I've been barging through Final Fantasy 14 this week after a massive patch allegedly trimmed a lot of fat out of the early game. If this is the grind-free version, my god, what must it have been like before?
FF14 is a very good game, and I like it a lot. The relatively simple class movesets are tailored perfectly to combat roles. As a Marauder tank I delight in shouting at every enemy on the field until they're following me around the arena. That gives my dungeon pals the room to deal real damage and clear the hordes while a sensible healer keeps me alive. It's the most fun I've had in an MMO since Guild Wars 2 and, before that, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
But FF14 has a classic problem. The base game is full of bloat and stale mission design, but my friends at PC Gamer are adamant that the game really comes into its own during the expansions. With help from some accompanying podcasts (thanks, This Paranormal Life) I have hit level 42 and the end is in sight, sort of. I have my very own Chocobo, I have plate armour that makes me look like The Winter Soldier, and I have a massive axe. It's going well.
But I'm lucky in the sense that I get to play games and write about them for a living, so I can justify myself to the guilty part of my brain that endlessly berates me for downtime. But for most players, how are you expected to plow through 30 hours of half-decent play to get to the really good stuff?
Final Fantasy 13 had this problem too. You're on rails for dozens of hours as the game painstakingly handholds you through what must be one of gaming's longest tutorials. The paradigm shift system is a lot of fun once you actually get to use it—but it's a long time before you reach that point. Likewise FF12's gambit system takes about 10 hours to get going. The addition of a fast-forward function in the remaster is a concession to the game's poor early pacing.
I don't mean to rag on Final Fantasy especially, this is a problem many games have, and TV series too. In the end it was worth persevering with season one of the US version of The Office to get to later seasons when it gets into its stride. The trouble is that without friends assuring me that the time investment is worthwhile, I would have quit a few episodes in. I would probably have dumped FF14 at about level 15, and missed out on the great mini dungeons that appear around level 20.
What's your breaking point? When do you get so frustrated with a game that you just uninstall it and forget it ever existed? I'm not even thinking about ragequits, I'm thinking of the slow disappointment that happens when you realise you're wasting your time with a game.
I've experienced it with many MMOs, and after many years even Diablo 3—which I loved—ended up in the bin for that reason. In a landscape where more and more games are endless 'service' experiences there is no cathartic resolution or closure. The credits never roll. Instead we often slowly drift away from games, and wonder if all that time invested was worth it after all.