Final Fantasy XIV (Open Beta) First Impressions

[I initially wrote this message on MMORPG.com's forums under the pretense of being a ridiculously experienced gamer's opinion of Final Fantasy XIV.  Probably no need to mention that here on the grounds that this should be self-evident by it being written to my blog.]



Final Fantasy XIV is pretty much in the same vein as Final Fantasy XI, brought up to date with many notable improvements, and should be appreciated by much the same audience as the players who enjoyed Final Fantasy XI.  It doesn't pretend to be anything else, it doesn't bother competing with WoW because that's the wrong audience for it.   What is delivers is very solid, with some caveats:
  • It will require a relatively-up-to-date computer: World of Warcraft was designed to run on two year old computers when it was released seven years ago.  Final Fantasy XIV requires a computer that has somewhere along the lines of 20 times the computational power you'd need to run WoW comfortably.  I've got a GeForce 250 GTS, 4 GB of RAM, and a quad core processor, a fairly middle-of-the-road system by today's standards: this was enough for an adequate play experience.  Anything less, and you'll likely be suffering.   If in doubt, try the benchmark.
  • The controls take some getting used to (especially for non-FFXI players)There is some definate consolitus here, but it can be overcome readily enough.  The user will need to be able to adapt to an interface other than strictly mouse and keyboard.   WASD travel with mouselook working on holding right click works well enough, but navigating the menus via mouse clicks is ill-advised: get used to using the cursor, enter, and escape key for menu navigation (these can be rebound to other keys).  Of course, if you're using a gamepad, you'll find FFXIV is more than ready to accommodate you.   Annoyingly, there is a bit of a GUI lag as the client seems to require frequent server interaction, but imagine this will die down a bit as the servers become better at handling the load throughout the duration of the stress test.
  • RTFM implied, but not well supported during beta:  I think it's a fair assumption that there will be a manual included with the game, and it will be required reading.  There's a lot of status icons that pop up which you may sorely wish you had a manual about to know what they mean, the context-sensitive help is still in Japanese in this version.  There is a wealth of help tips to be found buried in various context menus throughout the game, such as explaining what attributes do, but I've seen easier ways to presenting that information, often they can only be accessed in certain geographical locations in the game.
  • This game deliberately does not endeavor to make itself easy: The mobs will put up a good fight and easily overcome the unprepared or GUI-flustered.  I've encountered local guildleves (a certain kind of quest) where I'm expected to comb entire labyrinthine cities trying to find an NPC by name alone.  The grind has definite breadth: it does not assume you loathe playing the game.  It's good that the scenery is so enjoyable to take in, as you will spend a lot of time just walking to the same place several dozen times.  These things are all different facets of the essence of difficulty in gaming, their inclusion deliberate, overcoming them being means to enjoy the game.  Even the GUI impediment is uniquely stylistically Final Fantasy, and to do otherwise differs from fan expectation.
  • Crashes and disconnections happen: Fairly infrequently, perhaps to the tune of once every 2-3 hours (give or take depending on how lucky you are) but they happen.  Unfortunately, if you happen to be doing a timed Guildleve when you're kicked out of the game, you will fail it.  You'll either have the patience to deal with this or you won't, but undoubtedly the frequency of this wil decrease as the game undergoes continued refinement.
In the end, Final Fantasy XIV is a game best appreciated by gaming connoisseurs: those who have a taste for fine quality in the details of their games, to the point where they're willing to overlook the kinds of flaws remaining as trivial in comparison to what is being delivered.

People who are only gamers by casual circumstance, and don't get this whole "quality gameplay experience is more important than ease-of-use" thing; who just want to have the thing do what it says on the box so they can get on with their lives; who boot up their games and scream, "entertain me without my having to lift a finger or get out," will likely not be able understand the appeal of Final Fantasy XIV.  However, you're certainly welcome to learn.

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