Final Fantasy XIV: Realm Reborn: First Impressions

29 08 2013

FFXIV Emblem 

 

So as many as you are probably aware, Square Enix bravely decided to reboot their own MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV after a less than cordial reception upon its release. Originally, I had been so turned off after playing the original FFXIV beta that I wasn’t interested. However, after I began to really think about it, and just what they were undertaking, while publicly acknowledging their own failures, I decided it was well worth a second look.

Before I launch into my first impressions after a week of play, and why I think you should give this re-launch the time of day. Let me first start by acknowledging, and repeating, exactly how much of a big deal it is that Square Enix was able to basically say, “Yah, we know our game sucks, and we aren’t happy with it, so here’s what we are going to do…” Based on the sheer amount of effort, time, and money it takes to release an MMO ( and I know first hand, as I physically work on an MMO at Arena Net ) it dawned on me just how humble and revolutionary this idea was.

From a design perspective, designers have a classic mantra to the effect of, “We learn to eat our young”. Basically, that means that you have to learn how to be told that your game, idea, or work in general, sucks and needs help. So because of all of this, and my first week of experience inside of FFXIV: RRB, I believe it’s worth your attention. ( +1 Point )

Story

So, first things first, if you played the first FF XIV, you are probably wondering, well how are they going to tie the story in? Well have you ever heard the expression, “Nuke it from orbit, and burn it with fire.” Well, this is literally what they’ve done. Without going into TOO much detail ( and spoilers ), an event happens that basically nukes half the planet, and a few years after that, that’s where you pick up. So far, it seem pretty interesting, and from what I can tell, there looks to be several quality story arcs developing along my chosen characters path. Suffice it to say, my curiosity is piqued. ( +1 Point )

FFXIV CharacterCreation

The only oddity that I’ve encountered, and this may be patched over time, is that you start the game, and there are ZERO VO’s ( voice overs ). While it’s a Final Fantasy title, this doesn’t inherently bother me, just feels a little retro. Except, once you start to get into some of the important story cutscene’s, you start to hear VO’s…. and some of the English voice actors, are well… pretty terrible so far. So to remedy this issue, I switched the VO’s over to Japanese, and even though I can’t understand what they are saying, the passion in their voice acting is apparent, and I have subtitles to read besides. So needless to say, I know voice actors are expensive, and it costs a lot of money to get all of the proper localization and post processing done, but so far, the English voice actors sound like shit. ( -1 Point )

Closing with the story, the questing appears to tie directly into the story narrative, and FFXIV: RRB does a great job focusing your attention on what you should be doing, and when. In the first twenty levels, there was never a moment where I stopped and asked, “WTF am I supposed to be doing here?” ( +1 Point )

Classes

During the beta phases, I tried playing several disciples of war ( didn’t have time to check the magic users ),  and I finally settled on Lancer while picking the “Miq’ote” race ( which some of you fondly remember as “Mithra” ). I don’t profess to fully understand the class system yet, but it appears that you can basically play ANY of the base classes with one character, but you can only specialize in one or few of them with that character. What I mean by specialize is that my “Lancer” will eventually be able to turn into a “Dragoon.” ( +1 Point )

As is traditional with oriental game developers, and audiences I think, the game restricts you heavily on what you can do early on. It forces you to finish your quests ALL the way through level ten ( which is a hefty amount of quests ), before you can begin to learn other classes from other guilds, etc. While this doesn’t bother me, I believe it’s a common method in oriental games, which is to heavily teach the game, or class, before physically letting the player explore other areas of the game. This may sound very heavy handed to some of you, but I assure you, the game keeps you engaged enough, you won’t even notice ( that much ). ( +1 Point )

Combat

Ah yes, COMMMMMMBAAAAAT… ( wait… wrong game.. shit ) everyone’s favorite, and rightfully so, one of the most important topics of the game! As if the core gameplay mechanics suck, well, then so must the game no? So let me first start by saying, if you played Final Fantasy Eleven, there’s enough here in the combat mechanics to make you reminisce, but with enough innovation and improvements not to scare away everyone else. Interested yet? Well you should be! So basically, they took the traditional tab targeting system, and the class based combo system from eleven, and gave it some crack cocaine…. By that, I mean they sped it up. So a lot of the structure operates the same, as far as chaining kills, targeting enemies, doing combo’s off of other’s skills, but at a much faster rate of speed, which I believe was much needed. ( +1 Point )

