All Across the Hydaelyn

Previously I spoke about my thoughts and feelings on WoW, and how they had ultimately lead me to a sense of detachment to the game, whereupon I unsubscribed. Many of the thoughts of disenfranchisement with Warcraft and the world of Azeroth as a whole that I wrote two posts ago are relevant to today’s discussion.

You see, as my feelings for WoW waned, it was FF14 that they started drifting towards.

Now, I didn’t maintain both MMO subscriptions side by side – not because of money, but largely because of time and disinterest. I picked up FF14 on a whim a couple of years ago during one of the periods where WoW was suffering a content drought, and I was remaining on it only to roleplay with friends. Since I wanted something else to fill that void, I went to FF14, and I was quickly swept up in the world that it offered.

I guess my thoughts started to mirror that previous time. It was almost on a whim that I started feeling the urge to load up a month of game time into FF14 and take a spin through it, playing through the patches I missed. I wanted to remake my favourite character from WoW into FF14 so that they’d have a chance to “live on”, so to speak. At first I fought the urge, but after chatting with a close friend about it, we decided to jump back in and check out the game together.

That was a little over a month ago, and she has since absolutely eclipsed my progress and raced ahead at a prodigious rate, eager to devour up every bit of story and worldbuilding the game as offered. And it was that realisation of what we’d been missing during our time in WoW – that sense of world, characters, and connection to the plot and setting that we were finding in FF14 – to finally make the plunge and unsubscribe from WoW without a second thought.

Since then, we’ve been exploring the world of Eorzea, plumbing its locales, and meeting its denizens with a fascination that was quite unexpected. I didn’t even return to the max level character I played on the first time I signed up to FF14; I instead started a new character from scratch and have been proceeding through the entirety of the plot again. Many friends who play the game thought I was mad for doing such a thing, considering the older content unenjoyable and a slog, but I’ve absolutely felt no such thing and have largely enjoyed the experience.

So let’s talk about the gameplay first, then. For this playthrough, I decided I would play an Au Ra lancer/dragoon – not the character I salvaged from WoW, mind you, who is around but not really my focus. This is an entirely new one that I fell in love with.

Generally the gameplay is pretty fun in FF14. There’s sometimes a shortage of quests, but the presence of a main story quest to guide your path and give much more impetus and attachment to your progress and the world helps immensely. If you need to pad that out, there’s a whole slew of activities, such as the Fate world events, the dungeons and trials, the repeatable leve quests, the Palace of the Dead… and even if any of that seems sparse, it continues to open up and give even more options upon hitting Level 50 and reaching all the patch content.

That said, it’s impossible to talk about the game without bringing up the fact that the global cooldown really is quite slow. The average MMORPG will have a base GCD of 1.5 seconds, and usually has classes or stats that can speed that up and make it much faster. By contrast, FF14 has 2.5 seconds. While most classes have an array of abilities that are used off the GCD and are woven into a rotation, it can definitely feel sluggish.

It’s by no means simple for this delay in actions, however. The rotation and spell management of FF14 is utterly absurd (in a good way) with how complex and intricate it can be to play at times. You could combine all the key active abilities of both my active Warrior specs from WoW and assign them to hotkeys, and they’d probably only just rival the BASIC ROTATION I have as a Dragoon… and I’m still not at the level cap yet.

Add in to that the many mechanics and targeting circles of doom that you’ll inevitably run into during dungeons and advanced content, and it can often feel like you’re doing an intricate dance from safe floor space to safe floor space all while spinning plates to maintain a relatively optimal damage rotation (or else survive/ensure survival for tanks and healers). The patterns of bosses can be a little more rigid than they are in WoW at times, but it’s definitely not a pushover of a system to bend to your will.

With all that said, it’s definitely my love of the world and the characters that have drawn me back and held me to FF14. If anything, it’s reminding me that WoW has been missing the character factor for multiple expansions now, save for a couple of exceptions. Too much has become about the player characters being more and more badass, more accomplished in the story, and beating increasingly unrealistic levels of foes in WoW. It’s gotten stale, honestly, and it only gets worse when the characters I used to love are basically window dressing on the story of the player character, lacking any real semblance of depth.

Again, there are exceptions. I felt sad when Varian died in Legion, for example, because I’d grown to respect him over the years. However, that’s also tempered by the fact that I hated him and considered him an awful character upon his first introduction, and it took many years to get to that point. He’s one of the better examples, however.

Most of the other named characters have been presented or written so poorly that I’ve come to hate them – Malfurion and Tyrande spring to mind, as does the path Illidan is treading in Legion. Characters that I do like are either extremely minor and often forgotten, or else are shoved aside because the writers decide to focus on something else. Remember Wrathion? I do, but it seems Blizzard doesn’t.

