This post is one I think a lot of people moving from WoW to FFXIV should see, because the current narrative is very much one of a pristine and amazing FFXIV experience compared to the gaming dystopia of World of Warcraft.
There are perceptions of FFXIV being so much better in so many ways, and I think on the whole, it is. However, there are some things that FFXIV does worse than WoW, or simply just isn’t good at, and some things that I think get overblown or overpushed by people who are having fun in FFXIV.
So let’s jump in.
The Community – It’s Really Good, But Expect Other Issues
Coming from WoW, the thing people so often and consistently say, such that it is a meme, is that FFXIV has a better community. I think that is overall true – my general play experience with other people is both more involved and more friendly and light than that of WoW. The focus of FFXIV is on simple, repeatable content designed around tentpole story content. Dungeons in FFXIV – not particularly hard. The base raiding difficulty? It’s pretty much LFR level of difficulty – you can wipe, but a few weeks into a patch a wipe takes a lot of effort to get to. FFXIV’s highest-end content is…well, we’ll get to that, but that stuff is also done by a relatively small portion of the playerbase, seemingly. All of this leads to things feeling pretty light and friendly, because, well, the content is.
What a lot of WoW players who move over do need to recognize is that while WoW is often plagued with a toxic elitism and a lack of communication, FFXIV has toxic rookie-ness. The refrain “you don’t pay my sub” is often used as a joke on the game’s subreddit, the kind of response you might get to offering play advice in a group scenario. There are a lot of people who, due to the game’s friendly design, just do not learn how to play effectively. You’ll see tanks not mitigating, healers not DPSing at moments where the group is topped up, DPS using group damage cooldowns or defensives poorly if at all, and the like. Now, the core issue is that to an extent, the game is built to allow this. Most dungeons in the game are tuned around an item level floor and cap that puts players into a very narrow power banding, so weak DPSers or healers spending their time babysitting a tank not using defensives works fine because that leaves one player who is baseline competent and able to act to carry the group, since the tuning is very forgiving.
A lot of times, I think FFXIV gets a lot of bad rap as a “weeb game” weighed down by anime shorthands and tropes, and that is a reputation the game gets undeservedly, as it rarely leans into such tropes in its storytelling and delivery. However, a large portion of the community definitely fits that bill. You’ll see a lot of anime character and vaguely Japanese names on non-JPN datacenters, Free Companies with initials on player frames like uWu and other such things. To be clear, this stuff is pretty okay with me – I roll my eyes everytime I see a Ninja main with a name riffing on Naruto, Boruto, or Sasuke – but it’s largely inoffensive. What I do find bothersome is rez macros and yells in dungeons and raids with this kind of nonsense in it. In fact, let me just stake a bigger claim and a hotter take – raise macros that aren’t strictly utilitarian are annoying and I will not commend someone I see who uses one. I hate passive-aggressive macros, jokes about waking up from a nap, floor tanking references, etc – it just clogs my chat log with your dumb jokes and you don’t even have a macro with a different joke to rotate between!
Because of the story-heavy nature of the game, most players will go in to trials, dungeons, and raids blind. On normal, this is fine – the fights are largely designed for this to be okay. However, every now and then you’ll get a tough trial or dungeon that will get people. Titania at Shadowbringers launch was a trip-up point because of the add phase and the use of Shiva-ice attacks with other area denial attacks like the star roots or her in/out AoE attacks. Shinryu was a group killer at Stormblood launch because he had about 3 primals worth of abilities on various overlaps and timers. Prepare to be frustrated compared to, say, a normal raid in WoW where most players will have watched a video, read a guide, or at the very least used the bullet points in the dungeon journal in-game. FFXIV doesn’t have that!
Lastly, the FFXIV community can be fiercely defensive of “their” game. Max from Limit and some other WoW players discussed starting a Savage raid group in FFXIV and that they were going to story-skip and level boost. This drew a ton of incendiary comments from FFXIV diehards that doing so was missing the best part of the game and they were wrong to do so. Now, I get the basic sentiment – FFXIV’s story, especially past most of ARR, is a big strength in the game’s favor, and I personally enjoyed it a lot. However, not everyone wants their MMO to have a story (and some MMO developers don’t even want their games to have a comprehensible story, hey oh!), and they just want to push on challenging content or PvP or do whatever their goal actually is. This one is unambiguous to me – let people have their fun. I don’t watch Max’s content on Twitch or YouTube expecting him to hit me with big lore dumps about the true nature of the Jailer in WoW and I don’t expect him to even know why we’re doing Eden content – and that’s not what I want from him. I want to see him push on the big bosses until they fall down. Do I think he’s missing out? Absolutely. Is there any chance anyone will convince him to roll an alt for story purposes by yelling about how he’s doing it wrong? Nope!
