Review by Bremen
Some surprises, some disappointments, but lots of promise...
Most gamers in today's world understand that the MMO genre is certainly not for the faint of heart. It requires real commitment and dedication in many of the top MMO's today to really get anything accomplished and the creators of these types of games know that and craft their games in ways that not only draw you in, but also keep you playing...all the time. Final Fantasy XIV is no exception.
So let's get started with the section where we are going to find most of the BAD. Unfortunately this is also the section that most gamers really look at when deciding to purchase a game. I'm going to break this into sections of gameplay because I have a great deal to talk about.
The technical aspects of the game certainly seem rushed when first jumping into the game. You start out with some story and even get some tutorial information on how to get going with the game. This is a good thing, however the little things make it confusing to some. Aside from a few instances such as guildleves, you don't really get arrows telling you where to go in this game like in some MMO's. I personally like this because I don't want to be led around on a leash playing a game, I like the exploration factor. However some of the small things can be annoying. For example, many people couldn't even figure out how to return to their homepoint after dying. To do so, you have to open your main menu and click "Return". Doesn't seem to hard right, but believe it or not, that is confusing for some. Now is this the end of the world? Of course not. However I illustrated this because it's just an example of something so small that if it was added would make people's lives easier.
That's the biggest problem with this game. All the small little things that just keep adding up. Overall the game is solid, but all the little things screw it up. Like why isn't there a sort feature in your inventory? Why do so many of the popup menus take so long to load? Why is it when I move some menus around on my interface, they save for later, when yet others don't? Why isn't their a search function to find other people with? How come when I summon my retainer it removes them from bazaar mode unless I set them back up again?
All of these are explained simply with the fact that the game really wasn't totally ready to be launched. My guess is that SE figures they will work these things out as the weeks go by and so far they have been. Many issues that were in the beta were addressed with the release and they are making improvements all the time. So if these little things annoy you, I would recommend waiting a few weeks for some of the bugs to be worked out and for them to add more user-friendly features.
Now, no review at this point would be complete without mentioning the market wards. I'll only briefly discuss it because I expect they will be fixing it in the future and they've already announced they are making some improvements now. So the market wards are the replacement for the awesome Auction House that FFXI had in it and it really fails. It's almost like they went backwards with many aspects in this game. Simple things that the predecessor (FFXI) had, they don't have in this game. Imagine if you will, 30 large rooms with 200 people in each room with a bag on their head that you have to manually click on and look through the items to find what you want each time you are looking for an item. In addition, each city has this same thing with different people selling different things. Yeah, not a great system right? I could go on for days about the market wards but I'll sum it up to say there are people standing in the market wards who named their character "AuctionHouseWhere" and "WantAuctionHouse".
Hardcore or Casual?
What many people want to know about an MMO is if the game is geared towards the hardcore crowd or the more casual players. So is this game for the hardcore or for the casual crowd? Decide for yourself.
1. Lack of direction. The game basically tells you to figure it out on your own. There are a few tutorial leves you can do, but very minimal and they don't explain a great deal.
2. The grind. Don't let the first 10 levels fool you, this game has an extensive and painful grind. Much harder than that of Final Fantasy XI. Combining that with the fact that the party system isn't fully developed yet, makes the trip up to the level cap very difficult and time consuming.
3. Combinations ad infinitum. If you want to be a crafter, good luck. I hope you have a degree in math or are really good with spreadsheets. Making even the most simplest of items requires about 10 sub-combines of 4-6 materials each. In addition, the sub-combine materials are usually much higher level to craft than the final item itself. On top of that, you require crystal shards, whole crystals, or even a cluster to synth it. In addition, you really need to have "books" that are available for purchase for guild marks that are almost impossible to get at the lower levels. Plus you have to get varying levels of guild support to realistically craft successfully depending on your level. On top of that, as if that wasn't enough, you also need to have sub-crafts leveled for many of the synth items. For example you may be doing a synth for a level 30 smithing item that requires you also have leathercraft leveled to 20. In addition, the mini-game you have to play for each synthesis requires a bit of strategy in order to succeed each synth, not too much, but it is an additional step.
4. Travel. The amount of time you will spend walking in the game is huge. Sure, there are things you can get done quickly, but the time you spend traveling negates it half the time. They have a system in the game called "anima" that allows you to teleport to any place "crystal" you have already visited for a cost of anima. You start out with 100 anima capped. You get 6 anima back per 24 hour period. That seems like a lot, but after a couple of days you will have blown through that mount with all the traveling required in the game. You will then end up walking everywhere. Walking can take hours to get from the city of Gridania to the city of Limsa. In addition, almost every guildleve (guildleves are basically quests) requires that you walk to camps on the far side of the moon. Now, that being said, you can see in-game that things like chocobos, airships, and additional ferry's are going to be added to the game to make travel easier, but right now, they don't exist.
1. Levequests (Guildleves). These are basically little quests that you can do in the game. There are three main types: Regional, Local, and Faction. Regional levequests are for battlecrafts and fieldcraft jobs. The battlecraft ones consist of selecting the levequest, then going to the camp on your fighting job, activating the levequest at the camp, then going to kill some stuff. At the end you get your reward and right now they are limited to 30 minutes and can be scaled to be done solo or with others. Fieldcraft leves are for gathering jobs like miner where you basically do the same thing except you don't kill monsters, you go dig up rocks or harvest some wheat. Local levequests are your crafting leves, where you basically find the person somewhere either in town or at a camp, get the materials, and craft them into items to turn into someone. Once you turn them in, you get your reward. Since you can do these solo and in less than 30 minutes, they are fairly casual in nature.
