"This might be my Final Fantasy."
What’s that? Missed part I of this review? Click here to read it in its entirty!
(This is a review based off of the Collectors Edition and its week early access that began on September 22nd, concluding on the 14th of October. While things have been patched since launch, with no proper communication from Square Enix to its player base as to what was patched, this is a review based solely off the time frame stated. Obviously not every single detail or aspect were experienced in this period of time, with some individuals experiencing some things that I have not, but this is my first few weeks, what I experienced and what I came out of it all with. Nothing beta related, nothing past the first few weeks. The product as of October 14, 2010 is what was reviewed — close to three and a half weeks worth of gameplay time. The score indicates the experience of this time frame and this time frame only)
The typical MMORPG has so many facets, so many factors, so much content and so many experiences that even a year couldn’t help write a thorough enough review. You have to take play-styles into the equation, the myriad of classes, solo gaming, grouping, high end raid content and so much more. Unfortunately, spending a whole year at minimum to play through an MMORPG before a review is written is completely implausible. However a few solid weeks worth of game time can help set the stage as to whether or not the journey was worth taking, and if you should continue on forward with your travels (even with launch woes and tweaks considered). So this is basically the first few weeks of Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV) in a nutshell, from the solo game, to grouping, to the storyline infusion that Square Enix provided players. While raiding commentary will obviously be omitted, are will other level sensitive features and aspects, is FFXIV even worth playing up to, or even past that first free month in the first place?
Because of the amount of content and elaboration, this review will be split into a two day event — the first part will be mostly the installation/registration process, audio/video aspects and basic gameplay and class explanations of Square Enix’snew MMORPG, while the second part will deal with the issues surrounding the game, which are numerous. The rating will be provided at the end of the second part of this review, and again, will be based off the first few weeks, which roughly translates out to the early levels of the game, exploration and such.
With a vastly superior audio and video package delivered by Square Enix, as well as a compelling yet somewhat flawed class system, one would think it would be smooth sailing from here. Despite all that goes well for FFXIV, there’s literally quadruple over that impairs your progress and attachment towards the game. It’s almost as if Square Enix was intentionally trying to ruin your time within Erozea. As mentioned yesterday, the detachment towards any one class creates a unique situation to players. In order for you to truly capitalize on some of the higher level enemies you encounter (or at least from your mid teens and on), you’re best suited with the abilities and skills of several different classes. A higher physical level does lessen the burden somewhat, however the beneficial skills, such as heals and defensive posturings, go a longer way towards helping your character last through a tough battle.
One significant handicap shared by players across all servers comes in the form of delayed responses to anything you do regarding options, trades, shopping, etc. There’s almost a one second delay between clicking and the activation of that certain activity. Toggling the amount of fire crystals to trade with another player is a painstakingly slow event, with each click feeling as if its coming slower and slower. Sometimes the activation of a new window is delayed even longer, making a drawn out process turn into a marathon event of time wasting proportions. Little delays might not seem like such a big deal, but it adds up. What should be an elementary system of trades turns into a several minute affair, attempting to click the arrows up to increase the quantity of an item and so on. Even selling in bulk to a vendor is a tedious sloth of delays, thanks to a snails pace deviation from one sale to the next. A patch one week after the Collectors Edition release remedied this somewhat, with a halving of the delayed reaction times, though changing menus and selecting quantities from a bulk still takes longer than it should.
Locating any sort of weapon upgrades, regardless of how insignificant a statistical boost, is next to impossible, thanks to the heavy reliance of a player base structure to gear your character up with. What this means is if you want any kind of upgrades or additions to your equipment, without having to venture for nearly an hour on foot through what could turn out to be certain death, you either have to hunt down players or their retainers selling these items, or make them yourself. With the complete boredom to the tradeskills and the near idiotic manner of gathering, your alternative comes in the form of hunting down “upgrades” from the cities you encounter, or hunting down random players to browse their wares. There are locations within the cities that allow you to purchase a starting weapon for just about every class, however any kind of upgrade past the “weathered” line of weaponry comes from traveling vast distances or relying on the player base. Both of these methods turn out to be completely backward ass in their approach. There are a handful of shops that do sell certain pieces of higher level gear, though the map is all but useless in distinguishing their location. You’ll have to comb through each town to obtain these locations, or settle with Googling these places.
