Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
One minute I’m a gnome warlock, delving deep into the naga-infested ocean of World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. The next I’m a red mage with cat ears and a tail, trying to remember my spell rotation in Final Fantasy XIV before the Shadowbringers expansion comes out. There’s brand-new content in both of my favorite massively multiplayer online role-playing games, and I’m having trouble keeping up.
I’ve been playing MMORPG games since the days of Ultima Online, but normally one at a time. I can juggle non-MMO games all day long. I’m currently playing a retro platforming shooter on the Switch (Gunlord-X), a monster truck racer on the Xbox One (Monster Jam Steel Titans), and a tactical fighting game (Samurai Shodown) on the PlayStation 4. There’s no danger of me mixing up those three.
MMORPGs are a different story. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for nearly 15 years and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn since its relaunch in 2013. Both games take place in unique fantasy settings. Both feature rich storylines I’ve become heavily invested in over the years. In both games I am part of an expansive community. I’ve got friends on servers and friends in guilds. I wish I could play World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV more.
Except for right now. Right now, World of Warcraftjust released the Rise of Azshara expansion, adding two massive new zones full of quests, gear, and adventure. Meanwhile, in Final Fantasy XIV, the Shadowbringers expansion launches in early access on Friday, and I’ve got a couple of dungeons to complete before I’ve caught up with the game’s story, which I have to complete before I can enjoy the expansion’s new high-level content.
I am hopping back and forth between two very different characters on two structurally similar but mechanically unique games, and I am getting dizzy. Here are some of the fun things I’ve screwed up in the process of playing both.
After a few months away, I’ve finally remembered the button sequence I use to efficiently perform my Final Fantasy XIV red mage’s spell rotation…in World of Warcraft, where it is far from how I play my warlock. I have died several times.
I keep forgetting to summon my demon in Final Fantasy XIV. I have no demon in Final Fantasy XIV.
Did you know that red mages in Final Fantasy XIV often handle rezzing duties in multiplayer trials against powerful boss creatures? I forgot, and I got yelled at last night, and it was completely my fault.
I keep trying to message linkshell members from Final Fantasy XIV in World of Warcraft and WoW guildies in FFXIV.
It’s not always like this. During less busy times, when the lulls between new content grow long, I can slip between the two with ease. But now, standing at the crossroads between brand new Azeroth stuff and becoming Final Fantasy XIV’s Warrior of Darkness, I kind of just want to curl up and wait until the traffic is clear. I won’t, as it is my duty to collect and report on that sweet MMORPG booty. Just forgive me if I mix up my verstone and corruption spells.
It’s a big day for World of Warcraft as the long-running MMORPG upgrades to version 8.2 with the massive Rise of Azshara update. Players can now explore two new zones, earn gnome and tauren heritage armor, learn to fly in the Battle for Azeroth zones and gain the ability to hide all of their armor but their pants. Truly, it is the dawn of a new Azerothian age.
Internally, and by that I mean inside my head, I’ve been referring to Rise of Azshara as the gnome update. One of the two new zones introduced, the mechanical city of Mechagon, is a gnomish paradise, and I hope my smaller World of Warcraft characters can spend most of their lives living there. The Mechagon Island zone is sort of an extension of my favorite spot in the expansion, and I can’t wait to explore its junk-covered hills, meeting and making all sorts of mechanical toys, minions and equipment using the new junkyard tinkering feature.
Mechagon Island leads to Operation: Mechagon, a new eight-boss mega-dungeon that’s only available in the advanced, Mythic difficulty.
Meanwhile, in non-gnomish content, Horde and Alliance players will be plunged into the Nazjatar zone, home of Queen Azshara and her naga armies. I don’t know why she gets top billing, but her zone, which is a vast kingdom beneath the surface of Azeroth’s ocean, looks mighty impressive so far.
In Nazjatar, players can collect something called Prismatic Manapears, which can be exchanged for special upgradeable Benthic gear. This unique armor, intended for use in the Nazjatar zone and the upcoming Azshara’s Eternal Palace raid, will grant the owner special benefits, such as increased damage, increased mount speed, enemy debuffs and such.
This is one of those World of Warcraft expansions where I log in and have no idea what to go after first. Do I work towards earning exalted with Gnomeregan so I can get the new gnome heritage armor?
Do I level an alt so I can get the tauren heritage armor, which replaces cloaks with a huge, wooden totem?
