I did it. I took the plunge into the world of Eorzea. Is this surprising? Honestly, a little bit. For years I've wondered why I've never played an MMO. The potential longevity of the experience, the classic "quest → complete → reward → repeat" game flow that fires those serotonin pistons in the excuse that is my brain. Theoretically the formula that makes up the foundation of MMOs always felt like it was made for me and yet... Here we are, 27 years into my life and only now has it really clicked with me. This could be for a variety of reasons - I now have friends to play with and mentor me,and I got a fair amount of experience playing the game before investing financially into it. Regardless, something has clicked with Final Fantasy XIV, and I'm going to try and work out why.
It all started with patch 5.3. One of the biggest changes made was that you can download and play through the original story (A Realm Reborn) and the first expansion (Heavensward) without having to purchase them (however you do still have to buy the monthly subscription to actually play). Along with that, they streamlined the original ARR story by removing and revamping some of the quests, saving a significant amount of time for newcomers who are just starting the story. Tacking on some other in-game changes, this was a perfect storm delicately crafted by Square Enix to lure in new players like me, and boy howdy did it work. I made extensive use of my 30 day free trial, gauging my overall interest and really trying to see if this was something I wanted to pursue. It was hard work in the beginning, forcing myself to pay attention to the story to make sure I didn't screw myself over later on. It was tempting to just quickly pass by the initial dialogue and setup, in order to get to the "good stuff" but it doesn't help you when you actually get there, and you have no clue who anybody is and why any of this is happening.
That effort, in combination with trying actively not to bite off more than I could chew, was a big factor in me sticking around. My brain has a very bad habit of gaining interest in something, trying to consume too much all at once, getting frustrated when nothing is retained and therefore nothing makes sense, so it then wants to drop everything like a hot potato and boom - interest dissipates. I made a conscious effort to take my time and really immerse myself into the world and storytelling, and the payoff for my hard work did not disappoint. I'm still learning new things every time I log on (this is a 10 year old MMO with an almost 22 million userbase, so no surprise there), but I'm taking my time and focusing on what I want to do and not what I feel like I need to do.
As an ex-completionist (somewhat), my inherent need to do everything does NOT mix well with a game of this magnitude. There were some points in the beginning that the true scope of the game showed itself for a fleeting moment and I would want to run because "how could I possibly do ALL of this???" And that's the point - you don't. After some time, I realized that this game doesn't feel like it's crafted so you have to do it all. It's crafted for you to have whatever experience you desire.
Take my Warrior of Light (a title for the protagonist you play as), Atlas. Full name Atlas Polara, a Seeker of the Sun Miqo'te (soon to be Hrothgar) who started his journey in Limsa Lominsa. If that sounds like gibberish to you - he's essentially a cat boy, soon to be Cat Man, from a fishing town. Not being familiar at all with the game or even the Final Fantasy universe really, I didn't know what I wanted for Atlas. I had no immediate affinity for what class he would play, or what he even looked like. I flip-flopped between his starting class, ending up choosing Arcanist, and from there let the story and the options presented before me organically shape him. Starting as an Arcanist led me to develop some lore for Atlas. One of the non-combat classes based in Limsa is Fishing, so I decided that Atlas likes to fish as a hobby (that, and I also just love fishing minigames in any video game). As Eorzea has opened up for me, I've seen so many other paths I can lead Atlas on and I'm excited to see where my interest takes him. Right now, up until my current point in the story, Atlas was mainly an Arcanist but he's dipping his toes into the Dragoon specialty and I'm thinking I might want to keep playing the story missions as one. Even if I decide later I need a chance of pace, I can swap back to Arcanist no problem! Changing between classes is as simple as changing the weapon he holds in his hand. The almost effortless ability to change the job path your Warrior of Light walks on takes so much pressure off of making these decisions, and I love pressure-less decision making.
FFXIV is fairly unique in that your character is not locked to any specific class/job. Instead of having a singular level for your character, who has a specific job/class, you have an individual level for each job/class you decide to pursue. This I think might have been what sealed the deal. I decided to try out the Lancer class (the predecessor to Dragoon) only after I had reached around lvl30 of Arcanist. The novelty and ease that came out of changing paths was so flawless and simple it was unbelievable. I was programmed for such a long time to expect "you create a character, you pick your class, and that's it. Want to change it? Make a new character", and that prospect terrified me! My brain works very weirdly when it comes to game progress and time committed. The idea of spending, say, 5-10 hours with one character, just to up and ditch it, starting from the beginning, makes my anxiety spike. With Atlas though, that fear isn't there.
So I guess that sums it up really. I am officially subscribed to FFXIV, and I absolutely love it. When I started writing this, I honestly couldn't articulate why I had latched onto this game so easily. After giving it some deep introspection, and letting my stream of consciousness flow... there you have it. I think there are a lot of factors here that alone wouldn't have been enough, but everything falling in line as it did led me to start playing this MMO, and I am so happy that it did. I've been having a really weird time given the state of things in the world, so the opportunity to play a game I do enjoy, but also invest into a character that I created for myself, has been extra special. Watching Atlas change and grow, as well as being able to immerse myself into a beautiful, encapsulating world like Eorzea through him, is exactly what I needed right now. I'm so eager to keep adventuring with Atlas and see what great memories I make along the way.