Lets say you want to hunt down upgrades throughout the lands of Erozea. Monsters have what seem to be a .01% chance of dropping a random piece of equipment that provides a modest gain in stats. From the hundreds, probably thousands of mobs I’ve encountered and defeated, only one drop was had, and I might have received it as a levequest reward and not realize it. But lets say you want to travel around and locate new settlements and cities. When it comes to settlements, the three or so I’ve encountered through my journeys from The Black Shroud to Thanalan were nothing more than derelict bodies of land with a couple of housing pieces and NPC’s that offered no clue as to why this settlement was here or where I could purchase even a grain of salt. Exploration is an important part of any MMORPG, though the inability to move at an acceptable speed (using a Gathering speed boost every so often doesn’t dictate a proper means of fast traveling while searching new areas), as well as the amount of ground that you will have to cover just to reach a new city, is a bit more of a daunting task than it should be. Once you discover “camps” along the way, which act as a beacon for levequests and a source of respawning, you can teleport between them afterwards, which requires a miserably slow regenerating form of currency called “anima”.
Exploration throughout some regions is pretty depressing in of its self, but we’ll get to that soon enough. Now lets take into the equation that the player base is the main source for early level gear. The process is so incompetent, so incoherent, so absurd, that you’ll almost want to just give up playing if you’re forced to such an asinine system. You have to hunt down players around the world that have a bag icon next to their name, click on them once, click the icon that pops up, select Browse from the menu that appears, and browse their wares that way. Oh, and if they run off as you’re about to purchase an item, you’re out of luck, as you need to be within range for the transaction to occur. Right now, this is the only way you can go about shopping from another player or retainer, and on top of that, you’re limited to the number of items you can put on sale through the players set up. Combine that with the snails pace between menus and clicks (even after patching it’s still too slow) and the numerous menus that need to be accessed, and you have one of the most frustrating aspects ever seen in an MMORPG. While it is early into the games release, it’s still inexcusable to allow such a limiting manner of gearing your character, or moreover, the manner in which you search through players in your immediate area.
With a heavy focus on a player based economy when it comes to buying and selling gear and other tradeskills items, one would hope that there would be a rather streamlined manner of browsing through ones wares. Player searches were elaborated upon earlier, but deserves another mention. The slow click registration when selecting an option have been halved, though getting to the next sub menu is still a delayed reaction. It takes ages to get to a players wares, which it shouldn’t. What’s worse is how retainers are utilized. A retainer acts as your seller whether you are online or offline, without you having to stay online for any reason. These retainers are plopped into the Market Wards, which is the housing area for these retainers in FFXIV, if you can even call it that. As with most other aspects to FFXIV, there are some major faults to it, mainly ease of accessibility. There’s no search option available, meaning you have to run to each retainer, click them, click the icon to open the menu, click the option in the menu to browse their wares….to every retainer you want to search. No filters, no single searches, nothing. Furthermore, with the inability to perform searches of any kind, that means you can only shop around with local retainers, never once being able to check those in other cities, unless you make the trek or port over. Again, the omission is just plain inexcusable, and should have been implemented even in its beta stages. It’s being said that Square Enix will implement an auction house system in the coming weeks/month, but for such a painfully obvious addition to be omitted for this long, shows how clueless the devs have been to the multitude of issues that FFXIV is facing.
Many have noted the “copy and paste” approach the developers took with the landscapes and pointed that out as a sign of laziness. The truth of the matter is that just about every MMORPG features these copy and paste bits throughout their games, but they just cover them up better. But while the mimicry in scenery might not be such a big deal, the blandness and overall unengaged stretches of land have to be pointed out and faulted. Some of these places have a claustrophobic vibe to them as well, with narrow corridors and pathways that are very reminiscent of Final Fantasy XIII. There are too many dead spots throughout the world, where more non-aggressive enemies could populate, giving more of a field in which players can camp or grind through. Understandably so, newbie areas are packed to the gills with players, with a literal fist fight just to aggro the singular enemy that pops within your view on occasions. Oftentimes when you do find an enemy, you’ve wandered quite a bit of distance from a camp or city, locating enemies that will decimate you without effort….
….or will they?