There are also new quests to complete. The war campaign continues, advancing the Horde versus Alliance battle at the center of the Battle for Azeroth expansion. There are new island expeditions and a vast new PVP battleground to get wrecked in. Hell, I haven’t even completed the first half of the flying in Battle for Azeroth achievement, and now the second half is live in the game. Should I complete that and get the mechanical parrot mount? I just don’t know.
Oh wait, let me just look through these update notes one more time. Of course, it was staring me in the face this whole time. One moment.
Did I mention players can now turn all of their armor invisible except for their pants? It’s pants party time, people. PANTS PARTY.
Check out Blizzard’s hand Rise of Azshara survival guide video for a list of things to do if pants parties aren’t your thing.
“We have pulled a previously shared ESO tabletop RPG adventure while we investigate the source,” a post on Bethesda’s page now reads. “Thank you to those who reached out with concerns.”
The Dungeons & Dragons module in question is “The Black Road”, published as part of the D&D Adventurers League, the ongoing official campaign of the classic tabletop RPG. Written by Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler, it’s an adventure for beginning characters that tasks them with guarding a caravan delivering a statue to the Shrine of Axes in the village of Parnast.
The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr adventure, helpfully archived online by the folks over at Ars Technica and still available via Bethesda’s Dropbox, tasks players with guarding a caravan as it travels through the desert of Elsweyr in order to deliver a statue to the city of Rimmen. According to the byline at the end of the PDF file, this adventure was written by someone named Karrym Herbar. The Facebook post that announced the adventure, now removed, said it came from “our friends over at Bethesda Netherlands.”
There’s nothing like the desert to make people feel small and insignificant. In every direction, huge dunes roll across the landscape, and an even bigger sky looms above. The oasis of Vuerthyl is a motley collection of sun-bleached tents in the vast Anauroch desert. Through various means, it has been arranged that you would meet Azam the caravaneer in the large, Calimshanstyled tent that passes for a tavern here. A pair of tieflings, who seem to be unaffected by the heat, eye approaching visitors warily. The dim interior of the tent is a relief from the bright light and wind, though it’s as hot here as anywhere else. The gentle sounds of a stringed instrument fill the air, and the people inside are hunched over food, drink, and conversation. A dragonborn with rust-colored scales greets you, and guides you to a private table. There are a few other adventurers here.
And here is the opening to the Elsweyr module.
Nothing beats the desert to make people feel small and unimportant. In every direction enormous dunes roll across the landscape, and an even larger empty air skies above it. The oasis on the border between Cyrodiil and Elsweyr is a colorful collection of sun-drenched tents in the vast desert of Elsweyr. In various ways it is arranged that a group of adventurers would get acquainted with the caravan leader named Kar’reem. His big tent is filled with several Khajiit, which seem unaffected by the heat, they stare at you cautiously. The dim interior of the tent is a relief compared to the bright sunlight from outside, even though it is still as hot inside as out there. The soft sounds of stringed instrument fill the air, and the people are busy over eating, drinking, and conversation. An Argonian servant escorts you to an empty table.
It’s a very sloppy rewording of “The Black Road” version, with The Elder Scrolls locations replacing those of Dungeons & Dragons’ Forgotten Realms setting. The whole text is like that. The original D&D version mentions a “dragonborn servant.” The Elder Scrolls Online version changes it to an “Argonian servant.” The original version has the players fight goblins. The copy changes it to bandits.
Bethesda’s announcement post was filled with people pointing out similarities between “The Black Road” and the Elsweyr adventure. Eventually, Paige Leitman, co-author of the D&D module, entered the thread to post a series of comparisons between the two. Ars Technica archived the whole set. Here’s one, comparing the information the leader of the caravan is willing to give players on the two adventures. Even the non-player character’s name is the same.
Having read both adventures through completely, it’s obvious to me that the Elsweyr adventure was completely cribbed from the work of Leitman and Heisler. I can see how the blatant plagiarism might have slipped by Bethesda’s notice, but somewhere down the line someone took the pair’s work, twisted it and presented it as their own.
Ten years ago I wrote a story about EverQuest, the online role-playing game I was so obsessed with it cost me my job and a relationship. Now I’m revisiting the game, playing on the new progression server opened to celebrate its 20th anniversary, and I can safely say I am in no danger of falling under its spell again. Old school EverQuest is rough.