So in short, the community is overall better, but expect people to be resistant to changing play behaviors (even well-intentioned), expect to see people go in blind and not know the content, be prepared for chatty macros and excessively saccharine anime-style chatter from some players, and be aware that people have very oddly defensive reactions to critique of elements of FFXIV. It’s not everyone and certainly not a majority, but it is there and I think it helped me to be prepared for that from time to time. Also, a lot of this isn’t unique – I’ve seen WoW players defend Blizzard’s awful writing with a similar type of zeal to those that criticize story-skippers in FFXIV – but given that FFXIV has this reputation of a perfect, A+ fanbase while WoW is shown as a dumpster fire full of trash monsters, I feel it appropriate to tell you that FFXIV has trash monsters too, but it has smaller and fewer dumpsters to start nice warming flames in.
Difficulty – Very, Very Different
WoW is a game that is very much centered on gameplay, on tests of skills and reflexes, and gives players at all skill levels and investment to participate by fanning difficulty modes on the table. Each dungeon has 3 base difficulties and a high-scaling time trial mode in Mythic Plus, each raid has 4 difficulties, the main two of which are flexible from 10-30 players, and most content in the world is built with scaling difficulty now, so mobs increase or decrease in power based on your current gearing, with floors and ceilings built in to prevent endless scaling.
FFXIV is…not that. World content in FFXIV is tourist in nature outside of the story, with Hunts simply pushing you to a couple of corners of each zone and FATES sprinkled sparsely across each zone. Compared to even Shadowlands world quests, there is just less to do in any given zone in FFXIV. World mobs are stuck in their x.0 difficulty and power, so even in the first patch of an expansion, you’ll simply plow through everything on your way to Hunt bounties, FATE completions, and big rewards. Lower level FATEs that require Level Sync are, in actuality, harder than FATEs that allow you to stay at the current level cap, where item inflation pushes your power so much higher since those FATEs do not item level sync you.
Dungeon design is made very forgiving and also requires specific item levels for entry, with a ceiling on each dungeon that your gear is locked to if you exceed that level. That means at a certain point you cannot overpower a dungeon any more, but it also means the base experience is made to be forgiving enough for a group at minimum item level to do blind. There are precious few threats or moments of serious danger, and player skill only manifests here in a faster dungeon completion – but there are no rewards for racing through a dungeon either short of the time saved.
Raid content does better here, with Trials having EX difficulty to push harder and against more mechanics that are more punishing, while raiding has the downright simple Normal content and the Savage modes bringing skill-testing gameplay. There are also Ultimate raids, which have great cosmetic (at the time of release, the weapon stats are competitive!) and title rewards and lock you to a level and gear level that is appropriate for the raid’s theme. Alliance raids can be a smidge more difficult, but then you have more players to mask issues and so the difficulty is largely just in mechanics that can instakill you or do an absurd amount of damage, or execution checks (yes I did have my last Tower at Paradigm’s Breach tanked by 3 people who didn’t know to split Hansel and Gretel during shields, why do you ask?).
Overall, though, as much as the FFXIV community loves to talk up that they have a raid scene comparable to WoW, that is simply false. There is a great community of statics and a world first race scene that sounds similar – but most fights are bested in days, most raid tiers are over in under a week (since a tier is just 4 bosses compared to 7-12, this is understandable), and the number of organized raiders running Savage content is probably less than the number of raids running Heroic content in WoW. There is a better PUG scene in FFXIV for Savage, as the community settles on accepted PUG strategies and names them simply so a group can post in the Party Finder with the strat name in the title and pull players in relatively quickly. Since a raid is only 8 players and with fixed ratios for current content, there’s no jockeying for different raid splits (are we 2/2/6, 2/3/9, 2/4/13, or what?), and things generally start quickly without a lot of incident. It’s a good scene, and I’m not attempting to downplay it in any way, but it isn’t the same size as the WoW raid scene just by virtue of the number of other activities available for the average player in FFXIV compared to WoW.