Identifying the level of any enemy within your path makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The system is a color coded mess of uncertainty, as an enemy with a red bubble (which is supposed to signify a battle that’s beyond your capabilities) doesn’t always mean certain death. Switching to different classes at different levels will change the enemies level in relation to yours, however even if they go from blue (the lowest difficulty of a mob) to red (the highest difficulty), that doesn’t always mean that you’ll face certain death. With a properly built character with the correct skills and abilities from various classes, you can take trivial enemies that supposedly become next to impossible to defeat when switching to a different class, and down them with ease.
On the other hand, there are some enemies that are either green or blue, and will take you down before you take them down, even with a character that should be well suited for the engagement. These are enemies you’ve encountered numerous times previously, yet will best you in battle. The whole enemy level system doesn’t make any sense, not to mention it’s next to impossible to distinguish which enemy will aggressively chase you down if approached or simply sit there and await your first attack. It gives a sense of trepidation when traveling long uncertain areas, though for all the wrong reasons.
Soloing or grouping, the available missions are so mundane, so uninvolved, that there’s no sense of attachment towards any actions going onscreen. It all boils down to “kill Ax3, Bx2 and Cx4″ in thirty minutes. Outside the “storyline” that brings you into Erozea, which has its pace broken up to level restrictions (reach a certain level to continue on) there’s no sense of progression with any sort of meaning. There’s no “find X in Y and slay Z”. It’s all outdoor, all kill set target number of enemies. Even prehistoric MMORPG’s such as Everquest has a more hearty way of doing quests, offering both the mundane and a step up from that, such as looting certain items and such. For such a high profile release having such a minimalist approach to questing in the early game is simply appalling. What’s worse is that your participation in a group quest, called a Behest, could entail the clipping of your nails while you auto follow someone in your group, and with how trivial some of the encounters are, you’ll be rewarded for doing nothing. This differs from other MMO’s as group sizes are much smaller in others, with mostly each class playing some kind of important role throughout the group, regardless of the level. Not to mention that you’re limited to the number of quests you can partake in during a 36 hour period (which has been reduced to 24 hours, a number that’s still too limiting), halting your progression even more so.
Then there are a myriad of smaller issues that compound into a much larger mesh of shortcomings. When a buff or detrimental icon appears in your buff window, there’s no way of gauging how much time you have until the effect dissipates. Resurrection sicknesses, defensive buffs and so on, give no indication as to how long they will be in play, which is yet another aspect to FFXIV that makes no sense. There’s a blatant lack of a mail system, which could help in transferring things between characters in an easier manner, or even trading with other players, as only four slots at once are allowed for trading at one time. Chocobo stables and airship docks act as a beacon of taunting, as you’d expect them to be used for travel, however they are practically useless, with the stable-hand providing useless dialog to the player. Low level grinding areas are sprinkled with enemies of a much higher level, with some rare insatnces having some kill on sight adversaries in the immediate area. While many MMORPG’sseem to release with aspects that are incomplete or just broken, FFXIV feels as if nearly no criticism or points from beta were taken into account, and the game was released as is — partially broken, partially inaccessible, largely underwhelming. This isn’t an “armchair” dev talking; these are legitimate, painfully obvious faults in FFXIV that at the end of a day, blind faith won’t repent its sins.
It seems like the major handicaps come down to the oppressive delays in just about every aspect of FFXIV. As gorgeous as the visuals are, the draw distance is less than it should be, slowly fading in a landscape in the distance in a delayed manner. Menu navigation, whether you’re working on tradeskills, performing a player trade or anything menu based, has input delays to it, quadrupling the amount of time it should take to do the most elementary tasks (though again, the recent patching has cut the time in half, which is still not enough). Gearing up your avatar is delayed due to the inept manner that gearing is handled, both through the means of an NPC vendor and the player base bazaar system. Relaying long lines of communications to fellow players is delayed due to a character limit per message, forcing you to break down each message, or dumb it down significantly to fit the limit. The boat rides are a delayed stretch of time that, with how streamlined MMO’s have become with traveling, adds nothing inspiring, nor does it add to the mood in any manner. There are so many aspects to FFXIV that could have benefited from a delay of its launch, instead of extending out these numerous, and easily attended to pre-launch, but were neglected in the end.
