Like pixiestixy, I have had to put some real effort into getting into the Final Fantasy XIV Open Beta. There have been some trials and tribulations that I’ve had to go through to get a beta key, download the beta client, patch the game, and log into the servers. And with those issues finally behind me, I have been able to spend a nice chunk of time playing the actual game. Unfortunately, the actual game has its own issues.
The very first thing you’ll notice, beyond the installation and patching woes, is the user interface. The developers haven’t looked at other MMORPGs in the current and upcoming market to learn things, but have instead made another attempt at creating a Final Fantasy game that takes place online. Like Final Fantasy XI, the game controls like a console based single player RPG that has been adapted for the PC. Every other Final Fantasy game requires you to open a menu before you can access your inventory, change your equipment, or look at your character’s abilities – why shouldn’t this one? There are very few things that can be accessed in a single key press, and that’s a bad thing. I don’t like having to turn on auto-run just to check my friends list while on the move. Currently there is no official support for a hardware mouse, and the software option is quite laggy. The good news is that the option exists in a hidden location, and there’s a fix that enables the hardware mouse if you’re willing to alter the game client slightly. The bad news is there’s no word from Square Enix on an official implenetation of the option.
Beyond the UI, FFXIV does have the feel of a Final Fantasy game, if only because it feels a whole lot like Final Fantasy XI. I’ve managed to bring a couple of characters up to physical level 10 (different from class rank, natch), and along the way played two of the introductory quest lines all the way through. They give a nice mix of story and tutorial, but some of the quests have room for improvement. For example, there is one quest that involves training for a dance ritual where talk to some children and mimic each one with in-game emotes. Unfortunately, they all seem to do the same animation, and I ended up having to go through the painful process of opening the emote menu and choosing emotes at random in an attempt to brute force my way through the quest. Another quest in a different area describes the severe dangers that you’ll encounter along the way to a lighthouse, but the only things you actually fight are a bunch of mosquitoes that you can one shot even at a low level.
I don’t want to sound completely negative, because the class system actually has me pretty excited. If you haven’t been following the game, in order to change classes just change the weapon or tool in your character’s main hand. For example, you can be a miner mining with your mining pick, and then you just switch to a bow to become an archer to start doing some killing. Along the way, some of the class abilities you’ll gain as your character ranks up don’t actually require that class’ weapon. So instead of the single subclass system used in FFXI, you can cherry pick certain abilities from every class to use with any other class. This should lead to some creative and diverse builds for every class.
While some of my experiences with FFXIV’s Open Beta have curbed my enthusiasm for the game’s launch, I still expect to pick up the retail version of the game and give it a fair shake before coming to any conclusion about the game. The few story quests that are implemented give me hope for the many that should be available in the retail game, and character development has the potential to be extremely satisfying. With just a couple of weeks until the Collector’s Edition goes live though, Square Enix does have some real obstacles in its way.
In other news, many of the technical issues that pixiestixy and I have run into have been solved – either by the developers themselves or via workarounds from the community. My most frustrating issue was that the official patch downloader that uses the bittorrent protocol had extremely slow download speeds. With one of the most recent patches, that has supposedly been fixed – I had no trouble downloading the last couple of patches at reasonable speeds with the official patcher. We’ll see if the downloader holds up any better after launch.