Cheating on WoW: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy XIV has gotten something most MMOs never get: a second chance. When it launched, it was one of the great trainwrecks of MMO history, universally viewed as virtually unplayable.

The logo for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornBut the developers went back to the drawing board, rebuilt the game from the ground up, and now, against all odds, FFXIV is a well-regarded and successful game, even managing to make a mandatory subscription work in a market where that is almost unheard of.

I decided it was time to give the game’s free trial a whirl to see how this rebuilt MMO shapes up.

A poor first impression:

Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t exactly hit the ground running. After a lengthy character creation process, including several options that seem relevant only from a role-playing perspective (which I like but which is not for everyone), I was thrown into a seemingly endless string of cutscenes.

Now, I’m a big story fan, but these cutscenes were for the most part not even particularly interesting. Many lacked voice-overs, which seems a tad archaic in this day and age.

The most frustrating part came when the wagon my character was traveling on was ambushed by inhuman raiders. I thought, “Oh, good, I get to fight them off and be the hero!”

My archer in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornBut against all tenets of good storytelling and video game logic, the cart simply rolled on, leaving the fighting to some local guards. The tedium continued.

Once I finally got control of my character, I then moved on to a seemingly endless spree of quests involving talking to various NPCs, ferrying messages, and doing other menial and irrelevant tasks.

During this time, I also noticed some odd and irritating quirks of FFXIV. For example, unlike every other MMO I’ve ever played, giving items to an NPC involves manually trading them rather than having them automatically taken from your inventory. The world is also heavily instanced, and unlike Neverwinter or other instance-heavy games, I see no compelling gameplay reason not to have an open world.

I’m not sure why this is, but FFXIV also had far more gold spam than any MMO I’ve ever seen. Every five minutes I’d get a whisper from “dfhfk gjgrnwnd” about cheap gil, and it just never ended.

The story also failed to impress out of the gate. It breaks the age-old writing law of “show, don’t tell.” NPCs constantly talk about how the world is recovering from a catastrophe, but everything appears peaceful, happy, and prosperous, and there’s no real sense of danger to the world.

A forest vista in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornOn the plus side, it doesn’t seem to be reliant on knowledge of past Final Fantasy titles. I didn’t feel at all lost or like I was missing anything important by being a Final Fantasy virgin.

It was well over an hour into my excursion into FFXIV that I finally embarked on a quest involving something I would classify as gameplay: I was tasked with killing squirrels.

Yes, seriously. Squirrels. Not even rats.

At this point, I began to wonder if this was really a game or just some incredibly elaborate, Joaqin Phoenix-esque parody of MMO tropes.

Mercifully, things did improve from there.

Final features:

Once I actually got into the meat of the game, and no longer had to murder squirrels and other small animals, my experience with FFXIV improved significantly.

A city in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornAt first, mostly all you’ll be doing in FFXIV is quests. These are very much in the standard “kill this/collect that” mould we’re all familiar with, but they flow well and don’t feel especially grindy or inconvenient.

There are also occasional dynamic events — bearing the awkward and seemingly random acronym of “FATEs”. These are pretty simple, but they add a nice amount of variety. On the downside, they don’t seem to be readily soloable, so they might become something of a burden once lower level zones are less populated.

Going in, my big concern about this game was that it had a 2.5 second global cooldown, as opposed to the 1.5 or one second global cooldowns used by most other MMOs. As a fan of fast combat, that sounded awful to me.

In the end, though, it didn’t feel that different. It is a bit slower, but the gorgeous skill animations help stop things from being too boring, and since some enemies have powerful telegraph skills similar to what you’d see in WildStar or The Secret World, there’s more to combat than just mindlessly spamming skills.

The only problem crops up with spell caster classes. As with many other MMOs, their casting is interrupted by movement, and that combined with a 2.5 global cooldown and fairly mobile combat makes for an absolutely miserable experience. Thankfully, melee classes and archers can move and fight.

A combat telegraph in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornAs you level, FFXIV slowly opens up and reveals itself as an incredibly feature-rich game.

Around level ten, you’ll get access to guildleves, which are akin to daily quests with a few minor twists. In terms of gameplay, they play out a bit more like the FATEs than standard quests, and a nice quality of life perk is that they teleport you back to the quest-giver when you’re done.

Related to these are guildhests, which are short instanced challenges reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s scenarios. They’re a good way to learn basic grouping mechanics.

Around this time, I also got a quest to be introduced to the game’s player housing. This was one time where the game swung back into the realm of frustration, because it wasn’t until the very end of the quest I learned housing is only for max level characters — and only very wealthy ones, from the look of it. I don’t understand why the developers wasted my time by telling me about a feature I wouldn’t be able to use for forty levels.

Of course, FFXIV also offers a selection of dungeons. The ones I played were all fairly high quality, if a bit lacking on story and heavy on trash for my taste.