Related to this, once you attain other classes, your character will switch classes by just changing your gear out for the appropriate class, and all of your stats and hotkey items swap with it. It’s fast, seamless, and you don’t have to talk to a damn kupo to do it! ( +1 Point )

Crafting

Here is a topic that I can’t talk to heavily on, as I currently have two crafting professions started, but not very high. The point I’m going to stress, is that the way they handled it is very interesting. Basically, you go to a “guild” and learn the crafting profession that you wish, and all of the regular hubbub that you would expect ensues, you get some crafting tools, some quests, a speech about how you suck and show learn the trade to be super awesome, etc. etc…… except one major caveat. Crafting professions behave identically to a regular character class, so that means, when I’m running around as a botanist, or a carpenter, I have my own unique stats, gear, hotkey items, etc. This is interesting as it presents a sort of, “meta” game for cutting down trees, or for whatever you are doing. It singlehandedly makes crafting more interactive, and likely more difficult in the long run. ( +1 Point )

The only point of contention that I have here, is that they make you wait till your level 10 quests are done on that character, until you can begin to think about cutting trees down, so far, not a fan. ( -1 Point )

Graphics

Not a whole lot to say here, but that the game is absolutely gorgeous, well if you are fortunate enough to be playing on a PC, if you are playing it on a PS3…. I’m sorry for you! ( +1 Point )

Although, speaking on that point, I’ve been asking myself for years, “Why the hell isn’t there cross platform MMORPGS??!” Well, they have just proven that it’s a matter of policy, and political arrogance and likely not much more, that is keeping more MMO’s from being on multiple platforms, and to that, I say boo! ( +1 Point )

FFXIV Gridania

Quests

In FFXIV: RRB, Square Enix decided to keep with the traditional method of having a “Journal” and tracking your quests as you collect them. Normally, I’d say, “SCREW THAT!” especially after being spoiled by Guild Wars 2 and their questing system that they built. However, so far, it seems like you are never overburdened with too many quests that you lose track, and I always knew what was the most important, and never really had a hard time tracking them. ( +1 Point )

That being said, and this could probably deserve its own category, but when you receive a quest or an objective to navigate to somewhere else, the map is not very helpful, it’s hard to explain, but if it’s somewhere you haven’t been, the quest marker doesn’t give you shit for a clue on how to get there. What they really need here, is some type of pathfinding tech that will kinda “point” you in the right direction of a new area that you need to go to. ( -1 Point )

Economy

 Last but not least, the “Economy”, probably one of the most critical elements to an MMO for success, and easily the hardest to create, innovate upon, and balance. Well, I don’t have shit for you at this point. As an obvious effort by Square Enix to “ward” out gold sellers, my character is level 17 and doesn’t have access to sell items on the auction house yet. Essentially, you have to purchase a “retainer” to help you sell your items. While this is frustrating, if it helps keep gold sellers out, then I’m all over it. As if any of you remember in eleven, gold sellers nearly ruined the game! ( +1 Point ) ( -1 Point )

Events

 So, in traditional video game industry style, Square Enix shamelessly copied some dynamic event ideas from Guild Wars 2, Warhammer online, and probably a couple of others. In FFXIV: RRB you have what are called, “Fates” that randomly spring up on the map, and anyone who runs into the area, automatically joins in to receive progress ( assuming they contribute ). It’s a nice touch, and it automatically lends itself as a design to getting players to work together naturally. ( +1 Point )

Conclusion

Obviously, I know that you can hardly judge and MMO based off of the first 20 levels, and the content therein. However, I felt that they deserved the attention based on the leaps and strides the game has come since the first FF XIV launch. I can honestly say I’m legitimately interested in seeing what they have to offer, and how the proverbial “End Game” plays out. I know the game has a subscription model, which will immediately turn many of you off, as we’ve been spoiled by F2P business models in the past few years, but I say don’t let that discourage you. If you like the art direction, or have liked ANY Final Fantasy game in the past, this likely deservers a second look by you.