Launched last month as part of EverQuest’s anniversary celebration, the Mangler server gives players a chance to re-live the game from the beginning. It’s the 1999 experience with a few modern improvements, developer Daybreak’s version of the much-demanded World of Warcraft Classic. The user interface is updated. There are no experience or death penalties. Expansion packs are added at a rate of one every 12 weeks. Otherwise, it’s a similar experience to the one I played and enjoyed back when the game launched. I was so stupid back then.
Players choose between the original 12 races, with the four races added in later expansions greyed out. There are 14 classes available, with placeholders for future classes Beastlord and Berserker. When the Shadows of Luclin expansion launched in 2001, new, more detailed character models were introduced to the game. Those models are not present. That’s fine. I prefer the original.
For my race I picked half-elf, because I’ve always had a soft spot for the shunned mongrels of elven society. For class, I went with Bard. To this day, I’ve never encountered a character class in an online role-playing game as satisfying to play as EQ’s Bard. They are the ultimate support class, granting party members health, mana, haste and a host of other beneficial effects. At the same time, their ability to run super-fast while slowly killing hordes of pursuing monsters with damaging songs makes them excellent for solo players.
Eventually, at least. Bards have to spend a lot of time paying their dues before coming into their own, hacking away at low-level creatures with a one-handed weapon. They get a damaging song early on, but it has a wide area of effect, so singing it has the potential to make a lot of otherwise peaceful creatures quite angry.
I spawned in the human city of Freeport, dreams of speeding across Norrath to the tune of Selo’s Accelerando. But before I could play the famous run fast music, I had to reach level five. It’s harder than it sounds.
For starters, I do not remember Freeport at all. Back in 1999, running the game at 800 by 600 on a Pentium II PC, I knew that filthy city like the back of my hand. Now I am running at 1920 by 1080 or higher, and every muddy texture looks exactly the same to me.
There are signs all over East Freeport pointing to West Freeport, all of which feel like they are pointing in different directions. I spent more time my first day back in Norrath running around the town, desperately trying to find my way out.
I did manage to use the find function on the game’s mini-map to locate the Bard guild, turning in my letter of intent, officially becoming a member. I picked up a few bard songs to scribe into my spellbook when I reached the appropriate level. Then I set off for adventure! Well, I looked for adventure. Again, Freeport is confusing. The map doesn’t help much.
Eventually, I made my way to the killing grounds outside of West Freeport’s gates. The portion of the zone between the city and the adjacent East Commonlands zone is packed with creatures for newbies to kill. The famous giant rat, skeletons, low level orcs, snakes, beetles, and the occasional wolf roam wild, waiting for young players to come and bat at them. And bat at them. And bat some more. Did I mention batting?
Creatures in early EverQuest take much longer to die than the ones in most modern online role-playing games. They also give a lot less experience. At level one in, say, World of Warcraft, killing between eight and ten creatures is guaranteed to advance a player to level two. It’s quick and it’s easy. In old school EverQuest, between 30 and 50 creatures have to die before you’ll ding to the next level. Or more, depending on what you’re fighting.
Fortunately, the combat is incredibly exciting. First, a player must hit auto-attack. Then, they stand near their chosen target until it eventually dies. Then they run to the next target. An hour later, they are level two.
My god. At one point in my life, that was exciting. I would sit in front of my monitor for hours on end, watching my character do the same thing over and over again. I would ignore phone calls for this. I would call in sick for this.
To be fair, back then I had a lot more online friends. I was part of a guild, and my guild members depended on me. I felt useful to them, and that feeling was intoxicating. Now I am playing with strangers. Some of those strangers are not great. Last night I listened to a conversation in general chat about what will happen to America’s avocado supply when Trump’s wall is built. I’m in no rush to catch up with those people, level-wise.
I’m going to keep playing old school EverQuest for a bit longer. I am level four right now, after four or five hours of play, and I can taste Selo’s Accelerando. Bard speed is only 50 or 60 kills away, and then the world of Norrath will be my oyster. My dirty, primitive, frustrating oyster.
When a new rabbit-eared race called Viera was revealed for Final Fantasy XIV’s upcoming Shadowbringers expansion during last month’s Paris Fanfest, only female versions were shown, but players were hopeful that the male version of the Viera would be announced at the Tokyo Fanfest this past weekend. Instead, Square Enix added a whole new race, the exclusively male Hrothgar. So, now there are two gender-locked races instead of one. Great.
Introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and popularized by Final Fantasy XII’s Fran, the Viera are a race of tall, lanky bunny people. According to lore, male Viera exist but they live in separate settlements and do not appear in public. In a recent interview with GameSpot, Final Fantasy XIV producer Naoki Yoshida cited this lore as the reason why playable Viera can only be female.
But the lore hasn’t stopped players from clamoring for and anticipating the reveal of playable rabbit boys. When asked about the possibility of male Viera during a Q&A session at the Paris Fanfest last month, Yoshida said he could not comment and that players would have to wait until this weekend’s Tokyo event for more information. Many took that comment as confirmation male Viera would appear. They did not.
Instead of playable male Viera, Yoshida introduced the male-exclusive race Hrothgar. Modeled after the bestial Ronso from Final Fantasy X, the Hrothgar are thickly-muscled cat men, some of whom sport horns à la FFX’s Kimahri. While Final Fantasy lore features both female and male Ronso, in Final Fantasy XIV they will be a male-only race, included as a counterpart to the female-only Viera.
This is, frankly, some bullshit. First off, adhering to the lore only matters for the Viera? Players cannot be male Viera because of lore, but they also cannot be female Hrothgar because, what, it wouldn’t be fair to everybody who wanted to be a male Viera? Nonsense.
Secondly, Final Fantasy XIV already has a humanoid feline race in the Miqo’te. Ironically, when Final Fantasy XIV first launched back in 2010, the Miqo’te were a female gender-locked race, a counterpart to the male-only Roegadyn. After the game was shut down and rebooted as A Realm Reborn in 2013, male Miqo-te and female Roegadyn got added, thanks largely to fan outcry.
Now fans are outcrying again. Reddit threads about the new race reveal (thanks to reader Connor for bringing these to my attention) are filled with angry comments. There’s an extensive fan-created poll gathering data about how players feel about the gender-locking, and how it affects their feelings about July’s Shadowbringers expansion.
Fortunately, director Naoki Yoshida told GameSpot the team is taking player feedback under consideration. The developers have a good track record when it comes to dealing with players’ complaints, like their approach to fixing issues with player housing, or their response the first time Final Fantasy XIV had a pair of gender-locked races. Let’s hope players don’t have to complain too loud and long, and I can get my bunny boy on sooner rather than later.
One of the goals of Dual Universe, an upcoming massively multiplayer science fiction sandbox game, is to have every one of its players, potentially millions, playing on the same game server together. Earlier this month developer Novaquark ran a large-scale experiment, simulating 30,000 concurrent players wandering the same in-game planet. It’s a sight to see.
Getting everybody playing in the same place is an issue every massively multiplayer game faces. Techniques like multiple servers and instanced game zones ensure that there are never too many players in the same place at the same time. Dual Universe’s developers want everybody in the same universe. If a dozen players want to come together and build a base using the game’s robust construction tools, they can meet up without having to change shards or connect to their own instanced servers. If 30,000 players want to throw a massive party planetside, that’s fine too. Just watch.
The 30,000 players were AI, of course, aimlessly wandering the planet’s surface. It’s not quite the same as having 30,000 live users online at once, each with different connection speeds. There were alpha test players present for the event as well, however, and it seemed to work fine for them, without significant lag or the game crashing.
I’ve been following Dual Universe’s development for some time now, and I really like what I’ve seen. It’s got that mysterious science fiction vibe that endeared me to games like Anarchy Online. Maybe I’ll run into several thousand old friends when the game launches next year on PC.
Black Desert Online, the massively multiplayer fantasy role-playing game with the gorgeous character creator, launched in North America for PC in 2016. Over the past three years, the developers have introduced multiple character classes and the game world has grown by several large expansions. The new Xbox One version doesn’t have those classes or expansions. It’s hard to go back.
The Xbox One port of Black Desert, which launched today, is the vanilla 2016 version of the game, minus all of the great add-ons that the PC version has received since then. It will be a treat for online RPG fans who have never played the PC version. Its character creation is second to none, granting players unparalleled control of details large and small, from hairstyles and eye color to individual facial muscles. The world in which the conflict between the Republic of Calpheon and the Kingdom of Valencia takes place is large, lush and detailed.
