But, hey, if you're going to get picky, it's not exactly a saucer, now, is it? More like a giant cactus. In fact exactly like one. It is a giant cactus. And it's green not gold. And I did go back to FFXIV so it's not like I just shoehorned that quote into the title for the sake of a cheap pun. Not just.
Goes out. Comes back in again.
It all sounded quite simple. Square Enix were so thrilled with their million registered accounts they threw down a free week so former players could come back and help them celebrate. This corner of the blogosphere has been zinging with excitement over the coming of the Mandeville Gold Saucer for days. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop in for a look-see.
Things never turn out quite as simple as you imagine, do they? First I had to copy the entire game from Mrs Bhagpuss's machine because it seems I lost mine in the Great hard Drive Failure of 2014 and hadn't even noticed. Then there was the inevitable patching since Mrs Bhagpuss hadn't logged in since we quit back in 2013; that took the best part of an hour.
Next, presumably because it was treated as a new install, they made me watch the whole intro movie again and you cannot escape out of it, either. Believe me, I tried. There's only so much sonorous intoning I can take. Finally, I had to search for my server (once I'd remembered it was Goblin), which turned out to be hidden away under the the new Data Center tab.
With all that lot out of the way, out I stepped into Uld'Ah. This better be good, that's all I'm saying. That was when I realized I had absolutely no idea where to go.
Google is your friend but you don't always want to ask your friends for help right at the very first hurdle, do you? It's embarrassing. So I ran around aimlessly for a bit. Always a plan. Hired a chocobo, rode to the next zone, got off; nothing. Alright, Google, you're up.
Google didn't help much. A ton of information on what to do once you get there but nothing specific about where to go beyond "It's in Thanalan" and "You must have completed your Level 15 storyline quest". Well I'm in Thanalan and I've done my story, all the way through to level 33, so, covered there. Still no clue where to go.
As I wandered and pondered things began to come back to me. Don't they have some kind of Rapid Transit System here? Maybe it's a stop on that. Off we go to the Aetheryte in Uld'Ah and...nope. Nothing listed.
Oh, hey, wait a minute! I bet it's an airship ride! Come to think of it, isn't the Level 15 storyline quest when you get access to the airship system? That's why you need to have done that part!
Okay, I got this all figured out now. All I need to do is find the airship dock. That took another ten minutes, which is about twenty minutes less than finding anything in Uld'Ah usually takes me, so, result! Up to the counter (I'm down here!) speak to the Airship Ticketer (is that really a word?) and...she asks me if I have a ticket.
Wait, what? I thought you sold tickets! What are you, just the ticket clipper? I bet there's no unemployment problem in Uld'Ah, is there? So, is there a ticket booth around here or something? Work with me, can't you?
At which point, luckily, I remembered reading about some quest or other in one of the pages I'd googled, a quest I'd assumed was optional or additional or generally not anything I needed to bother with. Didn't that mention something about a ticket?
Yes it did! Some elven-tressed hooray Henry hanging about in the street outside deigned to hand over his unused ticket after a bit of to and fro - mostly fro since my character appears to be another of those silent sams, something I'd forgotten about FFXIV. Back to the Ticketer and it's up up and away into the wild blue cut scene we go.
Thus, after what turned out to be around two hours of set-up time, I arrived at Manderville's Golden Saucer. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes.
Good taste died at the door, that's the first thing that hits you. From bunny girls in fishnets to flashing neon signs to waddling anthropomorphic mascots this place has the lot. There's some kind of fin de siecle, art nouveau, Toulouse Lautrec brothel, Lalique-does-Las Vegas mash-up going on here that fair boggles the brain.
The most surreal touch of all, which is saying something in a place filled with Lalafels dressed like 1920s cigarette girls and three foot tall cacti dragged up as Mr Peanut, has to be the relentless oompah music, direct from Rivervale. I had to switch that off pretty sharpish.
The map is bizarrely rendered in Eorzean, an imaginary language in which I am not, nor do I intend to become, fluent, and the layout is baroque and convoluted. Stairs lead everywhere, some places are accessible only by lifts, and the whole place is completely overwhelming.
I loved it. There's an introductory quest that purportedly shows you where the essentials are but mostly I just filled that in as and when I happened across updates at random. Like any good fairground the Golden Saucer is made for getting lost and confused and a little bit fraught. Go with it.
It is a fairground, too, as well as a Casino. It has the best ever in-game reproductions of
traditional favorites like Test Your Strength, Through The Hoop and Grabber that I've ever seen. I played all of them for ages! They're all very satisfyingly tactile and responsive. The only way they fail to replicate their real-life originals is that you can come away from them with more money than you started and the Grabber occasionally picks something up!
What I'd really come for, though, was Triple Triad. From the little I'd read it looked as though it might be a card game along the lines of Vanguard's very much-missed Diplomacy. And guess what? It is!
You get a starting set of five cards in the very brief tutorial and then it's up to you to play against NPCs both in the Golden Saucer and around Eorzea. If you win you get some coin and occasionally a new card. Speaking to the NPCs gives you a line or two of dialog that hints at their skill at the game. The only one I could beat with my starter set was the hapless Jonas of the Three Spades but after I'd almost doubled my money taking him to the cleaners I had two more cards and with those I was able to beat Guhtwint of the Three Diamonds about one game in two.
I really, really like these card games inside MMOs, the ones where you can play against NPCs. I always think of NPCs as more "real" than players - they are the genuine peers of my characters after all - and playing cards with them is a great "in" to their world. More so than questing perhaps. There's a lot more that could be done with this kind of thing.
So, the trip to The Saucer was an unqualified success. For the time being I have no plans to return to FFXIV but as the game matures and broadens that day could well come. The main reasons we left were forced grouping and the unavoidable associated roadblocks along the main storyline. I still have serious problems with that approach and also an end-game that revolves around repeating group dungeon content ad infinitum for gear upgrades does nothing at all for me.
That said, an addition like the Golden Saucer feels very encouraging. FFXIV is going to be around for a long time. There's no hurry. I can wait for Eorzea to come to me and it seems to be moving in the right direction. Whether I want to pay a sub just to play Triple Triad, though...hmm. We'll see.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go to Bentbranch Meadows to see a man about a Chocobo.