13 September 2010

Final Fantasy XIV - Beta Impressions Part I - Character Creation and Introduction

I've avoided most of the MMO space since I stopped playing WoW about three years ago; mainly because I wanted to prevent the inevitable time sink a new MMO would become. However, being the wannabe video game journalist I am, I keep my eye on the bigger releases. When I discovered that Final Fantasy XIV was scheduled to have an open beta I jumped at the chance to have an early look at the game. In this part of my beta impressions, I take a close look at character creation and the game's introductory moments.
After finishing the arduous process of downloading and patching the game (around 5GBs worth of data) I was welcomed at the title screen by a wonderful rendition of the classic Final Fantasy theme. Clicking start lead straight to the character creation screen where all your regular MMORPG options are found - race, class, appearance, name etc. FFXIV offers five playable races: Humes, who closely resemble humans; the elfish Elezen; the childlike Lalafell; the giant Roegadyn and the cat-like Miqo'te. Each has their own two variations which offer different backgrounds and initial statistics. Classes are divided into four categories of different disciplines; War, Magic, Land and Hand, which specialise in melee combat, magic spells, gathering and crafting respectively. This is a choice that you need not fret over for long as FFXIV offers the ability to switch between classes at will, which I will explain in more detail later. From the choices available I decided to roll a Hume Lancer and proceeded to decide upon my character's appearance.

Whilst the customisation options aren't as excessive as a game like Champions Online, you are still given some degree of expression to create a unique character. Maybe some options are limited in the beta but the expected sliders and feature adjustments were in place. I finalised my choices with an over the top quiff with blue highlights and a matching blue face tattoo. There were some final choices to be made about my character's moon date and whatnot but it appeared to serve no greater purpose. By now I was desperate to just play the damn game so I clicked a few numbers, picked a server and starting city and was ready to enter the world of Eorzea.

First off, the game looks incredible and I now understand why the system requirements are so high from this introductory cutscene alone. My character, Zharg Jparx (menacing I know), was relaxing casually on a cart being drawn into the city of Ul'dah. It's strange to see a cutscene of this style in an MMO and is a fair attempt to add originality to your character's origin, even though you know that everyone else is watching the same video. The cutscene brought to attention some of the NPCs I would be interacting with throughout my humble beginnings as a large monster was being lead through the city on a parade float a la King Kong. Just like in the movie, the beast breaks free and the task of bringing it down fulfils the role of the game's combat tutorial.

It's initially a complicated system receiving no help from the game's unintuitive and clunky UI. Tutorial information was being relayed to me through the game's chat window, which was so small and scrolled so fast I missed half of what I was being told. I pieced together a few snippets of information and worked out the series of commands needed to simply attack. First, you must enter active mode to draw your weapon, then select your target, lock on to your target and from there you can proceed to attack. Zharg Jparx had a measly single ability to his name, 'Light Thrust', which caused the beast to flee after five/six uses.

Unfortunately, playing FFXIV with a mouse and keyboard is completely broken as the mouse sensitivity is set to a snail's pace and cannot be increased; because of this the game felt sluggish and unresponsive. Want to open your quest journal? Pressing 'Q' or 'J' yields no result so I tried pressing 'Esc' to access the main menu...no response again. I discovered 'Home' is used to open the main menu and from there the option to view your journal, character information, inventory and other commonplace MMO screens is possible. Playing with a pad is a necessity and so before I went any further I logged out and installed my PS3 controller.
Trying to log back in I discovered an error with the game's servers and found myself unable to. Having stayed awake to the early hours to play I decided to attempt to play tomorrow when the game may be more stable.

So my initial experiences with Final Fantasy XIV were not wholly satisfying; although of course with a beta not everything is expected to run smoothly. Character creation felt sufficient if filled with a number of seemingly unnecessary choices and the game's controls, UI and combat mechanics left a lot to be desired.
Be sure to check out part two in which I discover the game's quest system; surpass the awkward controls; gain a greater understanding of the combat mechanics and experiment with the levelling and trade skills systems. I get to the heart of Final Fantasy XIV and decide whether or not I'll be drawn back to a new MMORPG.

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