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Being a true gaming enthusiast...

... entails being more enthusiastic about games than most by definition.

This is the sad fact-of-the-matter when it comes to me and gaming forums.  I don't get banned from forums very often, as I'm generally a courteous participant.  However, forums are funny things, mirrors of humor delusion at work.  I may come up against a popular sentiment in regards to a game and I'm anal retentive enough to notice overexaggeration in the details and call them as I see them.  Being less anal than I, they miss the details of what I am refuting, and begin to argue.  Their irritation breeds slander, which I ultimately end up in trouble for if I'm overly caustic in retaliation.  At the core of such a thread, it all begun simply because I like games more than most, the differences of our opinions are not eligible for reconciliation, and the casual observer will prefer to oversimplify the whole thread as a flame war between haters and fanboys.

The only forum I've ever been permanently banned from - it's not much of an exaggeration to say it was a diplomatic vote between a moderation staff largely hand-picked for being qualified cynical bastards - was partly because I earned a significant portion of stigma for recommending Vanguard: Saga Of HeroesBrad McQuaid's latest (and perhaps last) major MMORPG, I was rather impressed with the detail they put towards the crafting mechanisms, the unusually interactive combat which worked on exploiting vulnerabilities, and the unique addition of a third activity that was neither adventuring nor crafting but diplomacy.



Unfortunately, at release, Vanguard's was heavily crash-prone, real bloatware for most computers to run, and they made the critical mistake of making the game too damn big. In time, they managed to work out the issues with the crashiness and bloatiness of the software, but the size of the world has remained an impediment to this day, resulting in too few players to interact with over too large of an area and large tracts of land without much real purpose to them.

Despite this, I could see the game had potential.  While Vanguard never recovered the numbers it would have had if it had met the expectations of the initial launch-day hype, and likely never will, the game continues to have a strong niche following.  I wasn't wrong to say the game had merit, even if not a whole lot of other players could see it at the time.

My latest game I seem to be getting in trouble for having good things to say about is Final Fantasy XIV.

In most ways, Final Fantasy XIV is a completely different beast than Vanguard.  The game itself is actually very stable at release, provided you don't run it in full screen mode and alt-tab out, or suffer some kind of driver incompatibility.   While it is a bit more bloated than games which made mass compatibility a priority, Final Fantasy XIV will run on the overwhelming majority of computers which are reasonably up to date even if you may have to lower the settings in a few places.  The world is actually well designed for frequent player to player interaction, brilliantly utilizing corridors, major cities, and camps to assure this.  If Final Fantasy XIV's brand name appeal was not already guaranteeing it would be propped up in ways most MMORPGs could only dream of, it still would not suffer for the same reasons Vanguard did.



Final Fantasy XIV certainly has some release-day flaws, including two which I cannot forgive:
  • It has a robust player economy, requiring the players seek out player-made goods for almost every piece of gear beyond that of the first rank - which is good - but it has a very poor means of facilitating the transfer of gear between players.  Improvements to that are forthcoming, but in the meanwhile Final Fantasy XIV is leaning very heavily on a something that cannot support it yet.
  • The interface is hobbled by frequent client to server interaction.  I can't understand why it is that their programmers could not simply allocate a little memory towards remembering what the user has in their inventory or skill set instead of recalling off the server every time they open up an appropriate page.  It's not like the player could cheat if the appropriate checks are being done.  Combat often flows at a snail's pace for the same reason of requiring too much server interaction.  Players can overcome the latency issues with patience, but they are nonetheless a significant drag on everything.
From here, we come across the fact that I am, after all, a gaming enthusiast.  Consequently, I have little to no problems with these problems:
  • The game was developed to be console friendly, and consequently has a menu-driven interface.  However, this is a non-issue for me: I'm not afraid of using a new interface, and while this interface is different, and I find claims that it is badly designed to be oblivious of what design really is: this is, in fact, an interface with a considerable user-friendly focus.
  • The game world has a considerable amount of things to discover in it, and nowhere will you find a helpful non-player character with an exclamation point bobbing atop their head to lead you.  If you're looking for a particular NPC, crafting recipe, or item in the game, you actually have to roll up your sleeves and research it off a site such as Yellow Goblin or discover it for yourself and take notes.  Although a lot of people scream their heads off about the inconvenience of it all, I for one really like that I'm not being lead around by the nose like I am in nearly every other modern MMORPG.
  • It has been pointed out that Final Fantasy XIV reuses assets throughout the world.  I find this to be a really interesting claim to make on the grounds that, technically, so does every other game with a really big world, with very few exceptions.  I wonder if the reason why Final Fantasy XIV catches so much flak about it is because the game is actually gorgeous enough for people to care.
Frankly, when I found out that these later points were the primary reason the game was attacked in the GameSpot and GameTrailers review, I took it as evidence that either the reviewers were real panzies when it came to playing games or that they were pitching their reviews to viewers that they knew were far worse at gaming than they were.



Once you get past these largely skin-deep concerns for Final Fantasy XIV, it does deliver a type of MMORPG that I've come to sorely miss: a game which focuses more on being a virtual world than it does being a theme park.  Players who log into Eorzea, Final Fantasy XIV's world, will discover that they are a small part of a vibrant player economy, completing guildleves (sanctioned odd jobs for factions) for gil (money) in between the larger main event of discovering a comfortable purpose from one or more of the game's (currently) 18 jobs.

In the end, Final Fantasy XIV is a game you either get or you don't.  If you were to say Final Fantasy XIV is crap, I would respect your opinion but tell you I enjoy the game nonetheless... that's only fair.   However, if you were to insist that Final Fantasy XIV is complete and utter crap and I have no taste for liking it, I'm going to tell you that you're an idiot.  Like it or not, a game that scores 57/100 (currently) across Metacritic's Final Fantasy XIV breakdown is still 56 points better than a game that scores 1/100, ergo it's not complete crap.  It's a great game rendered mediocre by some issues that hopefully will be ironed out soon.

I'm not worried Final Fantasy XIV will flop.  As I already mentioned, the Final Fantasy fan base appeal alone will help to shore up the game's popularity enough.  I need only log on and look at the "party" menu function's "world" count to see that my server has been at a good capacity of 1900-2600 players, a number mirroring that which I've been seeing release about four weeks ago: it seems to be retaining its players remarkably well, suggesting that the greater bulk of the complainers likely left before even buying their box after what they saw in the beta.  Final Fantasy XIV is definitely going to be around for awhile and enjoyed by a significant number of people, even if you may have to be a true gaming enthusiast to be able to recognize the hints of diamond beneath the rough.

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