I doubt I’ll reach level cap in time to do a quality “End Game” review before the hundreds of people that don’t know how to sleep beat me to it, but I felt this initial review was necessary, and deserving.

I hope you got some helpful information out of it.

 





Guild Wars 2 Review lvl 30-80

1 10 2012

 

 Image

As promised, I’ll be covering my lvl 30-80 play experience and some of my thoughts on the process. I’ll be covering a few topics such as core gameplay, story, economy, and end game events/dungeons.

Image

Click for larger image

Core Gameplay:

Not much particularly changes from lvl 30 to lvl 80 in this game as far as significant changes in skills/abilities. Unlocking more traits does make a significant difference in customizing your class. However, the game scales rather well in difficulty to your respective level. At about level 60+ I started to observe the corresponding zones of that level were becoming increasingly difficult, in comparison to the previous areas. When I hit the lvl 80 areas, I found myself dying plenty even with pretty good gear. Overall, the game starts weaning you from a balanced mixture of quests and group events, to almost exclusively group events in the lvl 70+ zones. By the time I reached lvl 80, I began to realize just how critical it is to have the right abilities selected, based off of what you’re doing. The final tier in un-lockable abilities is absolutely critical (At least for the Mesmer they are). This is especially true for running the higher level dungeons, which in this game they can be particularly unforgiving. It’s a nice change in pace for the player because the zones condition you to “mobbing” through quests and group events. Then you jump in a dungeon and suddenly you and four other players have to actually function on a traditional level of dungeon running. Strategic pulls, situational awareness, specific tactics for boss fights, etc.

On a recap of skills/abilities, having only five weapon skills per weapon does not feel entirely limited or boring by level 80. I was suspicious of this system from the beginning; mainly I felt it might be a little over simplified. However, blazing through to level 80 I never particularly felt any boredom with my available weapon abilities. The pacing in GW2 negates this problem, as they elegantly avoided any kind of “level grind” that a lot of MMO’s can fall victim to.

Image

Click for larger image

Story:

Without going into particulars of the story, it does a pretty good job of staying interesting all the way to lvl 80, and plainly sets the player up for some end game events. I did notice however, that the corresponding equipment rewards for completing a quest began to become less and less beneficial to me (In other words they started to suck). While at the same time the experience gains became significantly better. From lvl 65 to lvl 80 I practically only completed my daily quest and my story quests. As I mentioned before, this is particularly nice that they avoided a grind in this game. Many MMO’s have the terrible habit of making the last 25%-35% of the level cap extremely “grindy”. In regards to the story itself, they basically designed a branching path architecture with all paths looping back to the same ending. There are several player driven choices that will change the story slightly and how you as the player experience it. For example you have the choice in which factions you join, and you occasionally choose how your character responds (aggressive, compassionate, etc.).

In conjunction with these alterations in the story, you also have to remember that you can change your story slightly during character creation with selecting your past as noble, commoner, etc. So in recap on the story, it manages to stay interesting and relevant to the player. While also being rewarding all the way to lvl cap, and if you as the player want to experience every possible angle and minute change in story, you would have to do a lot of plays through to see them all, as it will fluctuate based on the variables you choose of race, past, faction, and your characters emotional disposition.

Image

Click for larger image

Economy:

Now this is a fun one! If you’re an experienced MMORPG player, you’ve probably played at least one game where it was literally destroyed (or you’re experience lessened) by the economy being destroyed by gold sellers, or terrible design. If you have not experienced this, then consider yourself fortunate. That being said, let me start by saying it is definitely too early to say how the economy in GW2 will pan out, as these things take time to mature. However, I will offer some of my observations and some of the development teams design decisions.

As I was playing through the game, I was so caught up in blasting through events and quests; I never particularly stopped to pay attention to how the market was functioning. Mainly because since you can place items on the auction house while out in the field, I didn’t care! After a decent amount of time, I was wondering why I was getting more money from the auction house (I had placed copious amounts of items for sell). So I took a visit to the auction house and found I had almost a dozen pages of items NOT selling. Upon further investigation, I realized that items beneath rare status often had 1000+ of them on the market. This does one critical thing, since the supply is vastly higher than the demand; it drives the value of items below rare to that of just above vendor prices.  I believe this is on purpose by Arena Net to combat gold sellers. Basically, a lot of these items are more valuable by being broken down for crafting materials, or by just selling them to the vendors. Rare and above items can only efficiently be obtained by running harder dungeons, or completing large group events. This makes it difficult for gold sellers in small groups, or bots, to efficiently “farm” these items.

