Anyone want to pay $50 for a beta test?
Um, hi. How are you doing today, GR readers? This is, as I understand it, the point where Josh usually opens with some kind of anecdote or quirky observation about life or gaming (or both) before diving into the bulk of a review. Unfortunately, Josh is unavailable to write this today. He is bedridden, depressed, and woefully unresponsive. What this abomination (his words, not mine) has done to sully the Final Fantasy name was such a shock to his system that he is no longer capable of rational conversation, let alone writing. But I’ll do my best to convey the thoughts that he got across to me before his condition deteriorated to this point.
[image1]It’s proving to be quite difficult, too. Most of what he says about Final Fantasy XIV is incoherent rambling, but I’ll do my best to make sense of it. You see, it all started when he finished the epically slow install and patching process and jumped semi-excitedly into the game. But it quickly became apparent to an outside observer that FFXIV had begun chipping away at his sanity, and well, here we are now.
The very first thing anyone will notice about FFXIV is how amazing it looks. The graphics and presentation are heads-and-shoulders above many other games coming out today, which is a feat even more impressive considering that this is an MMO. There are a plethora of beautiful cut-scenes at the outset, which may almost have you believing you’re playing a single-player game. But the cut-scenes drop off once you get an hour or two in, which is, coincidentally, also about the time the game’s redeeming qualities drop off too.
After creating your character from one of five races (some of which suspiciously have only one gender available), you can choose one of three starkly different starting areas: the port town of Limsa Lominsa, the mysterious forest of Gridania, or the metropolitan hub of Ul’dah. What’s somewhat neat is that the beginning storyline is, for the most part, unique to the area you choose.
Unfortunately, there’s barely any story to go around after that. You get one line of story quests at the start which will carry you through a few levels. The quests end abruptly, and from that point you’re forced to do daily generic class-specific quests called “leves” to level up until you’re high enough to get another story quest. Finish that, and repeat the process.
[image2]Wait…hang on... Josh is mumbling something: “Limit… daily limit… retarded idea…” Yeah, yeah, I was getting to that. A big part of what makes FFXIV so lackluster is that there just isn’t that much to do. The aforementioned daily leves have an imposed limit of eight every 36 hours — once you’ve done that, there’s literally nothing to do other than grind (or do a behest, which basically boils down to just another leve). Like it or not, MMOs are more successful the more time they connive you into sinking, but with this limit on leve quests, it seems like Square is going out of its way to make sure you don’t play their game too much.
The gameplay will differ depending on which class you currently are, but they all boil down to one thing: tedious. Fighter and caster classes will spend their time in extremely slow, boring, and simple combat. Most of the time, you’ll be spamming one or two buttons repeatedly while your character takes their sweet time swinging their weapon of choice. While there are lots more abilities to get as you level up different classes and you can mix-and-match those abilities to create an action bar with good synergy, the fact that there’s no real strategy to the “hit-the-same-buttons-till-it-dies” combat is inescapable.
Other classes fall into the gathering or crafting category. Both spend their time doing ponderous mini-games that have the spark of potential, but just end up being annoying after about a dozen times. One of the best aspects of the game, however, is that you can change your class on the fly simply by equipping a different weapon. If you’re tired of slashing things, just switch your sword out for a mining pick and dig up metals. Once you have enough, grab a hammer and start smithing that stuff.
“No… can’t do it… recipes... not there". Oh, um... maybe he’s coming out of the stupor a bit. But he’s right — crafting is ridiculous because the recipes to make items are not saved anywhere in the game. You may see the recipe for a copper ring during a quest, but unless you write it down somewhere you won’t know how to make it again, because the game doesn’t record the recipes you learn.
[image3]And I guess since we’re on the subject of stupidity, now would be a good time to mention the atrocious interface. Not only are there no shortcuts for any of the more commonly used menus, you have to click through a ton of them just to do things like accept a quest, check your gear, buy items — whatever. But the sour cherry on top is that FFXIV’s interface lags something fierce. When you’re interacting with an NPC, it takes around four seconds for your choices to register on each and every one of those godawful incessant menus.
Let’s also throw the map onto this laundry list of broken mechanics. When you open up your map at first you’ll find no way to scroll it around, which makes it next to useless. You might find out later that you actually use the IJKL keys to scroll it instead of something else more intuitive. The maddening part is that the game never tells you, even in the goddamn manual, that these keys have this very important function.
But even if you figure that out, the map is still a bitch to use. Objectives for your current quest are inexplicably brought up on a completely separate map from the main one. So you’ll have to check the objectives map, back out through some menus, bring the regular map up, and try to remember where you saw those objectives. Oh yes, they don’t get marked on your regular map at all. Ever.
Oh, wait... Josh is sitting up behind me and looking into the distance. “Retainers…don’t forget the stupid retainers.” I think he might be coming out of... oh, he just collapsed again and is murmuring something about the cat-girl race and furries.
Anyway, retainers: There is no auction house in game yet — it sounds like Square wants to put one in eventually but not in the near future. So for now the economy revolves around NPCs called retainers that each player can employ. The retainer is like your storefront, putting up goods you want to sell to other players that click on it. The problems with this are twofold: There’s no way to see what a retainer is selling until you click on it, so it’s really just a crap shoot to find what you want. But don’t forget, too, that since these are NPCs, you’ll have to slog through that glorious interface lag in much the same way you slog through the sea of retainers.
[image4]There are so many things wrong with this game that the list is nearly endless. What we’ve listed here are just the major problems. And all of it wouldn’t be half as bad if there was some form of direction or tutorial to ease the player into the intricacies (such as they are) of the world of Eorzea. But pretty much every aspect of the gameplay is left for you to figure out on your own. Some die-hard defenders of the game on forums try to rationalize this quality with lines like "god forbid a player thinks and discovers things for himself” or “finally a game that doesn’t hold your hand as you go!” I’m sorry, but that’s total BS.
There’s a difference between a game guiding you through its content and guiding you through its mechanics. If the FFXIV devs leave all the locations and monsters and mysteries out there for you to find, more power to ‘em. But there’s no excuse for leaving how to play the game a mystery. You shouldn’t have a hampered play experience just because no one breathes a word about your gear taking durability damage that you can’t even see unless you show it to a vendor who can repair it.
Bottom line (I’m sure Josh would agree if he were coherent): At the time of this review, FFXIV feels like it’s still in beta. Hell, maybe even alpha. It’s a travesty to release an already mediocre game before ironing out all the kinks in its broken interface and having enough content to keep it interesting. It honestly feels like the PC version is just the beta test for next year’s PS3 version. Of course, this is an MMO and we fully expect more to be added as time goes on. But right now FFXIV has no right to be available for retail and you would do well to hold onto your money, if not altogether, at least until some extra meat has been added to these bare (broken) bones.
As for your poor reviewer here, well — we can only hope that he will recover in time, much like the reputation of the Final Fantasy franchise.