About three years ago, I heard about a game that was going to try some radically new things with online RPGs. That game was Final Fantasy XIV. I eagerly picked it up shortly after release because it looked very interesting. I had tried Square Enix’s previous attempt at an MMO – Final Fantasy XI – and had been largely disappointed with its first-gen MMO mechanics, such as the game being hard to solo, the excessive grinding, and the utter clunkiness of the PlayOnline system, including the danger back then of having to repurchase the game if you cancelled your subscription the wrong way. This time around though it looked like Square Enix was on the ball. The game was a lot more second-gen MMO than its predecessor, and there was a neat new system where you could change your class just by equipping different weapons – effectively eliminating issues with class rivalry, envy, etc., plus if you got bored with one type of class you could just level another without having to make a new character. Then on top of all of that, the graphics were incredible. Totally awesome right?
Needless to say, it was an absolute mess. 😛
Final Fantasy XIV was an utter disaster at launch, and not only that, but I wound up needlessly wasting my October vacation week that year trying to build a new computer to run this game, when in reality my new system couldn’t handle the game either, despite having far more high end components. It was the game – not my rig. Then again, everything that went wrong when that game launched was because of the game. 😛
Square Enix of course apologized, and announced the relaunch of this game which is now known today as A Realm Reborn, or as some cynical folks I know put it – “Final Fantasy XIV-2.” After hearing good things about this game and seeing glowing reviews, I decided to check it out. So….. What do I think?
A Realm Reborn – Despite The Glowing Reviews, It’s Still The Latest “WoW-Killer” That Just Doesn’t Get It
Yup. Yet another so-called “WoW-killer” that reminds me every time I play of reasons why Blizzard has done so well with World Of Warcraft over the years. I’ve played a few of these games over the years, and they all make the same mistake over and over again – they try to be clever at competing with Blizzard without acknowledging that Blizzard has set some standards and that’s one reason why despite the game’s current state of decline that WoW still has an impressive subscriber base.
A Realm Reborn makes this mistake in a few key areas.
The Flexible Weapon-Based Class System: First, the clever class system leaves a few gaping design holes in how the game is played. For example, two-handed swords. How would two-handed swords be implemented in Eorzea given the current class structure? Which class or job would use them? How would it work? How would this class differentiate itself from a Marauder? The “you can be anything” system is a neat idea, but tying it to weapons causes problems with these kinds of overlapping weapons issues.
I imagine introducing Red Mages or Blue Mages might make Square Enix reconsider this weapons gimmick. It sounded cool when the game came out, but now the shortcomings are coming to light, and this system definitely needs a major overhaul especially if more classic Final Fantasy jobs or classes are going to be added. What weapon will correspond to those classes, and how will it not overlap with White Mages or Black Mages?
…But Utterly-Inflexible Cross-Class System: Perhaps the biggest irony of this game is that despite trying to bring Final Fantasy to the MMO world – again – this game ignores the Freelancer job from previous FF games like FFV and heavily restricts cross-class abilities, either explicitly or through the stat system. For example, if you want to cast a crappy Fire spell as a Gladiator to pull mobs, too bad, even if you have high levels of Thaumaturge, but the Conjurer on their way to being a White Mage can use the Lancer cooldown to jack up their Parry rate for X amount of seconds. The cross-class system has some issues with silly things like this, even outside of the more restricted Job system.
Besides the overt restrictions, there are covert ones too. For example, secondary healing. The Gladiator has a high Mind stat for whatever reason and can cast somewhat weaker versions of Cure for some bluh secondary healing utility, similar to Cecil casting heals in Final Fantasy IV after becoming a Paladin, but the other melee…. forget it. Why? This doesn’t even make sense from a lore perspective because if someone has high levels of Conjurer and then decides to become a Pugilist similar to something like the healer monks from WoW, why would they suddenly be stupid at healing just because they changed their weapon? Square Enix should modify these abilities so that more classes can have heals similar to a Gladiator at least, or adopt WoW’s model completely for melees casting heals and jack up the potency but heavily restrict how many heals can be cast, like Retribution Paladins and their burst healing.