2. Money. You won't really be hurting for money, they give it out in buckets in this game right now. Now Faction Levequests are similar to battlecraft leves but you can only get them by using faction points that you gain from doing regional levequests and take a long time to get enough.
3. Fatigue System. Square-Enix decided to create something called a fatigue system that forces a hardcore player to level other jobs or do other things in the game and prevents them from leveling one single job very quickly. At a certain point you will stop getting experience on a certain job until enough time passes or you go and do other things. While this sounds harsh, it really isn't all that bad and very few people really get into a situation where they aren't getting any experience. However the goal of this feature seems to be to limit the amount of progress a hardcore player can make giving casual players a chance to stay somewhat even with the hardcore.
So in the end, there are some hardcore and some casual aspects of the game. The problem is they don't really play all that nicely with each other right now so they don't really pull off either hardcore or casual in this game. If I had to pick one, I'd say this game tilts more heavily towards the hardcore simply because of the grind.
The battle in this game is a little more interactive than just the standard select a mob and hit auto-attack. However it certainly isn't there yet either. You basically equip certain actions on your action bar such as Standard Attack, Provoke, Cure, and Special Attack (such as Concussive Blow) and then select one of those action during battle. Special attacks can only be used by gaining enough TP by using standard attacks. Each action takes a certain amount of the action gauge you have that builds up slowly over time. So as it build you can spam attacks on the enemy in rapid succession or one at a time. The game also has a Battle Regiment system that allows players to select commands together to perform combined special attacks for extra damage or to put special debuffs on the enemy like paralyze.
In addition, this game also employs directional battle meaning depending on where I am standing I will do more or less damage to the enemy and I might receive more or less damage depending on where I am getting hit from. For example, usually if I hit a monster from behind it does more damage, of course if I'm running from a monster and it hits me from behind I also take more damage. Some monsters will lose an arm if damaged from the right side enough which prevents them from doing a certain special attacks they would have done using that arm. So battles do take a bit of organizing in certain cases and some strategy. In addition, both the player and monsters have abilities that are directional such as "area of effect (aoe)" attacks where anything standing around the player gets hit or "cone" attacks where anything in a certain cone shaped radius in front of the player will get hit, and vice-versa for the monsters.
Unfortunately the targeting system in the game is a little rough right now and some of the battle elements just seem clunky. However that is to be expected from an MMO during the first few weeks of the launch and is expected to be improved as time goes on.
Endgame & Rewards
This section will be fairly short because, right now, there isn't any endgame. No HNM's or world NM spawns to camp, no sky gods, no dungeon raids, not much of anything. We do have levequests that will get bigger and better as you level, but right now, no one has seen anything I'd really consider endgame. In addition, most people do endgame because they want some pinnacle gear that isn't available anywhere else. Let's face it, MMO's are largely about strutting around in your shiny equipment that no one else has. Right now, everything in the game is craftable or purchasable and what's worse, can be worn by a level 1 job. That means looking at someone, you can't tell what level they are or what accomplishments they have done, everyone looks the same. At least right now.
Well, we finally got to something really good. But it also has a bad side. The good side is that the graphics are unbelievable. You definitely won't find another MMO with graphics even close to this game. The wonder and majesty of the landscapes, detail on the equipment, shadows, individual leaves blowing on the trees, starry skies, sandstorms, and spectacular oceans will leave you in awe. This game has incredible graphic quality. Unfortunately that means you have to have a decent computer to really play the game well which is the bad side. Luckily you can also turn off a great deal of the settings to play the game even with an older computer and video card. This may hurt the game initially in sales and getting people playing because of the hardware requirements.
The sound in this game and music are excellent. Every zone has unique music that is quite good. The game supports surround sound and has directional sound effects so that depending on where you are looking or where your camera is panning you hear sounds coming from different angles. Sounds also fade in and out as you get closer or farther away. Wolves howling in the background, owls hooting, people fighting, swords clashing, hammers clinging, weaver cranking their spinning wheels, and more all add to the ambient sounds and make this game a totally immersive experience. Some of the cutscene music and the music in areas such as Mor Dhona really add to the game. Mor Dhona is an eerie place with monsters that will hit you for 5k damage at lower levels that instantly kill you. The eerie music compliments the dark and foreboding landscape with a towering crashed airship with a huge dragon wrapped around it in the background. It definitely gives you a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment going through that area of the game.
Well, of course, any Final Fantasy game wouldn't be complete without the story. Unlike many MMO's, this game really tries to wrap the storyline into the game. These come in the form of missions beginning with the opening cinematic and continuing with them throughout the missions as you gain level and activate the next missions. They have breathtaking visuals and include voice-overs for all the characters. The voice acting is quite good and the story is unique for each major city. Square-Enix ability to story tell and get the player immersed in the story are still top notch and they pull it off great in this game. Your character is involved in the story and looks exactly like he/she does in-game during the cutscenes with whatever equipment you have on. Overall the story is excellent and if you tend to pick up games for the story, don't overlook this game.
Well the replay value on this game is a bit different than your standard game because it really never ends. Square-Enix continually adds additional content that can keep the player busy for many years. Right now there are 18 different jobs in the game with plans for more in the near future. There is no limit to the number of jobs you can level and you don't have to switch to a different character to do so. In this game, simply swapping to a different weapon changes your job and you can go off and level it.
Overall this game is a bit unpolished in the gameplay category, but is excellent in the other categories. My overall score I give this game is based on the fact that this game has some surprises, some disappointments, but lots of promise
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Final Fantasy XIV Online (Collector's Edition) (US, 09/22/10)
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