It pains me to say it, but FFXI has actually improved.

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It's been a solid four years since I last set foot in Final Fantasy 11, with my initial exposure lasting for all of about a week before the asian torture grind drove me off.  I was content to leave it that way too, until I saw a $4 one-month trial disk while bored in the wake of finishing BioShock.  I got it, installed it, and was surprised as hell to discover that they've actually lightened the grind to a more tolerable weight.  Grouping is still fairly mandatory upon hitting the teens from what I've seen, but a quest for characters in their 30s lets you summon an NPC henchman, and you can assign them a role (tank/healer/damage) to fill whatever you'd need for a duoing partner.  Additionally, rings are easily available that hold charges of an experience boosting enchantment, and that has given me a very swank boost in leveling speed that didn't exist back in the olden days.  The signet spell that the town guards can cast on you now gives an experience boost to partied people and a stat boost, both functions that didn't exist at launch.

That being said, FFXI is still one of the least user-friendly MMOGs ever devised.  The learning experience is akin to walking into an unlit, pitch-black room and yanking on unlabeled levers to see what happens, only to be told half an hour later that a naked pervert was standing in the room the whole time and you really should've been more careful about which levers you were grabbing.  Dying carries a price tag of 10% of a level, and the game isn't at all shy about de-leveling you.  Getting from point A to point B can involve a dizzying web of transportation involving chocobos, airships, ferries, and teleport magics from NPCs or PCs, and until you've completed the quests and have the money for those transport methods, you get to walk; no cheap griffon rides for you.  You do get a quest log, or at least a list of your active quests, but the NPCs are all playing coy about whether they're quest-givers; no floating exclamation points to be found.

The graphics engine is a weird chimaera; character graphics are excellent, but the environment looks like ass.  Muddy, low-res textures are used for terrain and objects, barely better than EverQuest's textures, while characters are running around looking crisp and detailed.  And despite the environment's low resolution and very short range for drawing PC and NPC models, it's not wholly smooth even on a 640MB Geforce 8800 GTS.  The engine is in dire need of a rewrite to improve its performance and replace the shitty textures with those of a decent resolution.  It looks better than EverQuest, but can't compare to any of the modern generation MMOGs.

The control scheme still sucks compared to a proper mouse-driven UI, but Xbox 360 controllers work very well with the game, better than constantly wrestling with its half-assed keyboard/mouse scheme.  Plugging in a console controller helps the handling considerably, but players would still be well-advised to create macros to automate commands that might take too long to enter through the menus.

All in all, I have to say that FFXI has gone from 'slamming your dick in a car door' to 'crotchety, unforgiving old MMOG that has potential for fun if you're willing to climb the steep learning curve'.  One back-handed benefit of that learning curve seems to be the discouragement of imbeciles; I haven't yet encountered anyone that I'd consider to be an utter moron in the game.  Presumably the morons never figure out that their characters aren't automatically equipped with their starter weapons, die in short order, become discouraged, and quit.  This is not to say that the population is immune to the presence of trolls, griefers, exploiters and other such rejects, but the utter lack of handrails on the game make it virtually impossible to use without a degree of care on the part of the player.

Can I choose which server I want to play on yet?
Does installing/patching require less than three hours?
Can I have more than one character per server without paying extra?

Actually, I could probably live with no to any or all of these questions, but I want to be able to travel easily between any of the starter cities. If I was to get back into the game again, it would definitely be as a Taru in Windurst. Bastock was complete and utter shit (can't speak for the other city) but I don't want to have to travel far and wide to party just because friends chose to be in another city. I had to basically delete my first character because they got stuck in the lands separating Windurst and Bastock and when I re-rolled in Bastock to play with friends I wanted to rip my eyes out. It was like playing in the Barrens but even drearier. And the Dunes. The Goddamned Dunes. Tell me they took out the fucking bats that patrolled both ends of that tunnel that connected the two parts.

Ugh. nvm.  I'd rather play in EQ's PoD with the USB cock-stabber attachment.

Just one question:

Have you seen EverQuest 1 lately?

I haven't been on it for a solid year, when I last logged on to a friend's account to say hello, but a lot of the old zones have been revamped to a much more modern-looking MMOG quality (Freeport upgrade design aesthetics aside).

Does a guy who makes a level one newb in EQ1 these days even see any other players?  Or is the entire playerbase a bunch of level 9000 guys on the other side of the world?

Probably not, and probably yes. I think the level cap is 75 or 80 by now.

Such is the way of things, in an 8-year-old Diku.


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