What’s convenient for the plot becomes true for the story.

These children have enlisted your aid without consulting you. Thank you for your cooperation.
Thank you for agreeing to take time off from your universe-saving duties so that you can protect us as we lead you about on domestic adventures.

And thus on more than one occasion did a band of sackcloth-garbed bums see fit to challenge my world-destroying cat Paladin whose fiery rage had decimated many a Super Saiyan to mortal combat despite the fact that, yes, they had heard of me and my exploits. It came as no surprise to anyone, then, except the gauntlet-tossing challengers that when I punched them in their level 1 face with my level 100 fist that they were completely and utterly wrecked with a capital KEK. Turnabout is fair play, though: had the plot called for them to take me prisoner, I’m sure the next scene would have seen me in chains groveling at the feet of a barroom brawler whose greatest life accomplishment was waking up in the gutter one morning without having pissed himself.

To put the cherry on top of this tasty, sugary cake, there were also places where our band of well-dressed round pegs in round holes were seen to express the sentiment that a particular thing was to be avoided at all costs. Grace made the astute observation that the next quest the game sends you on requires you to do that very thing no fewer than eight times. Well, then. This is clearly the right thing to do because I’m doing it. Your protestations to the contrary are duly noted.

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself that I somehow have the gall to criticize a game with several million active players, keep in mind that I’ve been playing the game for the last month or two while complaining about the fact that I’m still playing it. It’s because it’s a great game. Fabulous. Brilliant. Superb. Too good for its own good. Any quibbles I might have with it or its features are subsumed by the excellence of its design. Heavensward is an outstanding expansion that I can recommend to anyone without hesitation. The content in 3.0 will easily take the average player 40-60 hours to complete – and that doesn’t count the regular content additions such as this coming Tuesday’s Alexander raid.

In the course of completing another eleventy billion quests, I was able to use the side quests in conjunction with the Main Story Quests and job-specific ability acquisition quests in order to level my Paladin almost all the way to 60; I had to resort to clan hunts and dungeon runs for the equivalent of perhaps one level. It was the customary business of running errands and acting as courier that saw me thoroughly exploring every section of every map via multiple tedious backtracking quests. The back and forth got pretty serious at one point. Did I enjoy it? Not particularly. I relied mostly on dungeons to instruct me on the proper ability rotation; open-world questing was monotonous health bar whittling with crap DPS because I refuse to wear STR gear. Disagree if you like – I’m a tanking Paladin and will be using VIT on every gear slot that offers it. I prefer not losing to winning and am willing to sacrifice personal DPS at the expense of minutes and hours of my life spent killing things more slowly than other people. As for materia melding and such, I’ll probably just end up reading a guide and asking someone in the Free Company to meld the appropriate statistics for me that will allow me to reach the critical and parry and accuracy caps or whatever they are so that I can get back to the business of twitch-spammy, telegraph-dodging tanking.

Paladin tanking is where it's at.

Now that I’ve diligently completed all of the pre-Elder Game things that I wanted to complete, my goal for this game is to play it more like a game and less like a job. I’m aiming to put things on “farm status” so that I can log in once a day to complete the daily Duty Roulettes for the Tomes of Law required for i170 gear. (I could also spam Dungeons #7 and #8, but that takes us back into “second job” territory.) After that, I’d like to log in a couple times a week to run statics with the Free Company to tackle the more challenging content and acquire i175/i190 gear. (Greysky Armada on Cactuar, totally cool people. Look us up.)

From where I am right now, I’m looking back and thinking to myself that the questing was worth the story. It engaged me and got me interested in the events and characters. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to become acquainted with it; at this point in my life, though, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have rather watched it in the form of a movie and then played the video game spin-off in which I immediately jump into dynamic tanking action. I’m even rethinking my relationship to WildStar as a result of this – WS is a game in which the theorycrafting and gear set management is rather involved; Final Fantasy’s armory and automatic hotbar/equipment/stat allocation swapping when changing jobs makes life a breeze and I can intentionally be an airhead about statistics without serious consequence. I’m not sure to what extent I want that level of managerial complexity nowadays. In short, Final Fantasy 14 has damn near beaten the desire to commit persistent mental resources to games out of me. I think. More TSW and GW2 are in order – games that allow you to jump into the action immediately, one of which is a bit better at it than the other, and in which the game’s story-movie operates much more in the forefront as part of the player experience.

