I can't say that I've spent much time with version 1.0 of Final Fantasy XIV. I spent hours installing and setting up the game only to log in, create an ugly, generic character, and then experience so much lag that it took minutes to even talk to the first NPC. I then stumbled around a mess of confusing corridors masquerading as a town for a few minutes before heading out to fight some low level enemies. Everything just felt slow (partially because of the PC I was running on), but also because even the smallest task took forever to do because of lag. Areas were a mess, lag was unavoidable, and the general game design was a complete disaster. I completely wrote the game off until Square Enix changed course and brought Yoshi-P (Naoki Yoshida) on board to attempt to fix things. He has succeeded in reviving FFXIV as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and while it might not be the most original MMO offering out there it's still really enjoyable.
Though Yoshi-P did much work to improve the original version before it went off line, his real baby is A Realm Reborn, the dramatically improved version 2.0 now coming off the third Beta phase. So far, I'm quite pleased with my experience during this latest phase — especially having more classes available. Knowing that all character data will vanish at the end of this phase, I decided to take a broader approach and sample a variety of races and classes.
Even though any character is able to swap jobs at level ten, but I wanted to get a feel for how each class starts off, so I created a female Hyur Marauder, a male Roegadyn Gladiator, a female Elezen Archer, a male Miqo'te Conjurer, and a female Roegadyn Pugilist. The Gladiator and Marauder both felt fairly similar early on, but I found myself spending the most time with the Marauder, as I want to eventually see my character as a Warrior due to my love of the job from Final Fantasy XI. Playing as an Archer was more enjoyable than I expected, especially picking off enemies from a distance while running, but I didn't stick with it for long. I felt the same way about the Conjurer. It was nice to have ranged attacks, but I like being in the thick of things. I thought the Pugilist might have been another good option for me, however being the armor enthusiast that I am, I decided to go back to Marauder as I liked the look of the character I'd made for it best.
While some might complain that the game feels too much like World of Warcraft, I found that even though the foundation might stray into that territory, there are key points of A Realm Reborn that make it stand out. The highlights of my experience were a pair of instanced battles, both of which involving me fighting a flood of enemies with only NPCs to assist. In the first one, I had twenty or so giant crabs after me and two NPCs helping. The second involved a Goobbue ambush, and I was assisted by a Miqo'te Conjurer. Both battles were fairly easy, as all I had to do was attack and wait to be healed, but they were great introductions to the system. The latter of the two quests even offered a pinch of the game's story, which was great to see. It actually felt like a single-player Final Fantasy game during this part, just one where you can have others help you out if desired.
All of my impressions were very early on, but I hope this trend of solo content continues as promised throughout the game for us anti-social gamers who don't always feel like teaming up with others. I was also able to enjoy one of my favorite solo activities: exploring. At this point I was only level seven, so I was very underleveled for most areas. I ventured through an area with level twenty enemies, only being spotted once, but surviving. I finally found myself in a level forty zone with foes that could likely kill me simply by looking at me. I was eventually get killed, but not before I found a new safe zone with an Aetheryte that I could then use to warp back and forth between at any time. Nice.
While still clearly an MMO, I never had to team up during my play sessions. There were also many times I found myself thinking how much A Realm Reborn felt less like an MMO and more like a stretched version of a standard Final Fantasy game. Much of this likely had to do with how well the PlayStation 3 version of the game controlled. It was a perfect fit for the system, especially the controller support. No telling where things go from here, but from my initial impression I'm ready to dive back onto the Leviathan server for the full version in August.
Final Fantasy XIV, in its initial form, didn't have the best of reputations. In spite of following up one of the most successful Final Fantasy titles to ever be released, I remember a number of RPGamers telling me to, "steer to avoid." The MMO, still fresh out of the womb, had gained a nasty reputation for unintuitive user interface, clunky question, bland environmental design, odd difficulty spikes, nigh impossible navigation, and a plethora of bugs and glitches. Final Fantasy XIV was declared broken by Square Enix themselves, and I refused to play it until a close friend forced my hand in 2012.