A foggy forest night in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornFFXIV offers an excellent automatic grouping tool — something far too many MMOs are still neglecting — for dungeons, guildhests, and other group content. From the look of it, it can even be used to do raids, which is fantastic.

There are some good social tools to help players work together, too. The game has an auto-translate dictionary full of commonly used terms that allows you to more easily communicate with players who don’t speak your language, and there’s a player commendation system where you can commend people you’ve been grouped with for being especially helpful. With enough commendations, a player can earn some nice rewards.

Why doesn’t every MMO have something like this?

There’s even more stuff later on that wasn’t included with the trial. Players can raise large birds called chocobos as combat companions, and there’s a retainer system that allows you to send NPC minions on mission, which sounds reminiscent of similar systems in Neverwinter and World of Warcraft.

FFXIV is also an incredibly beautiful game, with vibrant and detailed graphics and breathtaking environments. What most impressed me was the weather effects. Some MMOs might occasionally throw in some rain, but FFXIV offers a full battery of weather effects: fog, overcast, clear skies, rain… Coupled with the day-night cycle, it makes for a very vibrant world that is always offering new visual thrills.

The only slight downsides from a visual perspective are that certain creatures and characters have a very cartoonish anime-style appearance, which contrasts jarringly with the game’s otherwise realistic style, and it does have a fairly bad case of “female armor.”

A shameless panty shot in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornClass warfare:

The one other noteworthy thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that it allows player to multi-class infinitely. In theory, you can learn every single class on one character.

There are incentives for doing so, too. Certain skills can transfer between classes. For example, my archer gained an extra DoT, a defensive skill, and a heal by spending a few levels each as a marauder, a lancer, and a conjurer.

The downside to this is that taking up a new class essentially involves starting over at level one. You do get a sizable boost to experience on lower level classes, but it’s definitely not trivial to develop secondary classes.

It’s still better than not being able to learn other classes at all, but I definitely prefer the systems for changing ability sets in Rift and The Secret World.

The classes also don’t seem to have a lot of mechanical variety. They all felt more or less the same to me — just with different animations.

Trying out the lancer class in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm RebornAn odd quirk is that crafting and gathering skills also count as full classes, complete with their own gear. I’m not sure what the point of this is — seems a bit unwieldy to me.

Is it worth it?

Tedious opening aside, Final Fantasy XIV is a very solid MMO. It has no shortage of options, and most of its flaws are minor.

Despite that, though, I have trouble recommending it for one simple reason: If you take away the Final Fantasy name, there’s nothing to distinguish this from Rift, Aion, World of Warcraft, or countless other similar games. There’s little FFXIV does poorly, but there’s equally little it does exceptionally, and you can get an experience of equal or greater quality from many other titles — most of which are free to play.

If you’re already a Final Fantasy fan, you should definitely play it. Otherwise, it’s just another entry in a crowded marketplace.

Cheating on WoW: Champions Online

I’m not the biggest comic book/superhero fan in the world, but I do think it’s a great setting for games. It’s the ultimate power fantasy — who wouldn’t want super powers?

My hero in Champions OnlineGiven that, it surprises me that superhero MMOs are such a small niche. There just aren’t that many options for the MMO fan looking to put on tights and fight crime. I’ve already tried DC Universe Online — which was fun, but I’m just not into DC — and Marvel Heroes — the less said about that experience, the better. That left only one significant option left to try: Champions Online.

This game doesn’t have the best reputation and is by all reports is on maintenance mode with little to no new updates for a very long time, but I thought it was a worth a try. What I found was a game with serious issues, but which is nonetheless a lot better than the negative buzz led me to believe.

A hero rises:

The first thing I noticed about Champions Online is that the character creator is amazingly powerful. Like The Secret World, the gear you get your stats from and the clothes your character wears are two separate things, so in addition to having a healthy degree of control over your character’s physical appearance, you also have a baffling array of options for their costume.

Even with a great deal of options locked behind a paywall, the possibilities are nearly endless. Champions Online is the first game I’ve played that could truly rival Aion for the sheer breadth of options in character customization, and if you can’t create a hero that exactly matches your vision, that’s more likely due to a lack of creativity on your part than any flaw with the game.

If you’re as concerned with getting the perfect look for your character as I am, Champions Online’s character creation screen may destroy your life. Just fair warning.

A cityscape in Champions OnlineThere’s a lot of potential to recreate your favorite comic book characters. In my time with the game, I crossed paths with doppelgangers of both Captain America and Deadpool.

Once I got into the game, I found the mechanics fairly standard, with a few interesting quirks.

The questing is very much like in Neverwinter, also made by Cryptic. That is to say it’s pretty much your stock standard kill and collect tasks, but with good pacing and an abundance of soloable mini-dungeons to break the monotony a little.

The combat is a little strange. Mostly, it’s a standard tab target system, but there are also some elements of action combat thrown in. For example, there’s an active block mechanic that can be used to largely negate incoming damage, and certain enemies have very powerful attacks that must be blocked if you don’t want to take a brutal damage hit.

