I’ve been playing FFXIV off and on for a couple weeks now, but mostly really getting into it in the last couple days. There has been a lot of controversy around the game, garnering it some less than favorable review scores almost across the board. The problem is, I think too many reviewers are looking at the game through the eyes of World of Warcraft.
While obviously WoW is a great game, it shouldn’t define the MMO genre. No single game anywhere should define an entire genre, so nothing else can be viewed as a great game. Square-Enix has a unique approach to their MMOs, one that needs to be respected in some cases, and called out in others. But, there’s a fine line between praise and condemnation. Care needs to be taken not to put undue emphasis on little things that may be issues, while ignoring the larger, more unique and interesting traits that the game may possess.
Final Fantasy XIV is not WoW. If you’re going into the game because you like WoW clones and you want a new world to explore, you will be sorely disappointed. Emphasis seems to be placed more on the journey than the destination and, really, this has always been the case. We need only look at Square-Enix’s previous MMO outing to see how attention to detail was placed on the experience leveling up, arguably even more so than the end-game activities. Largely, this is because of the way you level up classes (or roles, or jobs, or whatever they’re calling them this time around).
What I enjoy this time is that one of my long-standing dreams for an MMO has come true, more or less – they have included non-combat classes into the mix. Sure, you can choose your typical melee or magic classes, which focus on offensive strategies. But, aside from that, you have handcraft and fieldcraft classes, which are solely tied to leveling up by means of performing the desired crafting activities. Obviously your level in a preferred class will increase as you perform tasks with that class. So, if I was a blacksmith, I could smelt ingots to raise my blacksmithing skill. This is fairly typical. However, performing these crafting exercises also gives you experience, which goes directly to your character level.
All this means, theoretically, you can completely level your character without any combat at all. Whether or not this is truly practical remains to be seen, but it’s the best implementation of pseudo-non-combat classes that I’ve ever seen, and that is awesome. I can swap to my miner and do guildleves (quests) that require no combat in and of themselves, to level myself up. I can also just randomly search the countryside for mining nodes to give myself mining skill and character experience. If I want to fight, I can do that with a discipline of war, if I don’t feel like it, I can go out and craft or gather to level myself up. It’s a great mechanic that allows for a large variance in available play experiences, which can only benefit the players themselves.
Now let’s discuss a bit about the user interface, which seems to be the sticking point of many people. Yes, the user interface is probably the low point of the entire experience. It seems to me they stuck too much with their old ideas of what an MMO interface should be and didn’t take into consideration the last eight years of MMO development. World of Warcraft, while it rightfully shouldn’t be a genre-defining MMO, does solidify that certain things just work. I’m unsure why Square-Enix decided not to include such simple UI enhancements like assigning everything a hot-key. I can’t simply hit “B” to open my backpack/inventory, I must first go into the main menu, then I can dive into my inventory from there. They also fall back on list-based inventories, there is no sorting, the item equip and chat interfaces are clunky and the entire thing is a general pain to get around in with a mouse and keyboard.
All that being said, the interface is a small part of the game overall, and doesn’t even relate to many game mechanics themselves. It will also be tweaked in the coming weeks, based on player feedback. I will say this: I picked up a controller to play this game with, and it pretty much eliminates all UI hassles (still, the chat window needs some serious work). This confirms something I suspected before – the game was designed to be played on consoles with a controller, not on a PC with a mouse and keyboard. If you have issues with the UI, pick yourself up a cheap $20 Logitech game pad and play it that way, it will improve the experience exponentially. I’m unsure why no reviewers added this into their discussion.
Finally, I will mention that this game is probably the most gorgeous PC game I’ve ever seen, hands down. If you have the system to bump the visuals up, you will be rewarded with some very awesome eye candy. I would have expected nothing less from Square-Enix. Although, it seems to me the code could be optimized a bit more. There is no reason that a brand new computer with a discrete graphics card that can run other visually stunning MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online and Aion on near max settings, can’t handle FFXIV unless I turn everything down. At that point there is almost no reason to play, as the visual quality is in the gutter. Suffice it to say, I upgraded my PC and was greeted with a very impressive, visually intense experience.
I wanted to just limit these impressions to a few main points, as my entire review is still forthcoming. I’ll probably wait for a patch or two to take shape, because that is only fair. This is an MMO, and they are always changing and adapting to player feedback. It’s true, some of these glaring interface issues – which may be fixed in an upcoming patch – should have been taken care of between beta and the live release, however that is hardly a reason to hate this MMO so profoundly when there is so much good to be had.