"Level 50 is when it gets really fun. I'm just going to grind until then."
It's a refrain probably familiar to anyone who has ever played an MMO, or an online game with an experience system, or anything that has an "endgame" beyond what is typically regarded as "beating" the main story.
I've certainly heard this a good few times over the years, and once again it's rearing its head with regard to Square Enix's recently launched, newly fixed MMO Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. And I must confess, I remain somewhat baffled by it.
This may be partly due to the fact that out of all the MMOs I've given a go over the years, I only ever reached the level cap in World of Warcraft, and that was only after several years of on-and-off play. I certainly don't begrudge the time that I've spent with any of these games, however, because the journey to that level cap was, in most cases, just as enjoyable as what you did once you got there.
I don't begrudge the time I've spent with any of these games, because the journey to the level cap was just as enjoyable as what you did once you got there.
This isn't to deny the importance of good endgame content, of course; MMOs are designed to be games that keep people playing for months and years after release, and thus it's important for players who have reached the "pinnacle" of their chosen virtual career to still have plenty of things to do. Final Fantasy XIV certainly doesn't disappoint in this regard: there are "hard mode" versions of already challenging boss fights to take on; eight-person dungeons to run, providing a greater logistical challenge than the early game's four-person content; quests to get your characters the best (and best-looking) gear; high-level FATE battles to take on against super-tough monsters -- plus, of course, the nature of Final Fantasy XIV's mechanics means that if you get bored with being a level 50 whatever you can, at any point, change to a completely different class -- including any of the available non-combat jobs -- and start levelling all over again without ditching your character.
To me though, the race to get to the endgame content as quickly as possible -- often at the expense of doing anything other than the most "efficient" means of gaining experience -- is something I don't quite understand. The process of actually mastering your first class, getting it up to level 50 and completing the game's story is also enjoyable, so why deprive yourself of that? I don't doubt that FFXIV's endgame has its own appeal, but I'm in no rush to get there -- I'm having great fun working my way up the ladder and gradually building up both my character's power and my own skill with the game mechanics. I want to see and enjoy everything that the game has to offer; I want to be challenged; I want to be surprised by the things it offers along the way; and most importantly, I don't want it to feel like work... even though, by virtue of the fact I'm writing about it, it technically is.
It's not just MMOs (and those games that use similar mechanics) that this mentality seeps into, either -- and I must confess that my attitudes towards this behavior in single-player games have changed somewhat over the years. There was a time, for example, when I was keen to race through, say, RPGs as quickly as possible because I was so invested in the story and wanted to see how it would end. In doing so, I would actually end up missing out on a lot of content. I was very surprised to discover, for example, that my second playthrough of Final Fantasy VIII was almost double the length of my first, and to date I have never beaten Emerald and Ruby Weapon in Final Fantasy VII. (To be fair, though, I did suffer through that interminable chocobo-breeding sequence several times, though, so I think I've paid my dues.)
It's a difficult situation, though, because everyone has a different attention span and amount of patience, and these characteristics vary from game to game, too. Some people are more than happy to plow 400+ hours into Skyrim, for example, while others bail out before even reaching the end of the main story. I fell into the latter group, ditching the game 40 hours deep after realizing that I hadn't really gotten anywhere whatsoever, and was actually feeling quite bored with the whole thing. Compare and contrast with my attitude towards visual novels and anime-style JRPGs, however, which these days I have fallen into the habit of trying to 100% whenever possible, assuming I found them compelling enough to stick with in the first place.
The process of mastering your first class and completing the game's story is enjoyable, so why deprive yourself of that?
In short, whether I play a game with my mind primarily on where I'm going or where I am now these days largely depends on how much I've engaged with it on a personal level. To return to the matter of Final Fantasy XIV, the process of levelling up and following the story is so enjoyable to me that, while it would be nice to be level 50 and all-powerful, I'm not feeling any pressure to brute-force my way through the game in an attempt to get to what people are (inaccurately, in my opinion) terming "the fun part."
Ultimately, of course, it is your choice how you play a game -- particularly something inherently flexible like an MMO or non-linear RPG -- and it's pretty great that in a lot of cases, developers are catering to people who want to enjoy their work in different ways; in others, emergent mechanics and social groups, such as Final Fantasy XIV's FATE-grinding parties, make themselves known. I have a friend, for example, who has recently been doing Soul Level 1 speedruns of Dark Souls, which personally sounds like absolute torture to me, but he seems to have been having a blast, and more power to him for that.
I'm curious to hear from you lot reading this, then; do you prefer racing through games in an attempt to beat as many titles as possible in a short space of time, or do you like to take your time and be thorough? And, as a follow-up question, do achievements and trophies make you feel or behave differently in this regard?