Final Fantasy XIV (PC) review
"Should you have the patience to overcome these initial hardships, you'll find that Final Fantasy XIV has the potential to be a very enjoyable game, despite how detractors simply say it's a Final Fantasy XI clone with shinier graphics. There are, of course, some similarities. The locales are different, but because they used the same races as FFXI and the same design team created both games, they have a very similar aesthetic. Seeing videos of the FFXIV make gameplay look like FFXI, but prettier. It's not until you learn about the intricasies of the mechanics fueling both games that it becomes easy to understand how vastly different they are."
Whether you hail from the majestic forests of Gridania, the vast, barren (but far from lifeless) deserts of Ul'dah, or the oceanside capital of Limsa Lominsa, there is one thing that will immediately strike you the second you step into Final Fantasy XIV: Eorzea is gorgeous.
Unfortunately, that beauty comes at a steep price. There's a massive barrier one must cross should they choose to enter Eorzea, and sadly, Square Enix has done nothing to rectify the problems. It all starts with the patcher. Like all MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XIV is designed to be regularly updated and evolved through patches. However, by using a proprietary torrent-based patching client -- and one that barely works, at that -- Square Enix has effectively screwed over a large portion of their potential userbase, as many people (myself included) were only able to download at horrible rates like 2 Kb/s, regardless of connection settings. Alternative downloads by users were made available on forums throughout the web, but Square Enix put a halt to those by sending demands that those links be taken down, essentially forcing people to use their malfunctioning downloader. The ordeal doesn't end there, either. Once the game is patched up, you're directed to the Square Enix Account Management System, which is every bit as clunky and user-unfriendly as the name makes it sound. On the Square Enix Account Management System, you can create FFXIV accounts and can add characters, called "options," to the account. However, the interface is confusing and in desperate need of redesign.
Should you patiently overcome these initial hardships, you'll find that Final Fantasy XIV has the potential to be a very enjoyable game, despite how detractors simply say it's a Final Fantasy XI clone with shinier graphics. There are, of course, some similarities. The locales are different, but because FFXIV features the same races as FFXI and the same design team created both games, they feature a very similar aesthetic. Watching videos of FFXIV make gameplay look like FFXI, only prettier. It's not until you learn about the intricacies of the mechanics fueling each game that it becomes clear how vastly different they are.
Final Fantasy XIV separates itself from its older counterpart, despite the graphical similarities, by introducing a brand-new battle system and character development method. Unlike Final Fantasy XI, which forced you to define your role in a single job that would be complimented by subjobs, FFXIV takes a more customizable route. It allows you to change your class at any time outside of battle simply by choosing a different weapon type. As you level up with whatever class you're using, you'll acquire both Action Points and new abilities, and any learned abiltiies (regardless of class) can be set to your palette of usable skills -- provided you have enough Action Points to do so. This system allows you to create a character of your own design -- again, provided you have the abilities in your list to do so. Want to be a Paladin reminiscent of Final Fantasy IV's Cecil? Simply equip a sword and shield to become a Gladiator and set healing spells like Cure and Protect. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
This also means that playing Final Fantasy XIV creates an experience that doesn't feel quite as "hardcore" as its predecessor did. You're never stuck feeling like you have to wait around for an hour before you can do anything. You can set some abilities, play solo for a while, and if the opportunity for party play arises, you can swap old abilities out for new ones and jump right in. It allows for a more casual experience where you can play for an hour or so each day and feel like you've accomplished something, even if it's just crafting a few items using the new item synthesis system.
By equipping the tools you'll need and combining particular ingredients with elementally-aligned crystals, your character can create a vast number of items and equipment. It plays out like a minigame. As you attempt to create a particular item, you have to select different sythesizing methods, without allowing the durability to reach zero. Since each action reduces durability by a bit, and since there's a time limit to choose your next action, you have to race against the clock to make each item. Due to the depth of the system, each of the different schools of crafting are interdependent. In order to make a spear, you can't just forge one from a chunk of iron and call it a day; you first have to get the wooden shaft from a carpenter and a leather grip from a tanner, who may need to obtain their own materials from one of the other crafting classes first.
But the depth of the crafting system highlights one of Final Fantasy XIV's biggest flaws: it's not a finished product yet. Lack of key features such as an auction house make attempting to gather the materials you need to create items an absolute chore. Instead, players are forced to enter tiny rooms filled with player-made bazaars, which may or may not have the item you're looking for, and probably not at a decent price. Because of the large number of characters in such a tiny room, lag levels can reach staggering heights as you're waiting for everyone's graphics to load, and some will disappear from your screen randomly with no more than a shift in the camera position.
However, the beauty of MMORPGs is that all of that can be fixed through patches. I'm willing to give Square Enix the benefit of the doubt for now since Final Fantasy XIV just recently launched. Despite the problems it's faced so far, it's been a pretty smooth and successful launch in comparison to some other big-name MMORPGs that have failed. For now, it may be best for potential players to wait a while for Square Enix to work some of the more interesting kinks out. Until then, I'll be here in Eorzea, waiting for them.
Freelance review by Kyle Stepp (September 30, 2010)
Espiga likes big butts, and cannot lie.
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