After earning my freedom from the tutorial, I’ve been wandering around the city of Ul’dah and following the breadcrumb quests. Which do a good job of introducing you to the various facilities and zones of the city.
So far I’ve seen the merchants, Class guilds, and many a well dressed resident. The quests lead you sequentially from one thing to the next, all with inconsequential results. After a while I started to get an itch to get out of the city, but I have a bit of a completionist personality so continued picking up every quest I saw and dutifully fulfilling the requests tasks. During all the back and forthing I naturally started jumping about, but unfortunately the jump animation leaves a bit to be desired, you kind of hop straight up and down just like a GW2 character – none of the playful fun of a Blood Elf’s occasional spin for joy.
The city itself is quite unlike most fantasy worlds I’ve encountered. The people are preoccupied with fairly regular concerns – fashion being a large one. There is a lot of fashion on display, from NPCs to other players, and many of the quests were concerned with things like finding the ‘in’ colour for the season, or acquiring gems for a spectacular dress.
Also unusual was being tasked with performing some unsavoury jobs. During the tutorial you witness some thugs beating up a gambling debtor, and one of the early quests has you heavy a citizen quivering with fear – who then hands over her mother’s wedding ring for you to hock to repay the debt. You don’t get any choices in this, so there’s no consequence (I don’t think?), and nor does the game judge you in any way. I think I prefer the SWtOR light/dark model, where you at least get ‘rewarded’ for being bad, or good.
During all this running about the UI and how it works started to be exposed. I was very surprised to find loading screens happening within the city. It’s big, but it’s not that big – reminding me most of Ironforge with avenues and streets running off semi-circular hubs. Some of the UI is obviously carried over from the single player games, from massive QUEST ACCEPTED overlays to the old fashioned need to drag (or right click and select from a menu) an item from your bag to the quest window in order to hand it in.
I’m intrigued by the depth of some of information panels – there are a lot of stats and things to learn about and min-max, if that’s your cup of tea. Hotbars and controls are intuitive and seem to be very customisable, with good mouse and movement controls. And there are many nice conveniences like clicking on subquests and having the map open to where you need to go. The UI also confirmed and tempted the magic possibility of one character who can do anything.
A nice discovery is the ability to teleport to other Worlds (aka Servers) in order to be able to join up with friends. That makes the World choice less crucial, though there did appear to be some limits on what you could do when teleported.
One offputting thing is that the quest text is heavily heavily male skewed. Everything refers to men/man/he/him, no matter that I’m standing there as a woman wanting to learn how to Gladiator. I’m getting the feeling there will be a fair amount of sexism on display. As with any videogame, it’s a real shame when you encounter tired stereotypes such as the nagging wife and disobedient husband, given the scope for unlimited social creativity. Maybe it’s because these zones are old, and things improve once you start getting to expansion material, but I don’t recall experiencing the same blatantly one-sided dialogue in Warcraft, SWtOR, or GW2. Having said that many of leading NPCs I’ve encountered are women, including the leader of my Gladiator’s Guild (though she was wearing a chainmail skirt – maybe it’s a nod to the Roman Gladiator’s armor skirt). Like the Viera, benefit of the doubt for now.
I think perhaps starting in a city is a bad idea. While it allows FFXIV to do a good job establishing the mechanics of trading, crafting, fast travel, etc, it also limits the actual fantasy a fair amount. I felt like I was basically a courier travelling in a largish city, not too removed from real life.
There’s also no sense of beginning a heroic story, or not yet. The concept of the big-bang (or even small-bang) start is not on show here. Starting a Tauren in Warcraft has you defending the village from attack. In SWtOR you’re thrown into some local conflict or another almost immediately. In FFXIV I had to sign a charter to become an adventurer, then deliver some envelopes to stern looking administrative types. It’s quite amusing if not exactly compelling.
Apologies if this all seems fairly critical – I’m still very interested in finding out what makes this game tick. What I really want to experience is the wide open lands and strange wondrous creatures FFXIV is famous for. And the epic storylines. Fancily dressed citybound humans of various heights are still just humans. Thankfully I eventually started collecting the requisite ‘kill 10 rats’ missions, which will take me outside the city gates – into the real world.