To sum up: I want FF14 on farm status and nothing else. I want more story games and time to reflect, ride emotions, and navel-gaze. Less jobby, more gamey. I will also spend several more weeks babbling about life outside the confines of my self-imposed, self-designed gaming prison as if I had a clue.

This prison is very pretty.

Kelestria the Paladin in darkness.

Better Left Unsaid

Wordlessness is a virtue; I am its champion. As a paragon of silence, I speak when I have something to say. I have a short tale to tell of reaching the pinnacle of Paladin power: I achieved level 50 on my main job in Final Fantasy 14, completed the Main Scenario quests, and have begun the Elder Game of increasing the item levels of my equipment. There are also a staggering number of side quests on which to embark and post-operative plot threads to unravel. Assorted beast tribes offer dailies whose completion increases your reputation, advances their particular side story, and unlocks access to vendors with unique wares. In a display of great compassion for those of us afflicted by completionism with varying degrees of severity, the game’s designers have mercifully limited the number of available dailies to six.

I’m currently prioritizing the tribe that offers crafting quests. Crafting is its own game mode; I’ve got Fishing at 45/50 and might even level some others to cap. This is rather exceptional given that I typically don’t give crafting a second glance in games after having checked it out just to see what it’s all about. There’s a complex interplay among the nested shopping lists of ingredients in each trade’s telephone directory of recipes that requires you to slow down in order to enjoy the crafting mini-game. Even as such, it’s still not my thing, but if I’m able to acquire a substantial number of levels in the “Disciple of the Hand” classes incidentally through the completion of quests and such, I can probably convince myself to grind out the rest. The Hand classes offer the ability to enhance combat equipment, after all, and desynthesize dungeon drops into materia that can be sold on the market board. I’m not entirely pragmatic, though: the only reason I was able to level up Fishing so high was because I liked the idea of casting my line into sand dunes at level 35 and the clouds at level 45.

Serendipity gives instruction on the art of being a goldsmith.
Serendipity and her otherworldly mentor-assistant lecture me on the finer points of goldsmithing.

The story does not interest me at all. I guess I’ve outgrown the grind-paced stories I enjoyed on my Nintendo in my teens; my only connection to a game like Dragon Warrior IV which paces a tech-limited story with repetitive combat is nostalgia. (Chapter IV: The Sisters of Monbaraba was my favorite.) Nowadays, Final Fantasy-style stories function as fertilizer for the fiction that I create in my head while going about my mundane day in the real world. The scenery, mechanics, and polish are compelling but not entertaining. As much as I like the aesthetics of specific characters and their costumes, the world in which they exist is a beautiful, cloyingly tropified, fourth-wall-smashing, never-ending succession of overly dramatized unseen protagonist-observers and dei ex machina with whom I cannot connect. I am connected to my character. The real story, for me, is the daydream in my mind in which I am free to mold and shape reality to my liking based on what I’ve seen and experienced as my character in Eorzea. Like Elite Game Master Doug Douglason, I do not just create adventures – I become them.

Kelestria the Paladin in light.
Solkzagyl, former Captain of the Sultansworn and now a free paladin, to Jenlyns, current Captain of the Sultansworn: “You forget that we are paladins! Wheresoever our duty leads us, we go – and do so of our own free will. To abide by one’s own sense of justice is to embrace the paladin’s creed. Sworn or unsworn, we are paladins true, and the only true oath we swear is the one we swear to ourselves.” It was thus that I affirmed that I had made the right decision in becoming a Paladin.

The huge amount of long cutscenes in this game would have filled entire CDs back in the 90s. The dialogue, as always, is well written. The plot builds up slowly and satisfyingly such that anyone who cares to follow its threads faithfully will feel the weight of significant plot developments. It’s this weight that is the background hum to the story of my accession to higher levels of conquest. It is fitting that my cat-paladin’s words do not appear in the story. I fill in these gaps mentally and allow them to germinate in the background. My protestations about being voiceless when first meeting Thancred and Lady Lilira in Central Thanalan seem a distant memory now. I don’t mind at all: if the dialogue authors had filled in the gaps it’s likely they would have done it the same way I would have.