Lastly, and most importantly about the economy, is that Arena Net is shamelessly their own gold sellers. If you can’t beat them, join them right? What they have done is implemented “gems” that can be purchased for real money, then used to buy cosmetic items, or (ready for this?) used to exchange for gold on a living, breathing, currency exchange. This exchange even has a variable exchange rate based off of player activity and use of the exchange.  Players can buy/sell gems/gold back and forth. This means that savvy players can watch the exchange and make a profit from strategic buying/selling dependant on the current exchange rate. I don’t know how this will work in the long run, but it’s an interesting dynamic and a fresh way to tackle the gold seller problem. I think it’s somewhat akin to digital piracy. Piracy is rarely a social problem, but usually a problem of a service/good not having a high enough perceived value in regards to its current cost or availability.

Image

Click for larger image

End Game:

Now this is the big question people always ask about a new MMORPG, “Is there an end game?” Thanks to a generation of World of Warcraft players being spoiled by a decade of content being developed, they now expect a newly launch MMORPG to have an equivalent amount of content (Okay I’ll get off of my soap box now J ). That being said, I haven’t particularly been at lvl 80 long enough to experience everything. I can say that the lvl 70-80 zones have a ton of group event quests continually going on. I also have not had time to run the higher lvl dungeons yet either. I have observed however, that they have done something interesting by creating raid quality open world group events. For example, in one of the zones a group event opened up, and not only did we have to kill the boss, but periodically she would go through phases in which we had to go to different locations and perform actions like disabling power generators, then resuming the attack. There were other elements to that fight, but what I’m getting at is I believe Arena Net is aiming for raids that don’t require shouting in “LFG” for hours and joining a separately instanced area. These kinds of experiences might exist, but I haven’t specifically reached them yet. In closing, if there is one piece of advice I can offer if you are currently playing through, or plan on playing through, is to SAVE YOUR KARMA POINTS!!!!! Wait let me say that again, this time more accentuated, SAVE YOUR KARMA POINTS!!! You can thank me later on that one!

Image

Click for larger image

Summary:

So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first play through to level cap on my Mesmer, and I hope the community that’s been established sticks around and that GW2 has a nice long life. I say this because they’ve done enough different and innovative things that they’ve created a nice and refreshing MMORPG experience that I think everybody should experience.

Image

Click for larger image

Thanks for reading!

-Cheers





Guild Wars 2 Review lvl 1-30

2 09 2012

So as the title implies, this review will cover my initial impressions from level 1-30 in Guild Wars 2. So needless to say I was one of 400,000 + people to jump into the head start for GW2, and so far I’ve been nothing but impressed. So I will attempt to cover a few topics or categories of my experience to level 30.

Mesmer in front of main Human City

The game starts with a typical well thought out character creation process. The fun part here is that you pick a few things that describe your character, which establishes your story. What this means is there are different variations within the same race depending upon what you choose. For a comparison it feels similar to Mass Effect 1 where you set up your characters past. Except here there are way more variations because of the different races, so in essence you would have to play a lot of characters to get every story line.

After your character is made you launch right into the game and story, you don’t just spawn into some newbie zone and kill bunny rabbits with a stick. After the first story quest is done (you are in an instance for this), then you are free to go wherever and quest. Here is where GW2 REALLY shines. Your character level will adjust to whatever zone you are playing in. This was awesome because I rocketed past in level over my friends, but I could go back and play in their zone with them, and still get experience and money. This vastly recreates replay ability, and helps keep zones from turning into dead zones because there is less people that level. Also, it is particularly easy to get to the other starting areas with your friends. A couple of portal jumps and you are there.

