2412: Looking Back on Three Years, Off and (Mostly) On, in Eorzea

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With it being Final Fantasy XIV’s third anniversary it’s only fitting that I take a look back at the reason I’ve been playing it since its closed beta — and why, even though on several occasions I’ve felt like I might be “done” with the game, I keep on coming back, time after time.

These memories are presented in no particular order, but it makes the most sense to start with this one.

Knowing FFXIV was going to be something special

I jumped into Final Fantasy XIV’s closed beta after a casual discussion with a Twitter friend about Final Fantasy XI and how much I liked it despite never really getting all that far with it. Eventually I found myself with an invite to the testing period of the game, and I was immediately smitten with it. Everything about it felt Final Fantasy. The look, the feel, the music, the controls, the battles, the monsters — and yet, it had enough of its own unique identity to make it feel like far more than just series fanservice.

Specifically, Final Fantasy XIV adopts a somewhat “dark fantasy” tone throughout, clearly heavily inspired by works such as Game of Thrones and The Witcher in places. Sure, there are still moogles and chocobos, but there are also complicated political machinations, betrayal, murder and, technically, just prior to the start of 2.0’s story, apocalyptic catastrophes.

I was immediately drawn into the world in a way that World of Warcraft never quite managed to enrapture me. NPC dialogue, although localised with more than a few liberties taken from the original Japanese, much to the chagrin of people who play with Japanese voiceovers, was beautifully written with an almost Shakespearean tone in places, blending old- and middle-English words and phrases with modern spellings to make it actually comprehensible.

The fact that Final Fantasy XIV placed any emphasis on its main story at all — let alone to the degree that it has ended up doing so — was a unique feeling for me. Even its predecessor Final Fantasy XI’s main story had felt like a side activity you did when you had done enough level grinding to be able to take on the next mission; here, the main story was tightly tied in with your character’s progression: you advanced through the levels and became more powerful both in terms of mechanics and narrative, until you eventually reached level 50 and took on your most terrifying challenges yet.

During the closed beta, I only played up to about level 20 or so, but that was enough to know that I wanted to keep playing — and to know that I wouldn’t mind when the servers were wiped post-beta to prepare for the start of live service.

Making some great friends

My friend who had urged me to try out FFXIV was all set to assemble a Free Company — FFXIV’s take on guilds — as soon as the facility became available, and many members of that free company, centred around the Giant Bomb video games website, became great friends. I even took a trip to PAX East to hang out with a bunch of them and had an absolute blast. And while I recently left said Free Company in favour of a smaller group who are more local to where my wife and I are, FFXIV’s various ways of keeping in touch — as well as extra-game means of communication like Discord — mean that I’ll never be far away from this band of loveable rogues.

Castrum and Prae keeping me up until 5am

When I reached level 50, I was proud. The only other MMO I’d ever reached the level cap in prior to that day was World of Warcraft, and I’d stopped playing shortly afterwards, as my lack of friends playing had made that game a rather lonely experience at high level — this was the days before its current Dungeon Finder system, itself inspired by FFXIV’s Duty Finder.

I’d heard the final two story dungeons, intended to be done pretty much as soon as you hit 50, were quite an experience, and so I asked the Free Company very nicely to accompany me on my first run through them. This was — and still is — the best way to run these dungeons, since they’re both full of cutscenes, and running with a completely preformed party means no risk of other people running ahead and starting boss fights while you’re still watching dramatic scenes.

The experience of running Castrum Meridianum and Praetorium left such an impact on me that I immediately wrote about it on USgamer. It remains one of my fondest gaming memories to date, and it makes me a bit sad that people coming to it now will more than likely be partied up with a group of people who outgear it to such a degree that every boss fight is a complete steamrollering. Pro-tip, then — if you’re just hitting 50 for the first time and you have 7 friends handy, queue up for Castrium then Prae and check the “minimum item level” option in Duty Finder in order to experience these two dungeons at their original difficulty level from shortly after launch.

Entering the Coil

I happened to be up and about one night when some Free Company-mates were heading into the endgame raid dungeon The Binding Coil of Bahamut. At this point, the raid had been “unlocked” because better gear than it offered was already available, and so it was there for people to run just for the experience of the unique story it offered, as well as unlocking subsequent chapters.

Coil was a whole other level of the game for me. The encounters were much more complex, they demanded much more coordination and awareness of what was going on, and the unique story, music and enemies you fought in there made it feel like a truly “special” experience.

Forming LoCoBomb and tackling Coil proper

Loose Cannons, or LoCo, were Giant Bomb’s neighbours in the Limsa Lominsa housing district of Mist, and they’re now my new Free Company. LoCo is a tiny little group compared to the hundreds of members of Giant Bomb (many of whom are inactive players, but still) but we struck up a mutual friendship with one another, even going so far as to put together a rather casual, slapdash static for tackling The Binding Coil of Bahamut, a little later than much of the rest of the player base, but tackling it nonetheless.

