Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Impressions On The FFXIV: A Realm Reborn Beta Test

16 months is quite a long time to go without writing anything. I needn't go into too much detail in regards to what kept me away for so long. Suffice it to say that I have lacked the motivation to do much of anything of importance when it comes to my writing or drawing.

Not exactly sure what really changed this morning, but I feel some semblance of inspiration to write. It perhaps has something to do with getting up early. I seem to have a little more energy than usual as a direct result. So I guess it's time to focus that morning energy towards my topic for today; Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

Final Fantasy XIV launched on PC back in late 2010 to unfavorable review scores. Quite frankly, it was a critical failure for the long running Final Fantasy series. Terrible interface, broken economy, and sadly lacking fun things to do. The MMORPG was a complete mess. Square-Enix seemed to understand that this game would be a serious black mark (SE is usually pretty oblivious to this stuff) on an overall fantastic franchise and thus reshuffled the core development team. As a result, several years later, they present to us the relaunch; Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.

FFXIV: ARR Screenshot
With 3 weekends of beta testing under my belt, I feel it's the perfect time to write out my thoughts and impressions on where the game is at, and where it could lead in the future. However, there are a few things that I think are important for me to mention before I get into the details.

1. I've played solely on the Playstation 3 platform so far. No PC play. Though I am currently downloading the PC client to test out this weekend. Though I'm not quite sure how my laptop will compare yet. The official FFXIV: ARR benchmark has assured me that at least I'll be able to play the game, while still retaining a decent amount of graphical fidelity.

2. I'm in no way breaking the current Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) set in place by Square-Enix. Everyone is allowed to talk about the current beta test, and share all forms of screenshots. No audio or video of direct game-play.

3. I didn't actually play FFXIV during it's 1.0 launch days. I followed it for quite some time and stayed pretty up to date with the game. Eventually, the game flopped and I lost interest. It wasn't until earlier this year, when information started to come forth that the Playstation 3 version was almost ready for testing, that I gained a new found interest.

With those points out of the way, it's time for my detailed impressions on pretty much everything that I've seen during the testing. All of which is, of course, subject to change at any time. We are still in testing after all. Not to mention the fact that we're playing a MMORPG which will no doubt change and update it's feature set on an almost monthly basis for years. I suspect this article will become fairly outdated eventually. So let's hurry up and move on!

The first thing I noticed upon loading up the game on my PS3 is the shear number of options for character creation. You can pick from 5 different races. Each with male and female options, unlike in Final Fantasy XI where you had a couple gender specific races. Then you get the surprising option to pick from 2 different race variations. Resulting in subtly different looking characters as well as slight stat alterations. Usually one favoring melee and one favoring the magic arts.

The actual character customization is quite robust when compared to Final Fantasy XI. Which should be expected from a modern Final Fantasy MMO. Hair styles (with highlights), facial features (beautiful eye coloring), height (anywhere from 1-100), and muscle tone are all options here. You get a few relatively surprising additions as well; The Lallafel's have some ear options that can totally change the overall emotional look of your character, and the Miqo'te get some interesting tail length and design options. Lots of fun to be had with the character creation tools and I spent a good hour making my first Eorzean inhabitant.

Once you're in the game world, FFXIV: ARR does a fantastic job guiding you through the game world and keeping you up to date with all the new features as they get unlocked. I still remember my early days in FFXI where you absolutely had to do a Google search for all your information in order to get anywhere or do anything.

Was that a quest I just accepted? Where do I need to go? How do I form a party? Macros? How the heck does this map work?

FFXI was rough around the edges in that regard. Very difficult for new players. Thinking on it now, that is probably my most welcome feature in FFXIV: ARR; the tutorial system. All the information you could ever need is right there and just a couple button presses away. So handy. Though, I should hold my tongue when I say that the tutorial is my favorite feature as there is a lot of great systems at work here.

Speaking of great systems, how about that Armory System? You want to change your job to a Black Mage? Just simply equip a staff and you're a Black Mage. Fancy being a Lancer or Dragoon? You equip a spear, obviously. It's a fantastic system that actually makes a lot of sense. To top it off you don't have to worry about filling up your inventory as, just like in the single player Final Fantasy games, you get your own personal inventory (100 items) as well as a completely mobile armory that keeps all your equipment separate and ready to use.

To start, you get access to just a single class. That class will determine where you start in the game world and what quests you can partake in. However, once you reach level 10 and finish some story quests, you gain the opportunity to join other guilds around the world to unlock whichever classes you want. It's a fantastic system and it's still a great feeling knowing that you only need one character (ala FFXI) as you just switch your class/job whenever you feel the need to do so.

Once you get the basics down and finish a few quests (there are plenty of quests!) to help out the citizens from the city you started in, you'll get to go outside and tangle with some monsters. With FFXI as my MMORPG of choice, it didn't really take me too long to adjust to the FFXIV: ARR battle system as it's similar, but with lots of nice changes and additions. First off; it's super quick! You pull out your weapon to start swinging, and right away you're casting spells or using fancy weapon skills to bash the beasties into the ground. All of the spells and abilities you learn are on a fancy new hot bar that is pretty accessible early on as you only have 1 or 2 skills to use anyways. L2 and R2 access different sections of the hot bar, while the dpad and the face buttons on the PS3 controller use the skills within the 2 sections. Once you play around with it some, it becomes second nature to use your skills. Main point, no more macros! Though I believe I saw an option to create them on the main menu, if anyone is interested.

The last thing I'm going to mention today is a brand new system called the FATE system. Recently I've been hearing that similar systems have been used before in other games, so perhaps this might not be so new to some of you. However, you can't tell me that this system isn't useful.

The way it works, is you go out into the world doing what you would normally be doing, and suddenly a message pops up on your screen telling you that a FATE is nearby. Using your handy mini-map (or the full map by pressing square) you find the FATE and enter it's circle radius indicator. Once inside, you join the FATE, along with everyone else within the area. From here on out you all work together (no party needed!) to complete the goal and gain experience points and gil. The goal changes depending on the FATE (Oh, that means Full Active Time Event) and so far I've seen a few different variations in the early levels of the game. They range from killing a hoard of enemies, protecting an NPC, or defeating a boss monster.

Phase 3 of the Beta has been going on for a few weeks now, and is looking to start again Friday morning (just a couple days!) and so far there is no end date announced for this weekend. So it's looking like we'll get some extra play time in to do some final testing before we get into Phase 4. Phase 4 is what I'm really excited for though, and you should be too! Not only do we get to keep our Phase 4 characters going into the full launch of the game, but it looks as though Phase 4 will be open to anyone who wants to give the game a try. No Beta key required. So go ahead and give it a try on PC or PS3! If you have any comments or questions on FFXIV: ARR, please leave them below as I'll be more than happy to give responses to everyone.