It’s been two weeks since leaving my small village by the sea, I like so many young men left my home in search of adventure only to find myself wandering through some Twelve forsaken forest.
Upon investigating a ball of flames falling from the sky I encountered a squeaky monocle wearing magical midget, a leggy fist fighting ditz in red grieves, several “wolves”, a giant angry “wolf” eating tree, a troupe of musically challenged moogles and an effeminate boy with horns.
No, I haven’t been invited to one of Lady Gaga’s house parties, I’ve been playing a game that from early reviews has been referred to by some as one of the worst MMORPGs ever made. But I’ve never been one to listen to reviews alone, I often go on instinct and something told me that I should give it a second look, whether that was my status as a card wearing Final Fantasy Fanboy or my curiosity as to how this game will evolve, the fact of the matter is I wanted to play it.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty, what are the big changes since launch?
The first thing new players will notice is the tutorials and storyline quests have had a massive overhaul to make jumping into the main parts of the game a much smoother quicker process, the best example I can think of is the story quest in each city with teaches you how to use the emote system, originally it was cryptic and to be honest quite clunky in it’s execution with most people ending up looking up the solution online, but now it’s so straight forward if you couldn’t work it out you, quite frankly, shouldn’t be allowed near a computer for fear of accidently hurting yourself.
Being an ex-player of Final Fantasy XI on my XBOX 360 I can’t help but notice that Final Fantasy XIV has expanded several extras used by it’s older brother into some of it’s core mechanics. The one that pops up first is the guildleve system, guildleves are essentially the evolution of FFXI’s fields of valor system where a player could take out a predetermined list of enemies in exchange for experience points and gil (the major currency of all FF games), the guildleve system takes this further by gathering all the kill these, gather a number of this item, make x amount of this material and hunt down this bastard that’s been killing towns people quests in one place, the adventurer’s guild in each major city. Each one of these quests is then grouped by difficulty and assigned to a camp, you then trot over to the camp to complete said quest in return for gil, items and favour among the three factions of Eorzea.
There are also special faction leves which can by bought using favour from the factions for big prizes, plus regular action for large groups in the form of behest (which is Final Fantasy speak for kill the fuck out of lots of monsters). That said the game is very much playable as a solo effort, all levequests for fighting/mage classes can be set to a higher or lower difficulty depending on the size of your party, which is a nice change for any of us who remember trying to get a decent party in FFXI’s Valkurm Dunes, but there are experience and skill point bonuses to working as a team so it’s down to a player’s personal preference.
The second core mechanic based from what was essentially an afterthought for FFXI is the use of crafting and gathering, in FFXI you could make your way through the game without ever picking up a crystal or a pick-axe, anything you needed could be farmed, bought or made by someone with more patience than yourself. In FFXIV the acts of crafting and gathering have grown into classes all of their own, this means that essentially those of us who aren’t all about the slashing and the fancy magic can essentially get to the highest level in the game by picking flowers and making fabulous hats, which I actually quite enjoy as a side hobby in game when I’m not punching things in the face.
Because of this focus on alternative ways to play, however, the entire game’s economy is player based, rather than the traditional auction house set up of most MMORPGs FFXIV went for the… shall we say “experimental” use of market wards, these are areas wear one can set up a bazaar using an NPC called a retainer, for those of you who played FFXI the retainer is a basically a portable version of the mog house (a room where players could store their item’s and receive deliveries from the auction house) the retainers are much simpler than the mog houses in that their main functions are to hold your items and run your bazaar.
The main problem with the market ward has been fixed now that they have included a search function upon entering the area and despite the lack of a mailbox system or a character’s room I actually find the retainers charming and have even grown quite attached to my salmon pink wearing Hyur and my militant lesbian Mi’qote sidekicks.
Something that definitely has me intrigued is the future of this game, the way it’s been produced is almost a symptom of the games setting. Look at it this way, FFXI had established systems and worked quite well from the get go and was based in a well established world, FFXIV’s Eorzea on the other hand is a continent of colonists, pirates and merchants, it’s new even to the NPCs who live there, there is no long standing history, alliances are to guilds and City-states are just settings for story telling rather than patriotic centres. For me this actually adds to the charm of the game rather than taking it away.
I think thus far my largest concerns when playing are that because they opted to keep the world map open with as few loading screens as possible the sense of scale is actually diminished, every thing feels smaller than it actually is because I don’t know where one area starts and another finishes, the other issue is the lack of content, because of the guildleve system a lot of the need for the various mini-quest storylines has been taken away, which is actually a bit of a shame as it’s those little moments and the characters you meet along the way, luckily the new team have promised to deliver more of that in the March Update.
Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you all that everyone was wrong and FFXIV is amazing, but I will say that if you used to play FFXI it’s worth giving it a try. The initial launch was rocky at best and it was full of bugs, but since the new production team have jumped in they have made big improvements and some big promises (which have thus far been kept).I can confidently tell you all that I’ll be playing for a while yet and I hope to see some ore of you giving it a go.
And if that doesn’t get you, they’ve extended the free trial period until they’ve brought the game up to a standard they’re happy with, and we all know how y’all love free things.