Raiding together was a great way for us to get to know one another better, and we had a lot of fun times working out way through the first four Turns until we hit our first real barrier: Turn 5.

Toppling Twintania

Turn 5 of Coil was originally the hardest fight in the entire game, facing a party of 8 players off against the rather angry dragon Twintania. Accompanied by the fantastic piece of music Thundererthis was a genuinely terrifying confrontation in which you really felt like you were battling against insurmountable odds.

Twintania was our first real encounter with having to properly coordinate raid tactics thanks to now-notorious mechanics such as Divebombs and Twisters. Taking her down for the first time was an incredible feeling, only to be matched by the time we finally bested the final boss of the Second Coil of Bahamut.

Nailing Nael

Turn 9 of Coil — or Turn 4 of Second Coil, if you prefer — quickly took over from Turn 5 as being the hardest fight in the game, mostly due to how unforgiving it was. The fight featured a wide variety of tasty instant death mechanics and even a few sections where careless play could wipe the rest of the raid without too much difficulty.

After a long slog through Second Coil — Turn 6 gave us a lot of grief, though the subsequent two went a little smoother — LoCoBomb persevered and were eventually victorious, however, and we still weren’t sick of the two incredible boss themes Tempest and Rise of the White Raven.

This encounter remains, to date, my favourite boss fight of all time in any game ever. Ten character levels, over a hundred item levels and one expansion later and it’s still not particularly easy to clear.

Phoenix from the Flames

A lot of people will note that Turn 12 — Turn 3 of Final Coil — is as memorable an encounter as the grand finale Turn 13, and I’d certainly agree with that. Resolving a large number of questions surrounding what really happened at the end of Final Fantasy XIV 1.0, Turn 12 sees the party facing off against the iconic Phoenix, accompanied by this magnificent arrangement of the game’s main theme Answers. I still get shivers every time I hear it. And the recent The Rising event in the game now brought it out at the perfect moment to genuinely give me goosebumps all over my body.

The Final Witness

The final battle in Final Coil is appropriately spectacular. It wasn’t horrendously difficult by the time we got to it — each subsequent patch had increased the amount of bonus HP and damage you’d be blessed with when you went in, theoretically allowing more and more people of lesser skill and/or gear to enjoy all of Coil’s story — but it was still an immensely worthy absolutely, positively, definitely final boss. And it made incredible use of Answers.

An in-game marriage and a real-life proposal

(if the embed doesn’t work, go here to embarrass me)

January 3, 2015: Amarysse Jerhynsson married W’khebica Qimi (now Wuckle Bunny, because no-one can spell authentic Mi’qote names properly). During this process, the player behind Amarysse Jerhynsson — yours truly — made a rather lengthy virtual speech that culminated in him proposing to the player behind W’khebica Qimi, who was sitting in her study upstairs from him at the time.

We married in June 2015. And who says computer games are antisocial?

Heavensward and beyond

The first full expansion for Final Fantasy XIV was an exciting moment, as it would take us to brand new areas, see us tackling brand new dungeons and battling fierce new foes. It was everything most people hoped for, with an excellent story — to some, better even than A Realm Reborn’s at times meandering narrative — and one hell of a final boss fight.

While the long lull between Heavensward’s release and the first major content patch finally arrived with us was, I feel, largely responsible for the fact that my former Free Company are no longer quite as obviously “active” (at least in public channels) as they used to be, Heavensward has, on the whole, been a great evolution of A Realm Reborn’s base, even introducing a number of brand new types of content to the mix, with my favourite being the new randomly generated Deep Dungeon.

Heavensward’s raid scene hasn’t appealed that much — I’m not really a fan of steampunk in general, and the narrative set up around Alexander was feeble and unmemorable compared to the majesty of Coil — but there’s still been plenty of stuff to do, and as we saw with the Live Letter yesterday, there will continue to be more and more stuff to do as we start the buildup to the second full expansion, set to be revealed for the first time in October.


It’s not many games you can play almost continually for three years and still look upon fondly, but I guess anything you spend that much time in the company of eventually becomes something you really, truly can’t ever let go of.

It’s hard to get this across to people who haven’t been on the journey I’ve been on, and it probably won’t be quite the same for someone who starts right now, but I stand by my nomination of Final Fantasy XIV as my Game of the Year for 2013 over on USgamer, and given the number of hours I’ve played, it’s probably my GotY for 2014, 2015 and 2016 too.

2411: Happy 3rd Birthday, FFXIV

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It’s 5am and I’m still up because I decided it would be a really smart thing to do to stay up and watch the beginning of the 14-hour livestream to celebrate Final Fantasy XIV’s third anniversary. It’s not as if I have to get up for anything in the morning, though, so it’s fine.

