FF14: A Realm Reborn. Review/commentary

2013-09-24 15:50

Overall summary: A fairly good game, with a mix of some really cool things and some spectacular stupidity. The things that are wrong, frequently it’s simply mind-numbing that anyone could possibly have thought this would be okay, or taken the extra time it would take to get them wrong. The things that are right are often quite good.

FF14:ARR is a “reboot” of an existing MMO. FF14’s initial launch was summarized pretty well as “catgirls are adorable, rest of the game is bad”. The new game is much, much, better. Overall, I think it’s a pretty good game with a lot of potential.

There are things Square is doing that work well. There are things they are doing that do not work well. There are things that really don’t make any sense at all. For instance, consider the spam problem. Companies that sell in-game stuff for money (a plague everywhere) infest FF14, and they spam. A lot. In major cities, you may get 2-3 messages a second from them. Why, you ask, is there no chat throttle to prevent a single player from sending that many messages? Well, there is. But the chat throttle has been implemented with extra code to take the time to confirm not only that you are sending a lot of messages, but that they’re identical. So the spammer send out messages with four letters appended at the end, and nothing stops them.

That’s basically characteristic of the sorts of things that go wrong in FF14; the developers have not only gotten stuff wrong, but they’ve often done so in ways that required substantial effort over and above what it would have taken to not get them wrong.

FF14 is true to the heritage of Final Fantasy. The first time I played the game, it was roughly ten minutes from when I first got told I was entering the game world to when I was able to move my character. Final Fantasy games love their cut scenes. And that one is unskippable, because partway through it you get asked a question that determines which of several minor and not very important items of equipment you get. And, this being a Final Fantasy game, that’s the last significant choice you get to make for a very long time.

On the other hand, the resulting storytelling is frankly pretty excellent compared to most MMOs. The writing is mostly good, and some of the writing for side quests is unexpectedly brilliant. The quests tie things together well, and are very well structured; the running around meeting people and doing things for each city to teach you where things are is well done.

The biggest weakness this system produces, by far, is that it is a huge pain to unlock even the most basic functionality of the game. Personal storage other than your own inventory, like a “bank” or whatever? Locked behind story quest, you won’t see it until you’re somewhere around level 15-20. A way to sell things to other players? Locked behind the same story quest. So until then, your inventory just sort of fills up, and you haven’t got any options but selling stuff to vendors for a pittance.

FF14 uses its own names for a lot of things for no obvious reason. Repeatable quests aren’t quests, they’re “leves”, unless they’re for multiple players, in which case they’re “hests”. The “cooldown” (how long before you can re-use a power) is called “recast”. This isn’t a huge problem, but it can be a bit confusing at first.

The game feels slow, and really, it is. The “global cooldown” (the standard interval between using an ability and the next time you can use an ability) is 2.5 seconds. Most games I’ve played that used a GCD-based model had it at 1.5 seconds, or even 1. 2.5 is a long time, and you can’t queue your next ability until quite close to the end. And worse, from a gameplay standpoint, “off-GCD” abilities (those that can be used during that 2.5 second delay) have their own cooldown and can’t be used immediately before or after a regular ability. This is because the game restricts a lot of things based on having animations complete, rather than interrupting them.

As you might expect, that indicates a serious focus on pretty, and here, FF14 delivers. It’s gorgeous, and it plays pretty smoothly. At least on my gaming machines, it performs better than Rift did (admittedly prior to the major performance tweaks in Rift’s 2.4 patch) and looks a great deal better. But that’s not just technical merit; FF14 has excellent art direction and the world is just plain awesome to look at. To compare to other games: FF14 has more detailed and realistic graphics than most of the other games I’ve seen, but has more consistent art direction and style than anything else out there except maybe WoW. It works very well.

Class system: Every character can learn every class. You have to level your first class to level 10 and complete a special quest before you can start taking other classes, but then you can take all of them if you want. Each class has a series of quests (roughly one every five levels) which tell some sort of story and try to teach you things about the class’s play style. You can also use a limited number of abilities from other classes (though each ability may have some restrictions on which classes can use it). At higher levels, there are “jobs”, which are specialized sub-classes you unlock by getting one class to level 30, another to level 15, and then completing a special quest. Jobs have much more restrictive options for cross-class skills, and are intended for party play, where you can focus on a specialized role. Less flexible than a system like Rift’s, but much more flexible than what many MMOs offer.

Gathering and crafting: The gathering and crafting in FF14 are huge and detailed compared to most MMOs. There are 3 gathering classes, and 8 crafting classes. And they are classes, not side-projects; you level them from 1-50, same as any other class, and doing so requires a great deal of time and effort. It’s also comparatively fun, if you are interested in that sort of thing, and quite rewarding; you can make a fair bit of money, and you can save a huge amount of money with crafted gear rather than purchased gear.

