FFXIV beta impressions

I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for FF games.

Most of my top 10 offline games of all time consist of Square titles, and the vast majority of my fond memories of mmorpgs lie in Vana’diel and not Azeroth. No doubt curiosity killed the cat this month as I found myself playing the FFXIV beta, learning / fighting the controls, engaging the storyline and enjoying fishing for once no less.

First impressions were actually quite poor to be honest but around what I expected.

Lag, disconnects, slow patching, work arounds (user made hardware mouse and a windower option already) and very little content. The world, while beautiful, took a backseat to frustration as navigation with the mouse still felt awkward yet the keyboard keybinds weren’t standard FFXI controls. This left many gamers feeling more than uneasy as neither felt “right” (mouse or mouseless) as remapping keys hadn’t been implemented.

After the second night though, as silly as this sounds, I realized I was dealing with Square, and more importantly the very essence of FFXI .

*(Oddly enough – I felt better)

This was the same company that placed a high level, aggroable, ghost type mob in a cave – at a choke point – leading to the only low level grinding zone for lvl 20-25, Qufim. The same company who thought it’d be cute to space starting zone hours apart and not allow you to choose your server at release. The same game who’s hour(s) long NM fights are a feature. The same game who refused for nearly 8 years to allow it’s gamer population to even use a mouse.

No I realized slowly. FFXIV, for all it’s faults, had evolved and somehow grasped to it’s roots at the same time.

What started in XI as field of valor has now evolved into Leves – one of the more interesting subsystems to see in a mmorpg in a long time. While most view levels as an alternate questing system, they really are more of a micro dynamic content enabler that servers as a backbone for not just micro play (or Budgeted gameplay?) but also  party and raid dungeons, storyline hooks, gated content passes (think of needing a particular leve for an airship pass) and possibly even ingame currency from/to npcs (and even players? why not).

The emphasis is on it being a “micro dynamic content enabler” to coin a phrase that opens the world to the player in 30 to 1 hour chunks, without breaking immersion since it’s a physical item and part of the story.  Leves are not quest replacements, they are something more tangible, more directed as they consistently remind the gamer of what to do using ingame mechanics.

Speaking of quests, the cut scenes really are beautiful with your character center stage. In the beta there was one questline which you could complete – which in all – took at least the better part of two hours and nearly 15 cutscenes. I completed the entire quest chain before physical level 6 and net quite a bit of gil – getting the storyline out often and early – where have I heard this before?

Once into the quests I noticed on an escort mission (yes a real escort quest inside a mini solo dungeon, is this really a FF mmo?) that the world really is amazingly large and travel is non-trivial. Both concepts very FFXI – but wait – I can teleport between “hubs” in the world and not need a WHM? With this I think SE really hit the mark here balancing scale and convince.

The very core of FFXIV is still deeply rooted in Square-isms, a livable realistic world that’s often harsh and unapologetic but exhumes drama and story.

This core world I believe FF fans will find familiar once they get past the controls and UI, the lag of beta and the lack of “things to do” (btw if you haven’t read, check out the press release for all of the content coming downstream at release).

My word for non-FFXI gamers is to readjust your expectations of what an mmorpg could/should be about and really give this style of mmo a chance.

I think of it as moving to a foriegn contry… it’ll be a culture shock for the first couple weeks for sure but once you settle into a steady rhythm – learn about the culture and why they do the crazy things they do – you’ll look back on those years as truly fond memories.

And yes, I really am that convinced FFXIV will have that much of an affect on it’s player base long run.



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