(I wrote this post on holiday in France on the 31st August, so I've back dated the post accordingly.)
What to play.. what to play.. MMOs are a huge investment and the choices are hard.
I started playing Final Fantasy XI when it was released for PlayStation in the US - which was quite some time before it was made available for PC in Europe. I loved the game. I loved the music, the world, the art, the style, the fights, the graphics. I loved it.
I never progressed very far in the game. It was just frankly too hard and too big a time sink for me. As a university student it was perfect - I could spend a lot of time playing that game (and I did!) but as a married game developer, my gaming time is not only very limited in terms of time but location too.
I have some game time available at home, some at lunchtimes in the office and some on the train on the way home - though the train doesn't have a solid internet connection.
A few months ago I decided to switch over to playing World of Warcraft after a very enjoyable test period and cancelled my FFXI subscription.
A few months in and I realise that WoW suffers from some different problems to FFXI.
Initially, WoW had a great starting experience where small stories took me from location to location, unveiling multiple branches for me to explore and locations to investigate - suddenly all these branches dried up and I found myself completely clueless as to where to go and what to do next.
I decided upon the Druid class, attracted by it's many possibilities due to it's shape shifting nature, and found myself in love with the starting area. Roaming around the leafy landscapes and enjoying the mini-quests that introduce me to the local lore - it was one of the best and enthralling experiences I've had in videogames.
This is to contrast against my disappointment as I reached new areas in the game only to find that the equivalent mini-quests don't reward very much at all and that the only fathomable reason for doing these quests is to get that level of understanding I had attained from my starting area.
Don't get me wrong, I had, have, grown to love World of Warcraft immensely. I had tracked down Collector's Editions of all the expansion packs so that I could enjoy the soundtracks and art books, subscribed to the WoW magazine and starting listening to Blizzard podcasts about the game.
It was all very entertaining stuff! But the game had started to slow down in pace for me and my original goal of making it to Northend and to defeating the Lich King was starting to seem more and more impossible not to mention undesirable.
The trouble was, there are no real benefits or balancing if higher level players want to go back and help out lower level players.
Having joined a highly social and helpful guild - it was frustrating to find that the game doesn't offer any incentives to the higher level players to come with me to a dungeon that they finished 40 levels ago.
I also found myself exceptionally disappointed when I levelled up and found that I now couldn't enter a dungeon that I still had outstanding quests in!
Final Fantasy XI doesn't have any of these problems.
Sure, there are social problems the same I imagine that all MMOs do. There are always people who are rude, unhelpful and annoying whenever people gather together under any banner or for any reason.
FFXI had level capped dungeons. Users have their abilities reduced/removed but they were still rewarded.
FFXI added Level Sync (albeit very late in the game) so that lower level players could be helped out.
Don't get me wrong, FFXI is a great game but not a perfect game.
For a start, it's starting to look old. Very old.
I love the fact that I can log in on my PS2 at home and then switch to my PC when I get to work - I hate the fact that my macros and maps still after 6 years don't sync between the two! (I also really dislike the fact there still isn't a Mac client after all these years!)
Final Fantasy XIV starts it's open beta today.
It doesn't appeal to me in the same way that XI did/does.
Graphically it looks fantastic. If I could play XI using that engine and that quality of textures and lighting - you can bet I'd buy a new PC just to play it.
But XIV looks like the kind of game you can play alongside XI just fine - and I think that Square Enix knows this and has structured it's pricing accordingly.
SE are saying that if you are a subscriber of FFXI when subscribed to FFXIV, you will receive a significant discount - which is cool - but lets me know that they're thinking that a lot of people will want to do that.
From a development perspective FFXIV is a daunting prospect. The fact that it's so beefy that it can't be played on my brand new laptop - and would require me to buy a new home desktop, limits it's userbase from the off - not to mention the locations where their userbase can play.
Delaying the PS3 version for 6 months, citing memory issues, is another concern but this does reduce the number of playable locations for me - given that I don't own a XIV capable computer and my work computer (which is used for game development) wouldn't cope either. (I'm fortunate in that my employer allows games to be played on our work computers at lunch time.)
All in all - I become more and more certain as time progresses that FFXI is still the best MMO for me to play. In terms of value for money, ability to play with advanced players in light of a waning userbase, ability to play at work, on my laptop or on my ageing PS2.
I own maps, guidebooks, soundtracks.. all manner of cool merchandise for XI. My investment has been huge and I find myself, every few years, writing a blog post just like this one explaining why I'm returning to the world of Vana'diel.
I guess It's because it's just so alluring that I keep coming back.