The reason why I wanted to watch at least the start of the livestream is because of the Live Letter from the development team, featuring a preview of the upcoming patch 3.4. These are always interesting and exciting, because they often reveal new game features and content, some of which ends up being a surprise to everyone.

I’m interested to see where 3.4 goes because the story begun in Heavensward is now essentially over — patch 3.3 saw adventurers defeating the dread wyrm Nidhogg and saving Ishgard from another thousand years of war with the dragons.

Previous patches did, however, tease the existence of dark counterparts to the player’s Warrior of Light, and it looks as if 3.4 and 3.5 will concern these individuals in the run-up to whatever the next full expansion will be. (We find that out in October.)

I’m watching a livestream with a concurrent live fan translation, so I’ll just write some thoughts as I watch, then post the whole shebang in one go when it’s done.

3.4 will be called Soul Surrender and concern the aforementioned Warriors of Darkness. It will also apparently feature a great deal of lore about the planet of Hydaelyn itself, where the game takes place. It will be out on Tuesday, September 27.

As usual, there will be new main scenario quests advancing the main storyline. It looks as if Alphinaud and Alisaie will finally be reunited after being apart for pretty much all of A Realm Reborn and Heavensward. Alisaie was the main NPC for the excellent Binding Coil of Bahamut raids in A Realm Reborn, and apparently this patch’s story will make reference to Coil, even going so far as to change dialogue if you previously completed Coil. (Cue a rush on unsync’d Coil runs!)

There will also be new Scholasticate quests. These started a couple of patches ago and sort of tailed off without any resolution, but they had potential to be interesting.

And Hildibrand will be back. His content has been a little weak in Heavensward, lacking the custom boss fights of A Realm Reborn, but his quests have nonetheless remained amusing and well written.

There will be some tweaks to the battle system, including recast timers being reset when restarting battles — a godsend for raiders or people trying to clear new content for the first time. The changes will also include some changes to auto-attack — Yoshi-P mentioned he wanted to make some changes here in a recent interview with Famitsu, and it looks like we’re going to get the first stage of that with 3.4 — you’ll no longer have to worry about character facing, just be in range of your foe. In other words, this means you can keep moving around a target without worrying about losing auto-attack damage for those periods when you’re not directly facing it. Good news for bards and machinists in particular, who are perhaps more reliant on auto-attack damage than most.

Some Extreme Primal fights will be added to the recently added Raid Finder. These Trials aren’t quite full-on raids, but still have quite a lot of complexity, so it will be good to have a means to organise learning or clear parties other than Party Finder.

The UI will have a Countdown feature added. Exactly what this does remains to be seen, but it’s apparently intended to be a replacement for macros that some players used, perhaps to announce when certain abilities come off cooldowns.

The final chapter of the Alexander raid cycle is coming this time around: Alexander, The Creator and a Savage counterpart. Last chance for them to get this right after a somewhat lukewarm reception from much of the player base.

There’s a new trial that sounds as if it will be a second member of the Warring Triad, since it’s called Containment Bay P1T6, much like the previous Sephirot fight. Apparently the foe this time will be Sophia, the Goddess.

New dungeons include Xelphatol, the Ixali homeland, and a Hard mode variant of The Great Gubal Library. Still just two rather than the three ARR got with each patch, though this isn’t surprising any more.

PvP is getting a duel mode that can be done in the Wolves’ Den in a new part of the map. You’ll be able to queue for dungeons while dueling, which is nice, and there will be no time limit; matches only end when someone wins or leaves the duel area.

PvP will also get a Custom Match feature allowing two light parties to set up a clash against each other, and a Spectator mode. FFXIV’s PvP is actually pretty good, so it’s good to see it getting some love.

The roguelike-esque dungeon Palace of the Dead will get an update in patch 3.45, bringing it to 200 floors total. There will be a job-specific ranking system based on a score you build up as you play. Floors 51-100 will be about the same difficulty as the current floors and bring the dungeon’s story to a close. Above floor 100, things get much harder but they’ll be worth many more ranking points.

Grand Companies are getting an update after being dormant pretty much since 2.0. A new Grand Company rank will finally be available, Platoons will become available and have some sort of missions attached to them, and new gear will be available, presumably this time geared to level 60 characters.

The Platoon system looks to have something to do with raising NPCs, and you’ll be able to go into content with these NPCs from the sound of things — you can make a team of one player and three NPCs.

A new game feature is Wondrous Tails, which involves helping a young Mi’qote girl create something by completing objectives in a book. No other details were given.

Gold Saucer is getting an instanced Triple Triad battle hall for each data centre, allowing you to find opponents from other servers and thus expanding the minigame’s scope considerably.

RTS minigame Lord of Verminion will also be added to the Duty Finder, allowing you to queue up and find opponents that way.

