When I first started playing video games in force, it was really just one game. World of Warcraft. I played it for hours a day, blogged about it, tweeted and chatted about it. I was sure it was the only game I needed. Then I found Steam, and through a WoW friend, tried some other games like Dragon Age Origins, which led to Mass Effect. Still, I always returned to WoW eventually.
I tried other MMORPGs over time as one of my long-time WoW friends recommended them but only one really stuck for a while, that being Star Wars: The Old Republic. Still, I went back to WoW when Bioware decided chaptered story content released monthly was a good plan.
When Belghast was recommending Final Fantasy A Realm Reborn, I tried it for about a day. Bel got me into SWTOR after all, and, Rift for a while as he tends to tempt his friends into these things (pretty sure he’s attempting to have House Stalwart strategically placed for MMO world domination or something). I got to level 4 before I became overwhelmed and confused and longed for the comfort of what I knew. So I left it behind never going further in the free trial. I decided if it ever went free to play I’d play it. Since around that time, every MMO that came out seemed to go from subscription to Free to Play within the first year. But it never did.
Two weeks ago, having grown bored with WoW back around the winter holidays, (as tends to happen when I reach max level) and craving an epic story based game that I could sink my teeth into I began searching again. There haven’t been many games of late that were in my wheelhouse. My wheelhouse is admittedly very small and that is its own post, but I just wasn’t finding anything I hadn’t already played, in some cases to burnout levels (ie: everything Bioware). I had already finished Pillars of Eternity, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Dishonored 2 (twice). Horizon Zero Dawn I can only play for a limited time since it’s on the main (read: only) television. Nothing on Steam was really jumping out at me, aside from an early access crafting game that I managed to drop 100 hours in while I waited for the next big thing to catch me.
I don’t know what made me look at it, but I found myself downloading FFXIV’s free trial again, which now lasts until level 35. I created an adorable little Lalafell arcanist and started my adventures. I was more patient this time since WoW wasn’t calling me back. I learned to follow the fancy quest markers, which took me into the main story. And that story pulled me through 100 hours, and 50 levels of pure enjoyment. I couldn’t quit, I couldn’t stop…I had to see what was next.
THAT is in my wheelhouse. Beautiful settings, amazing artworks, colorful and memorable characters peppering this huge world. I normally hate leveling from 1 to max, but with a story pulling me through those levels, it becomes less about that next level and more about the next chapter. And the way Square Enix frames the “you’re the hero!” tale is both unique and perfect. In nearly every cutscene you are shown LEADING your party, be it NPC or adventurers like yourself, you are very much framed as the main character. What really gets me about that, is in Duties (or dungeons), you see your other party members but the camera and the setting clearly show your character as the one in charge.
I’m at the end of Vanilla FFXIV now, and still overwhelmed and frequently confused with how much there is to learn and do in this game. But I understand now why they haven’t made it Free to Play. They don’t need to. They can compete with the market because they have a product that not only still draws people in but keeps them there with the sheer amount of content beyond the main story and max level. The crafting is in depth, there’s housing to (hopefully) buy and decorate, along with the typical mounts, outfits, and pets to collect. Heck, you can get outfits FOR your mount! Mine (Named Trex)is dressed up as a Behemoth.
I only keep one active paid game subscription at a time. And I have another couple weeks of free time in Eorzea. But I think there’s a clear winner between Eorzea and Azeroth, and for the first time in 12 years, it isn’t Azeroth winning.