Something I enjoyed was that the telegraphs for these big attacks often come in the form of comic book “sound effects” — colorful bubbles above enemies’ heads saying things like “Pow!” Nice touch.

Oddly, the combat in Champions Online is actually quite difficult by MMO standards, and several quest bosses were real nail-biters. Normally I’d praise any effort to inject a little danger into MMO combat, but if there was ever a time for enemies to just fold under the slightest pressure, a superhero game is it.

Smashy smashyAs in DC Universe Online, players can pick up many objects from around the game world and throw them at enemies, but the damage from doing so seems quite minor, and it struck me as more an element of flavor than a viable tactic.

Similarly, the travel powers are very fun — and quite diverse — but not quite as powerful or fun as those in DC Universe Online.

On the whole, the core gameplay of Champions Online is enjoyable, but doesn’t really sell the idea of you as a superhero, at least at low levels.

Looking beyond the solo game, the group content I tried was very quick and kind of basic, but also very accessible. There’s a streamlined group finder, and even as a DPS, my queue times were almost instant. On the other hand, finding a PvP match proved impossible. If the UI is to be believed, I was the only person in the entire game queued — at least in my level bracket.

One other thing that deserves mentioning is that despite Champions Online’s reputation as a dead game, the game world did seem fairly busy, and I encountered no shortage of other players. Maybe it wasn’t as crowded as some other games I’ve played, but it definitely wasn’t the ghost town I expected.

The comic book feel:

An early cutscene in Champions OnlineThe look and feel of Champions Online is very cartoony in a way that I found quite charming. Similarly, the story and characters are an endless string of cliches, but there’s enough humor and self-awareness to make it charming rather than grating.

There are a lot of subtle details that I liked. For example, there is a mission where you contact various NPC superheroes over computer, and each one has a different style of texting — from the beefy brawler who talks in all caps to a sorceress who is clearly typing on her phone.

The game world is also richly detailed and a real pleasure to immerse yourself in. Millennium City feels very authentic as a sprawling metropolis — at least as comic books imagine the concept. There are a variety of neighbourhoods with distinct looks and personalities, and there in-character signs and advertisements everywhere — often providing a chuckle or two when you read them.

The streets are full of random NPCs, making the city feel populated by more than just superheroes. I assumed these were just set pieces, but when I clicked on one, a short scene played out where I wound up signing an autograph for her. I then went around clicking on random civilians all over and found them full of fun little bits of dialogue.

I really wish games would put more effort into little details like this. It adds such a richness to the experience.

Talking to an NPC in Champions OnlineThe only downside is that mob density is quite high, making exploring the world something of a chore at times, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of value in exploring beyond seeing the sights and a few very sporadic open world events.

The elephant in the room:

This article has been fairly positive so far, but there is one glaring issue with Champions Online, and that is its free to play to model.

All of Cryptic’s games have invasive monetization. It’s the worst aspect of both Neverwinter and Star Trek Online. But Champions Online is even worse.

One of the things I most hate is when free to play games paywall class choices. Your choice of class is by far the most important choice you can make it an MMO, and being able to find the right class can make or break one’s experience.

Most games that limit class choice for free players only lock out one or two, but Champions Online has more than half its archetypes reserved for paying customers only. The ones that remain tend to be the ones that most closely resemble classes in fantasy MMOs, which rather hinders the appeal of a superhero game. I like dual-wielding swords, but I can do that in any MMO. In a superhero game, I’d like something a bit different.

A villain in Champions OnlineWorse yet, freeform characters, which can choose any powers to create a unique build, are also limited to paying customers, and the cost to get one is very high. If you don’t want to risk losing your freeform status, you need to subscribe indefinitely, buy a $300 lifetime subscription, or purchase a $50 freeform slot — which still carries the risk of losing most of your powers if you unsubscribe.

A freeform archetype is a great idea, and combined with the awesome visual customization, it could allow anyone to make their perfect superhero down to the finest detail, but the cost of such is just unreasonable.

Hideouts, a form of player housing, are also limited to paying customers, with no free option whatsoever.

And there are other irritants. In-game voice chat plays advertisements for non-subscribers. A pop-up for the cash shop appears every single time you log in. Virtually every aspect of the game is monetized somehow. Non-vendorable lockboxes drop constantly. It gets very wearing very quickly.

Is it worth it?

I’d really like to be able to answer that question with a, “yes.” There’s a lot about Champions Online that’s very endearing. But the free to play model pretty much forces you to pay early and often, and you could get a better experience for less money from DC Universe Online. So unless you’re both desperate for a superhero MMO and vehemently opposed to DC, it’s probably not worth your time.

My hero showing off her blades in Champions OnlineI’m strongly tempted to keep playing myself, but I just don’t think I can justify the expense that would be necessary to play the game the way I want to.