On the difficulty one, an unexpected pillar post on my site is my analysis of FFXIV versus WoW in terms of actual difficulty, and the conclusion is pretty straightforward – both games are solving for different meanings of difficult. WoW is chaos unraveling upon your raid team, with random-targeted abilities, quicker reactions and more overall reacting needed, while FFXIV is about planning and executing a dance under very specific parameters. WoW fights can be easier to learn in that you’re so often left to improv anyways, but also harder because you can go weeks worth of raid resets without being the target of some spells and abilities. Meanwhile, FFXIV hits everyone pretty quickly and you can feel progress points in every encounter as you go because the timing and execution is pretty precise. FFXIV demands stronger execution of core job gameplay and rotations to meet tighter enrage timers and DPS checks, while WoW is looser overall with those and demands that you be good at your core spec gameplay but also able to rapidly adapt to random fight conditions, which it makes up for by giving less stringent DPS checks and enrages comparatively.
I will say that raiding is where I find FFXIV does the best on difficulty – it has multiple modes, those skill checks for players who enjoy that, but largely, FFXIV just isn’t a hard game. It’s also not uniquely hard, so when people who haven’t done high-end WoW content comment that they expect players like Max to fail to adapt, I can only laugh. The skillsets that make someone like Max good at WoW are things that will make him very good at FFXIV raiding, and the way world-first Mythic squads in WoW push things isn’t even different from Savage content – strict timers and assignments with tight positioning and maximized throughput with near-perfect positional gameplay. For that matter, I would laugh if WoW players were dismissive of Ultimate squads doing Mythic raiding in WoW – the skillsets are so very similar even if both games execute very different visions of “difficult.” I’ll maintain that the content average in WoW is harder, though, and if that’s what you love…FFXIV might not be for you.
Discoverability Quirks and Problems
WoW has a discoverability problem in that the development team has relegated most discoverable content to things like scavenger hunts and bizarre mystery solving like the Overmind mount. The information about the core gameplay of new content is spoonfed to you by quests leading in so that you know where to spend your Stygia and Archivist’s Research Tomes. FFXIV has the opposite problem, in that some cornerstones of gameplay are explained about 60% of the way, and others not at all.
The Bozjan Southern Front in the current Shadowbringers content is a perfect example. You need Memories to get your Resistance Weapon powered up, and you can follow the FATE instructions very clearly, but the Bozja ones – “eh, just kill stuff.” There are farming methods you can use and ways to do better at it, but the game doesn’t explain those at all. Similarly, the game goes to great lengths to tell you that you can do the Resistance Weapon outside of Bozja, but doesn’t complete that logic path by explaining that you still need progress through the worst, sloggiest part of Bozja in order to unlock the story quests you do still need to in order to unlock subsequent steps of that quest chain! Big oof.
Speaking of weapons, here’s a quiz for most casual-ish FFXIV players – can you provide me a list of steps to get a current-tier normal raid weapon without looking it up? I can’t even do that, because you need between 4-7 weapon tokens from the final boss of the tier, and then you need to spend 1,000 of your current best tomestone on tokens, but also, you have to spend the weapon tokens to buy a super-special tomestone, which when coupled with the tokens (which are just coupons), can then be spent to buy a weapon. Oh, but you need to talk to the raid gear vendor for the special tomestone purchase, and then the tomestone vendor for the tokens, and then a third vendor for the actual weapon to be spit out at the end? Why can’t you just roll up with 7 weapon tokens and 1,000 tomestones and buy the weapon outright? Why can’t one vendor manage the purchase instead of needing 3 different ones (which are thankfully all in the same spot)? Oh, and this expansion, there are some EX trial vendor options in the First with the current endgame vendors but then the Weapon trials all have you go to Mor Dhona instead, so the trials divide down the middle with 3 on one vendor and 3 on another, and it makes sense for lore purposes but is irritating gameplay, and oh the Tomestones we get are all Allagan despite that not being lore-contiguous on the First, and…ah!
Okay, the tomestone naming is a joking nitpick, but you see the point. FFXIV doesn’t give you enough info to always be able to parse what you can do with a given reward and it has incessantly annoying splits that are weird and ill-justified for no tangible benefit.
