Friday, August 27, 2010

Final Fantasy XIV's limitations aren't necessarily bad

You've gained... 0 XP! Yeah!Square-Enix’s next foray into the MMO market, the anticipated Final Fantasy XIV is just under a month from launching to the masses. With the open beta also coming in a matter of days, interest for the game seems to be at its peak. However, this attention isn’t all positive; a certain decision has garnered the ferocious reprisal of fans and potential players, but Square-Enix is steadfast in the matter. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a standoff.

Believe it or not, the controversial decision is based around play time and experience. Square-Enix wants the casual player, or someone who doesn’t have excessive amounts of time to play, to be on equal or acceptable level to the hardcore enthusiasts who will undoubtedly do nothing but play the game. To make this vision reality, they’ve effectively limited the amount of experience you can attain within a week’s time. Hang on! Before you fire off your own Mega-Flare, there’s more to it than just a flat out limitation.

Director Nobuaki Komoto defended the decision by posting a large bit on why they’re doing it along with how the system actually works. You can head over to GamesRadar to read the letter in its entirety. One of the most important parts of Komoto’s explanation revealed the inner workings of what he calls “threshold values.”

The visuals don't look too shabby.
“For the first eight thresholds during this week-long period, players will receive skill/experience points at the maximum rate possible. The actual amount of time spent reaching these thresholds is not significant. That is to say, a player who exceeds eight hours of gameplay will still be rewarded the maximum amount of skill/experience points, so long as the total amount earned is below the eighth threshold value. For the subsequent seven thresholds, players will earn skill/experience points at a gradually decreasing rate, eventually reaching a rate of zero.”

This can all be somewhat confusing so do your best to stay with me here. Experience is NOT limited to exactly eight hours of play time like some may have you think. As a matter of fact, you can still take your time going about leveling up and exploring the world like normal. Now, if you’re a power gamer and your hunger can only be satiated by the end game material, you’re in trouble. It’s here where the limitation on experience will hit you the hardest. See, you can only gain a specific amount of experience that Square-Enix has calculated for the week. For example, after being in combat and constantly gaining experience, you’ll achieve what Komoto calls “the eighth-threshold.” That threshold is the last one that allows you to receive unmitigated experience. Everything from then on gradually gives you less and less experience until you receive the cold, lonely, absolute zero of experience.

Killin' ain't easy partner.

Once again, don’t blow your Hell Fire just yet. You might be wondering where your experience goes if you’re still questing at absolute zero. Well friend, that’s what I’m here for! Wisely, Square-Enix decided to store any excess experience into a surplus they label as “bonus skill points” instead of it just being lost to the void. Komoto also explained that with well over a dozen classes in the game, you can simply switch to a different class to level if you’ve already reached the maximum experience for the week. Once a switch is made, your previous class will begin resetting its threshold. In the words of Mr. Komoto, “It is worth noting, however, that the reduced rate will also gradually recover while players are engaged in activities that do not yield skill/experience points. In this manner, it is possible for the threshold value to reset completely, even before the completion of the one-week timer.”

With all of this coming to light, I definitely see how and why gamers are a little perturbed. People don’t like limitations being placed upon them, I get that. No one should be told how to play a game, especially since varying styles are what make multiplayer games interesting. But FFXIV isn’t even out yet and who knows whether this sanction on leveling will be lifted or not when launch day comes. MMOs are infamous for patching things in and out, but that’s a story for another time.

The variety the game gives you appears to be immense.The way I see it, this “limitation” isn’t a big deal. It’s not like an unstoppable timer starts the moment you strike a boar for 15xp and once it reaches eight hours you’re locked out of leveling for the rest of the week. Komoto said it himself; it’s entirely possible that you reset your threshold even when playing a hefty amount. Besides, the idea of leveling outside your familiar boundaries sounds appealing to me. Instead of powering through that one class, the game actually makes you try something else to stretch your knowledge and your character’s reach just a bit further. This restriction also reveals something I found astonishing; a company that embraces exploration. Clearly Square-Enix wants its players to explore their brand new world, not to just have them teleport through it. I expressed my feelings toward the absence of exploration in MMOs not too long ago, and seeing this raises my hopes a little higher.

Contrary to popular belief, Square-Enix isn’t a stupid company. Limiting experience may have been something a bit more controversial than usual, but it could be for good reason. Time will tell my friends, but then again that’s exactly what got this whole debate started.

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