Review by Sephiroth101
"A beautiful game marred by questionable design, FF14 ultimately dissapoints"
Final Fantasy 14 is the long-awaited second entry into the MMO market for Square-Enix. Previously known as codename Rapture, the game quickly released with little warning to a hungry player base. The common thread among most players awaiting the game was an opinion of Square's prior flagship MMO, Final Fantasy 11 Online, a game notorious for its incredible learning curve, barriers to entry, and required grouping. Final Fantasy 14 was to be the solution to the problems with Final Fantasy 11, or so was thought at the time. Fast forward to the release of the game and you are left with a game vastly different from its cousin and significantly worse.
The game starts out strong. Players are treated to an excellent opening cut-scene with voice acting and a basic combat tutorial. With five races, several subraces, and a ton of customization options, you start off feeling very unique. The mystery of the opening story arc sets up the game nicely before you are dumped off in your home state, of which there are three to choose from. It is here that FF14 begins to show cracks. The main quest offers no direction and the helpful tutorial shown in the opening sequence will never continue. You are expected to figure things out on your own or look them up online, a fact familiar to FF11 veterans and unknown to new-age MMO veterans. After some stumbling around players will progress through the first quest. This is where the game falls apart.
The basic set-up of FF14 revolved around the main story arc. It is here where impressive cutscenes and beautiful graphics will dazzle you. It is here where the game feels like Final Fantasy. Your player character has an active role in what goes on in the world and why. Unfortunately, these story missions are few and far between. There are no other quests to be found in the game at all other than these story missions every 5 or so levels to the level cap of 50. This is inexcusable for any modern MMO and one of the many puzzling design choices made by the developer. Aside from story missions is one other kind of basic quest, the levequest. These are all of the "Go to X and kill Y number of Zs", "Gather X number of Ys", or "Craft X number of Ys". This wouldn't be so bad if these weren't just dispensed with no explanation. You don't talk to a quest NPC and help them with their problem for levequests; you simply just grab them at a counter, much like a bounty hunt. A short token description of the levequest gives you some arbitrary reason for the random killing, but it is hardly immersive like you would come to expect from any other MMO such as LOTRO, FF11, EQ2, or WoW. Even non MMOs like Diablo and Warcraft 2 have more lore immersion than FF14.
This feeling of separation from the game continues as you progress through FF14. Levequests are handed out every 36 hours and you may do 8 of them during those 36 hour intervals. This quickly leaves players with a large amount of free time. But the problem is a severe lack of content in which to do something during that time period. Crafting is the major time sink in the game to do between leve timers, but even this is hampered by absurd design choices. An item such as a bow or piece of armor requires 2-4 other crafts to construct. Crafting level rises slowly and requires and endless input of commands through an unintuitive and unresponsive user interface. The keyboard and mouse is almost unplayable. Once one uses a gamepad, it becomes clear that the game was designed with it in mind, but technical issues still make navigating menus slow. Everything in the game requires multiple confirmations, causing most of the time to be spent navigating menus instead of playing the actual game.
All the time spent staring at menus is disappointing because the world looks stunning. The game utilizes the full power of modern graphics processors in order to make every action, person, mountain, and monster look absolutely amazing. The armor and weapon designs that can be seen on NPCs are fit for a king and the amount of eye-candy is only hampered by a large amount of copy-pasted terrain. The graphics are not the only good thing, however. The animations are very smooth and the sound is simply superb. The music takes the front stage instead of being some minor tune in the background. The sounds are all reordered well and sound like what you would expect it would sound like in real life.
The gathering professions have the best opportunity to look at the world because of the large amount of time spend wandering. Each gather is a simplistic mini-game of hot and cold, but it is a boring and tedious process, with one simple gather taking several minutes to complete. The good news is that people cannot compete for resources because many players can harvest from one thing at a time. Gathered material is typically crafted into some basic item like an arrowhead or whatnot before going on to the final item. Unfortunately once an item is finally crafted comes the atrocious task of selling it. There is no organized economy in the game. It is not because the game is new, but because the only way to sell stuff is by bartering with players or setting up a small shop.