Housing updates will include the introduction of the Apartment system, presumably functioning something along the lines of Final Fantasy XI’s Mog House system. It looks as if there will be a public lobby in each building as well as instanced rooms for players, and there will be 1536 apartments per server, assuming 3 buildings (one for each of the Eorzean cities) with 512 rooms each. They will cost 500,000 Gil, so much cheaper than current housing. Hopefully they won’t all get bought up to be resold!

A system called the Double Cross Hotbar will be introduced for controller players. It’s intended for people who don’t feel they have enough available buttons when playing with a controller and want to be quicker to get at certain abilities. You’ll be able to double-tap a trigger to access the extra buttons, and it can be used in conjunction with the existing Expanded Cross-Hotbar for even more available buttons. Essentially it adds an extra 16 button slots, and you’ll have the option to keep these visible on screen at all times, and adjust the transparency of the hotbar you’re not using at the time to make it clear what actions you have available.

The Double Cross Hotbar stuff looks like a great quality of life improvement for the game. Is it wrong that this is one of the things I’m most excited about? It will certainly make more complex jobs more straightforward to play with controller. Apparently Yoshi-P and his team are pretty excited about it too, as I think they spent more time showing it off than anything else in the Live Letter!

The exploratory missions to The Diadem are getting some minor updates, including the ability to queue as a gatherer rather than having to change once you get there. It will also start dropping item level 235 gear, making it potentially worthwhile again. A brand new exploratory mission — hopefully with lessons learned from the Diadem — will come in patch 3.5.

The new Allagan Tomestone endgame currency will be Tomestones of Scripture, and the gear they purchase is rather Sharlayan in its look, particularly the Dragoon’s rather fetching robe and hat combo.

An online status for role-players will be added. FFXIV doesn’t seem to have that many RPers in my experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re not thete, so having a means for them to find each other will be good. You’ll also be able to use hyphens in character names at last — no more errant apostrophes!

Finally, The Rising event starts today. Last year this was an awesomely meta event in the game where you could warp out of Eorzea and visit the writers’ room to meet the development staff. It was an extremely cool moment, and gave the feeling that the FFXIV team love and are grateful for their players.

Exciting times ahead for the game, then, and I’m well and truly back on board after my short break from it. Events like this remind me why I can never quite quit it.

2410: Sounds of Vana’Diel

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Talking to some of my Final Fantasy XIV friends today, I realised quite what an impact XIV’s predecessor Final Fantasy XI had on me, even though I never really got that far with it in the long term.

As with many other things throughout my life, the thing that has stayed with me for the longest ever since I played it for the first time is the music. (Incidentally, the music is, more than anything, the reason why I find I can’t stay away from Final Fantasy XIV for long, even when, as I did recently, I think I’m “over it”.)

Final Fantasy XI’s music is not as well known as many of the other soundtracks in the series, primarily because XI itself is not as well known as the other Final Fantasy games that have been released over the years. It’s not as technically accomplished as XIV’s diverse soundtrack, and it’s not the work of series veteran Nobuo Uematsu (who hasn’t been quite as involved with the series in more recent years) but it is nonetheless made up of a selection of rather lovely pieces of music.

Here are a few that make me feel suitably nostalgic every time I hear them.

This music, simply called Ronfaure after the area in which it plays, is one of my favourite pieces from Final Fantasy XIV, because it pretty much sums up the overall atmosphere of the game: vaguely melancholic and rather traditional.

Final Fantasy XI is — at least, from what I remember — one of the more traditionally-set Final Fantasy games, with an emphasis on good old swords, shields, magic, orcs and goblins. Its soundtrack reflects this, and is a contrast to XIV’s diverse track listing, which reflects the diversity of XIV’s world itself.

The first character I played in Final Fantasy XI — and the only one that ever got anywhere to date — hailed from the Federation of Windurst, and thus his starting area was Sarutabaruta, which featured this wonderfully calming piece of music to accompany your exploration.

Sarutabaruta was a land of grassy meadows and sunshine; a thoroughly pleasant place to have a stroll, were it not for the monsters wandering here and there, of course.

One of the things I liked most about Final Fantasy XI, even after I played World of Warcraft for the first time, was the fact that it had a battle theme. Well, actually it had several according to your progress and whether or not you were in a party, but this one was likely to be the first one you heard as you stepped out of the gates of your starting city for the first time and prepared to have the shit kicked out of you by a small bumblebee. (FFXI was an MMO designed in the EverQuest mould, in comparison to FFXIV’s rough adherence to the World of Warcraft formula, and consequently was brutally difficult, particularly at low levels.)

I always particularly liked that the battle theme for FFXI actually sounded like a Final Fantasy battle theme.

Final Fantasy XI’s character creator was simple compared to those that came in later years, but one of the things I always liked about it was that each of the several races you could play as in the game had their own “theme tune” and even had their own signature animations to show you what they were all about while you were deciding. The Mithra, FFXI’s take on the catgirl, were exactly how you would expect them to be from a game designed by Japanese people, and their music reflected that nicely.

