Let’s start with the some baseline rules and background before we jump deeper.
I am a WoW player for over than a decade and a fan of the universe since 90s. It’s always been the game and the setting to me. Currently I’m playing actively, although I entered into a lull before 9.2. patch. I am not happy with the current Shadowlands expansion, especially with the bad, fanfic-value storytelling. Yet I want to see this universe till the end, whatever that might be, and still have hopes for Blizzard to recover from the mess they put themselves in.
FFXIV is the only MMO from the many I’ve tried that eventually made me stay till the end and crave for more. I had my trial account for 3 or 4 years, advanced to level 15-20 a couple of times, abandoned it, and only this June I started from scratch and finally stayed here. As of November 2021, it’s 5 months of more or less active playing (well, shared with multiple fresh 9.1. WoW activities). I’ve finished the whole major story, I have my character at level cap, well equipped and ready to proceed for the next expansion Endwalker.
This post has no intention of telling you how WoW is bad and FFXIV good, and vice versa. The games are different in so many aspects and yet alike, they both have strong and different attraction points, and you can enjoy both. If you play Assassin’s Creed, Witcher, Cyberpunk, other MMOs etc – it’s not about quitting WoW or other game you play, you’re just trying something new. I don’t vote for picking one game over another – but I do urge trying new settings, new approaches and expanding your horizon. TL;DR: FFXIV is definitely worth it. Whether you’ll eventually “transfer” from WoW to FFXIV, don’t like FFXIV at all, or eventually play both games – which is my case – is up to you. What I want to do here is to address the differences between the two games, the initiate fears and hopefully lower the threshold of entering FFXIV, because in the long run, in the end it’s definitely worth all the trouble.
Ok, let’s start from the start – a WoW Player’s Introduction Guide to FFXIV
Strange enough, it’s appearance you should pay attention to the most. Pick whichever race and gender you like, but tread carefully. Pretty early in the game, by level 15, you unlock Barbershops through a small attunement questline, but it will have only limited number of options compared to character creation screen. For example, you’ll be able to change haircuts and haircolors, tattoos and all, but NOT an eye color or a skin tone. So you’d better create your character with love and care.
At level 50, you get a failsafe item which will allow to recreate your character in full for free while keeping the progress. For example, I started with a human character, and at 50 I swapped her for a cat person. My Lalafell – a local gnome – used her item to change the eye color, because I was happy about everything else. That’s your final free option, later on you’ll need to buy these drastic change items for real money – but hey, what’s new from WoW shop? And by 50 you’ll realize what you really like and don’t like about your toon, and which one do you want.
As for class – or job – selection – it’s a lot more loose. As you know, FFXIV allows you to learn and switch between classes on one character, you can learn and level them all, so just pick whatever you like, you can swap later without losing any progress of the story or previous class leveling. Classes are defined by weapon they wield – for example, only warrior class can wield 2H axes, and it’s the only type of weapon they can use. Classes define your dungeon role and do not have specs, so if you’re a warrior, you’re a tank, period. You can assign and save gear sets, so you can switch between classes in a click: for example, you abandoned your rogue at level 35, started playing a warrior, but you can resume playing your rogue class from the very same level 35 just by equipping daggers and her gear set with one press of a button.
There are sort of “hero” classes, not unlike DK in WoW: samurai, dancer, dark knight, machinist etc. They start at higher level (for example, 30, 50 or 60), but they become available when one of basic classes leveled to the expansion they were introduced to. So don’t be surprised if you don’t see them at character creation screen: you can pick them once you level enough.
The Story So Far…
So, where are we? Actually you can just move with the flow, as story building is really great and explains everything you need to know on the way. If you need some starters, here they are: you are chosen as a Warrior of Light by the planet’s core crystal entity, as her champion, and move out to cause good. There are no factions, so all players are working towards the same goal. There are three initiate nations – or countries, which are at peace with each other, but deep into local problems, and we need to solve the problems and unite them against a common threat.
The first big threat are primals – god-like beings, shaped and summoned by joint prayer of a group of people (and a supply of concentrated aether/life force crystals serving as energy), normally out of desperation. While a primal can defend its people due to its immense power, it’s also turns them into mindless zombie slaves, and seeks to expand its slavery and influence as far as it can reach, so we need to kill them on sight. As a chosen champion of Light, we can resist this enslavement, so naturally we are the heroes.
The second common threat is a high tech Garlean Empire, not unlike Star Wars Empire in image and behaviour, which seeks to enslave the free nations and set its own oppressive “order”, so all good people must unite and resist them. And the rest is to be discovered in the game itself, FFXIV does a very good job with that, so you don’t miss anything.
