A day in the life of Aupebe.
Before I even start outlining my good times in the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta, let me make a few things clear:
- I'm a crusty old MMO player who liked MMOs more when they were harsher and meaner.
- Because of… reasons… I only got to play for about 12 hours before beta phase 2 came to a close.
- I'm a complete sucker for moogles (but who isn't, right?).
So considering item two, I can't really say what the end game is like or how early decisions you make regarding character development might affect you in the long run. (That will be perhaps for the next preview for beta phase 3!) What I can talk about is something I think is a lot more important, and that's whether those crucial early years of your character's life feel rewarding and absorbing enough to make you want to invest time (and money) into them. Alas, I only knew my character, Aupebe, for a day, but since we've parted, I've been itching to have more adventures with him, and that's something I never felt for any of my characters in World of Warcraft.
As I said in my recent review of Defiance, there's nothing more important about an MMO to me than whether its core gameplay is enjoyable. ARR really nails this for me because it feels like I imagine a modern, single-player Final Fantasy might feel if FFVII hadn't changed absolutely everything. There's an earthy, provincial, vaguely European look to it that feels more true to the franchise than Squeenix's more recent offerings. It's conveyed in the dialogue too. The writing is nothing heady or groundbreaking, but it bears a simple, quirky charm that, as an old-school JRPG player, I found familiar and endearing.
This matters more than you think too. I'm not going to try to convince you that story matters in an MMO, but contextualizing all the “go here, collect/kill X” that inevitably comes with the territory goes a long way towards staving off a feeling of empty repetition. Of course, so does giving players something to do besides all those fetch quests. ARR does this well too, with randomly appearing public quests that provide entirely different challenges than the preset ones, but also through another feature called the hunting log, which assigns you a number of different mobs to kill based on your class. Each class gets different hunting challenges to fulfill and enemies on your list are clearly marked above their head so you know at a glance that it's one of your targets.
None of these elements are particularly game-changing on their own, but the cumulative effect is that you feel quests are guiding your experience without restricting it. In this way, ARR isn't so different from Guild Wars 2, but unlike that game, ARR sticks to some genre conventions that GW2 went away from—like an actual class system. It's this mix of modern and classic design choices that I think FFXI fans will find appealing.
Ultimately, those are the people Square Enix really needs to win over. Even all these years later, FFXI is still going strong, and if they can just make a game that will satisfy that fan base while incorporating all the newer features that have become ubiquitous with the genre, that may be enough for them to succeed. Despite all the modern amenities. like group finder and fast travel, ARR feels like a game for old-school RPG players. Its world is more classically wrought than WoW's Azeroth, and its systems are more structured than those of games like Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World.
I like defined class roles, I like coming back to old areas and seeing how far beneath me the creatures there are now, and I like wandering into an area I shouldn't be in and feeling afraid for my virtual life. More than anything, I like doing all of that in a place that doesn't look like a Disneyland version of Middle-Earth. My one day in Eorzea gave me all of that in a way no MMO has since FFXI. I don't know what Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will look like in four years, or if I'll have a level 99 character or not. What I do know is that if I had to pay $12.99 for four more weeks with Aupebe, I would. And that's as good a start as you can hope for.