Final Fantasy XI’s group content was structured rather differently to XIV. It wouldn’t be until about level 25 or so that you’d encounter your first real “boss”, marked by a “Burning Circle” that you had to enter with a party of companions you’d previously gathered — no Duty Finder for you here.

Confronting said boss was A Big Deal, in other words, which is why I can remember it vividly: battling a dragon and his Ahriman companion, accompanied by this stirring soundtrack.

I never got far enough into the story to get properly into the expansion packs for FFXI, but I did visit some of the areas, because they were good for level-grinding.

I think, for once, YouTube comments sum up what I feel on hearing this piece of music better than anything I could say here:

“And here I am, 8 or 9 years later laying in bed listening to this music, wondering what ever happened to the people I considered my closest friends. Time is cruel, and one by one we each took a break from the game and never returned. If youre in a guild/ls/free company now, these will be the days that you someday look back on😀 Dont let your friendships disappear, get on Facebook/Discord/Guildwork and keep in touch with them.”

“Makes me tear up… I miss my old ls. r.i.p. Saints”

“comments like these make me wanna cry ;-; chemistry like this is so hard to find now. social life is so fast now”

Quite. For all their faults, for all the assholes who play them and all the whining that inevitably goes on around them, MMOs are, at heart, about people finding and connecting with one another, then sharing unforgettable experiences together.

2409: Changing Perspective

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I don’t feel quite so bad today.

This isn’t to say I don’t still feel fairly bad about everything in general, but I don’t feel quite so bad today. I even found myself applying for some other jobs in a slightly different field to that which I’ve not been having much luck in so far, and the simple act of doing that — of finding a job listing that, while not offering particularly good wages, certainly seemed to say “hey, you could do that” — helped me feel marginally more positive.

Dealing with negativity is all a matter of perspective. The easiest thing to do when you’re feeling negative is to look straight up and see everything falling down on your head as you’re buried by it. And once you’re buried by it, it’s very difficult to get yourself out again; the cycle becomes self-perpetuating.

Once in a while, though, you have a moment where you have the opportunity to step back and look at things from somewhere other than directly underneath them as you bear down on them. I’m speaking purely metaphorically here, of course, but looking at something from the outside — perhaps floating high above it, or from the perspective of a being that is much bigger than you are — can make things seem not quite so daunting. That huge inky blackness that was closing in threatening to bury me can become just a pile of papers on a desk — papers that can be shuffled, dealt with one at a time, even thrown away.

I wouldn’t say I’m through the worst of this particular bout of depression — these feelings of general uselessness and worthlessness aren’t going to go away until I find some way I can meaningfully contribute to the world (and by that, I mean do a job I get paid a reasonable amount for on a regular basis) — but today… didn’t feel quite so bad.

I can only hope these feelings improve. I’m going to try and get some sleep now. May tomorrow be a brighter day still.

2408: Turn Down the Heat

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It’s hot. I don’t like it when it’s hot, as I may have mentioned on one or two previous occasions in the past.

Actually, I’ll be a tad more specific: I don’t like it when it’s hot and humid, which it most certainly is right now. It’s the kind of hot and humid where just sitting still for five minutes causes sweatiness, let alone actually attempting to do anything.

With hot air’s somewhat pesky nature of rising, too, this means that the top floor of our house is an unbearable oven of sweaty nightmares, even with fans running all day every day and the windows open at every opportunity. Except at night, to prevent cat escape scenarios, which is kind of frustrating because night-time actually seems to be the time it’s the worst.

This combined with my wife being on night shifts isn’t particularly helping my sleep patterns, which are absolutely completely and utterly fucked up right now. Still, with little I “need” to wake up for on most days, I guess it doesn’t really matter all that much — though contemplating that too much tends to lead to a cycle of anxiety about my continuing unemployment that keeps me awake anyway, even if it’s not the temperature of the Sun in my bedroom.

I while away these pre-dawn hours watching some TV, penning yet more job applications (as if that’s going to do any good) and wondering what I should do next.

I’ve even been considering my options for how to actually do some formal study to change career. I’m sure I’d be a much more attractive prospect to a potential employer with an actual Computer Science degree or similar — assuming, you know, I was going for a job in IT, which would seem to make a certain amount of sense — but the costs of pursuing such a course are prohibitively expensive, especially as from what I can make out, it seems you can’t take a new Student Loan to cover a second degree’s tuition fees if you already have a degree. Probably fair enough, I guess, but it does make that English and Music degree I’m stuck with feel even more like useless dead weight than it already does.

The Open University seems like one route I could investigate, but there are still pretty high fees to deal with there along with the fact that studying a degree part-time takes a very long time indeed.

Still. It’s something to consider. I don’t know. I’m feeling kind of “trapped” in my current situation at the moment, and I feel like I need to do something more drastic than “apply for lots of jobs” to be able to get out of it, since that clearly isn’t working out all that well.