Your First Steps: UX/UI and Leveling
As far as I know, FFXIV players do not actively use addons, but you don’t need to. User interface has a built-in customizer: you can drag and arrange all panels and UI elements as you wish across the screen, including adjusting UI element size. You can also adjust separate UI layouts for alt classes, raids, dungeons, leveling etc., so do as you please and what you got used to.
One of the first things you definitely want to do upon login is switching off the NPC/player/minion name plates. If you don’t want to walk in a cloud of letters and actually see some scenery, you’d better put them all off at once, then you can adjust. Personally I still keep on only vital NPC names and only mobs that I engaged in combat.
One of the best advices I got for a beginner’s leveling is: ignore everything except what’s written in the upper left corner. That means: follow the main story and do only class quests which pop up every 5 levels. It is a weird approach for a WoW-player – as we’re used to thinking quest hubs. But here it is counterproductive. Weird, but it works: leave all side quests behind, as they’re trivial (kill-collect-bring) and don’t add much except for some zone flavor, you can always do them later.
Main story quest, or MSQ, provides you with all the gear, experience and lore you need. I bumped into level story gating only once or twice around level 35 or 40, but you can easily replenish that in 15-30 minutes. Later on, you’re always a couple levels ahead, so main story it is.
So, learn to pick up only meteor-shaped quest signs – that’s MSQ quests, and blue cross quest signs. A combination of them both will unlock all the new options, all dungeons, raids and game features like transmog, mounts and what not. Side quests, or normal quests are here just for flavor.
Is FFXIV Grindy?
As a beginner, you’ll be pleasantly surprised: it is NOT. Not at all. It’s the least grind I’ve ever met in any MMO. For example, if they ever send you to kill a number of creatures, it would be normally three, not ten. What the game urges you to do is to lean back and enjoy the story, without even trivial kill-me-ten stuff, common for all MMOs. This is one of the biggest and refreshing pluses and reminds more of a movie or series watching experiences.
On the downside, you may even miss fighting stuff at certain moments. Prepare for multiple cutscenes, and a lot of legwork between them – at least at the beginning. But urged as you could be to skip the dialogues of MSQ, please don’t – at least not until you got the message and what is going on. True, A Realm Reborn (“vanilla”) story is written in a very complex language and a wordy manner (and even in Shadowbringers you may cut like half of every speech plate without doing much damage), but there’s a story map, and everything that’s going on, the events and acquaintance with the characters, arcs throughout four expansions. So clunky as it may be, your starting experience will pay off later big time due to story and character development. It’s raw, but it’s a foundation which is important to have.
And yes, FFXIV is not about hopping to level cap asap. As with single player titles, the story IS the game, so don’t rush and enjoy it :)
Is the Story Really Good as People Say?
Yes. As good as advertised, and having played it to the end so far, I can confirm it. Surely, A Realm Reborn – a “vanilla” – is where you start – will strike you not unlike other MMOs, and even underwhelming at times but since the big climax at level 50 it spirals up and up, becoming better and better with every next expansion.
I didn’t hate even the starting experience, it was quite ok, but it’s true that the story really kicks in by about level 50 and 1.x. patches content, and all the waiting and all the way towards it was worth it. The farther you play, the deeper is you knowledge about the world, the stronger – family-like – bonds you develop with the story characters, the more things intertwine and expand, and the deeper is your connection to the events. Things happening in the beginning and in the middle will pop up and get addressed in later storylines, so it’s all connected and works very well together.
One of the keypoints in every successful media product you care about is its characters, and this is the job that FFXIV also does exceptionally well. Some story characters may appear annoying, or weird, or ridiculous at the beginning, but as they commit more and more heroic deeds, accompanying you and participating in all the major events, having their own excellent character development and drama, you learn to love them with your whole heart and finish Shadowbringers (or in fact, a lot earlier) feeling like these are your legit family.
So yes: if the story seems a tad sloggy at the beginning, I highly recommend: wait and see, the path is worth it.
As with every MMO, you start with a lot of legwork. You get your first mount at level 20, and things begin to shine brighter, and you immediately and automatically learn flying (for ALL of your mounts, including polar bears and stuff) at level 50 once you finished the story for all the vanilla zones.