Considering the fact that I didn't have to contend with the mess of the original release, my frame of reference is somewhat lacking, however, I had heard from the people I played with that many of the more dire complaints were cleared up by that point: chocobos could now be found and mounted, questing and navigation were substantially more user-friendly, quests of all shapes and sizes had been added, and all of the more dire bugs had been squashed. I'd argue that graphics were still pretty bland and the UI continued to be predicated on too many sub-menus, but I certainly didn't hate the game as much as I was led to believe I would. In fact, I quite liked Final Fantasy XIV ver. 1.5.9.
I was excited to get my hands on A Realm Reborn's Beta after reading Naoki Yoshida's many development letters and viewing the Alpha video walkthroughs, mostly because they promised a renewed Eorzea. We were assured a brand new graphics engine, new server allocation, environment redesigns, a completely different interface, easier content mechanics, altered jobs, and more. It all sounded great on paper, but the little Trent in my head was screaming cynical things. Square Enix essentially committed to the creation of a whole new MMO, and I wasn't sure they would be able about to deliver.
After spending an unreasonable amount of time exploring the new Eorzea, questing in the wilds outside of Gridania, killing creatures big and small, and talking to dozens of NPCs, I can confidently say that I very much like A Realm Reborn. My biggest issue with the game's vanilla release was its lack of soul; at no point did I feel as though Eorzea was alive. Between all of A Realm Reborn's hilarious NPC dialogue, FATE events, quests and guildleves, active players, and lush landscapes, I can't say that problem is really there anymore. The lands may have just survived the calamity, but there is a certain vibrancy to the new world now. The UI, which was another major issue for me, is far less obtrusive and takes a number of visual cues from Final Fantasy XII. It also helps that I don't have to navigate a ton of menus anymore, and that the game plays well with a controller.
Where I'm still getting used to the landscape, it's hard for me to pass too much judgment on A Realm Reborn. That, however, speaks volumes. In spite of the fact that a number of final release features have yet to be introduced to testers, I'm still doing and seeing new things each time I log in. It's been fun, and I'm looking forward to the game's full relaunch.
While Phase 3 of Final Fantasy XIV Beta was not my first chance to play the game, it was far more substantial than the few hours I was able to play it previously, and my feelings have changed accordingly. Before, I was on the fence about whether it was any good or not, but now I am quite eager to purchase a copy and play when it launches.
The land of Eorzea is a rich and beautiful setting. Even with the limited number of areas to explore in the Beta, which can be summed up as a forest, a desert, and an island, it contained some incredibly varied and amazing sights to behold. The major characters have great designs and a lot of personality, and I found that the world pulled me in far more than I expected it to. I am particularly fond of how well it balances its own uniqueness with a grand love of the history of the Final Fantasy franchise, with even minor characters making nice little references to older games that can easily be missed.
The battle system is quite good, and the more I learn about it the more I like it. It isn't too slow and plodding or too fast and twitchy, always giving players something to do but with enough time to think and react to the situations. Between dodging AoE attacks and getting into place for a Heavy Thrust or Bootshine, it puts a lot of emphasis on movement and positioning, which keeps things exciting. The game suffers a bit by following the stereotypical class trinity of Tank, Healer, and Damage Dealer, and it really needs more classes, jobs, equipment, and abilities, but the existing classes are very varied and fun to play.
Outside of battle, the crafting and gathering mechanics are some of my favorite things about the game. The classes dedicated to these tasks, the Disciples of the Hand and Disciples of the Land, have a wide range of skills and equipment that they need to use to accomplish their tasks. Because of this, making items is a very interactive and complex process, and learning how to make a quality item can be just as demanding as learning how to clear a dungeon. Building up these skills can be a bit repetitive, but the payoff is quite nice.