3:40am probably isn’t the best time to be thinking about this, though. I’d sleep on it if it wasn’t so damned hot.

2407: Looking Again at World of Warcraft After a Good Few Years

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I last played World of Warcraft in the Wrath of the Lich King era. I played it off and on ever since launch, to be honest, but it was Wrath of the Lich King that saw me finally get to the level cap, although looking back on my time with the game through the eyes of an experienced Final Fantasy XIV endgame player, I now realise that I barely scratched the surface of what WoW had to offer.

World of Warcraft is one of those games that I consider to be part of the ill-defined, amorphous “gaming canon” — it’s a game that I thoroughly believe everyone should play for at least a short time to understand what an impact it’s had on the games industry as a whole: its importance to popular game design, the influence it’s had on other games, and the aspects that it’s drawn from its successors back into itself to evolve and adapt.

Like most MMOs, it’s fascinating to chart how WoW has changed over the years because it’s virtually unrecognisable from when it first hit the market. This most recent time I’ve been taking a look at it represents probably the biggest change I’ve seen to the overall game structure and experience, and among other things it’s put certain aspects of my Final Fantasy XIV experience into a broader context.

My time with Wrath of the Lich King was spent primarily playing PvE (Player vs Environment) in the game’s open world. This is still an entirely viable way to play World of Warcraft right the way through until level cap, unlike something like Final Fantasy XIV, which gates significant portions of the main story behind group content, albeit only of the most casual, straightforward variety right up until you reach the original level cap of 50.

The pacing of WoW is also very different to Final Fantasy XIV. While Final Fantasy XIV is relatively slow-paced with an almost turn-based feel thanks to its long “global cooldown” — the period of time between which you can use most of your abilities — WoW is relatively fast-paced and frantic. This comes at a slight cost, though: whereas Final Fantasy XIV’s encounters are, for my money, much more interesting thanks to their strong emphasis on dodging and being in the right place at the right time — a distinctly Japanese approach to encounter design — World of Warcraft appears to be, to my limited experience, much more about gearing up and overpowering your enemies as much as possible. There’s still an element of “don’t stand in the shit” at times, but not to anywhere near the same degree as Final Fantasy XIV.

The two approaches are both valid, although the fact that it’s possible to WoW-style overpower some of what used to be Final Fantasy XIV’s most formidable encounters leads to a certain feeling of dissonance at times; there’s always that feeling of conflict between the beautifully paced and choreographed encounter that the designers of Final Fantasy XIV put together, and the players’ desire to bulldoze their way through it as quickly as possible. It’s sort of a shame to see what a mockery modern groups make of fights like Garuda Extreme, although when you take this in the context of Final Fantasy XIV being a JRPG at core, it could simply be likened to the experience of level-grinding to a ridiculous degree, then steamrollering everything that once gave you grief into oblivion.

WoW also feels a lot more “free” than Final Fantasy XIV thanks to its diminished focus on storytelling — something which I always used to regard as a bit of a drawback to Blizzard’s game, but which with more seasoned eyes I can see allows it to feel much more explicitly “game-like” than Final Fantasy XIV. This may sound odd, but it’s true: FFXIV very much likes to put everything in some sort of narrative context, necessitating unlocking everything manually by completing various quests, whereas modern WoW simply unlocks things automatically and organically as you level up; you can jump into a dungeon as soon as you hit level 15 without having made prerequisite progress through a questline, whereas Final Fantasy XIV brings you to your first dungeon as part of its main scenario.

Modern WoW also features something I like very much, but which further contributes to its “game-like” feel: the Adventure Guide. This screen can be popped up at any time after level 10 and gives you suggestions of what to do next, allowing you to automatically start questlines without having to manually go to the location first, jump into dungeon queues the moment you’ve unlocked them, and even review strategy guides for dungeon bosses to save the tedious cries of “go watch a youtube video, noob” when a more inexperienced player enters group content for the first time.

WoW also seems to have taken some inspiration from Final Fantasy XIV’s FATE (Full Active Time Event) system in the form of its pre-expansion Invasions. These are events that occur in the open world and require the cooperation of multiple players (albeit not in an organised manner) to accomplish various challenges. WoW’s Invasions are much larger in scale than FFXIV’s FATEs, however; an Invasion typically encompasses an entire zone, with objectives scattered around the place, whereas FFXIV’s FATEs are constrained to a smaller area.

WoW also makes use of an incredibly elegant scaling system for these Invasions, where the monsters that appear as part of the event appear at different levels according to each player’s own level. For example, I was participating in one earlier tonight as a level 12 character, so the enemies were appearing as level 12 with appropriate amounts of health and damage. Meanwhile, my friend Cat came to join me on her level 100 character, and the enemies appeared to her as level 100, with appropriately inflated amounts of health and outgoing damage. The higher-level characters still have an advantage due to better gear and a wider selection of available abilities, but it’s nice that it’s so simple for people of different levels to be able to cooperate on something and get meaningful rewards from it — it’s a bit more elegant than FFXIV’s slightly clunky Level Sync system in that you’re not artifically gimping yourself to participate; the encounter gimps itself to lower-level players.