With an action-oriented combat system and a nifty free-movement mechanic, Black Desert lends itself well to gamepad control. A highly-customizable ring interface allows players to assign whichever functions they see fit to quick access. Combat actions are mapped by default to combinations of shoulder and face buttons. It works quite well.
Since this past weekend’s early access launch, developer Pearl Abyss has added multiple servers to handle a huge influx of players. Black Desert is not a free-to-play game. Players have to buy the game in order to participate. So crowded servers means a ton of people are putting down money to join up, which is a good sign for the prospective console community. Thing is, I’m not sure I am going to be part of that community. Black Desert for the Xbox One is a good console MMO, but I’ve played the PC version. The Xbox One version just can’t compare.
Look at the character creation screen for the Xbox One version. There are six character classes to choose from. Two of them, Wizard and Witch, are essentially the same thing.
Here’s the character creation screen for Black Desert Online for the PC. There are seventeen character classes to choose from on PC. The image can’t even show them all, because it has to scroll.
There are nearly three times as many character classes available on PC. That’s not too bad—the game has to start somewhere. But no amount of additional character classes or expansion packs will make the game run as well on the Xbox One as it does on a modest gaming PC.
The frame rate is questionable, which makes movement feel sluggish and choppy. The surge of new players is partly to blame, for sure, but it’s also the console’s limitations. It’s taking on a lot, especially when running in 4K (the video above was recorded at 1080P on an Xbox One X).
Eventually, the PC content will make it to the console port. Lead producer KwangSam Kim told Kotaku that the plan is to bring everything included in the Windows version to the Xbox One. New classes, Absolute Skills, player-versus-player Node and Siege Wars, world bosses, and new zones to explore will be added via free updates throughout the year. It might never run as well, but it sounds like it’ll catch up content-wise.
If you’re looking for a massively multiplayer RPG for console play, Black Desert isn’t bad at all. It’s going through some growing pains, but the core of the game is sound and the character creation is exquisite. Just don’t play it on PC first. It’ll spoil the hell out of you.
When Final Fantasy XI was released for PlayStation 2 in 2002, it was part of the first wave of massive online experiences for consoles. Alongside games like Phantasy Star Online, it helped bring the MMO experience to the living room and pushed the Final Fantasy series to explore new frontiers. While the PS2 and Xbox 360 versions were shuttered in 2016, the PC version is still going, 17 years later. Last night, I logged in for the first time as a new player to find a clumsy but engaging world full of kind and enthusiastic players..
In order to play Final Fantasy XI, you need to sign up for PlayOnline, an online gaming service created by Square (now Square Enix) in 2000. For a while, it was one of the go-to launch applications for accessing online games, particularly in Japan; it also hosted Everquest II andthe short-lived online mode for Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII. And you’ve still got to use it today, I found when I loaded up the PC version of Final Fantasy XI last night.
After downloading all of the necessary files, I booted up PlayOnline and was greeted by the sort of early 2000s internet home screen you’d see in a series like .hack. PlayOnline is a bubbly little thing, its menus home to jazzy music and other ambient tones. When I signed up, I even received a unique email account that I could access through the application. After navigating its menus and accessing Final Fantasy XI, I endured a six-hour patching process and then finally logged in.
What I found seemed hostile by modern standards. Final Fantasy XI exists in a sort of stasis lock where all of its old-school sensibilities make it incredibly hard to get started. When an NPC initially directed me to a quest giver, they laid out strict directions as if I was talking to someone on the street in New York City. Beyond that, there was little guidance. I had chosen the baroque-looking city of San d’Oria as my home, and the game dropped me there and left me to my own devices.
There were no quest markers or any form of guidance. A tutorial existed, but it was buried deep within menus and I only later found out about it when another player walked me through some basics. Final Fantasy XI doesn’t exactly get too many first-time players anymore. It’s a game of old-school veterans, and it is designed to facilitate their gameplay habits. If, like me, you are nearly 20 years late to the party, you’ll find that Final Fantasy XI doesn’t particularly care about making the onboarding process smooth.
While this apathy can initially be frustrating, it also leaves the player with an overwhelming sense of freedom. Unlike the series’ other MMO Final Fantasy XIV, I didn’t need to run around unlocking basic services. And where games like Star Wars: the Old Republic limit newbies to a starting zone whose story needs to be completed, I was completely free to choose a direction, walk wherever I wanted, and chat with NPCs in the hopes of stumbling upon adventures and quests. There’s a purity to that experience that guides players to create their own goals. I settled for leaving the city and beating up wildlife in order to level up and increase my skills.