Travel: Pretty restricted at first (you have to make it some ways in the story quest before you get access to other cities, and thus to the classes that have their guilds in those cities), but not too awful. You can teleport to known locations from anywhere, you don’t have to reach one of the teleport points to do so. There’s also much slower, and much cheaper, travel through birds. (Player-controlled mounts, like everything else, are locked behind story quests; you have to make it through about 20 levels and several dungeons to get to them.)

Community: There’s no global channels, but there are pretty decent tools for player-moderated channels (with inexplicably low limits of 128 players to a channel). People are mostly pretty friendly. Part of this may be that Square has a pretty good history of being willing to take firm action against hostile behavior in their player base; I met one user who said he got a ten-day ban from their forums for “calling someone an idiot for crying”. I’m inclined to view that as a big positive.

Overall: If you enjoy fantasy MMOs, this is a pretty good one. It has some fairly severe limitations, for now, but they claim to be working on many things. It’s still pretty fun to play.

Assuming Square continues working on this and continues listening to feedback (something they’ve been quite good about so far), it seems likely that this will be an exceptional game. My biggest reservation is their stance that they would rather shut it down than consider a F2P or hybrid model — I don’t think that’s economically sane, in general. But they can probably make it work for quite a few years.

Peter Seebach

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Comment

  1. How is it for a roleplay environment?

    Lissa · 2013-10-08 08:51 · #

  2. @Lissa – As far as tools for RP go, FFXIV: ARR is kind of a mixed bag. Their animated emotes are amazing, and these can be strung together with statements with macros so that you can animate your character as you speak. There is also the ubiquitous /me command for formulating your own un-animated emotes.

    You can also /sit on a variety of surfaces and your character will actually do a real sit, as opposed to you manually hopping onto said surface and doing whatever your chosen race does for a sitting posture. FFXIV’s /sit is quite detailed, if you have a tail, your tail curls onto the surface, your clothing folds correctly and your equipped weapon arranges itself so as not to clip through the object you’re sitting on.

    However presently this is no wardrobe system, no housing (guild housing will come first, then player housing roughly 6 months from now) and no chat bubbles for player characters. The last bit is fairly important, as at default chat moves too quickly, making it difficult to keep up unless you use an RP-specific linkshell, or private chat for your RP.

    Additionally there is no officially tagged RP server, just the fan-designated ones. I found it a bit discouraging to play openly ICly as the community of the server I was on was not conducive to RP, if not openly hostile on more than one occasion. This is solved by turning off general channels and only communicating in your RP linkshell, but I think it’s kind of sad that you would have to. I’d much rather have an RP server, but during beta SE pretty much said that’s never gonna happen.

    Still, the animated emotes in FFXIV are the best I’ve seen out of the industry as a whole.

    Cyro-Nydd · 2013-11-19 10:38 · #

  3. I love the emotes, being able to properly sit on sitting surfaces, and engaging and interesting crafting. I loved the weather, sound effects, my character’s hair and clothing flapping in the wind, the foot-fall sound effects changing from wet, dry, stone, mossy, wooden board environments, the gorgeous soundtrack and being able to watch the sunrise, the sun’s path across the sky, and sunset.

    I don’t like the invisible walls (the world is essentially box canyons and corridors), that you can’t swim, or in many cases even approach the water, the lack of a wardrobe system, no chat bubbles, not even an option, that some armor has the head-gear attached and can’t be toggled off (again, see: no wardrobe).

    Changing weapons changes class, and each class has a very slim selection of usable weapons… you can’t dye dungeon drops or most endgame gear, leading everyone to look like clones of one-another.

    Where you want to go and what you want to do is tied very very closely to the story. Not only that, but the game hobbles you if you choose to seek greater challenge. If you think you’d like to skip through their breadcrumbing a little and try quests meant for a higher level bracket, you can take the quests, do them, but then you can’t hand them in until you get to the level SE wants you to be at, even if that level is only one level away, and even if the quest only involved FedEx duties or talking to some guy.

    Furthermore FATEs (Full-Active Timed Event -yeah, pretty sure that’s a backronym) will subtract earned experience if you are below level for them, even if you are in an area that the game has led you to, and are completing and turning in level-appropriate quests.

    Say, you’re level 11 in a level 10 area, a FATE pops up with level 10 mobs, but the FATE informs you that you will be penalized XP because you are below level; the FATE is level 12.

    ^ Stuff like that drives me nuts in FFXIV, and puts my play experience with the game into a pretty neat nutshell.

    I no longer play actually. I stopped because I play at odd hours, and could not advance the story past the Ifrit dungeon. I would log in, place myself into the DF queue, then 4 hours later log out and go do something else.

    I wanted to get to level cap eventually so I could play with my friends on their preferred classes/jobs, but that didn’t seem possible due to the way the game was designed, so I quit my subscription.

    Cyro-Nydd · 2013-11-19 10:57 · #

 
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