Load Times Between Areas: Another issue is the load times – namely that this game has them. These game developers gunning for Blizzard should take a hint from the game they’re trying to dethrone. In World Of Warcraft you can literally fly around all over the place and run in and out of buildings with no load times. You need to change continents or major areas or enter an instance to get a load screen. A Realm Reborn’s old Neverwinter Nights style movement setup is so outdated it might as well have click-to-move, but at least our characters can jump now. 😛 I particularly detest how the major cities are split in half so just going from one part of the city to another without leaving the city includes a load time! Earth to Square Enix – PS1 and its infamous load times was nearly 20 years ago now. 😛
Lame Movement Restrictions: Speaking of movement, the invisible walls and inability to swim are immersion-killers, especially with some of this game’s gorgeous visuals. I might as well play a persistent world in Neverwinter Nights 2. :-\ That is quite annoying when the only water you can move through is ankle-deep streams, but then you can fish in some of them. 😛 Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Bottom line – Skyrim does this stuff better, and that game’s not even online. 😛 Quite frankly, when looking at some of the nice oceanfront scenery in this game, why shouldn’t my character be able to go for a swim if there’s a nice beach in-game? 😛
The Horrendous In-Game Maps: Another notable issue that was complained about in version 1.0 was the useless map system. In A Realm Reborn, maps are just a tad less than useless. I’m constantly having to flip open my map in-game and wing it because there’s little to no text to work with, and every single form of travel in the game (chocobo porters, aethernet crystals, etc.) operates off of text-based menus instead of popping open the map and giving you graphical options with tooltips. By the way, WoW has been doing that for over 5 years. What was Square Enix thinking? 😛
What? A Lack Of Voice Overs?: Final Fantasy X came out about 10 years ago and was voiced. Today, game after game after game after game has full voice work, but Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t. Heck, they couldn’t even mimic the Zelda “no voices” formula where advancing the dialogue windows at least makes a sound effect! (Does the itty bitty click count versus the ding noises in Zelda games? :-P) There is absolutely no excuse for this in an FF game in the year 2013 and this had better be fixed in an upcoming patch. Actually no. The game should’ve shipped fully voiced. Darn I hate this rush job stuff. 😛
The Improved-But-Not-Quite-There UI: The UI was also a major source of headaches in XIV version 1.0, including the infamous three-clicks-just-to-open-your-inventory or whatever it was back then. The UI has improved quite a bit, and looks like the neon light fonts from Final Fantasy XII on Playstation 2. Unfortunately there are obnoxious UI issues with clicking people or targets so the system needs more fine-tuning. I’ve nearly wiped dungeon groups numerous times when trying to click a new target and accidentally nearly sent a tell to the melee DPS I accidentally clicked on while trying to tank. I don’t pay much attention to the chat when there’s a fight going on anyways so hopefully I haven’t sent too many people a “FFFFFFFFFFFFFFDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSDDDDDDDDDDDDFFFFFFFFFFFFFF” tell thusfar. 😛 It’s also annoying as a healer when you have someone with ants in their pants circle-strafing the boss and you can’t click on them to heal them until they stop. Fortunately the Party UI can be moved to get around this problem, but I shouldn’t be seeing this in the first place. It shouldn’t be that hard to click on things without accidentally clicking on something else!
Dungeon Groups – Old WoW Problems – And Worse: Square Enix was smart enough to add a dungeon finder system, but the way it works is circa Wrath Of The Lich King in terms of copying WoW, so forget about getting any decent queue time if you want to play as a DPS. I’ve tanked or healed for all of my dungeon runs, and have *never* gotten into a dungeon or even a guildhest as a DPS because this game exacerbates the tank/healer shortages of WoW despite the “everyone can be everything” class system since parties only contain 4 people, so instead of 3 DPS, now there are only 2, and why do we need these restrictions anyways? The MMO Trinity is nowhere near as pronounced in this game as it is in Blizzardland. It would be more than feasible for the system to use a “Allow non-standard groups” toggle so if you wanted a faster queue you could join a group with no tank or no healer or extra tanks or extra healers and then have someone class change if they needed a tank or healer or try something different, like healing via cross-class skills, like a Thaumaturge healing with Cure and using Umbral Ice and the Blizzard spell to not run out of MP.
…And Lastly…: The biggest thing I hate about this game is the economy and the money system. Basically the way money works in this game is you either end up dirt-poor and can’t afford your repair bills, or you become rich by exploiting other players. The in-game player economy was a severe problem in XIV version 1 with the horrendous market wards that left people screaming for an auction house to be added. In A Realm Reborn, things are somewhat better, but the retainer system still breaks everything. With the retainer system where each player has two retainers with their own names who sell everything they want to sell, one player can look like two different sellers and pull stunts like undercutting their own auctions or something to mess with people, assuming everyone just doesn’t gouge-fest everything like what I usually see in the market areas.