As a sidenote, the PlayStation 3 version of Final Fantasy XIV runs rather nicely. It has some clear limitations with both its graphics and user interface, but these are relatively minor problems. The basic gamepad controls are fluid and effective, and I find them to be easier to use and more reliable than mouse and keyboard controls. A USB keyboard is pretty much needed for text-based communication, though. Since I don't really have a PC capable of running modern games, I'm very glad this version works so well.
I don't know if Final Fantasy XIV has much to offer to people who are already deeply attached to another MMORPG, but it is a solid game on its own merits and a good choice for those looking for a new MMO to play. Only time will tell if it will be able to build up a good community and have enough content to keep its players happy in the long run, but for now, at least, it is quite fun.
During my time in Phase 3 of the Beta I reached level 20 with my Hyur Archer and spent some time testing out the Lancer class. One of the things I noticed was that undertaking multiple classes with a single character seems to provide good benefits to make it worthwhile, as players can take over skills into their other classes, as well as giving players an opportunity to try out new things without having to go through creating an alt. It also helped that the non-story, low-level quests from other cities are available when long-distance travel is unlocked, so there is a good motivation to explore these and start afresh with a new class at the same time. The Archer class definitely suits my preferred play style, so the main decision now is whether to be a Hyur or Elezen in the full release. Hmmm.
I also spent a bit of time working on the Leatherworker class, and while it was obviously a bit less exciting than adventuring and exploring the gorgeous world, there were still enough nuances and depth to make it interesting. I should note that I haven't played the original game (thanks to the Benchmark Testing scoring my laptop as "no, just no") so I went into A Realm Reborn completely fresh.
While the game is certainly solo-friendly for the most part, there were quests that required brief team-ups. Fortunately, the duty finder seems to make this a less daunting process, even if it did require a bit of waiting. Fortunately, the usual ten-minute wait I had playing as an Archer (which appeared to be mostly due to a general lack of healers in the Beta) for the duty finder wasn't all that bad as the game is more than happy to let you go off and do something completely different while waiting, and it does guarantee a balanced party for everyone. The party quests were a lot of fun and generally successful, both in terms of providing enjoyment, challenge, and resulting in successful completions even with strangers. There were a few wipes against Ifrit, though. Admittedly, one of which was my fault because I'd forgotten to set the Limit Break action to a hotbar and the PS3 controls aren't overly conducive to doing such things mid-battle. Oops.
Outside of tasks like attempting complex UI switches on the fly, the PS3 controls worked very well. Using the hot-bars is intuitive. Those who are playing on PS3 will almost certainly want to attach a USB keyboard in order to chat, but pretty much everything else can be handled acceptably by the controller. It can be possible to get a bit lost initially navigating the UI on the PS3; it does become considerably easier as time goes by.
Being able to finally log in and play Final Fantasy XIV again was fantastic, especially being able to easily level solo through questing. My favorite part was being able to have dark purple hair in the new character creation. During my time with the game, I partied with some friends and the party system was very fluid. I love seeing what people are casting right next to the HP bars, a much nicer addition to this game. As a Conjurer, my eyes are always fixed on the HP bars of the party members, so being able to quickly see which spells are being cast and such is a life saver. I enjoyed it greatly, and it reminded me of the times of old playing White Mage in Final Fantasy XI.
As a long-time FFXI player, I'm pleased a lot of the same keyboard shortcuts from were implemented in FFXIV, especially that the F keys still target party members and mobs. The entire UI is much nicer and more user friendly than ever. I love the beauty of Gridania, and the game runs much better on my computer then Version 1.0. I haven't gotten into crafting yet, because I have never cared for it in any form, but I hear other speak positively about it. The hunting log is nice for those who simply want to go out and kill stuff, and there is a feeling of accomplishing with that. The game has ranks, so at rank one players have a list of mobs to kill. For rank 2 there are harder mobs in other locations and so forth. At level 10 you can switch jobs simply by changing your weapon, but I didn't get to try that out yet. Needless to say, I'm excited to play more.