I am currently completing the first step of my relic weapon, a class-specific instrument of combat which can be repeatedly upgraded via a series of increasingly grindy requirements. It’s a real-world manifestation of Murf’s idea for gear that levels up; I’m neutral with regard to its implementation. As long as my numbers go up, I’ll feel like I’ve made meaningful, quantifiable progress. I’ll take care of making personal connections with the story, thanks. The social connections have been there all along – Eri has tanked low-level dungeons for us and I’ve tagged along with Chestnut and Chaide. I’m now in a position where I can start to do some of the content that our Free Company’s myriad of level 50s have been cycling through regularly. There’s one individual who’s leveled up every available class to 50. It looks nice on their profile information screen, but I’m not sure that I would have the wherewithal to do the same. I do have the stamina and willingness to tank everything and anything for anyone in the Free Company, however. (Don’t let my silence put you off.) I’m just trying to figure out what to do first. There’s so much to do in Final Fantasy 14 that I honestly don’t know where to begin.

A valley shrouded in mist and darkness.
Bringing light to a world in eternal darkness is just one of many tasks waiting to be undertaken.

Ultimately, I’m a quick-and-dirty, sleeve-hearted player. I couldn’t convince myself otherwise, no matter how hard I tried. Some people, like Tobold, prefer to challenge their readers intellectually and dislike reading personal blogs. That’s fine with me, but that’s not me. I enjoy all types of personal, ranty, intellectual, story-time, and analytical blogs. When it comes to games, though, the ones I like best are those that pour coffee on my brain. I don’t mind playing a Mesmer at all. At times I think that perhaps I’m not sophisticated enough in my gaming tastes to fully appreciate its power and potential.

With regard to games that are not my current crush, I’ll be resubscribing to WildStar in the near future, in large part due to the fact that I’ve been missing it. My current commitment to MMO monogamy has not given me time for anything else. When I first read the financial projections released by KDB Daewoo Securities some months ago, I sensed a sudden and brutal end for a brightly-burning love on which I intentionally overdosed. I hope the preliminary information is true and that we’ll see a free-to-play conversion coming up. The value is there for a subscription, in my mind, but the price point is too high, even with the C.R.E.D.D. option. Whatever the case may be, I’m going back to take a flurry of screenshots and I hope to join the Black Dagger Society with my blogging friends. I’ve dropped out of all my guilds except my personal guild in Guild Wars 2. I’m really not interested in guilding up in games these days unless it’s with cool people I know from outside the game. If there’s anything the Final Fantasy 14 community has done for me, it’s been to disabuse me of the notion that one must put up with negativity in order to see the latest and greatest content. Nope.

With that, here’s my entry for week 3 of Murf’s Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015 Screenshot Safari in the Landscape category. I’m supposed to describe why it fits that particular theme. Here’s my wordless description:

A dimly lit lake with an ethereal purple glow on a quiet night.

Now I Can Finally Play the Game

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.

Sword and board tank.
310 levels later, I am ready to begin my career as a Paladin.

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.

A Lalafell Marauder and a fairy.
Yes, I need this fairy. You can keep the bespectacled, oven-mitted Lalafell.

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.

A cat riding a lightning unicorn.
Didn’t you get my memo? I require a lightning unicorn immediately.

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):

Sword and board tank. The gear looks much more impressive at later levels.

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.

Cool people from Greysky Armada.
Cool people from Greysky Armada. Gold-suited Nyahn is so cool he doesn’t ever bother to look at the camera.

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 Kelestria with bow in hand.

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.

Black Mage launching fireballs.
I didn’t look nearly as good as this Black Mage does in her outfit.

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.

Battle librarians at the ready.

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.

White Mage in full regalia.

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 in Foestriker's gear.


V'kebbe the Stray
Oh, V’kebbe. I’ll go a-plunderin’ with you any time.

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…

Conjurer staring down a Pugilist.
“Great…another macro Monk who probably expects me to heal her while she stands in poison.”

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 and companions prepare to do battle with an enormous beast.

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+.

At the main counter of the Manderville Gold Saucer.

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.