By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG/MMOHuts General Manager
Special Thanks to various members of the beta forum community for taking some of these amazing screenshots used in this article!
Looking at positive reviews by both press and players alike across the net, it’s clear Yoshi’s team has done a tremendous job reviving Final Fantasy XIV from the graveyard of a launch in 2010 to the beautiful new world preparing for final open beta testing for the August release in 2013. Still the more I play this game, the more I begin to see cracks in the surface and glaring blemishes in an otherwise smoothly polished title. In the meantime I continuously stumble onto more well kept secrets that makes the game even more amazing and more importantly, addicting. This love hate relationship has me swearing the title off forever one minute and spending 6 hours straight the very next day completely immersed in the happenings of my home city of Ul’Dah. So how do you make a game that can give someone such a twisted mixed feeling on it? Let’s look into the good and the bad that has me so torn.
First off, the game is beautiful. As soon as the opening cutscene transitions into actual gameplay and you realize they aren’t just over glorifying the game with CGI, your mouth drops open. No matter what city you start in, it has that oh so hard to capture feeling of being a real metropolis. NPCs run back and forth acting busy and moving with purpose. Merchants turn their head as you pass by seeming to call out to you to check their wares. The tavern is so filled with roleplayers and chattering NPCs that at first glance you won’t even know who is real and who is a prop.
Expanding on this simple motif is the Levee system that allows you to take a set number of quests for various rewards based on your class. While this might sound like a repeatable quest system in your typical MMORPG, it becomes so much more with the highly interactive crafting system and crafting classes. Players acquire unique gear related to each craft and even learn skills that can be used to manually impact the success and quality of gear you’re crafting over time.
The Levee system contributes to this by addressing NPC guild orders to prevent the market from being flooded with the lowbie mats needed to level your craft. Meanwhile the quests reward you for your competency of being able to make these lowbie mats yourself without directly purchasing them. The sheer number of crafts available is a nice touch to make you feel unique and valuable thanks to what you’re skillful at. The limited number of Levee quests also prevents a single player from rushing up and mastering all the trade skills without suffering personal out of pocket costs.
Public Questing has been done countless times over the years but the Fate system in Final Fantasy XIV turns nearly the entire world into one constant PQ. If at any time you get tired of grinding monsters or running quests, you can typically roll into an in-progress public quest in less than a 2 minute walk from anywhere. Combined with the level sync, the number of party quests applicable to your progress is perhaps not endless, but more than enough to satisfy your social needs for grinding down epic monsters and mob trains with strangers.
Most importantly the free flowing story and unique class quests makes the world feel alive. You’re not, at least on the surface, the great warrior that is going to bring peace to a dying world. There are hints it might be you, but unless you actually put in the time to earn the title you won’t be addressed as such. Instead your class solo quests combined with the occasional main story quests makes you feel like you’re a dedicated party in mastering the art of your school while being a side character in a greater plot occurring on a worldwide scale. I’m skeptical if voice acting would improve or weaken this part of the experience but for now it’s in a fine state.
The combat experience is interesting as well. I think this and the solo quests are where the biggest break between love and hate of this game occurs. I more prefer action based twitch combat than tab targeting systems like FFXIV, but they manage to do it in a way that still feels quite action intensive. Constantly players have real consequences for dodging or not dodging. Running can be a viable tactic when facing a foe. Turning your back on a foe will even allow you greater movement in exchange for losing your visual of their tells. Attacking from the sides and back has purpose, and more so depending on secondary skill effects. Pulls and knock downs exist and placement all around is more important here than most tab-target based MMORPGs. Some classes can use skills while moving and others need protection to unleash their true damage spectrum. These all add small amounts that build into a satisfying system overall.
The problem comes in with elements of RNG that don’t necessarily add any satisfying gameplay benefits but sure can ruin your unlucky day. For instance the Pugilist guild requires you to fight against a wave of enemies that can AoE destroy you in an instant if you get too close. This creates a dilemma in that you have to stand near your ally to receive heals necessary to survive as a few of your foes will focus your character automatically with dps beyond anything a character can sustain.
On that note the solo quests are level capped and force you to leave party. This means there’s no ‘get friends’ answer to your failure. There’s no ‘grind more’ answer either. I love this idea if the difficulty made sense. But when you just explode with no idea as to why… or don’t receive the random healing and die slowly as you spam potions on cooldown… frustration sets in. Why did I fail? How can I improve? There’s no obvious solution beyond trial and error until you get it right.
This becomes a greater issue when you combine secondary class skills into the mix along with main story solo quests that are tackled by every class at the same level. As you can imagine it must be a nightmare trying to account for all the factors involved with creating such an experience that’s both accomplishable and still challenging for such a wide possible arrange of class and race set-ups.
But combine it with the RNG element, in the case of the story quest a mage that has a poison spell that will kill you if you don’t have an antidote. However sometimes he casts it twice and the antidote has a 3 minute cooldown. Unless you have a class with intense healing ability, that second cast is a death sentence.
This FFXIV Guild made a cleaner map, possibly in paint.
These are primary problems that are hard to ignore. But there are lesser issues with the UI that grind hatred into my soul at a much slower pace. The map is atrocious. If you disagree, comment and tell me about it. Personally I felt it was not obvious that you could zoom the map to make the text on it more defined. In tightly compacted cities with multiple levels, you will feel lost for days until a wiser resident of Eorzea demonstrates how to utilize it. As much as I dislike autopath systems, FFXIV should consider implementing some guidance in the major cities until they iron out their UI a bit. Quest in another zone you’ve never been to? Well good luck with that as the already ridiculous map UI will hide your destination within the fog of war. It’s ok though as at least the fog of war is clean and concise in comparison.
Other minor issues you’ll run into include the menu systems. If you’ve been at the MMORPG game for a while, everything will feel like it takes extra clicks to accomplish compared to the standard modern MMORPG UI. Or having to click and drag quest items into a box when it’s obvious what they want and which item goes in the slot. Why isn’t this automated? There’s just no reason for it.
I gave up on getting where I was going and just decided to chill in a fountain while my anger subsided.
One final quirk is the odd localization that often adopts stylization over functionality. Now this in part might just be my lack of experience with other Final Fantasy titles so I don’t know the lingo. Still both teleport crystals and various merchants carry names that could be simplified to make their purpose more clear. I suppose if you’re hardcore into RP it might make the world feel a little less real. For the rest of us though it’s just a nuisance adding to the learning curve with experiences that serve more as a time sink than a fun experience.
In the end FFXIV is far from perfect. And no I don’t want the “it’s still in beta” excuse as there’s only so much even a team as skilled as the Realm Reborn team can accomplish in a month. The game has been made and remade again. Put through three separate long duration beta phases. The time is now or never for Final Fantasy XIV. Still despite all these pet peeves and inconveniences, the game is gorgeous and, possibly more importantly, is launching in a complete void of quality MMORPG releases. Somehow this is occurring in the final hours of summer and before the winter rush to top it off. It seems the stars have aligned for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and I wish them luck in dodging another mass meteor extinction. It’s rare you survive such events and I doubt FFXIV can handle a second catastrophe.