Final Fantasy XI’s combat experience is remarkably passive compared to those of modern MMOs. Whereas most current games have you cycling through a collection of abilities with a variety of effects and cooldown lengths, much of Final Fantasy XI is automated. You pick a target, select the attack option, and watch as your character begins to duke it out with whatever orc or wild rabbit you’ve set your sights on. As you defeat enemies, you gain experience that raises statistics like health and strength, and you also gain individual points for special traits like hand-to-hand combat or dodge. Punch more and you’ll get better at punching. As that skill increases, you’ll gain access to skills that you can use in combat.
It’s somewhat opaque, and means that a lot of the experience is spent watching things play out instead of actively participating in moment-to-moment combat decisions. The result is a process that’s oddly meditative. You wander from area to area, size up enemies, and maybe occasionally select an ability to use. As you explore, maybe you’ll find a quest-giving character or sometimes run into another player. But the raw experience is something more solitary, at least at early levels.
To compensate for this isolation, I streamed my initial hours on Twitch, and found myself interacting with a chat that held many fond memories of their time spent in Final Fantasy XI. This was a formative MMO for many people, either as a point of contact with the genre or a long-lasting adventure. My misadventures—running as a goblin chased me through a zone, getting lost in the winding San d’Orian streets—were amusing echoes of other players’ experiences. I was bumbling but in good company, and my stream managed to attract some in-game help.
To my surprise, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with a diminutive thief who found me in the wild. Without so much as an introduction, they offered to trade with me, and I opened the menu. They offered me 500,000 gil, a significant amount of money for a newbie like me. After a few hours of beating up monsters, I only had around 30 gil. It was confusing. Was there simply some small, dapper philanthropist wandering the game world and tossing money at newbies? As it turned out, they’d stumbled upon my livestream and decided to track me down to lend a helping hand. It speaks to the kindness of Final Fantasy XI’s community. This is a game that resists easy learning, but some established players who suffered through the early game are eager to help dimwitted adventurers like myself.
My subsequent education at the hands of this tiny master player revealed that Final Fantasy XI is largely a single-player game with occasional personal interactions—that is,until you reach the massive endgame hunts against notorious monsters. In the years since its release, quality-of-life improvements have shifted Final Fantasy XI into a game that’s remarkably friendly to lonesome adventurers if you can penetrate its initial layer of obfuscation.
Much of this rests in the “Trust” system that was added to the game in 2013. It allows players to assemble a party of NPC allies to help them progress through the massive amount of content that’s accumulated over the years. Quest givers and limited-time events grant players access to allies of all classes and utility. After some help from my gentleman-thief benefactor, I was able to summon beefy paladins, stalwart samurai, and healing mages to assist me in my dungeon crawling.
Playing Final Fantasy XI today is a crash course in both old-school sensibilities and adaptation. The unrestricted freedom to explore wherever you might wander, without much of a guiding hand, captures an older and more romantic notion of digital worlds. Final Fantasy XI is less a theme park and more a national park, a loose connection of distinct landmarks connected by wandering trails and surrounded by barely-tamed wilderness. But as the player base shifted to a hardcore collection of stubborn holdouts and long-term veterans and left newbies without easy entry, it became necessary to provide tools that empower solitary journeying.
After getting over this initial hump, I’m left with a massive world at my fingertips. Between kind players, enthusiastic friends eager to join me, and my collection of NPC Trust companions, I have nearly 20 years of rich storylines and areas to experience at whatever pace I want. I had expected to find an abandoned world, limping along thanks to die-hard players. Instead, there’s an entire chapter of Final Fantasy history for me to explore now even though I missed it back in the day.
Final Fantasy XIV added Blue Mages to the game this week, allowing players to dress in their finest costumes and learn magical attacks from monsters. The “limited” job can’t do as many activities as others, but their addition creates fun opportunities for groups and solo players alike.