It’s handled slightly differently in FF14. See, it places the player character in the main spot of the story as the fabled Warrior of Light, certainly. But it doesn’t do so at the expense of the rest of the cast. They all have their skills, strengths, and abilities that you don’t, and will often appear to aid you when you need it. They have defined personalities that grow and expand as the story progresses.

And the story does progress. Things happen, characters are hurt or killed, and the world must adapt and carry on. Regardless of what you save the world from as the Warrior of Light, you can’t save everyone in it from everything all the time, and FF14 isn’t afraid to remind you of that. But if you’re willing to let yourself experience the narrative, it really is quite an enjoyable undertaking.

My friend and I have had a lot of fun just swapping tales and recounting our adventures to each other, adapting them to our characters both new and old. We’ve got our favourites among the NPCs and joke about them all. We’ve found ways to thread our own narrative through the existing one to expand on it and gives our characters purpose that isn’t just “fabled hero”, just for our own amusement.

But more than that, all this effort has helped us feel connected to the world of Hydaelyn and the realm of Eorzea more than I expected to from my whim of returning. Just a month ago I was bored of WoW and contemplating being done with MMORPGs for a good long stretch. Now, I’m focusing much of my gaming time into FF14 and following information about the upcoming Stormblood expansion with renewed vigor that I really didn’t expect.

It’s that attachment to a world and its characters that, as much if not more so than gameplay, has drawn me to video games. It was what kept me playing WoW long after the game stopped interesting me, this feeling of investment and attachment to my characters.

That investment need not just be repeatedly being told of how I am the hero, I am the conqueror, I am the general of the garrison, I am the strongest living warrior on Azeroth and eschewing all likeable character traits in the supporting cast because of this. I think that’s something the WoW writers have forgotten after Mists of Pandaria, but it’s been an increasing issue even throughout and before that.

Admittedly, maybe some of it is multiple years spent within Azeroth. But throughout that time, I spent so long investing myself in aspects of the lore and story while chasing up all the little details, only to end up feeling horribly disappointed and frustrated. There’s none of that disappointment in FF14 so far – simply delight, and a keen interest in seeing more.

In case you’re wondering, the reason I unsubbed from FF14 the first time was actually because I ran out of additional story to pursue. I was active after the Heavensward launch and played all of the available content in 3.0 save some higher difficulty things. In addition, my Free Company that I was RPing in started to experience drama and split apart, which further drove me away from guild politics and open RP on my return to WoW. So, ultimately, while I wanted to return eventually I simply never got around to it, with most of my interest leaning towards other games.

Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t come back sooner, because now I have plenty to occupy me with, and the promise of even more just in the horizon. It’s a good time to be back in Eorzea… truly, I missed it.

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Leaving Azeroth for parts unknown

World of Warcraft has been a staple in my gaming life for the better part of a decade… in fact, as of this month it officially has been a decade since I first set up my own account and properly dove into Azeroth. Prior to that, I’d sampled the game those trial CD accounts Blizzard were selling in most game stores, as well as made a character on a friend’s account briefly just to give it a whirl.

Since that time, it’s been a fairly frequent feature in my gaming hours. It hasn’t been constant – there have been a few times I’ve unsubbed, so the fact that I closed my subscription earlier this week isn’t a first. I can’t even say for sure that this is very definitely the last time I’ll do so, since my investment in the game has been so ongoing that I’ll always be inclined to just pop back in and see how things have progressed.

But, well, it’s a canceled subscription all the same. So what brought it on this time? You could reasonably guess the answer for it by citing the major reasons for my previous periods of absence from the game:

1- I no longer had any friends to play the game with and make it worthwhile to be part of a community.

2- I had run out of meaningful content that I was interested and able to partake in.

I quit for a two month period after Icecrown Citadel came out in Wrath of the Lich King, as most of my friends took a break and my guild fell apart, then came back when they did. I quit again for a time in the opening months of Cataclysm, only to come back a bit later when another group of friends expressed interest in playing the game. Once their interest fell and they started to quit, I did too, and that was my longest absence from the game since – a full 18 months. Not long in the grand scheme of things, but quite a substantial time to be away from a game and have it continue to flourish and grow without you, if you think about it.

When I returned during the later parts of the Mists of Pandaria patch cycle, it wasn’t for the usual reasons of having friends lure my back. This time, it was something I did on my own, diving headfirst into a server I wasn’t familiar with and rebuilding a new set of friendships from the ground up. The reason for that was actually personal – I was seeking escapism from personal problems and tragedies, and I was in such a depressed state that I felt like I needed to be anybody BUT myself for a while.