One thing where I’ve felt WoW has always had the edge over Final Fantasy XIV is in terms of gear. FFXIV has a strictly vertical gear progression system, with very little in the way of variety within each tier of equipment. As you’re levelling, you get a new set of gear roughly every 5 levels or so until you reach level 50, at which point a few dungeon runs will allow you to purchase gear that will take you to about level 58 before you need to replace it. Once you hit 60, there are generally two or three “tiers” of gear that are “relevant” at any one time — one that is available with the endgame currency that has no weekly cap on it, one that is available with the endgame currency that does have a weekly cap on it, and, depending on what stage in the patch cycle the game is at, one or more tiers of raid gear from either the 24-player “casual” raid or the 8-player super-difficult “Savage” raid. In other words, everyone at an equivalent gear level in FFXIV will be wearing the exact same stuff as other people playing that class, though the last set to be introduced did at least encourage the insertion of Materia for limited customisation of secondary stats.

WoW, meanwhile, has a huge variety of gear right from the get-go. Shitty grey gear, poor white gear, slightly more exciting green gear, very exciting blue gear, mega-exciting purple gear and OMG I GOT IT Legendary gear. (And possibly some more tiers besides.) WoW throws a lot more loot at the player than FFXIV, particularly during dungeon runs, with green gear in particular taking an almost Diablo-esque approach to itemisation with prefixes and suffixes denoting variations on a particular item level’s gear.

FFXIV does have an item “rarity” system along these lines — there are white, pink, green, blue and purple items — but in practice, getting a blue item simply means that you’ve acquired some level-cap gear, and purple items are, so far as I know, exclusively for the grind-tastic Relic and Anima weapons at levels 50 and 60 respectively. The only items that have any real variety to them are the pink items you find in dungeons while levelling up; these have standardised basic stats for the item level, but randomised secondary stats. In practice, though, it never really feels like the secondary stats make that much difference; perhaps this will change at higher item levels, but at the moment, adding 5 points of Determination on to your armour doesn’t feel like it has a big impact on how powerful you are, and this is, I feel, a real weakness of FFXIV that should be addressed in future expansions.

Do I like one better than the other? No, I actually like them both for different reasons, and can quite feasibly see myself playing both, since they’re both enjoyable and distinct experiences from one another. Oddly enough, spending a few hours playing WoW and getting to level 20 has made me appreciate the things that FFXIV does better, and also given me a certain amount of understanding as to why some players are the way they are. That doesn’t excuse their behaviour at times, of course, but if you look at how they play in the context of having had previous experience with how WoW does things, certain behaviours like the desire for speedruns or overpowering encounters start to make a little more sense.

All in all, it’s been a positive experience — and if you’re a lapsed WoW player who has been thinking about checking out what the game looks like in 2016, I’d encourage you to do so. The experience for new players has been made a whole lot smoother, and the whole package is significantly slicker than it once was. Plus, regardless of whether or not you bought any of the previous expansions, all WoW players now get all the expansions up to Warlords of Draenor completely free, with only the impending Legion requiring you to spend any additional money. The game as a whole seems much more friendly to short, casual sessions than it used to be, and that can only be a good thing — though naturally once you hit endgame, it doubtless won’t be long before the desire to raid kicks in… and that’s when things get a bit time-consuming!

2406: Getting it Across

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The worst thing — well, one of the worst things, anyway — about being depressed and anxiety-wracked is the perpetual feeling that you are not getting your feelings across properly, and the companion fear that people around you are just thinking that you’re “a bit down” or, at worst, being irrational and unreasonable rather than suffering from crippling bleakness and an impossible desire to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.

I, at least, have this blog as a means of expression as well as words I say face-to-face to people, words I write in email messages or words I say down a phone. (The latter is particularly rare, since, as those of you who know me well will already know, I do not like speaking on the phone at all.)

So, feeling particularly bleak and hopeless as I am at nearly 4am on this stuffy, sweaty August evening, it behooves me to try and be as frank as possible within the confines of the medium.

I am not doing so great.

I’ve not been doing so great for quite a while now, partly as a result of my own meandering, directionless life and partly due to external factors I have no direct control of. But at the moment, I feel like I’m doing especially not great.

It’s true, I wrote a while back that the new meds I’ve been taking have had a positive effect, and I stand by that, but I’m having one of those times where I feel like everything is getting on top of me, and that’s causing a domino effect of everything else in my mind to collapse, leaving me a mostly useless mess for a considerable proportion of the time.