Shops can be set up in the world by selling items directly off your player or by visiting the market wards. In the wards you may hire a retainer into your employ in order to sell your wares, but one quickly realizes that they must sift through hundreds of these retainers with a slow UI in the hopes of stumbling upon the item they need. There is no method to search for items, no centralized listing of items, or anything of the sort. This is the equivalent of walking into places labeled "STORE" and praying that they have what you need. When they don't, you go driving to another nameless entity. Buying specific gear can take upwards of an hour, despite the game being marketed as casual. This leads to an absurd scenario where most people through level 20 are walking in their starter items because buying is so convoluted.
Once one is done shopping they may want to do the primary part of the game, which is grinding monsters. This is basic to most MMOs, but nothing can be basic when it comes to FF14. The con system (how you check monster difficulty) is done by colors from blue to red, with red being hard. The level of the opponent is never displayed, nor is their health, mana, attack power, or any attribute to help you gauge their true strength. Why would you need to know that? Because the color conning system is broken. A red difficulty coblyn may die in two swings of your axe, while a red difficulty dodo will wipe the floor with you. A single blue cactaur can kill an entire group or a group can take on 20 blue marmots at the same time. There is no rhyme or reason to anything. The worst part of all is the random leveling system. Each action in battle has a 5-10% chance of giving you skill points, modified by the percentage of life each action takes off the enemy. This leads to ridiculous things such as getting 0 skill points after fights, healers getting 0 skill points in groups, and archers leveling much faster than other classes. The battle regiment mode in combat is supposed to let players chain skills together, but the system breaks randomly depending on who presses what button when.
Combat isn't a total loss however, because of some great systems. Health regens very quickly outside of combat as long as one does not move. Mana does not regen, but there are countless abilities that restore it and ensure an infinite supply. There is no auto attacking, instead using an active combat system with a kind of ATB gauge that means you never are sitting around. Almost any spell can be toggled to area of effect and the AoE is conical, requiring skilled positioning in combat. Items are looted off killed monsters automatically. The combat looks gorgeous as well, with slick animations and sounds that make it feel like you actually sliced through a monster. The best part is the freedom of combat. Abilities from other classes can be cross-equipped to any class, making an endless possibility of combinations, such as healing archers, ultra-defensive tanks, pure healers, or crazy hybrids. A limited amount of skill allotments prevents super characters from being created, with the only limit being imagination. Unfortunately as of the time of this writing, these strange design choices leads to solo grinding being the most effective (and boring) way to level.
Once you start to gain levels, you will be adventuring in far-away places which leads to a travel dilemma. One can use a limited supply of anima in order to teleport directly to a camp in a far-away land, but this is a finite supply that rapidly dwindles with use. The other way is a long haul by walking. Some of these distances are enormous and a considerable amount of time can be spent just traveling. Chocobos and airships, two mainstays of Final Fantasy, are not implemented, making the game feel like it was released half-done. It is somewhere around this point that the player realizes that there is nothing to do. The lack of content leads to a massive feeling of disconnection with the game. You don't feel like your character, you feel like a person at a keyboard. You know almost nothing about the lore or the citizens of towns because there is either none or they have no quests for you to immerse yourself in. The game ends up being a large amount of solo grinding monsters or crafts with a mission every once in a while. There is literally nothing else to do. All the little irritations such as a terrible interface, random exp gain, broken party mechanics, broken combat mechanics, insane exp curve, durability on gear (and consequently repairs that require a craft), no travel mechanics, and so much more just make the game feel like a beta.
The game has an enormous amount of potential, yet the fundamentals are flawed, which makes the entire game flawed. The game looks so good and tries so hard to impress you at the beginning that you are wondering 10 hours in "where did everything go wrong?". The game in its current state is about a 4/10 with a remarkable amount of technical and design issues that are hindering its growth as an MMO. The good news? Almost every issue is patchable and an MMO will always have content added. But as of now, I can't honestly recommend the game to anyone. This is one of those that you check up on a year to see how the pulse is, to see if it improved. The game has a powerful company behind it with determined developers, so hope yet remains for FF14 to turn from a rough rock into a shining diamond. For now though, its best to just keep it on your radar and nothing more.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/08/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XIV Online (US, 09/30/10)
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