20 September 2010

Final Fantasy XIV - Beta Impressions Part II - Combat, Classes and Conclusions

In our previous trip to Eorzea, Zharg Jparx had just arrived in the busy city of Ul'dah. Equipped with nothing but some crappy clothes and the lance on his back, he managed to fend off an escaped beast in the city streets. This was before he was weakened by horrible mouse and keyboard controls and eventually defeated by overburdened login servers. With the initial mad rush to participate in the beta subsiding and now equipped with my own PS3 controller, I decided to take another look at Final Fantasy XIV.

With the city safe from further monster attacks for the time being my quest journal directed me to the nearby Adventurer's Guild. Making my way there I instantly felt the improvement a controller made for playing the game. Controlling Zharg and the camera was much smoother and accessing menus (albeit still clunky and unintuitive) was far easier than before. Upon arriving at the guild I spoke with its leader, Momodi. She gave me few new tasks to complete as a further tutorial and an introduction to guildleves. These guildleves fulfil the role of additional quests, requiring you to kill X number of mobs, collect X amount of items, harvest X amount minerals etc. I picked up all of the guildleves I could accomplish, which all ended up being related to the killing of various members of the Eorzean wildlife and I departed for the city gates.

Unlike other MMOs where you pick up and quest and can work on completing it straight away, guildleves have to be activated by large crystals known as Aetheryte. In addition to providing the ability to initiate guildleves, Aetheryte crystals can also bestow buffs and allow for teleportation. At a small camp a short distance from Ul'dah, I discovered one such crystal and attuned Zharg Jparx to it so he would be able to teleport there in the future. When choosing one of my acquired guildleves to activate I also had the option to select a difficulty. As I was on my own I chose the option recommended for soloing but it is good to see that FFXIV provides the option to increase the difficulty if you are playing with friends. When I had finalised my choices and activated the crystal's buff I was directed to the mob's location on the mini-map.

In this situation I had a better chance of exploring the game's combat system. Essentially, there are three elements that control the abilities you can use - MP, TP and stamina. Abilities cost a specific portion of your stamina bar to use, which constantly refills during combat. TP (Tactical Points) begin at 0 and increase as you deal damage to an enemy and receive damage from them and MP (Magic Points) is fairly self explanatory. So, at level 1, the basic combat scenario for Zharg Jparx involved using light thrust until the mob was defeated. As I killed mobs I gained skill points for the Lancer class and normal experience points for my overall level. For each subsequent Lancer level up I obtained new abilities and for each overall level up I obtained stat and elemental points to allocate. Soon enough my hotbar contained a number of improved abilities and self buffs making combat slightly more interesting. Although assigning these abilities to the hotbar was another tiresome process as it is another aspect hidden away in the game's menus.

Having certain abilities on your hotbar costs Ability Points and the maximum ability points you have is controlled by your character's overall level. The process of equipping abilities is fairly simple but far more drawn out than necessary - it was not a simple drag and drop system. First, enter the ability menu; select an empty hotbar slot; select the class the ability is used by on a drop down menu; select the ability you want to equip; select which hand to equip the ability to, main or off-hand (I still don't understand that step) and finally it's ready to use. I'm guessing it is set out in such a way because you can eventually combine abilities from multiple classes and being able to equip a multitude of different ones could lead to some balance issues.

Nevertheless, FFXIV's class system has the possibility of being the most interesting part of the game. It is very reminiscent of the job systems from previous entries in the Final Fantasy series. Instead of being fixed to a specific class like most other MMOs, the option to switch whenever you want and combined learned abilities could make for some exciting character development. Switching classes is achieved by simply equipping a weapon relevant to it. For example, equipping a lance changes your class to Lancer, equipping a mining pick will change you to a Miner, equipping a sword will convert you to a Gladiator.

I explored some of these class switching options with Zharg Jparx and tried out the Miner and Culinarian classes. Both the gathering and crafting classes utilise mini-games to achieve their relevant tasks. With mining, a number of sliders and power bars are used to represent where on the deposit you strike and with what amount of force. These are adjusted after each strike in order to find a 'sweet spot' where the deposit will yield its ore. Cooking involves collecting the necessary ingredients for the recipe and using a combination of standard, rapid (high speed) and bold (high quality) synthesis techniques to finish a product before its durability wanes and the ingredients are lost. Whilst neither tradeskill systems are revolutionary, they add an extra layer of interactivity on the crafting and gathering processes that MMOs such a World of Warcraft decide to ignore.

I think it's about time I concluded this brief look at the Final Fantasy XIV beta. It has been a somewhat mixed experience overcoming a few initial issues to discover the core of the game. Hopefully as the game is patched and updated through its life cycle many of these problems will be addressed as the game's UI and menus need a serious overhaul. The current system is incredibly unintuitive and requires a great deal of patience to get to grips with and navigate. Combat and questing is distinctly average and brings nothing innovative to the MMO space, especially at the lower levels. The dynamic class system certainly has potential though and perhaps with the combined experience of many different classes the game will be far more interesting.

In my opinion, it is highly unlikely that FFXIV will 'beat' World of Warcraft as its systems and mechanics are far more complex; requiring a great deal of dedication to fully comprehend all of their nuances. However, it will likely maintain a solid fan base with many transferring from FFXI. Still, the question remains, why is this part of the numbered series? Never mind, I've already forgotten about the game and have not been tempted to return to the world of MMOs...for the time being.

1 comment:

  1. It will never "beat" World of Warcraft, no MMO will at this moment in time. WoW has 11 million subscribers and counting with an exciting expansion on the horizon. The Final Fantasy series has sold approximately 95 million since it began, but obviously, the majority of those have been for the single player adventures. I very much doubt 11 million, out of the 95, will actually go and buy this new FF MMO. As a fan myself, I am quite disappointed too that Square-Enix feel the need to create 2 MMOs within the franchise, XI and XIV feel completely different to the rest when playing them. We just generally want to see an epic adventure full of twists and turns that we can enjoy in an offline environment, although downloadable content is always welcome.

    However, Final Fantasy XIV will probably perform a lot better than other MMOs like Aion, Age of Conan and Guild Wars. I guess the fanbase alone is enough for it to fare well within the market. Another positive is how the game looks, the world of Eorzea looks absolutely fantastic bearing in mind you have a well capable PC for it, even more stunning than Aion and that was something. But the complexity as you mentioned could lead to its downfall. During my experience as a Conjurer I had major problems targeting monsters with keyboard and mouse, leading me to hit a key 3 times and click on a creature to actually cast a spell. I don't understand why it's so much effort, why not create a Tab key which just selects the nearest enemy and then you just click the ability you want to use like in WoW? As for classes, I do like the idea of being able to switch whenever you want and it does seem there are more options made available in FFXIV compared with the 3 other MMOs I included. Again though, it seems to be inferior to WoW's concept of having 10 classes overall, each with 3 unique specs, giving the player the ability to "dual-spec" whenever they want. Effectively, that's 30 various playstyles to pick from, far more than in FFXIV I'd imagine.

    As well as maintaining the current fanbase from FFXI it's also important to be introducing new players to the world of MMOs and FFXIV. MMOs are very complex to understand for a new starter and FFXIV is no different. Unfortunately, from how I saw it, there was very little help and tutorials as soon as you created your character and stepped into the world. At least in WoW you are thrown tiny hints and messages whenever you do something new in the game and Blizzard have recently updated these in a recent patch as far as I know.

    For my wishlist; Square-Enix to work with Blizzard/NcSoft and create an MMO set in a vast new world with the graphics engine of FFXIV, character development from Aion and overall game mechanics from WoW. Will that ever happen? Probably not...