My highest level classes are Gladiator, Lancer, and Conjurer, but a decent chunk of the way into the game I now have barely 100 gold most of the time and am getting held back from leveling more classes or even upgrading my gear as a Gladiator because of money. Quests, leves, guildhests, and dungeons barely solve this problem, and I can’t help but feel as I keep playing like I’m getting throttled by this game’s broken economy. I want to experience more or get better gear but can’t afford it most of the time. Why put all these awesome features into the game if our characters will be too broke to utilize them?!
Adding to this is the fact that each character can be every crafting and gathering trade (and there are a bunch of people in-game who literally just sit in town making stuff all the time), so it is technically possible to grind up some levels in those trades and craft a lot of your gear, but why should I have to stop progressing through the main story (Yes – story. This is a Final Fantasy game after all!) just to level crafting and gathering professions. It’s almost like this is Square Enix’s sick and twisted way of forcing us to check out the crafting system because we’ll be so poor and crafting materials vendor for so little gil that we might as well just make a bunch of stuff with them and then vendor or sell what we don’t use, except dungeon loot is usually better than crafted loot, which should also chill and shut down the demand for raw materials that would fetch a decent price in the player markets. Oops.
…oh but who am I kidding? I can always buy gold from the numerous gold spammers that are running amok in the game because Square Enix couldn’t be bothered to copy Blizzard’s one-click “Report Spam” feature that has been in WoW since 2007. Again – oops. 😛
There is much to improve in this game. Square Enix shouldn’t let it get to their head that they’ve hit 1.5 million registrations. Wait. Is that registrations, or active subscribers? Hmmmm….. 😉
…But At Least This Game Gets A Few Things Right…
It’s not all doom and gloom with Final Fantasy XIV these days though. There are a few things about this game that I think Square Enix did the right thing on and should fix the issues with this game so these achievements don’t get marred by this game’s many annoyances despite the relaunch.
AV-Wise, This Game’s Awesome: Every so often I play a game whose visuals and sound are incredibly awesome. Much like Skyrim two years ago, I have taken some beautiful screenshots since getting back into this game and there are parts of the world I like being in because of the beautiful scenery (Gridanian Forests, Limsa Lominsa, etc.). I’ve also AFKed in Ul’dah just to listen to the music that plays at night. Really nice stuff. I especially applaud the much-improved graphical efficiency compared to its system-slamming predecessor. I still get great visuals even on “Desktop Standard” mode with silky FPS. Again, another parallel to Skyrim in terms of a game still looking great even on Medium or Low mode graphicswise. 🙂
The Nods To Previous Final Fantasies Are A Nice Touch: For us veterans of the offline series, the references to previous Final Fantasy games provide a nice bit of lore despite FF games usually being completely disconnected from each other lorewise. Between these references to old games and XIV’s story, there is definitely a lot of Final Fantasy to go around here. 🙂
The Nods To Guild Wars 2 Are Another Nice Touch: The lessened MMO Trinity, despite it still existing in this game, the limited implementation of downleveling, and outdoor events (called FATEs in this game) are a nice nod to the changing times in online RPGs. Even World Of Warcraft still has yet to implement something resembling dynamic leveling and have it work.
It’s A Final Fantasy Game, And It Feels Like One: The game has a story, and it feels like an FF game, to the extent that some reviewers think this game could’ve held its own as a singleplayer game, but that just highlights the weakness of many MMO stories in our world today. Somewhere along the line the MMO world got this false idea that MMO designers had to choose between an awesome story and an awesome world to play in, and that doesn’t need to be the case. There are numerous times in the main story where the screen goes white like it’s a boss fight, etc., and other nods to the 3D FFs of past years – even while the current story is going on. This is why I’m frustrated about my in-game money issues – because I want to see more of the story, not goof around leveling crafting classes!
Console Gamers Can Actually Play This Game: There’s a PS3 version and PS4 version in the works, while Blizzard still keeps WoW PC-only after nearly 10 years as the top dog MMO. I think this could be a source of potential for this game in terms of expanding the audience.
Conclusion: “World Of Final Fantasy” Wouldn’t Be Such A Bad Thing
It may sound cheap to suggest that Square Enix should have just copied Blizzard, but one thing that World Of Warcraft has done over the years is establish standards for these types of games, even regarding fine details that add to the immersion of a game and whatnot. What these “WoW-Killer” game developers keep doing wrong is not acknowledging this and trying to simply be clever and get around the fact that World Of Warcraft has really done that well and set that many standards. I still look forward to a day where playing MMOs will have more to do with what IP you like such as Elder Scrolls, Warcraft, Final Fantasy, etc., and less to do with which game is simply the best-designed most-polished MMO right now. In the meantime, let’s just hope that the folks at Square Enix can read feedback like this or this Massively article and realize where they need to go from here. 🙂