Heavensward expansion and on, you need a sort of pathfinder to unlock flight in every next zone. Normally it requires finishing a zone story, completing 3-4 easy side quests (blue cross ones) which take about 3-5 minutes, and visiting 10 aether current points across the zone to “attune” there. It encourages exploration – and you unlock most currents on the MSQ way anyways, so it’s not a big bother. By patch stories of current expansion (which take almost as much time as the starting expansion storyline), you’ll have flights unlocked in all its zones if you did this pathfinder stuff, so it’s recommended big time to do on your way. Flights will also ease leveling your alt classes as well.
Taxi service is not unlike WoW: visit a stable master in a settlement, voila, you can use taxi at this point. But it’s not good at all because your travel is limited to a couple of zone points and a capital – you can’t taxi between zones. Airships, like zeppelins or ships in WoW, will carry you between capitals, but all these options are merely for starting experience.
The greatest thing about FFXIV is aetheryte crystals which you can find in every zone’s major settlement – normally 1-2 per zone. Once you touched it, you can IMMEDIATELY teleport to this settlement from every point of the game world at will. Very soon you’ll learn the FFXIV way to travel: teleport to the settlement across the world, use mount to reach the point of interest in less than a minute.
Open world: less so in the beginning, and more like WoW experience later. At first, you might feel like you’re moving as if in tunnels between quest hubs. Worry not, this improves a lot once you get flights, and Heavensward and on the zones become more open and fit for exploration, almost matching WoW’s experience.
The last, but not the least: loading screens. FFXIV world is not seamless, and there are loading screens between zones, including major capital cities and city quarters which is annoying at first big time. But as you attune to more and more aetheryte crystals, eventually you’ll always be teleporting, never having to actually cross the borders, and teleport/hearthstone loading screens is what WoW players are used to.
Graphics & Music
Music is one of the strongest game features. Unlike WoW, which is more consistent and orchestral, composers go totally wild and crazy, and strangely, it does not ruin the game experience, but works pretty well. From orchestral themes, to jazz, to electronic, to metal, to chiptune – FFXIV does not have any limits, and you’ll often be surprised in a good way. The quality of the tunes themselves is great, and more than one theme will make it to your playlists.
Yet, environment visuals is one of the obvious drawbacks compared to WoW, especially at the beginning. True, after extremely detailed, bright and cartoonish WoW the world of FFXIV would seem bleak by itself, and become worse at night time. The cardboard textures of the starting zones don’t add much to the excitement. Yet, the game improves and develops by every next expansion, and the difference between, say, A Realm Reborn “vanilla” zones and those of Shadowbringers could be compared to the difference between TBC Outland Draenor and WoD Draenor. I guess it’s common for every long lasting MMO.
At the same time, characters, transmogs and spell animations never disappointed me. Combat is flashy, convincing and exciting, and you get a wow!-effect from most of the spells you perform. Transmog, or glamour, is clunkier by UI than WoW, but it exists, it works, and eventually you look as gorgeous and unique as your fantasy and acquired appearances allow it. Great thing about tmog: you carry the expendable mog reagent items in your bag, so you can transmog any piece of equipment as soon as you get it, even in a dungeon.
Combat will immediately make you wonder if it’s the right game to play, but I assure you, it is – it simply works differently. Unlike most games where it’s a race of how frantically fast you can mash your buttons, FFXIV has a long GCD on most abilities, so it’s more about planning and calculation.
True, when you engage your first little ladybug in the open world and perform one available blow in a lifetime, it seems underwhelming and super boring. But wait until you have more abilities – by level cap, you’ll run out of panels, and combat becomes anything but boring. Rotations are intricate, complex and super fun to explore and master, and if you throw in weaving in off-GCD abilities, and positioning for some classes (attacks from flank or behind make several blows stronger), it’s one of the most exciting experiences you’ve ever had. I’m not a fan of tanking and healing (btw, healers are supposed to do damage too here!), but all DPS are tried – and that’s almost all DPS classes – really start blooming by midgame, sooner or later, and their final shape at cap is most exciting to play.
Dungeons and Raids
These are one of the game pinnacles and strongest features, and major focus at level cap when you’ve no story left and if you want to improve your gear to max.
By your normal story leveling, you will unlock and experience almost all dungeons and raids for lore reasons (except for a few side stories) – moreover, it is required to do the next dungeon for story reason before proceeding. Worry not, there is a group finder which works exactly like WoW, and queues are superfast: from 1 to 15 minutes tops, especially with the starting dungeons. Dungeons are designed for 4 people, tank-healer-two DPS, one DPS short compared to WoW, so there’s more responibility for you, slackers )
Raids are called trials, designed for 2 tanks, 2 healers and 4 dps, and it is refreshing that there are no trash fights – you immediately enter a single boss arena and go for it. Well, there are actual raids for 24 people, trash, corridors, a bunch of bosses and stuff, but these are side stories, and you need to do only 1 by MSQ. These are extremely rare and are always side questlines.
