The Crushing Doubt of Too Many Options – Open-Ended Gameplay as Viewed Through Final Fantasy XIV

I’ve mentioned a sort of crushing possibility space in a few recent posts, when referencing why I haven’t played much Final Fantasy XIV. With a few days of open space before we start seeing WoW news pick up again, why not visit the topic now?

For me, FFXIV is a fantastic MMO that satisfies much of what I look for in an MMO. It has a fantastic, well-realized world, modern graphics that aren’t an eyesore, an intriguing storyline that develops and grows, and has an endgame content loop that is fairly satisfying, if overly straightforward.

However, it has something that most other games in the genre don’t have – the ability for one character to serve as your gateway to all content. You can be all the classes, see every dungeon, raid, and guildhest from every role and perspective, you can craft everything, do everything – all from the same basic avatar. Depending on what you look for in your MMOs, this is either good (my one character can do everything and alting doesn’t involve a fresh start and repetition of questing content!) or bad (from an RP perspective, you might have a vision of your character that leans into being a specific job or role), but either way, it is definitely different.

Something I set out to do as my need and desire to run Shadowbringers endgame content waned was to finish leveling jobs, getting everything to 80 for the sake of being able to say I have, just like how I keep every class in WoW at max level from expansion to expansion. In FFXIV, that meant leveling the base classes I still had fresh or low to level 30, so they could undertake the job quest and become their final forms. I got pretty far, but with one class to go (Rogue to Ninja), I kind of crapped out.

Now, when I log in, I find myself spending a few minutes running around the Crystarium thinking about what to do, and the decision gridlocks me with the end result being that I exit the game a few moments later.

Why is that?

Well, this is where we get both analytical and personal.

My taste in MMOs trends towards games with clearly defined content tracks and routes towards goals and objectives. My chief concern with WoW currently is that the full breadth of the endgame journey is wider than need be, incentivizing all content in a way such that a smorgasbord of content feels required, even if that itself is a choice. Couple that with the haziness of the endgame gear goal due to war- and titanforging, and the game feels like an undefined morass, with a number of paths that don’t really branch and a vague end goal that always has something new on the horizon within current content. FFXIV does better at this in some ways – gear progression has a fairly hard cap for each level of play, and as patches roll out new gear, that cap lifts predictably and steadily. However, the rest of the game has a dizzying array of parallel tracks, which create the issue for me.

When I played in Stormblood, I geared a healing set and that was it. I saved tomestones, did dungeons and the normal raids, and eventually, reached a point where my kit was as good as it was going to get until the next patch, at which point I’d stop logging in and leave things where they were. In Shadowbringers, I can see the larger possibility space, which, in a way, is less motivating.

I want to level all the jobs. I want to have crafting and gathering all at maximum level. I want to have reasonably geared kits for every role such that I can attempt to solo old content and push boundaries like I can in WoW. I’d like to push through the content I know exists but haven’t done much of – hunts mostly at this point. However, that is indeed the issue – FFXIV offers me so many things to do, so many choices within the space of a single character, that I often hard lock upon logging in and quickly exit the game.

WoW avoids this neatly by having alts required for a lot of things. If I log into the game on Kaylriene, I am a Demon Hunter – I can only melee DPS, tank, do two main professions, fish/cook/archaelogize(?), and while my gear power allows me to do a lot of content solo, there is an upper limit practically where I cannot pass. I can do world quests, but maybe not all of them since there are profession ones, I can pet battle but I don’t really put much understanding into the system and haven’t since Mists of Pandaria, I haven’t even zoned into the Brawler’s Guild since Draenor, and the end result is that I have a huge possibility space, but it has observable walls.

In FFXIV, the walls are far enough out on most sides that I can’t see them, and that is unnerving, in a way. Sure, I can construct my own walls or push towards one specifically – maybe I finish leveling ranged classes since I just need to wrap up Bard. Maybe I level tanks. All my healers are at 80, job done. I can push tradeskills, but even with Ishgard Restoration, I’ve hit a point where my anemic Gil farming just isn’t quite enough to keep up with the higher-level requirements while also doing the quests to keep up with gear. Leveling Rogue to get Ninja unlocked sounds great, but I have two more levels to get out of no dungeon roulettes land, which means either roaming around for FATES, doing Guildhests until I doze off from boredom, or doing sidequests and levequests. All of these are attainable things I can do, but the game doesn’t really have a strong sense of guidance to which one of these is valuable.

In truth, it is a further challenge because the priorities compete. I am low on Gil, and doing roulettes would restore that – but the big Gil payout is once a day and is proportional to level, meaning that if I grab Gunbreaker or White Mage to run an Expert roulette for the cash reward, it’s fine, but if I run a lower-level accessible roulette the same way, I lose the experience reward for another job, slowing leveling progress. If I spend long enough leveling gatherers in the wild, I might be able to sell materials I gather, but if I sell the Ishgard materials, I am directly denying myself the ability to use them to level tradeskills.

That is the real problem – I enjoy the fact that there are so many goals to pursue, but there is also a very real friction between these goals, where chasing one forsakes the others, and where an ideal balance is perhaps unobtainable.

I’m sure at some point, maybe with 5.2 next month, I’ll surge forward and have a point of clarity with how to proceed. Story content rewards Gil and must be done at max level to progress the Shadowbringers story, and that Gil reward minimizes the guilt of using Roulettes at high levels, so I can roulette-run lowbie jobs and do the story stuff on an already-maxed job, using that Gil to fund further progression of tradeskills.

But for now, logging in is an interesting gridlock – there are too many possibilities and so far, my gut instinct is to give up, throw my arms up, and walk away from the game for the moment.

3 thoughts on “The Crushing Doubt of Too Many Options – Open-Ended Gameplay as Viewed Through Final Fantasy XIV

  1. Decision paralysis isn’t something I’d (yet) experienced in FFXIV, but nonetheless I know what you’re talking about. Open World games are where I’m most likely to experience it. I have definitely quit such games out of a mix of this analysis paralysis and FOMO — or more simply, that I might simply make a ‘wrong’ decision on what to pursue.

    Which I suppose is a different reasoning for hitting the same outcome you’re experiencing with FFXIV.

    So now I wonder if I WILL get there with FFXIV eventually. I’ve been sheltered somewhat by a laser focus (insofar as I do ‘laser focus’ ;)) on reaching max level in a single class (Bard) before even considering other class options. But on paper I *love* the idea of being able to do them all from the same character.

    Guess we’ll see — my tentative ‘plan’ is to hit FFXIV again this year, and reach the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting, because I felt pretty good about FFXIV’s endgame model, but it is in the recursive loop of leveling (which I normally loathe) where I found the most decisions and the ways in which that interacts with the endgame and progression messed with me.

      A lot of my friends only level very specific jobs or have very narrow goals and they seem to lock in far less, but what was weird is that I definitely went broad (leveled 8 jobs to 80, kept my crafters fairly close to each other in level, got gathering jobs minus fishing to 50+) and it is only after culling the decisions that I was suddenly locked in decision paralysis. I believe it is probably due to larger, more tangible goals that spread my focus to a variety of smaller goals (level all healers, level my level 70 jobs to 80, experience the game’s tradeskills to write about them, etc) where “get everything to 80” is far broader and less constrained. At a time of year when I tune out of MMOs lately, it just kind of neatly overlapped.

      That first character leveled through, though, should ideally be pretty constant without that lock, unless you try to parallel-level crafting!

      Liked by 1 person

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