So with that I will segue into questing. The questing in GW2 is seamless and very painless. The only quest you will keep on your HUD is your main story quest. All other quests are specific to the area you walk in. So you walk near a quest giver and it pops up on your HUD, soon as you leave the area it goes away. If you complete it, you automatically get the reward, so you don’t have to chase down NPC’s later to receive rewards. This method helps streamline player progression a lot.

The next best thing about questing is the dynamic group events that happen everywhere. I’m not entirely sure if the group events trigger from a certain amount of players in the area, or if they are on a timer or random. Either way, group events will start up all over the place, requiring a decent amount of players to accomplish them. They vary from taking down a boss, defending a city, escorting an NPC, or destroying objects/cities. The best part about them is that you only have to be in the area and you can participate, very similar to what Warhammer started, but much more seamless and plentiful. For questing, they have a very refreshing take when compared to traditional MMORPG’s.

Event Quest

Event Quest

On to story a little, the story NPC’s are fully voice casted and pretty well animated. The voice acting is also pretty well done. I found I was actually interested in my storyline quest, and found the characters to be believable, this is rare in an MMORPG and should be valued. It should not come as a surprise though, considering how established and vast the lore for GW is in the first place. It’s a rich and very fleshed out world to explore.

Aesthetically speaking, the world is very well constructed. They implemented “view vistas”, which often require some Mario jumping skills plus puzzle solving, to locate. Once you reach the vista you are rewarded with a camera view panning over some grand scenic view (which a lot of these screenshots come from in game). That paired with a good soundtrack (reminds me of playing Skyrim with the music), really helps the player get immersed in the world. The level designs are also very expertly crafted, and well just plain gorgeous in a lot of places.

View Vista Before

View Vista during camera movement

Now some more technical review, lets get on to the character skills setup. Here is one of the most refreshing aspects of all with GW2. You get character traits and character skills. The traits are dependent on your class and you unlock them as you level up, similar to a skill tree. However you can only have a limited few selected at a time, so you have to mix and match five of them on your HUD to use. You can change them out easily, but not during combat. The best part is that your skills are specific to whatever weapon your character is holding. For example, on my Mesmer I switch back and forth between a greatsword and a staff often. When I do this switch, my skills completely change because they are specific to that weapon type. This is awesome because you can quickly change up your tactics to suit the situation. You are also limited to five skills, this might sound like over simplification to people used to MMORPG’s where 80% of your screen is filled with a hundred buttons. This design streamlines the process very nicely, as you can have two weapons types selected, and you can switch between them in battle. This allows you to change your tactics on the fly, which is awesome especially for PVP.

Mesmer blasting enemies with a Greatsword

The character classes are also refreshing (I know I keep using that word a lot, but GW2 is refreshing!) mainly because they don’t really conform to traditional archetypes. For example, my ranger uses a bow and throwing axes which is expected, but she can also use a greatsword. My Mesmer is a magical light armor casting class, so you would expect just wands and staffs right? Well she happens to rock with a greatsword as well. Sounds odd, but they are well executed.

The last thing I’ll compliment them on so far is the server set up. I got on when the servers were fired up, and guess what… no queue times! This is because they smartly implemented “overflow servers”. So basically you play on a server and you’re in queue for the regular server. When it pops it seamlessly transports you to the main server in the exact location you were standing. The only issue with this is when your playing with your friends, sometimes it can be a challenge to get on the same overflow server or main server with them to play. This will work itself out as populations and community’s balance out. It is a nice feature though, because nobody likes seeing “Estimated wait time : 3- Hours”, I know we have all been there.

So now on to some gripes. The largest issue right now is the fact that the auction house, as of the time of this writing, is still down and not operational. This doesn’t anger me specifically, because I realize there are always kinks in an MMORPG launch. I just hope it is fixed soon for the less patient players. I also have observed that there seems to be a lack of variety with different armor models. So far, I believe there are a certain amount of sets between level ranges, I.e. 10-20, 20-30, etc etc. I hope in the future they add new armor and equipment models.

I realize that I’m at lvl 30, which is a drop in the bucket for a total of 80 possible levels. So far this s an awesome experience and completely refreshing for me. I will continue to review the game as I progress towards the “End Game” experience. I hope you will enjoy reading about my experience there as much as I enjoy playing it!