Dragalia Lost: You Don’t Pay My Sub

A while back, I wrote about how Granblue Fantasy spreads out what would be the “endgame” experience of a more conventional MMO throughout its entire duration. And, unsurprisingly, given the developer the two games has in common, Dragalia Lost works in much the same way.

Dragalia Lost doesn’t have linear progression. Sure, you have a player level, but that’s more a measure of how long and how much you’ve played rather than anything else. And sure, you have character levels — but there are numerous ways to build these up, plus a strong emphasis on building a selection of teams and characters rather than just one “main” group.

The nice thing about the way Dragalia Lost does this — much like Granblue Fantasy also does — is that it provides the fun, mechanical, progression-based aspect of MMOs without one of their most irritating aspects. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean.

The reason all this came to mind once again was because of a recent article by the excellent Kimimi, who is, at the time of writing, taking a tour of a number of overlooked and underappreciated MMOs (i.e. not Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft). Her first stop on her journey was the soon-to-close Wildstar, and during her exploration she happened to mention the unfortunate habit of modern MMO players to suck all of the fun out of the experience in favour of discovering the most “efficient” way to play. She described this rather succinctly as “letsmakemmosnofun.wiki” — a website which doesn’t exist, but really should.

She got me thinking about why I don’t play Final Fantasy XIV any more despite being in love with the game world and how it plays — and it’s mostly down to this. My last few months with the game were full of impatient people who wouldn’t explain things to newcomers (“watch a video!”); who only wanted to run dungeons and boss fights as quickly as possible even when accompanied by obvious newbies; who would zerg rush hunt targets; and who would rather make potentially exciting new content as boring and formulaic as possible to play, all in the name of gaining experience/tokens/drops a little bit more efficiently. Eventually I just grew tired of it and gave up. If the community as a whole wants to play like that, fine… it’s just not the way I want to play.

This is often somewhat derisively regarded as the “you don’t pay my sub” argument — a reference to how some players attempt to make the point that because one is paying money into the game, one should be able to play in whichever way one wishes, regardless of the majority opinion of the group. This actually goes both ways in Final Fantasy XIV — I’ve heard it from both people who want to speedrun dungeons and those who want to go slow and enjoy themselves, so no-one is truly blameless. Plus it’s a stupid argument because everyone playing that game pays their sub to even be there.

Anyway, I digress. I was here to talk about Dragalia Lost. Despite technically being an MMO, and despite it looking like every other special event in the game is going to be a multiplayer-centric raid event… I’m not feeling any of that pressure to play a specific way. There are always people playing all the difficulty levels of co-op content, there are always other people to play with, and there’s no abuse being hurled in any direction for “doing it wrong”. Okay, this latter point is primarily because the only means of direct communication is the game is through a series of adorable stickers, but I haven’t even seen angry spamming of these except when that one guy doesn’t click “ready” on the pre-raid matchmaking screen.

Because there is a certain “non-linear” aspect to much of the game’s content and progression — particularly when it comes to special events, which tend to unfold as parallel storylines to the main narrative — you don’t have the same “guaranteed power level” that a more conventional MMO has at any given moment. Sure, there’s a theoretical maximum power level you can reach, but in order to get there you’d either have to invest an excessive amount of money into the game (like, way more than even the bluest of whales would be willing to spend) or have somehow bent time and space to fit more hours into the day than there actually are. Contrast with something like Final Fantasy XIV, which has a maximum item level that gradually creeps up with each new content patch — and which the most dedicated players tend to reach within a matter of days after the latest update before whingeing about being “bored” for the next three months — and you’ll see the difference.

What this means is that there’s a hugely broad spectrum of players who could potentially be teaming up with one another. Yes, various difficulty levels of content gate things off using the “Might” system — a numerical grade that represents the relative strength of a particular team of four of your characters — but there’s always value in strong players stepping into lower-level content, because different, equally meaningful rewards are on offer for doing so. To take the current Kindness and Captivity event as an example, you’ll see people with a team of over 10,000 Might still playing the Standard difficulty raid (which only requires a Might of 4,000 to enter) simply because the Silver Emblems that drop from that tier have a different (and still valuable) loot table from that of the Gold Emblems of Expert difficulty.

I appreciate any attempts a game like this makes to ensure the community is “coherent”, even if they’re not directly interacting with one another. Final Fantasy XIV has taken steps to try and address this over time, most notably with its lengthy “relic weapon” questlines that require players to revisit older content under various circumstances… but that doesn’t deal with the underlying community problems I described above, unfortunately. While Dragalia Lost is an extreme in the other direction by preventing you from communicating directly altogether… I think I prefer it that way, as it means everyone can enjoy the game — including cooperative content — without being yelled at!

More about Dragalia Lost

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