The Motherfucking Cash Shop
This one is really easy. WoW players despise the cash shop in their game, mostly – it is emblematic of Activision and their creeping influence, with sub promos and mounts being the shot in the arm for Blizzard’s business as it hemorrhages players. They hate boosts, and a lot of the quitters that I’ve seen who aren’t doing so for the lawsuit are doing so because the perception that the store and boosts are tainting the game, turning it into a pay-to-win shitshow where real money is your ticket to anything, through boosts, the use of WoW Tokens to get gold for real money in order to buy gold-based in-game boosts from other players, or things like being able to buy a mount for real money in TBC Classic, circumventing the gold sink and investment goal that a flying mount was at that point in time.
FFXIV’s cash shop makes Blizzard’s look dainty and small. Boosts? We got them, but you need a separate purchase for story and level, and a separate story purchase per expansion of content – but don’t worry, you can bundle them and save! Don’t wanna level jobs, no worry – just buy right to level 70 (and likely 80 once Endwalker is out) on as many jobs as you want, with only crafting/gathering jobs being exempt. Want mounts? We’ve got a couple dozen of those, including the fastest ground mount in the game and multi-seaters! Want special cosmetics? You can spend $12 to look like a giant Carbuncle magician! Appearance changes deeper than hair and facial customization? Need to buy a Fantasia! Rename a character? Got that too, $10 please.
FFXIV’s cash shop has literally hundreds of items for real money. A cool thing they do is that each new year, the in-game holidays get new items, but that happens so that the old ones can be sold for real money to players. Mount selection in FFXIV is pretty good, but a lot of the coolest and best mounts are cash shop exclusive, including ones that move faster than normal mounts on the ground and multi-seater mounts like the Lunar Whale from Fan Fest this year. A story skip to get up to Shadowbringers is $25 in total right now, and that doesn’t include leveling your character to 70 either. For that, you need to add a job boost, which is $25, bringing a single boost up to $50 USD, just $10 shy of WoW’s.
On top of the basics that WoW also has in some form, you can buy emotes, dye in rare colors for gear, orchestrion rolls for use in housing, housing items and special furnishings and finishes, and more. Most FFXIV players have, at some point or another, bought something from the cash shop, I would wager – and I know because I’m one of them. The base game has a ton of great stuff to collect, but there are some genuinely unique, quirky, and fun items that you can only get in the cash shop, not to mention the investment many of the items can be. The Fenrir motorcycle mount is spendy at $30, but it also is very useful at the start of every expansion as you work to unlock Aether Currents and get to flight, and pots of dye you buy can also be converted into Gil by selling them to other players on the Market Board. That means you can get some of the items you might want without spending real money, but the good stuff is locked to your character on-purchase, so you can’t cash most things out for Gil. (a correction here – dyes from the Mogstation are market board restricted and thus nothing from the cash shop can be sold for Gil, so no loopholes here)
Monetization In General
Square Enix has a more forgiving base subscription to the game that works very well for most players. At $13 a month, it has a limit of one character per server and a limit of total characters to 8. These are very forgiving limits since you can do everything on a single character per server and there’s not much of a reason to roll an alt in a world with New Game Plus mode to replay story quests. However, the standard $15 lets you have far more characters at 8 per server and 40 in total. That’s about it in terms of benefit for the extra $2 – something that is, effectively, worthless in the eyes of the game’s own design.
However, then there are Retainers. In WoW, adding storage space is a function of the game’s own mechanics – you can buy bank slots, buy larger bags, unlock and use Void Storage for certain items, use the Reagent tab in the bank for more, roll an alt on the same server who has the same options to unlock even more storage for non-soulbound items, and as a last resort if you have that many non-soulbound items, you can start a bank guild and use Guild Bank tabs for storage of your crafting supplies, consumables, and the like.
In FFXIV, inventory space is locked per character as a “server limit.” You have 200 slots of base inventory, a Chocobo Saddlebag with 70 slots, an Equipment Chest to store your gear with 30 slots per equipment slot, and the armoire/Glamour Dresser for various gear you want to keep for Glamour, mostly (the armoire can store class sets and various other items, but it is sometimes unclear to me what can all go in it). You can then get two Retainers in-game for free, each with 175 slots of storage. Where things get messy is in additional retainers – the game lets you have up to 10, but only two for free in the base game. Otherwise, it’s $2 a month per retainer for up to 7 additional ones, and $5 a month via the FFXIV Companion App’s “Premium” plan for one more retainer and a doubling of Chocobo Saddlebag space. A fully-kitted FFXIV monthly subscription is…nearly $35 USD per month.