World of Warcraft was always good for that, simply because it had a thriving roleplaying community, and one that I’d usually been part of throughout my time. Many have mocked me or rolled their eyes at my decisions over the years, but it matters not – it was my investment in the world of Warcraft and the stories within that fueled such a constant interest, and roleplayers were usually the ones best suited to fueling that further. While I always played the game for the game, roleplaying helped connect me to it one step further.

It was roleplaying that kept me sometime active for some of the absolute worst stretches of WoW’s lifespan. The fourteen month break without content after the final patch of Mists of Pandaria? I remained subscribed the entire time. Warlords of Draenor? A couple of brief times unsubscribed, but never for more than a couple of months. Until this point, I’ve been subbed for all of Legion. Those long stretches without update and with awful, uninteresting and uninspiring content I was still playing not for the game, but the stories and characters… and not the ones Blizzard was providing either, but those that my friends and I worked on.

Sometime during Warlords of Draenor, I realised that my investment in the game was no longer anything to do with World of Warcraft. Once upon a time I cared for the stories and setting of Azeroth, but honestly? Not anymore. To be blunt, the writing of Blizzard has gotten bad. Quite frankly, that’s an understatement – atrocious would be closer to accurate.

For whatever reason, the little details that I grew to love were largely absent from Warlords onward. The primary plot and the relevant characters had been full of cliches and tropes and poor writing since Cataclysm. And honestly, even the main plot of Wrath of the Lich King starts to look shaky when you realise that the entire conclusion of Icecrown Citadel is lifted almost verbatim from the conclusion of the original Diablo, just with a few flavour differences.

While Blizzard is trying to make their world more concise with books like Chronicle, the overall details are just… not good. The characters that they want me to care about are bland, boring, insipid, or otherwise delivered in such a way as to sour them entirely. I cared about Illidan once, but the push to suddenly redeem him and make him some fated saviour of the Light is written atrociously, completely kills the character, and looks strikingly like the ending of Starcraft 2… which, I might add, is one of the worst video game endings that I’ve ever played through, perhaps rivaled only by Mass Effect 3.

Simply put, I’ve stopped caring. I find myself no longer attached to Azeroth. I don’t care what happens to it or the residents of it anymore. Given that there were huge stretches of game time where it felt like I cared more about the details and consistency of the world and writing than Blizzard did, this is quite a conclusion to come to. But alas, it’s not the World of Warcraft that I care about, it’s the characters I’ve built within it… and frankly, since they’re all the creations of mine or my friends, it’s not too hard to lift them up and take them to a more interesting setting or even stories of our own in order to preserve them.

Let me make it clear: I enjoyed playing Legion. It was all I did for a good chunk of time after it came out, constantly working through the content, diving into the quests, and generally having fun with the game. It wasn’t perfect, and I had some complaints both major and minor, but overall it was a fun experience and a relative return to form. But all throughout, this nagging feeling of disinterest and apathy continued to claw at me, and it’s only now when I’ve been actively avoiding playing World of Warcraft that it occurred to me why it was.

I still have friends playing. I still have meaningful content I would like to do and have the means to do so. I still log in when I can to attend my guild’s raids. But I just don’t care about the game anymore, overall. Turns out, there was a third condition – interest and attachment to the world of Azeroth, and it was that which called me from any lapses in playing WoW over these years back into its folds.

Alas, now it’s gone. It probably happened in Warlords of Draenor, which very nearly completely killed the game in itself, but now it’s finally set in that I just don’t have that attachment anymore. I’ve stopped RPing in the game for various reasons, but mostly because I got tired of repetitive and cliched plots among the playerbase that were barely any better than (or worse, were actively encouraged by) Blizzard’s poor writing. There’s also a lot of politics and drama when dealing with RP servers for too long, and I think I’ve just gotten so tired of all the pettiness that I was driven away from it. All in all, that was yet another nail in the coffin encircling Azeroth.

So it’s time to put WoW behind me and play some other games. I’ve played FF14 in the past to scratch the MMO itch when WoW wasn’t sufficing, and I’ve started doing that again. There’s a huge amount of games I’m slowly working on beating, and a few big titles that I’m actively awaiting in the next few months. I’ll be fine without WoW, and I suspect it’ll be fine without me.

I enjoyed my time on Azeroth, but there are other worlds calling my attention… worlds with considerably more interesting narratives and characters to discover, no less. Maybe I’ll return, maybe I won’t. All I know is that this is the first time ever where attachment to the world and characters of Warcraft is not staying my hand in departing, and isn’t threatening to call me back instantly.

If anything… I feel delightfully free.