News, Views, and Reviews
One way to sum up my views on FFXIV: ARR is that I can’t stop playing it. So it must be good, right? As I mentioned in my preview, it’s quirkiness adds to its charm…and its frustration. The more I play, the less frustrated I feel, however, it’s not expecting too much for these minor annoyances to be fixed some day. Annoyances aside, I should immediately amend my recommendation that this isn’t a new MMO friendly game: it is actually VERY new-player friendly. Well, except for those head-scratching design choices that I’ll criticize until they are changed. I probably sound like I have a split view on this game, but it’s not an even split. I do mostly like it, and I can live with the frustration.
Perhaps a better way to sum up FFXIV: ARR is to say that it’s a strange combination of old MMO standards, new ideas that work, and some ideas that don’t work. The things that don’t work are the most perplexing because they could have just stuck to old standards that DO work, but it’s like their attempt to be unique and different sabotages their own game. Ultimately, it’s not as big of a mess as the original version. A Realm Reborn does work, and it should please both MMO veterans, new MMO players, and especially Final Fantasy fans.
I wrote my preview from the point of view of someone not familiar with the story, trying to piece things together from the opening cinematic and the first few story missions. But for the record, here is the REAL story: The three nations of Eorzea; the Nation of Gridania, the Sultanate of Ul’Dah, and the Thalassocracy of Limsa Lominsa, united to defend themselves from the invading Garlean Empire. The “magitek” Empire views the world as it is in an impure state, and wish to destroy it so it can be reborn as it should be.
(From the wikipedia): During the events of Final Fantasy XIV, the Garlean Empire launches a campaign to subdue the beastmen and city-states of Eorzea. To this end, one of their Legatus, Nael van Darnus, uses ancient magic and technology to summon Hydaelyn’s second moon, Dalamud, so it would fall on Eorzea and cleanse it. Though the Legatus is defeated, the damage is done and the moon continues to fall. The Garlean Empire and the Eorzean Alliance finally clash on the Carteneau Flats in Mor Dhona, the impact site of Dalamud. As they fight, Dalamud breaks up in the sky and releases the ancient Primal Bahamut, who proceeds to start laying waste to Eorzea, instigating the Seventh Umbral Era. After the attempt to reseal Bahamut fails, the Archon Louisoix sends the remnants of the Eorzean Alliance’s army, including the Adventurers (player characters), forward into the future while remaining behind to face certain death. Five years later, the Adventurers reappear, their memories blurred by the journey, during a time of reconstruction of Eorzea. The story of A Realm Reborn revolves around old and new players piecing together the intervening events between the unleashing of Bahamut and the present, and helping with the rebuilding of Eorzea, which brings them into conflict with the Beastmen tribes, the Garlean Empire and the secretive Ascians.
(Eorzea’s history is dominated by the alternation between periods of prosperity and civilization — the Astral Eras — and periods of destruction and calamity — the Umbral Eras, each of which bears the characteristics of one of the world’s elements. The Twelve vanished after the First Umbral Era, ushering the age of Eorzea’s current residents. The Sixth Astral Era of Light was ended during the final moments of Final Fantasy XIV, when the Seventh Umbral Era was initiated.)
I’m still fascinated by the inclusion of the original version of FFXIV – and it’s literal demise and remaking into A Realm Reborn – into the main story. I should also point out a correction from my preview that the story IS a significant part of the MMO game play experience. In fact, I would emphasize the story of the game as one of its main appeals, in that it feels more like a traditional Final Fantasy RPG that happens to be played online with other players. The main difference, of course, is that the main character, you, are not as fully realized as a main character would be in a regular FF game. Other than that, the story is really engaging, and does help FFXIV: ARR stand out from other MMOs.
As I write this, I’ve put around twenty days into playing FFXIV, and I still alternate between controller and keyboard/mouse. The more I use the controller, the more comfortable and easy to manage the game becomes. I’ve found more shortcuts and settings to customize my experience, and it handles just about everything. As I mentioned in the preview, holding down the left or right trigger highlights the appropriate actions on the display at the bottom of the screen, and those actions can be pulled from the list of combat and other abilities that particular class uses. Switching between classes is as easy as changing the gear-sets maintained in the character menu, and this also changes the actions displayed. One of the shortcuts I learned is that holding down either of the triggers puts you in “combat” mode, which means that pressing either bumper button targets ONLY enemies on screen. This is a big difference from being in “non-combat” mode and trying to use the D-Pad to cycle through EVERY target on screen. In other words, my earlier complaint of targeting enemies with the controller is no longer valid. However, I’m still trying to figure out how to successfully switch between targeting enemies and targeting other players when I’m trying to play a healer role. For those classes, I’m still using the keyboard/mouse. If I learn yet another shortcut, that situation could also improve, but for now, I’ll stick with my claim that a controller handles JUST about everything.
The other problem with the controller is navigating the difficult map system. I hate to keep harping on the maps, but it is THE main source of frustration in this game. The map system is a perfect example of what I’m referring to as “ideas that don’t work” – ideas that are the most perplexing because they could have stuck with standards that DO work. Using a keyboard/mouse to navigate the maps is difficult enough, so using a controller is often worse. Again, I am getting more comfortable with using a controller and finding shortcuts and button combinations to help navigate the maps, but the maps themselves really need to be redone. Other than that, I am satisfied with the control options in FFXIV: ARR.