On top of that, being a current player means always needing to buy new expansions (new players can buy ARR and the current expansion, which always includes all prior expansions), and the actual game purchase, and sure you can play a very generous free trial and that’s not just a meme – but once you get past that trial, you are going to pay up to keep going!
Lack of Meaningful Character Build Choices
All of your build customization in FFXIV comes via gear and Materia melding. There are no talents, there’s no different Bard specializations or a DPS Warrior – and that makes learning FFXIV easier, but it also makes mastering it easier. You never have an intermediate or expert build that tests your skills, like learning Momentum playstyle on a Havoc Demon Hunter in WoW offers. All there is is to get good at the one base job. Now, granted, you can learn 17 normal jobs currently and 1 limited job, and that 17 will grow to 19 in Endwalker, so that is where the thrill of chasing skill comes in. But unless your job has stat caps that let you do better by virtue of stronger play (being able to meld stats other than Spell/Skill Speed because you’re comfortable playing in the margins with less of it), there’s an easy BiS for each level of gameplay and little means for you to set yourself apart. In many ways, Glamour is unironically the endgame of FFXIV, because it is the way in which you can set yourself apart from every other Warrior, or White Mage, or whatever job you main. While FFXIV’s min-max community is less intrusive than WoW’s, it is there and at a very high level of play, you’ll be expected to know precise openers with oGCD weaves and complex use of Tinctures mid-rotation to maximize performance – and that gives you some room to develop skill, but there’s no deviating path in most cases, no tiers like WoW has in talents where two players can make different-but-equally-viable choices to adapt their character to their playstyle.
Loot Chasing Can Be Deflating
Loot is a hot topic in both games, and in WoW the random factor is very annoying to a large percentage of the playerbase. In FFXIV, the opposite is true – loot is, to a point, deterministic at the high-end. Dungeon loot and Alliance Raid loot are random, but the core gear you get from raiding your Normal and Savage 8-player modes is all done via a token system. I’m not going to say that loot isn’t exciting in FFXIV, but it definitely feels more like an inevitability and so there aren’t moments like getting an Inscrutable Quantum Device trinket at 252 item level from your Great Vault. To some of you, I’ve just described paradise, and I get that – but for some, there is a certain dopamine hit from the slot machine you might find yourself missing.
I think there’s too much of a dick-waving contest between the two games at the moment, with switchers being excited for FFXIV and perhaps bitter towards WoW while WoW-stalwarts are sometimes bitterly sneering at those moving to FFXIV or just discussing it more (I get it, Square Enix probably isn’t a workplace paradise either but no one is saying that or even insinuating it aside from WoW fans who set it up as a strawman to knock down). Both games have their strengths and weaknesses and both games have reasons to pull the audiences they do, because they appeal to different types of players in different ways. If there’s something I really, really want to capture by writing about both, it is that they have very different reasons to be and scratch very different itches depending on the player, and thusly neither is inherently better than the other. I will say that while I think FFXIV has had the better go of things since Shadowbringers launched in 2019, that isn’t to say that WoW is dead because of it (or will die, or will ever die).
I think people could do with a more positive approach to both games, myself included at times. I’m glad that people find things in WoW to enjoy – I’m one of them, albeit not at the moment and perhaps much less so into the future (more on that tomorrow!). I’m glad that people leaving WoW for various reasons have a game with a surface-level resemblance to something they are used to so they can get comfy fast with a good game. Neither game is for everyone and I think what I will say in FFXIV’s favor to close the bashing I just did is this – FFXIV acknowledges it doesn’t have something for everyone or something for its players at all times and it isn’t trying to be everything to everyone. It has PvP, but it’s also clearly barely there and not a focus. It has raiding content, but the scope and scale of it is vastly different. Blizzard is really designing and implementing 3-4 different games within WoW to varying degrees of success in an effort to please as many people as possible, where FFXIV’s approach tackles a smaller subset of playstyles very well and uses that strength as perceived by players to bring in new blood.