Will the allure of Tamriel pull you away from FFXIV?
Hello and welcome to the eleventh edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this column we'll be talking about FFXIV's competition. For those of us playing on the PC, we're well aware of the other fantasy MMO offerings available: World of Warcraft, the EverQuest series, Lord of the Rings Online, etc. We have to remember however that FFXIV exists not only on the PC, but on consoles as well. As I talked about in one of our previous columns, the PlayStation 4 client is a perfectly viable way to enjoy FFXIV. Of course it also helps that there's no fantasy MMO alternative for console players other than FFXIV and its predecessor on the PS3, Final Fantasy XI… for now. This Friday marks the PC and Mac release of Zenimax Online's new MMO, The Elder Scrolls Online, with the PS4 and Xbox One versions not too far behind, due out this June.
PC players will have both games available to choose between right on launch day, but those wishing to play a fantasy MMO on their PS4 will have to wait even longer; the PS4 client for FFXIV won’t be out until April 14th and TESO’s console versions won’t be released until June. That leaves those players (and potential newcomers) with some time on their hands and a decision to make. Do they stick with the Eorzea they know or do they see what Zenimax has to offer in the world of Tamriel? How does their gameplay compare to that of FFXIV? Given that I'm ZAM's FFXIV columnist as well as the person who wrote our preview for TESO, I'm probably the best equipped here to compare the two for any undecided players.
Story, Story Everywhere
One of FFXIV’s primary strengths as an MMO has been how well done the main storyline has been handled and how much it’s tied to the rest of the game. Dungeons, trials and raids are all tied to story progression and, as such, feel like they serve a purpose other than loot piñatas. While the implementation is at times bothersome with all of the various attunements and quest gating, it’s nice to make those instanced areas a true part of your character’s story. In addition, players also have side quest lines specific to their classes and jobs to give you contained mini-stories to experience as you move from class to class in your quest for the perfect cross-class skills.
TESO has a similar approach to FFXIV in its emphasis on a strong overarching main storyline bringing you from level 1 to endgame, but they also include contained storylines for the zones you quest in, the guilds you join, becoming a vampire/werewolf and more; what they lack in class-specific quest chains, they more than make up for with the zone and guild content. The difference really comes into play when you look at their version of “New Game+”, Veteran Rank zones. Once your character has finished the main storyline as well as their Alliance-specific questing, they can choose to start questing for one of the other two Alliances, providing them with almost as many new quests as they’ve already completed. Finish questing for that second Alliance and you can move on to the third. For both of these playthroughs of the other Alliances, the foes you’ll face are scaled up as well as the rewards, giving solo and lore-focused players a vast amount of questing content to complete.
If you consider that FFXIV also has three different factions with their own starting quest sections and their own zones with content of similar levels, you have a somewhat similar situation, but for most FFXIV players (other than those who just chained FATEs to level all of their classes) you’ll deplete most, if not all, of your available quests for those zones well before you hit level cap with one class, let alone two or more. I cannot speak to the overall strength of TESO’s storyline versus that of FFXIV (only saw 14 levels’ worth in TESO and still need to do the third 8-man instance of FFXIV’s original story), but from what I’ve seen so far the writing of the main storylines is comparable in the two games. When it comes to secondary stories though, TESO does have the advantage here but it lacks those class-specific quest chains, which may be an issue for those who liked those specific types of focused storylines.
Enough With the Story, Let’s Get to the Fighting
As important as story is to both MMOs’ franchises, it’s time to look at what you’ll actually be doing as a player: the gameplay and combat. This is where the differences between FFXIV and TESO really stand out. FFXIV is a GCD-based keybind MMO in the veins of World of Warcraft – multiple hotbars of abilities and cooldowns to manage with auto-attack filler. The focus of these styles of games is to find that proper ability rotation/priority list for your class and execute that as often as possible while reacting to the environment and using your cooldowns and resource pool appropriately.
TESO on the other hand is pretty much Skyrim when it comes to combat with the addition of a limited action set of abilities. Left-click for an attack, hold left-click for a power attack, right-click to block, and both mouse buttons for a bash interrupt. The limited action set is basically a condensed version of the weapon and utility bars from Guild Wars 2, where you can slot skills for the weapon you have equipped as well as ones for your class, race, PvP tree, etc. Between the two weapons you can have equipped once you unlock weapon swapping, you can have a total of 10 hotkeys available to you in combat. With TESO’s combat, the developers claim that you can build whatever deck of abilities and equipment you wish and still be effective: a plate-wearing wizard, a caster tank, etc. You’re still managing cooldowns and reacting to your environment, but your resources play a bigger role as you’ve got two separate pools to draw from, Stamina and Magicka. As an example, if you built your deck around all Magicka abilities, once the pool was depleted you would be stuck with left-click attacks while waiting for it to regenerate. The same goes for physical attacks – my two-handed character from the beta spent the bulk of his time doing power attacks since his Stamina pool could handle at best three ability uses. This places a greater emphasis on equipment and passive skills for gameplay style since your choices of enchants, armor and the skill points spent on reduced ability costs can give you significantly more ability uptime before you’re back to basic attacks.
Now that we’ve laid the two out, which is better? That’s a matter of personal preference. As I pointed out in my TESO preview, I’m not a fan of the way they’ve implemented their limited action set. With games like The Secret World and Guild Wars 2 the ten hotkeys I have available at all times without weapon swapping feel like enough tools for most situations; those two games also have the advantage of either being entirely weapon-focused (TSW) or giving me an additional five buttons for that second weapon (barring that you’re playing an Elementalist/Engineer) to make it 15 total (GW2). While TESO may not have that many abilities for each individual weapon/class/etc., five buttons does not feel like enough to cover all of the tools I want for a given occasion. The second set of five buttons does help, but unless you’ve got a second copy of the same weapon type, you now have another set of five weapon skills to try and shoehorn in with all of the class/PvP/etc skills you still want access to. This system does seem better designed for console players than FFXIV’s multiple action bars and giant lists of abilities, but after playing the PS4 beta a few columns ago I don’t believe that will be a problem for most players. The shoulder button hotbar selections may take a little getting used to, but it’s nothing that an MMO player is incapable of, and I personally prefer having a wider selection of abilities at my fingertips than two sets of five buttons.