Final Fantasy XIV
It's notoriously difficult to review an MMO at any stage in its lifespan. Two weeks after its release, you're opening yourself up to a tirade of complaints that you reviewed the game too early on to be accurate. Wait a few months and no one really cares what you think. Even worse, all it takes is one patch and everything you just wrote about is made redundant. An MMO is organic in its evolution, ever changing, often completely different by the end of its life compared to where it was at the beginning. Just look at the changes to Star Wars: Galaxies for example, once hugely popular, its changes are now considered a huge mistake. So, where to start with Final Fantasy XIV? Somewhat predictably it does offer potential but currently it all feels more like a work in progress than a complete article. While it's fine to have an MMO with plenty of growth potential, this one feels overly lacking in early content to make it worthwhile of a purchase just yet.
While not ordinarily worth mentioning, setting up Final Fantasy XIV is worth a line or two this time. It's unintuitive and just a tad irritating. There's the usual matter of registering for an account but then you have to register with the Click and Buy service which - again - isn't a deal breaker but is mildly irritating. Then you have to add a character to your account. You see, Final Fantasy XIV, rather than charging a flat rate monthly fee, charges you per character. There's a base rate to pay every month as well as an additional fee just to have a character. Why Square Enix didn't just lump the base fee and one character together, who knows. It's certainly an odd way of doing it. Paying extra for more than one character is a bit of an intriguing move too, although it does make a little bit of sense further on in the game.
Bypassing this small annoyance, Final Fantasy XIV appears to be very exciting at first. It's beautiful to look at and the Final Fantasy style is clearly ever-present. With a wealth of different races and classes to choose from, and 3 different starting cities, there's that ever satisfying feeling that there's loads to do here. And there very almost is.
The opening sequence is a little confusing regardless of where you start or what class you choose. It harked back to memories of earlier MMOs such as EverQuest 1 where effectively you're dumped in a situation and it's down to you to figure out where to go from there. It's not always obvious who to talk to next or even where to go although the minimap does go some way to helping here. It's a little overwhelming after years of sanitised MMOing whereby you're constantly guided where to go next. Even the ever grindy Aion managed to give you an obvious clue as to where to head at the outset. Thus it's immediately obvious that it's sensible to research Final Fantasy XIV thoroughly online beforehand. It's not a game that encourages fast progression; it's more a game that takes time to sink in. A lot of time. Then you realise there isn't as much exciting content available as you thought there was.
The one truly positive addition to the MMO bow is the level of flexibility that Final Fantasy XIV offers when it comes to class choices. While players must choose a class when creating a character, it doesn't actually change things as much as you'd think. It only affects your starting equipment as it's actually the equipment you wield that defines your class. Switch to a sword later on and become a gladiator for example. It's a great level of flexibility as you never feel trapped by the decision you made right at the start of the game. Even better, thanks to the action points you can acquire, which can then be used for the statistic of your choice; it means you can effectively shape your character to how you want it to be. You can have a warrior with paladin type abilities for example. It's refreshing to have such an array of options and certainly offers a lot of potential.
Of course to level up, you need to acquire experience which is where Final Fantasy XIV turns rather grindy in its attitude. The questing system in particular has been rather controversial during the game's beta thanks to effectively restricting players in what they can do on a day to day basis. Your primary source of questing is via the levequests that are available through the Adventurer's Guilds in each city. They offer typical MMO fodder, killing x number of y creatures is often the name of the game, and they can admittedly become a little repetitive at times. Fortunately many of them don't take very long to complete. The downside to this however is that you can only complete 8 levequests a day. There is a logic to this. It ensures that power levellers are limited to a certain extent in their questing and that casual gamers don't have to struggle to catch up quite so much. You can also complete crafting based levequests which provide some fantastic benefits and were much more enjoyable to do. It's a convoluted system and one that takes some figuring out. A trend that's quickly becoming Final Fantasy XIV all over.
It's a similar tale with the crafting system which holds an awful lot of promise but then falls at the final hurdle. The crafting system is very useful in Final Fantasy XIV as the various pieces of equipment that can be created through it are often better than the equipment you can acquire through grinding. It's good to see after playing numerous MMOs which fail to accommodate crafting so well, that crafted items can hold their own here. The annoyance here isn't that the craft system isn't detailed - it certainly is, there are even minigames involved. No, the problem is that there's no way of looking up a recipe list. Instead you have to select your materials first and then the game tells you what can be made from them. It's a weird nuance to the system and one that doesn't make much sense. Hopefully in a future patch this'll be rectified as currently the crafting system is one of the most exciting things about the game.
Interface problems are certainly the order of the day in many places. Vendors are difficult to spot amongst a crowd and it takes too long to find anything to buy. Currently it's not possible to travel on Chocobos even though you can see them. There's no auto attack button and the control system on the whole lends itself to a controller rather than keyboard and mouse. While you can 'consider' enemies, they don't necessarily match how you'd expect. A supposed easier enemy conning blue might still be immensely challenging. The menus are frequently laggy and the game crashes when you try to alt tab out, something that's exceptionally useful when playing an MMO. All these little things add up and make for an unappealing game. Crucially, a game that isn't as much fun as exploring new worlds should be.
Yet they are also all relatively little things, things that can be changed in the tide of patches. But then why weren't these things already noticed during the lengthy Alpha and Beta stages? Instead, they're still here in a full priced release. There to torment you when instead you should be enjoying what Final Fantasy XIV does do right: the flexibility of the class system. The intriguing crafting system and the potential for this to be a game for both power levellers and casual gamers. As it stands though, a lot more work is needed on it. Sure, it's extremely early days for the game but then again, World of Warcraft was still good upon initial release. It had its flaws and wasn't the complete product that it is today but it had the structure for an immensely enjoyable product right from the start. Final Fantasy XIV offers the potential but for now, it's lacking in too many areas to recommend. In months to come, Final Fantasy XIV might well make it. Looking at Final Fantasy XI, I suspect Final Fantasy XIV will have its place. For now though, it feels like a work in progress. One that's tough to recommend.