I quit a job I had a while back that had the possibility to be if not particularly well-paid, then certainly reasonably secure and possibly even enjoyable. I did so because I was extremely worried about my wife, who was suffering especially ill health at the time. I was a little hesitant to do so, because I was afraid that I would end up in the exact situation I am now — seemingly unable to get another job — but ultimately I knew that it was the right thing to do, and I stand by my decision.

However, my wife, while not fully recovered as yet — still waiting on the NHS to do various bits and pieces, which will hopefully get into motion in earnest next month — is now back at work, seemingly getting on just fine with her new job, while I am reliant on erratic freelance income and sending out swathes of job applications every week that are probably never even looked at by cynical HR departments. While I know I’m not being completely useless, as I am getting work and getting it done to a good standard, there’s always this feeling at the back of my mind: why?

The question that comes after “why” varies from moment to moment. Sometimes it’s asking why I didn’t stick with teaching. (Because the stress of teaching in two particularly “challenging” schools was a strong contributory factor to the depression and anxiety I’ve been suffering since 2010.) Sometimes it’s asking why I didn’t fight for my USgamer job when I was unceremoniously told one morning that I didn’t have it any more, sorry. Sometimes it’s asking why that job had to end at all — and this one is usually accompanied by furious anger and resentment towards several people involved in the situation, whom I believe were responsible for me being shown the door. Sometimes it’s asking why I couldn’t just have knuckled down at SSE and been a good little corporate drone, nodding and smiling at their primary school-level Health and Safety “exercises” that they foisted on even the office staff at every opportunity. And sometimes it’s asking why I made choices back at the beginning of the Millennium that now feel like massive mistakes altogether: studying English and Music, pursuing the PGCE, going into teaching.

There aren’t answers to many of those questions, and they tend to lead on to bleaker thoughts. The question about my time at SSE in particular is almost always accompanied by an exaggerated combination of flashback and imagination where I recall my traumatic last day at the company, dragged over the hot coals by an unsupportive management who just wanted to get me out of the door and wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. In reality, I yelled “fuck you” at them, stormed out and slammed the door, wishing to God I had the courage to say or do something more coherent to make my frustration known. In my imagination, I do everything from throw the phone on the table of the meeting room at my “opponents” to flipping the table, ripping the door off its hinges or smashing every computer I walk past on the way to collect my things. Each time I have this flashback-dream, it gets more intense and unpleasant, and it leaves me short of breath, panicking, begging for sleep to claim me, because it’s always when I’m trying to get to sleep that my mind sees fit to dredge it up once again.

And the bleakness these endless questions leave me with make me more vulnerable to all sorts of other things. A simple request to play some online games with friends becomes an unimaginably frustrating and infuriating slight when I can’t pin anyone down due to their (rationally speaking, perfectly reasonable) commitments to family or suchlike. I have difficulty focusing on anything, feeling like I “should” be doing something, anything other than what it is I am doing at the time, and this often leads me into a cycle of just doing nothing at all.

One of the most frustrating things is that I’ve fallen back into old habits with food. We stopped going to Slimming World when my wife was particularly unwell, as I was finding the weekly weigh-ins and Syn-counting an unnecessary stress on top of all the other things I was thinking about. Consequently, with little to no control over what I eat each day — plus a predisposition towards eating as a means of “self-medicating” anything from boredom to depression — I’ve put a bunch of weight back on again, so much so that I’m terrified of stepping on a set of scales, going back to the same Slimming World group I once attended or even trying on certain pairs of trousers.

All kinds of adjectives float around inside my head when I reflect on myself and how I might be able to get out of the situation I’m in. Hopeless. Worthless. Useless. Failure. I know none of them are true, but when you get this far into the darkness it’s hard to see the light of hope. I vacillate between burning hatred for the people who have directly or indirectly contributed to the position in which I find myself, despair that makes me want to curl up and cry for the rest of time, and guilt at all the people I feel like I’ve let down with my inability to have made anything worthwhile of my life by this age.

I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’ve exhausted all my options, tried all the things I’m supposed to try, and I don’t know what’s left. I’m sure in life it’s pretty difficult to back yourself into a completely unwinnable situation, but I was designed in the ’80s, after all; to continue the analogy, I feel like I’m in an early Sierra game and I’m finding each and every single place it’s possible for King Graham to fall off something, trip over something, get crushed by something or get eaten by something. Eventually I might find the right path without tripping over Manaan’s cat (yes, I know that was Gwydion, not Graham) or falling off a cliff, but right now I can’t see it. And, sadly, life has no GameFAQs.

I should probably go to bed. Reflecting on this further isn’t particularly helping me, but looking back over these 1,400 words I am a little glad I put pen to paper to express these things ticking over in my mind. Perhaps someone will read them and understand me just a little better. Perhaps I’ll look back on them one day and wonder what I was worrying about. Or perhaps I really am a useless waste of space with no future whatsoever? Who knows.

Either way, bed beckons. If you read all this, thanks.