A lot of feedback I have encountered via Twitter and various message boards seem to have a very small handful of detractors that hold onto the notion that, of course, problems are to be expected during the launch of an MMORPG, and these reviews that focus hardcore on the negative aspects are sensationalized pieces of work that undermine the quality present in FFXIV. That’s not the case whatsoever; these shortcomings and flaws are things that should have never trickled past beta and into the final build. No amount of bias views can cloud the fact that Square Enix launched this game even more incomplete than most other MMORPG launches, as well as with nearly as many fundamentals and aspects missing or broken than Vanguard’s launch. Square Enix never planned to include any type of auction house system, until the outcry from gamers forced them to take that into consideration. Even if the masses did not voice their concerns, who in their right minds thought that clicking every single player and retainer, without a search engine of any sort, was a plausible method of shopping?
Targeting a player without the use of a controller shouldn’t be a cumbersome mechanic, and should have been addressed in beta. Not being able to decipher what enemies are aggressive and what enemies are placid is a design flaw. Enemies that con red and are easily dispatched when they shouldn’t be, while enemies with a blue or green con that decimate you handily is as well. The limited number of quest options in the beginning of the game is unforgivable, just as the levequest reset timer is. Putting in areas that are desolate, Guilds that support classes that are not even in the game yet, airships and Chocobo travel stations that are not accessible, all of these half assed, half baked, incomplete aspects that were included are uncalled for. Yes, MMORPG’s launch with numerous unfinished aspects (look at Vanguard), but none are so blatant as FFXIV. Fundamental aspects are tossed aside from harebrained logic and pre-beta ideas. When you can’t even tell what enemies are meant to be killed by your class and level because the color coded system to distinguish these mobs from each other is absolutely useless, you need to take the product back to formula.
As it stands, Final Fantasy XIV, regardless of the fact that it just launched and a myriad of tweaks can be performed between present day and months from now, is a flawed MMORPG with a massive amount of untapped potential. There are plenty of fixes that can be performed, with a handful that will be soon enough, as well as gameplay boosts to help aid in some of the more mundane aspects. While the audio and video package is the best the genre has to offer (regardless of some graphical blemishes here and there), as well as an intriguing, yet somewhat flawed class system, menu upon menu navigation required to perform the most elementary aspects, itemization woes and a disconnection from a singular class are just a few of the numerous drawbacks to Square Enix’s online title. As it stands, it’s difficult to find a way to recommend this to not only an avid MMORPG gamer, but a devoted fan of the Final Fantasy series, who might have invested deeply in Square Enix’s previous MMORPG efforts, Final Fantasy XI. While Final Fantasy XIV has a wealth of untapped potential, what is available now is flawed, broken, misguided and is not geared to any player classification. Wait this one out for at least a year. Hopefully in that time frame Square Enix will wake up and realize that they have a chance to steer this ship away from dry land and into a sea of endless opportunities, most of which I hope and pray can be realized. At this moment however, it’s got bigger holes in its hull than the Titanic.
Addendum: In this 11th hour to part II’s release, Square Enix released a smorgasbord of announcements in relation to Final Fantasy XIV. The first has to do with a 30 day extension to its free access to the game:“Considering the nature of much of the feedback we received, however, and the current state of the game, we have decided to extend the free trial period for all users. Please continue reading for further details.”
While Square Enix seems to be making strides in fixing the innumerable broken, misguided and harebrained features, to even release an MMORPG in such a deplorable state is inexcusable. The most elementary concepts being added in only because of a public outcry, when it should have existed even in beta builds (search menus for Market Wards), is absolutely baffling. Final Fantasy XIV was obviously not ready for retail release, and offering a second free month of access is barely an adequate “thank you” for putting out an unfinished product out into the market. It’s damage control, with shrapnel already deeply embedded into those that have invested time, and more importantly money, into this title. Even with the announced changes and additions in December’s update, plenty of nagging issues still have not been acknowledged, including aggressive mobs being indistinguishable from placid ones, a functioning color coded system that properly signifies whether or not an enemy is under or over your skill set, buff timers, etc.
Yes, these are commendable steps forward, as Final Fantasy XIV has no where left to go but up. Unfortunately one can only feel as if the retail release was rushed out, with Square Enix tricking people into purchasing into a beta testing. As it stands, even with the myriad of tweaks being worked on now, there are too many unaddressed issues that need their attention before this product ever becomes viable. As mentioned at the end of the review — wait it out a year. This should give Square Enix enough time to iron out most of the fundamental flaws that should have been addressed in the proper beta period (read: not right now).