Both currently available Final Fantasy MMOs -- Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn -- have particularly strong worldbuilding. For my money, they're more realistic-feeling, immersive worlds than many other MMOs I've tried to date thanks to some strong NPC characterization alongside lovingly crafted environments.
But the more you play a game like this, the less that beautifully designed world comes to matter. Once you reach endgame, you've visited everywhere in the world at least once already: you end up teleporting from settlement to settlement, or using the Duty Finder to replay dungeons and boss fights you've done before rather than going from place to place on foot or on the back of a mount. The locations become a means to an end more than anything -- Mor Dhona becomes the place you go to exchange the special Tomestones currency for powerful endgame equipment rather than the beautiful, surreal, partially crystallized area it was when you first "discover" it; East Shroud becomes the stopping-off point before you go to do the Sylphs' daily quests rather than a lush, verdant green forest in which you can practically smell the vegetation around you; North Thanalan becomes the place to go to mine for maps rather than the scene of the main story's dramatic final confrontations.
It's kind of a shame, really, because in all games like this, a team of environment artists has gone to considerable effort to put together an interesting, immersive and, in many cases, visually distinct world. But much like you probably never notice the interesting, unusual building at the end of your road any more, so too do you eventually stop noticing the little details like the disgraced pirate hanging from a plank on the side of a ship in Limsa Lominsa, or the tender-faced Miqo'te nursing a drunkard who indulged a little too much in the local product in Wineport, or even just the beautiful architecture of a city like Ul'Dah.
There are those for whom the world still matters, of course; in every MMO, you'll find a subset of players who seemingly make it their mission to see exactly which bits of the scenery it's possible to climb up on top of -- whether legitimately or through environmental glitches -- and then stand there doing some sort of self-congratulatory emote until other people try their best to get up there too. It can often be quite a fun challenge while you're waiting for a queue to pop or a friend to come online, but there's no inherent reward for it aside from the satisfaction of knowing you managed to get on top of the gate to Revenant's Toll while seemingly no-one else has.
Well, actually, there was no inherent reward for this sort of thing -- now, thanks to yesterday's Patch 2.28, there is. Dubbed the Sightseeing Log, this addition to the game's already generous complement of content encourages players to go out and rediscover the beauty of Final Fantasy XIV's setting Eorzea in a whole new way. No aimlessly wandering around until you fill out the map of an area and get an achievement here; the Sightseeing Log demands a certain degree of lateral thinking as well as unusual skill with the game's movement controls -- and a hefty dose of good luck, too.
Here's how it works: after completing the initial quest to unlock the Sightseeing Log (make sure you're at least Level 20, then go to the Gridanian Adventurer's guild and pick up the quest from the Miqo'te waitress there) you're presented with a list of cryptic clues as to where a number of different "vistas" are. The only information you're given is the zone in which the vista is located, and a few sentences describing several things: where it is, what time of day you should visit, what the weather conditions should be when you visit, and what emote you should do when you get there. In order to fill out your Sightseeing Log, you'll have to figure out all of these clues and then perform the appropriate emote in the appropriate place in order to receive a "stamp" for the location, which also comes with an interesting piece of lore about the area.
And boy, some of the clues are obtuse, to say the least. Here's one of the simpler ones: "'In a dank cavern that's never known the sun, the patter of the rain me only companion, I dropped to one knee and said me farewells to me ill-fated mates. They sing no songs for fisherman, but the sea swallows us all the same.' Such were the old mariner's words, and I would see as he saw." It's relatively straightforward to find your way to the cave in question -- particularly as the in-game clue also tells you the zone you should be looking in -- but you'll need to determine that it's the /pray emote, not /kneel or /goodbye, that you need in order to trigger it. Also, it needs to be raining and night-time.
How about this one? "'Merciful are the rains that fall, for they give great succor to the thirsting land, and comfort the old wounds of one who journeyed too far from home.' Such were the botanist's words, and I would see as she saw." For this one, you'll need to know that in the zone in question, there's the corpse of a Goobbue, a creature not native to that area. You may well have already come across this landmark through exploration or had it explicitly pointed out to you through quests, but it's equally possible that you might have missed it or never been to that area. In this way, the Sightseeing Log provides incentive for you to explore and discover the interesting aspects of the world that you might not have noticed before -- or perhaps you did see them once, but didn't really think anything of them as you ran past on your way to the next quest marker, staring more at the minimap than the scenery around you.
Final Fantasy XIV's vistas are somewhat different from a similar system in Guild Wars 2 in that there's more of an element of puzzle-solving to discover them in the first place. Guild Wars 2's vistas are marked on the map and simply demand that you figure out the actual route to them by hopping unconventionally across the scenery. Final Fantasy XIV's, meanwhile, demand that you decipher the clue first, and then, in many cases, demonstrate your agility (or lack thereof) in leaping around the scenery until you reach the location in question. Some simply demand you stand in a particular spot -- the cave described above is one such example -- while others require you to stand on top of gateways, leap off balconies onto lamp-posts or carefully fall off cliffs (insofar as it is possible to fall "carefully" off a cliff) to land on a particular ledge.
The system arguably isn't perfect -- the time of day and weather requirements in particular are a little too obscure at times -- but the Sightseeing Log provides an interesting new activity for players of all levels to engage in while helping to celebrate and draw attention to the astonishingly beautiful world that Naoki Yoshida and his team have crafted in A Realm Reborn. Ultimately it's a relatively small addition to the game that has little to no impact on your overall character progression -- aside from giving you two new titles and a non-combat pet if you find all 80 vistas -- but it's a welcome distraction from other activities when you need a bit of a break from battling or dungeon-crawling.
Final Fantasy XIV Patch 2.28 added a whole bunch more besides the sightseeing log; you can read full details on the official site.
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