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.

 





The Secret World Review

28 07 2012

To be honest, I really hadn’t followed The Secret World at all during its development. Once it had been out for a week or so I started to hear things about it. At the time I had been playing Tera Online, which had great gameplay but terrible story narrative. So needless to say I was dying to play something with an actual story.

So I promptly started to look at reviews, and once again I observed vastly different and varying reviews with stark differences in opinion. So this was something I knew I had to try for myself. Most of all it boasted an incredibly strong story.

So I bought it, and chose to make an Illuminati character. Other than the entry cinematic, the first portion of an MMO that a player gets to see is naturally the character creation screen. To be honest, I wasn’t very impressed with the character creation. The character models were odd and it took quite a bit of effort to create something that didn’t hurt your eyes to look at. Also, along with the weird character models the selections are pretty limited, at least when compared to today’s standards of options when creating a character.

I obviously did not let this dissuade me in my quest to check this game out, so I ended up creating an exotic Illuminati character and went about playing the game. I won’t go into play-by-play detail of the game itself, instead I’ll put out some of my feelings and initial first impressions after playing through the majority of the beginner area and the first to instances/dungeons.

I was greeted by a pretty strong and compelling story narrative right away, albeit a little odd and different, but I can definitely do odd. If you like Stephen King novels, you’ll love the story and visual aesthetics TSW throws at you. More or less, the main premise behind TSW is that all legends/myths/secrets/supernatural stuff is true and fair game. So pretty much like an alternate reality here on earth. The NPC’s are all fully voice acted, and do a pretty solid job of adding depth to their character. Your character does not speak however, just kind of stands there like a bump on a log, which seemed awkward to me since the NPC’s I was reacting with were conveying emotion to me. To be honest, it felt a little… how do you say.. “Half-Assed”. To go to all that work with voice acting, animation, and dialogue. Then not to even have your character speak? It definitely broke immersion for me just a little.

Getting past that, lets talk a little about the gameplay. Where the story narrative and aesthetic design of the world shine as strong points for this game, the moment-to-moment gameplay combat feels awkward. Some have described it as, “floaty”. The character animations as far as running and acting seem okay, but using abilities in combat just feels jerky and unfinished. After awhile you do get used to it, but it doesn’t feel like they were attempting an alternate style of gameplay, it feels like I said unfinished and or rushed to release. That being said, they did produce an interesting and refreshing take on leveling.

Instead of having character levels, you level your weapons. Your character can carry two weapons at any given time. There are no restrictions when you can change, or what to. As long as you put the necessary points earned from playing into those weapons so you can use them. The other interesting aspect is you are limited to a set amount of usable abilities and a set amount of passive abilities. So you have to carefully mix and match your abilities both active and passive. This creates a refreshing and creative way since you can literally build your character however you want.

The characters also do not use armor; you use talismans and jewelry to increase your base stats. This however brings up an interesting, yet somewhat problematic topic. So instead of wearing armor, you just equip whatever fashionable clothes you like on your character. I’m sure some of you see where this is going, yes that’s right, ITEM MALL EVERYBODY!!!…… oh wait you ask, doesn’t the game have an up front price WITH a subscription fee? Why yes, you would be correct!

So now that I’m done being facetious, your character can unlock clothing via completing “decks” or unlocking weapon trees to completion. While these do give you so cool looking outfits, the exotic and everyday stuff has to be purchased in game via an item mall. This, personally I think is a TERRIBLE design decision. In a free to play model, or even a regular pay up front model, this would seem okay since the clothes are purely cosmetic. However, players are paying a monthly subscription fee, on top of having already paid full price for the game. This is going to come across as nothing more than a money grab, plain and simple. I believe long run, with that business model, they will end up alienating their customers and honestly it probably turned off a lot of potential buyers when they read about it.

Last thing I’ll mention are the quests, TSW does a good job of offering more than, “Hey go here, kill that pig, get some meat and claws, then come back to me and I’ll give you some mad loot!, annnnnd repeat till level cap” style quests. The game does have a few of those, but it also incorporates its version of AGR (augmented reality) style quests, where you actually have to use the built in game browser to research a quest in order to solve it, or just look up a walkthrough. The quests can be challenging and time consuming, but when properly utilized (without cheating) you get that, aha!, moment of elation. The fully voice acted NPC’s do a great job of delivering the quests to you in audio versus assaulting your eyes with walls of text.

So in recap, The Secret World does a great job of delivering a compelling and interesting story with fleshed out NPC’s, but somewhat falls flat on its face with gameplay combat and their business model. This game appeals to those that prefer strong story narrative over enjoyable gameplay, and because of this it will probably end up being played long term by a niche group and will end up being a free to play model or without a subscription.

TSW does have more to it, good and bad, that I haven’t mentioned here. My goal was to give you a rough idea of what it is about. My advice is to seek a friend who is playing and can give you their 24 hour buddy pass, to check it out. Hopefully with time, they can patch some of the inconsistencies. However with Guild Wars 2 on the horizon, time might not be on their side.

P.S. Gonna add a couple pictures at the end because they look cool, and aesthetically speaking they were awesome! (I would have added more but kept forgetting to take screenshots)