Yes, yes….this is a Warhammer Online blog, but at the forefront, we as a whole are MMO players. Having had the sheer luck to have gotten one of the beta keys for Final Fantasy XIV, I have decided to put some time into it.
What does the game offer?
Well, lets look at the MMO genre as a whole first. This style of gameplay has progressed from the old days where the mechanics were harsh and demanding on the player. Time and a need to learn everything from scratch (including finding hidden commands and ways to progress) meant a lot of trial and error. Ultima Online and Everquest are two games that come to mind. As the genre moved on, these games became templates. They were updated and advanced to help the player learn what to do and avoid the old school ways of persistence equals advancement. Games progressed enough to allow a casual market to be born. A motto of “easy to pickup, hard to master” became the norm for most MMO’s. World of Warcraft and Everquest 2 both are such titles. Learning from their predecessors and fixing issues that were apparent in these older titles. Finally a next generation was born, where games added features that stepped beyond the standards. Warhammer Online and the RvR focus and Age of Conan with a more “action” style of combat, including combos. Not always successful…but it WAS progress.
Then we now have Final Fantasy XIV.
An advancement of sorts for it’s own predecessor, Final Fantasy XI. The original MMO in the Final Fantasy (FF) universe was already different than most MMO’s to begin with. But, it mixed some harsh realities like forced groups and unfamiliar controls into the genre. What it offered was a way for many to experience the FF universe, a mostly single player Japanese RPG style of game, together.
Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) starts off with this familiarity. Complete with a “software” based mouse pointer that looks like all FF games before it, including the single player titles. Lilting music familiar to FF fanatics, plays as the patcher does it’s work. And that work must be hard work. I will assume this is strictly Square Enix getting to grips with the number of players who wish to try the game. The patcher is slow, cumbersome and just is a major annoyance.
Once the game had been patched though, I was thrown into the character creator. Now, I need to note that the visuals for the characters look great, but the selection is not very up to date. With games, like Aion, offering kitchen sinks, toilets and refrigerators within the world of character creativity and the ability to design a unique YOU for their world, the system in FFXIV leaves a lot to be desired. I think you will see a lot of YOU’s wandering this version of the FF universe.
Now, I could go into details about all aspects of the game. I am sure there will be many a review to tell you what the scoop is. I would prefer to look at it first from the FF fanatic in me (I LOVED Final Fantasy since #7 on, but never liked XI), then as an MMO player.
Once you enter, you are greeted with what has become familiar to FF followers. You have a cut scene which gives some background, which is really not ANY background…because you will not understand the meaning for a while. Beautiful character animations and some fun, mixed with a bit of combat to get you started. The combat is slightly confusing, but I will get to that.
One thing of note is there is next to NO hand holding. You are basically told NOTHING. YOU must figure out how to target a mob, enter combat mode and do your attacks. The music though, that has become the mainstay of the FF players thoughts each night they go to bed, is ever present (I actually have a loop from the patcher, running through my head right now as I write this. ARGH). So, combat music has kicked in, I am clicking around, trying to tab target, pressing number keys, hitting gamepad buttons…until I finally kill what has attacked me. I get some more cutscene, and am thrown into a small region where a ton of players are standing around. I can tell the difference thanks to the fact players have both first and last names, and the NPC’s are Green and are on a first name only basis.
Thus ends my Final Fantasy love affair, and I enter the MMO side of me, and the frustration kicks in.
One thing our MMO’s have learned is that you need to get the player motivated and moving. Guild Wars, Warhammer, Age of Conan, EQ2, you name it, most modern games have some way to lead you into goal searching. FFXIV throws us into the “talk to everyone” and figure it out mode.
The first thing I did is enter configuration and headed to keyboard commands. You better read them and learn them, because you are NOT allowed to change them. M does open a map, but L or J does not open journals or logs. Inventory is accessed through a cumbersome menu. Now, don’t get me wrong. The interface is minimalistic and streamlined, which I enjoyed, but most ways to access stuff kinda sucked.
Now, I did end up talking to someone and getting a quest. Ok. Here we go. She shows me on a map where to go. I look at it, and just don’t understand where it is at. I look at my map, then head back to the quest log and look again. No clue. There seem to be differences between these maps. I could not see any markers leading me (which I am sure, the hardcore will love), so I decided to get moving. I run and run and run. I enter an open area which happens to be blocked at the sides with high hills. Very claustrophobic. This may have been the zone I chose (the forested area), so I am ok with that. Reminds me of the old starter area in EQ2.
I then see a creature on a hill. I run over and attempt to attack. Note, “attempt”. Multiple times I had issues getting to grips with how to enter combat. I could tab target, then hit 1 or F, then select my skill to use. I then had to hit enter to cast a spell. The skill on the 1 key at least shot off with no help. (I will also state, I am playing a caster). After his death, I turned to climb off the hill, and could not. It seems if there is a ledge, you must walk around it Guild Wars style to get off the ledge. No jumping of course, also like GW.
I then thought…wait… I forgot to loot that critter. So I head back. I note I cannot click on it. Bad lessons from MMO’s. Seems in FFXIV it auto loots your stuff, and says this in the chat window. Oh, and whats this? I see what everyone else around me is looting as well…./sigh. Why do I want THAT filling up my window?
Well, lets move on. Look at my map; Ugh, I have no clue where I am. Hey, theres a mushroom, lets kill it…hehe. Whats this? I’m dead? WTF??? Now, I need to enter the menu, select Return (the only way I could figure out how to revive), and end up back in town. A harsh penalty is applied, where I lost over 40+ hit points, stamina regen is cut in half, and spells will cast slower. Thanks Squeenix!
Overall, movement, gameplay and combat is a sluggish affair. This MMO is on ludes. I try to attack a critter again. I hit “active” mode. I stand there, almost 5 seconds, then I pull out my wand. I target, hit skill….builds up…then I stand there again…5 seconds. Skill goes off. I kill the critter and enter passive mode. PAUSE. Ok, back to normal.
I keep trying to see where the “Next Generation” of MMO, as Squeenix has called Final Fantasy XIV, is at. If anything, from all MMO’s now out, FFXIV is truly a step backwards. Slow and cumbersome combat, odd controls, harsh death penalties at level 2 no less, no direction. If FFXIV is a sandbox, then it has accomplished this. Of course, you WILL have to fill it with your own sand, as they forgot to add a few grains in.
Now, maybe this is me, and I have become jaded by the standards of MMO’s. I applaud Squeenix if this was their goal; to make the game obtuse, difficult and slow. My next test will be my wife. What will be her opinion, as she is also a FF lover. Does the game offer something for her?
For now FFXIV is a distraction. Nothing more for this MMO player.