Blue Mages were announced during the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Festival in November to a mixture of excitement and confusion. Fans were excited about the unique class but unsure what FFXIV’s first “limited” job would mean. The answer is a bit disappointing: Blue Mages can only level up to level 50 and can’t queue up for events like dungeon roulettes, raids, or PvP activities. But the core experience of leveling up your character and finding new skills is fun if brief and brings a lot of color to the game world. I was excited as I waited for the Blue Mage class quest to arrive in-game late Monday night. The city plaza was full of so many players that moving a few step meant waiting some seconds before data loaded and you could see more people. The crowd was dressed in blue, bards played the song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” by Eiffel 65, and folks tried to summon the NPCs by waving blue glo-sticks. To pass time, I helped judge a costume contest for a group of players excited for a change of pace and new magical skills to try.
Unfortunately, the quest giver didn’t spawn until much later Tuesday morning. When I woke up, I started the quest, wherein a supposed swindler is selling access to blue magic. Turns out he’s legit, even if his presentation method is a bit questionable. I was quickly able to access the class, donned a dashing outfit, and began to explore the game world for monsters. Blue Mages learn skills by seeing monsters perform them. To get a new skill, you need to fight a monster, see them use a skill, and then defeat them, which opens up a small chance that you’ll learn the ability. Combine this with the fact that Blue Mages earn a lot more experience off monsters than other classes—presumably because they can’t queue for random dungeons—and my server was full to the brim with Blue Mages. It was fun, encouraging people to get out of cities and private instances. Players in high level zones would call out the coordinates of rare monsters, while other areas were nearly overflowing with Blue Mages trying to get skills. It didn’t always work out—trolls started to head to these areas and kill the monsters before Blue Mages could learn their abilities—but if the goal of Blue Mages was to get people out and about, it definitely succeeded.
Part of the fun of Blue Mages comes from trying to know where to find an ability. I’m newer to the game than most of the people I know, so I teamed up with them to speed up the process. Playing in a group of only Blue Mages is a strange thing, but I had a lot of fun. It’s a mix between a normal experience-grinding party and something more deliberate. You run around and beat up monsters, but you ping-pong from area to area, stopping to let Bombs self-destruct in your face or watch a Cactuar fire 1,000 needles. In some cases, we entered dungeons together. Some Blue Mage abilities can only be obtain in dungeons, which means making a premade group and delving deep into risky instances. Because your repertoire is limited to what you’ve seen (and you’re not barred from going into higher level areas), you might not have traditional tanks and healers. But you can still, as I did, have one Blue Mage casting healing spells while the rest fire off 1,000 Needles spells for huge spikes of damage. It’s a more haphazard experience than normal dungeon crawling, but the silliness is fun.
It doesn’t take long to level up a Blue Mage; I power leveled from about level 19 to 50 in a handful of hours. A player who was already level 50 showed me an area where I could pull high level monsters and have my tank friend kill them off to gain tons of experience. As a result I was able to go from level 24 to 50 in about two hours. It helped, too, that I had gear provided by a kind crafting friend of mine.
That frees me up to focus on hunting monsters and learning abilities, but some players might be disappointed that they are able to blaze through the leveling process, especially since the max power level is lower than other classes. Blue Mage abilities, while fun, are less powerful than traditional classes. As a result, I expect to see the amount of Blue Mages in the field reduce dramatically in the new few days.
To make up for their limited utility, Blue Mages have access to special solo content called the Masked Carnivale. This is a collection of combat challenges that players can tackle for rewards like cash and special currencies for redeeming gear. Blue Mages are able to survey a scenario’s details beforehand—what enemies there are, what their elemental weaknesses are—and then try to defeat the challenge using the spells they know. The idea is to make the perfect spell loadout for each encounter and try to defeat the encounter quickly.
The Masked Carnivale has nice brain-teasers, and I even spotted players comparing strategies in chat. However, once you figure out what to do, the encounters could quickly become side-content you farm sometimes for some quick cash and nothing else. If the Carnivale expands and adds encounters at a good pace, or even offers new, special challenges from time to time, I can see players testing their skills and even competing for the best completion times.
Blue Mage isn’t going to impress players who wanted something more robust, and its limited nature seems destined to produce a fad more than a long-standing class. However, the immediate effect of Blue Mages on Final Fantasy XIV has been pretty magical. Watching my server eagerly await the class and then explode (sometimes literally, thanks to the self-destruct monster ability) into a frenzy of activity has been incredibly exciting.
Blue Mages show that limited classed can work in Final Fantasy XIV, offering new kinds of gameplay experiences. Players eager for a change of pace should check it out and embrace the chaos while they can. The process might be fleeting, but it’s tons of fun while it lasts.