The dungeon trash experience is this: normally a tank pulls wall-to-wall, half of the instance, then the group deals with the whole bunch by AoE means. Not so with the boss fights.
Boss encounters is one of the best things in FFXIV, and it works very differently from WoW. In WoW, you can shrug off most of the mechanics, and very, very rarely there would be anything that kills you on spot. It’s mostly a reactionary combat: a boss hits you with some ability, and then you decide what to do with it: step out of fire, kill add, dispel, run together.
In FFXIV, you always get a proper warning, a void zone, a marker, and you have to react beforehand, or else. Yes, it’s safe to presume you will always die if you don’t react to a mechanic, and never hope to live through it – but at the same time, you have all the time in the world to prepare for it and do the right thing.
Obviously, mechanics grow in difficulty and design as the game progresses, and when it’s enough to simply step out of the void line/circle in the first dungeons, the game really requires awareness and knowledge later. Mechanics are inventive and never boring, and every next dungeon and boss manages to surprise at some point. Long story short, you end every next dungeon admiring your job well done, admiring boss design and encounter design, and you always want to see the next one.
Loot is a good old Need/Greed/Pass system, and you can “need” only an item for your current class, but you can also greed-apply for your alt classes. Cherry on top, there are many treasure chests scattered on the way which add an extra loot – nearly half or more in addition to what you get from boss kills, same item value.
…is almost non-existent. There are arenas, yes, where it’s the only place you could fight other players, but as far as I understand, they are very few and not really a game focus. As a PvE player, I could not be less bothered.
What they say is true: FFXIV is generally a safe space for newbies and veterans alike. People are friendly, helpful, and eager to explain things. A wipe in a dungeon or raid is not the end of the world, people are eager to try and try again until success. It is normal and often to warn about being a noob tank, a noob healer, a noob player in general and your first time in the dungeon, or even forgetting things, it’s normal to ask about boss tactics before engaging, and people would support and help you, adjusting to your lack of experience.
I think there are several roots for this practice. Trolls and toxic players do not live long due to anal banhammer policy for misbehaviour, so this alone drives them out of the game (as they are banned or simply don’t find the game appealing for not being able to be an asshole) – or at least it makes them hold their tongue. There are no warring factions and/or sufficient PvP, fueling the enmity between players artificially by lore reasons. Raids are quick and take little time, no hours spent on running and trash cleaning, so exhaustion is rare. Wipes are not the end of the world, and as all healers have a combat rez spell which they can perform more than once per encounter, it mitigates the deadly newbie mistakes and overall frustration. All in all, it’s easy to be nice when everything in the game design welcomes you to be nice and rewards for it.
At the same time, FFXIV players are fiercely loyal to the game, and in social media they can be very unpleasant, from aggressive marketing to outright insults. Why, I banned a commenter in my blog just once in the whole history for insults – and it was a ridiculous comment, which looked like a 10-year old with Tourette’s. Guess which post he commented? A post criticizing the tunnel-travel experience in earlier game zones. And I’ve seen complaints across the web about similar behaviour. Note for FFXIV players: why don’t transfer your in-game attitude to outside world? It’s ok not to like a game or its aspects, any game is not for everyone, but behaving like an asshole is a bad advertisement and a bad attraction for others, and puts a stain on the otherwise white robe-clean game and game community reputation.
Conclusion: Final Fantasy XIV really has a spiky and high entry threshold – earlier graphics, wordy storytelling, earlier zone and quest designs, unusual combat system to get used to and what not. It really requires playing for a while – maybe till level 50 and patches 1.x by common opinion, when the things start to become shiny and bright, even if personally I did not hate it even at the beginning and enjoyed it at once. But in the end your initial frustration (if you have any) will be rewarded big time.
Excellent group content, intricate and flashy class rotations, great story worth of single player titles or movies, story characters that feel like family and which you don’t want to leave, constantly improving storytelling and graphics and a great community experience are totally worth all the bother.
And again: I’m not calling you to pick one game over another, any game. You know, you can love Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings at the same time, you don’t pick among them and argue which is better. You can play and enjoy more than one MMO and more than one game. FFXIV is a refreshing experience, and it is worth trying. And one more thing: even if WoW and FFXIV share the genre name and several common gameplay perks, the experience cannot be more different from one another. They are not competitors, they are great games in their own right.