Tom commented yesterday about how I claim to be playing Final Fantasy XI but don't actually seem to be playing it. Perhaps a more accurate statement would be I'm paying for FFXI. I have been logging in to garden, collect cooking guild points, sell things, raise my chocobo, and craft off and on. But I haven't actually gained a level in the month and a half since I started playing again. I'm probably going to cancel FFXI soon in anticipation of playing World of Warcraft again (4 other people said they were in for dungeon challenges which is good enough for me; I do expect more than that but 5 is the minimum) and I figured I should probably actually play FFXI a bit for reals before I do.
Initially I was wary about leveling because I didn't have my macros on my new computer and didn't want to build them all again. It turns out you can save your macros online so after patching my laptop I was able to transfer all the macros over. Then WBC was coming up and I didn't want to get into leveling just to take a 10 day break so I delayed again. Yesterday I finally decided to go kill some things. Tom told me the way to level now-a-days at my level (35) was to go to Crawler's Nest and join a book burn group. I did just that and walked away with 15 levels in less than 4 hours...
Historically that leveling speed is absurd. I'm pretty sure when I played it many years ago that you were looking at getting 1 level in 4 hours, not 15. The game has changed a lot since then and I'm actually not sure it's for the better. Here's the evolution as best I can tell...
- Killing even leveled mobs wasn't worth very much so you had to find monsters a few levels above you. You got a massive experience bonus for chaining such monsters back to back with increasingly smaller windows to keep the chain going. In combat mana regen isn't really a thing so this required groups to really work together to maximize their damage output and their healing efficiencies. The game had plenty of ways for smart players to increase their damage (skill chains, magic bursts, getting the right buffs in the party, having the right tank/healer/offhealer combo, etc...) so a group that was good at the game would level up significantly faster than a bad group. Soloing was not an option.
- They wanted to make soloing an option after year's of WoW and WoW clones. They vastly increased the experience gained for mobs at or near your level.
- They also added in quests with experience rewards. You got these from a book object at the entrance to a zone and it told you to kill X monsters. Complete it for rewards and then go back to the book to get a new one.
- Later they added these books to dungeons (where it's easier to find the right mix of monsters for the quest) and made it so the quests renewed upon completion so you didn't have to go back to the book.
Let's look at the experience you'd expect to gain from killing 6 monsters at each stage...
- ~1200 experience total but they had to be high level so it took a while to kill them and you had to be good to keep that average going. Probably you had to stop and rest a couple minutes for mana every 6 monsters as well.
- ~600 experience but they could all be your level which significantly increased the speed you could kill them since FFXI had pretty massive misses against higher level monsters.
- ~2000 experience from the same mobs but you have to walk back to the book.
- ~2000 experience and you don't have to walk back from low level mobs or ~2600 from the mobs the original group would kill.
Ok, so we're already more than doubling our experience gain. Depending on how hard it is to kill the monsters and the repop rate you may be better fighting the lower level ones. In fact, if you went out of your way to find monsters barely worth experience for you you'd end up reducing your incoming experience to 1600 or so but you'd absolutely butcher them.
FFXI has the option for an 18 man raid by combing three 6 man groups. Doing so trashes the experience you gain from killing monsters. It doesn't trash the bonus book experience. In fact, all 18 people could be getting around 1500 experience each from 6 monsters. Being overleveled doesn't even hurt anymore since the base experience has already been trashed by being in a raid... So you can get 18 higher level people to demolish monsters for significantly more experience per hour than in the old days.
This sounds great on the surface. Who doesn't want to level faster? The problem is all the interesting decisions and ways to play better from before are all gone. There was no communication in the group. I showed up with 17 other people and had no clue what they expected me to do. I'm playing a red mage/white mage which specializes in debuffing the monsters and healing people. We had 5 other healers and the monsters died too fast for debuffs to be relevant. Tom told me that as long as I wasn't AFK I was better than average. In fact, one of the other healers was completely AFK. He just stood there leeching a ton of experience and no one cared. There's no indication that other people were getting healed so I found that because I'm a little slower than the other people I was constantly just wasting mana overhealing people. Eventually I shifted into truly anemic beatdown as the best I could do. (Although since attacking enemies gives them TP to use on powerful attacks it's possible I would have actually been better off AFKing...) Eventually I hit level 41 and used my pre-bought scroll of refresh so I had something quasi-relevant to do. (It's a buff that restores mana in combat without needing to rest which meant the summoner in my party had infinite mana.) I also had infinite mana so I started casting debuffs on the monsters for skillups. It wasn't helping us win in any way but we really didn't need my help to win.
On the one hand leveling quickly was good because it lets me do some more things before I cancel my account again. I can go do a limit break quest. I hope to be able to get the awesome red mage specific hat. I'm high enough that I can potentially try the BCNM 40 or 50 fights.
On the other hand leveling so quickly is terrible. My gear is not appropriate for a level 50 character. Who knows how many spells I haven't learned that I should have by now? And it wasn't challenging or fun. I can see the puller having an interesting time of it in one of these things since you need to keep the right mix of mobs flowing. But other than the occasional 7 pull there wasn't anything to heal and it really didn't seem like what I did mattered in any way.