I’ve always been impressed with the graphics, though my preview mentioned some concerns that the “realistic” style might not age well. I also commented on the lack of detail on some of the surfaces. Well, I take the latter comment back: this game is gorgeous. The more areas I’ve discovered, especially the first true dungeon, really blew me away. The day-to-night light cycles also create some really breath taking scenes. Going back to play some of my other favorite MMOs like Guild Wars 2, really highlight the differences in art styles. FFXIV: ARR is hard to describe, but some how the characters and monsters really “pop” from the background as if they are real, three-dimensional objects. The scale just seems larger in FFXIV, which further justifies breaking each area down into smaller zones. (I just wish the maps better represented how each zone inter-connects.)
Another aspect of the graphics that I only briefly mentioned in my preview, the user interface, deserves more attention. The “standard” menu, quest log, character sheets, inventory, action bars, and so on, are well presented, but it’s the “new ideas that work” that deserve praise here. For example, targeting enemies sets a very useful circle around them, which highlights the direction they are facing. This is very helpful in the slower, more tactics oriented game play, as things like flanking and rear attacks are quite significant. Enemies will also shoot out a useful “tell” of which player character they have targeted, which also helps determining who has “aggro” on each monster. The “target of target” mechanic is on by default and also helps show which monster is attacking which character, and is very helpful to tanking/healing roles. I’ve played a lot of MMOs, and I’ve seen similar mechanics in all of them, but FFXIV really gets it right. In many ways, this interface helps the game play, so it is significant, and worth its praise.
Game Play Adjustments
In a nut-shell, FFXIV is an interesting combination of single player Final Fantasy role playing games and massive multi-player online games. The “standard” MMO hotkeys and controls are there, but the pacing and tactics of combat feel more like a single player RPG. Even one-on-one combat with “regular” monsters can sometimes feel like an epic “turn-based” show down, especially considering many of these “regular” monsters are quite large and intimidating. If anything, the “feel” of combat will really come down to personal preferences. Many “modern” MMOs are shaking up the “standard” formula and focusing more on very active, fast-paced game play. Players that prefer those changes may be put off by FFXIV’s slower pace. To those detractors, I would point out that the leveling process averages out to be the same in either version. A modern, fast-paced MMO may face you against lots of enemies and it will feel like you are a real “bad-ass” conquering waves of monsters. But in practice, you’ll have to defeat LOTS of monsters to “level up” your character. In contrast, in FFXIV you’ll face fewer enemies, which sometimes feel like epic confrontations, and that provides a different feeling of being a “bad-ass” monster hunter. In practice, then, you’ll defeat fewer monsters but still “level up” your character in roughly the same amount of time as a faster paced MMO. Therefore, opinions and preferences for FFXIV’s game play will vary.
Besides combat and pacing, the “Guildleves” and “Guildhests” are “new ideas that work” for FFXIV. If you’re interested, as I am, in leveling up several different classes with the same character, you’ll need more than the main story and class quests. Each unique zone provides a different set of “Guildleves” that, as the name suggests, give you optional quests to help you level up. The Guildleves themselves are broken down into: “Battlecraft” Leves or traditional monster-fighting tasks, “Gathercraft” Leves that task the gathering classes with collecting crafting materials, and “Tradecraft” Leves that reward crafting classes for creating multiple items. Strangely, the “Leves” all share an allowance system that only lets players do a certain number of quests per day, regardless of type. I thought this allowance system was one of the aspects heavily criticized from the original version of FFXIV, so it’s strange to see it survived the transition. I suppose it’s not a problem for players that are only leveling a few main classes, but for me, it’s a real handicap to my progress. Guildhests are the name given to party quests, and these can be accessed with a convenient “Duty Finder” or match-making queue for each individual mini-dungeon or main story dungeon. The mini-dungeons become available at level 10, can be repeated, and if accessed one at a time as intended, act as a tutorial for small party dungeons. I really, really love that effort to train players as they level up. Many other MMOs share a criticism that “end-game” dungeons really spike the difficulty curve because nobody learns the party mechanics throughout the main game. Whether or not players take advantage of the tutorials in FFXIV is up to them, however, I hear that the final dungeons and “Primal” bosses are very challenging, especially to players that don’t know what they are doing. At least FFXIV gives players the tools they need to learn their class and party mechanics as they play.
I have to mention one other aspect of game play that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with: the Player Logs. The Gathering, Crafting, and Fishing Logs keep track of every different type of item you’ve gathered or crafted, with each of the gathering and crafting classes, and grants some satisfaction from “collecting them all” even if you never craft some of the items ever again. But its the Hunting Logs that really drive my obsession with tracking down each and every type of monster listed. Each class has a different set of monsters required for each zone, though there is some overlap for some of the classes. Fighting monsters gives players a small amount of XP per monster, but completing a “set” of monsters listed in the Hunting Log rewards a huge boost of XP. That XP reward helps level up my “alt” classes, especially when combined with the “Battlecraft Leves” in each zone. Right now, I’m alternating between my “main” class by playing the story and class specific quests, and then switching to alternate classes and completing Guildleves and Hunting Log entries. At some point, I’m going to have to pick only one or two alt-classes to focus on, but for now, it’s fun to experiment with everything. Ultimately, the promise of combining some of my classes into elite classes or “Jobs” sounds really awesome.
Conclusion in Progress
There is still a lot in FFXIV: ARR that I’ve yet to experience. Those elite “Job” classes and the epic “Primal” dungeon fights are still beyond my progress. There are some new Player Vs Player aspects that have yet to be added to the game, so I’m curious to how that will feel. As it is, I am definitely under the “charm” of the quirkiness of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.