Since the non-disclosure agreement has been lifted on Final Fantasy XIV by Square-Enix we are now free to talk about the beta and give our impressions of the current state of the game. Seeing as the game is released next month I thought it would be nice to give you a preview of the current phase of the beta what’s good, what’s bad and what needs to be fixed.
Final Fantasy XIV is the successor to SE’s other Final Fantasy MMO, Final Fantasy XI. FFXI has been running for 8 years and I’ve been playing it on and off since it’s EU release back in 2004. It is by far my favourite of all the MMO games I’ve played, free or pay to play. One of the things I loved about it was that it pretty much forced you to party together to gain experience points. This made it so much easier to make friends than in other MMOs. You’d end up chatting while killing crabs and maybe hitting it off and joining up again to fight another day or joining a linkshell (guild). A lot of people didn’t like this so SE has said they are making FFXIV more accessible to the average player and from the looks of the beta they seem to be delivering on that.
To start off the graphics are great. It’s a very good looking game and a fantastic looking MMO. Some machines might struggle with everything on max but it runs at 30-60 fps on my machine (GTX285 and i7 firstname.lastname@example.orgGHz) with no AA, 1600×900 in windowed mode, high shadows and texture quality with high texture filtering and no Ambient occlusion or depth of field. There are a few jaggies without AA but with 2xMSAA they are hardly noticeable if you are willing to take the fps drop. The animations are also really good for an MMO with motion captured movements for the playable races. The animations are very fluid, from the attacks to the running; they all flow together and appear very natural.
There are 5 races to choose from that each have 2 clans. The races of FFXIV are very similar to the races in XI with just a few changes. The hulking Roegadyn are much like the Galka just without the tail, the Lalafell are the Tarutaru just a bit more realistically proportioned and minus the black noses, the Miqo’te are like more human Mirtha looking just like human females but with cat ears and a tail. The Hyur and Elezen are pretty identical to heir FFXI counterparts the Humes and the Elvaans.
The character creation is a whole lot better than in XI. You can change so many things on your character from the size to the nose to the eye colour. You can also have highlights for the hair and facial hair. There is nothing funnier in the game than a Lalafell with a goatee.
Since the start of phase 3 (the current beta phase) SE have now included the full cast of launch jobs bringing the total number of jobs available at launch to 18 jobs spread across 4 disciplines (War, Magic, Hand and Land). There are 5 War (melee) jobs, 8 Hand (crafting) jobs, 3 Land (gathering) jobs and only 2 Magic (mage) jobs. I think the most disappointing thing for me about the current job selection is the lack of magic users. FFXI had 3 mage jobs available from the beginning and it only had 6 basic jobs. From what I have seen though they have merged the White and Black mages into the Conjuror job that learns healing, buffing and damage dealing spells while the Thaumaturge learns some damage dealing spells and debuffs. There’s a nice variety in the other disciplines though with War having a job for a good variety of weapon preferences and fighting styles from the up close and personal fisticuffs of the Pugilist to the long range hail of arrows of the Archer.
A nice change from FFXI is that now each craft has its own level and skills, so rather than levelling up a craft on the side it’s just like levelling up another job. The higher level you are the more skills you have that will help with the crafting process or the finding of materials. Crafting is also a lot more involved in this game than in XI. In XI you just picked the crystal and ingredients and let the game do its magic but in XIV there’s a little minigame type thing to complete the craft and to add quality to it, making it a +1 or +2 item at added risk or failure.
The gathering classes also have their own minigames which all play out in a very similar ‘hot and cold’ style where you have to find the sweet spot based on hints given. This seems to work well for mining and botany but not so well for fishing. It took me several attempts to catch anything on the attempt I did I just mashed the select button and got lucky. Crafting and Gathering aren’t for everyone (certainly not for me) so it’s a good thing there are plenty of battle jobs to be.
The job system is similar to the one found in FFXI where any character can switch between any job. This time around whatever weapon you are holding decides your job. Want to be a mage? Grab a staff or a wand. Want to be a lancer? Grab a spear. Want to be a fisherman? Get a rod. Pretty simple stuff and the low level weapons and tools will be available to buy from NPC and other players making it easy to get the weapons and switch between every job available.
The battle system in XIV is like a more active, improved form of the XI combat system. You have a stamina bar that constantly fills during battle, much like the ATB in FFXIII, and each action takes a portion of the bar to perform, some actions take a tiny amount while others- such as Tranquillity, the Conjuror’s MP replenishment skill- take the whole bar. This system works really well because the bar fills up at a good rate and everything takes an expected chunk. Like a really powerful move would take a lot of stamina meaning you’d need to wait to perform it again (once the skill has cooled down) while your basic attacks take a small amount and can be spammed with a full stamina bar.
Speaking of bars you have the RPG staples of HP (Health Points) and MP (Magic Points) and a returning bar from FFXI, TP (Tactical Points). TP is built up over time during combat from being hit by or attacking the enemy and can be used for a lot of battle skills. Some are Weapons Skills, powerful attacks often with effects or elemental properties like the Red Lotus ability that deals fire damage or the Skewer attack that damages the target and all foes between you and it. There are also skills that use TP that aren’t attacks, like the skill Second Wind which restores a portion of you HP for a small stamina cost and 250 (out of a possible 3000) TP.
Spells are the only other combat mechanic to talk about. Both the Conjuror and Thaumaturge learn spells with the Conjuror focusing more on Damage dealing and party buffs and the Thaum focusing on enemy debuffs and drain/absorption spells. Most spells can be toggled from area or single target; this is useful for damage dealing spells where you don’t want to accidently hit another monster close to your target.
Leveling up in FFXIV is different from your average MMO. Firstly there are 2 levels, your physical level that determines your stat allocation and elemental affinities and your rank level that determines your skills (think of it as a job level from FFXI). Your rank is the most important as it decides your HP/MP and how many skills you can equip (each skill has a certain action point cost and you gain more Action Points the higher your Rank) and how tough you are. Even if your physical level was 100, if
your rank was 1 you would still lose against an incredibly tough enemy. Your Physical Level decides on your stat distribution (between Strength, Vitality, Dexterity, Mind, Intelligence and Piety) and elemental affinities (that determine how strong your spells of that element are and your defence against that element). You can reassign your Physical Level stat allocations a few points at a time. The system takes points away from stats you aren’t using every time you reassign meaning with enough time you can re-distribute your stats from base melee and high magic stats to high melee and base magic stats. You can’t spam this though and must wait some time before you can reassign the points again.
One last thing, it seems Square-Enix have included a ‘fatigue’ system that cuts off a percentage of skill points earned if you play a class ‘too long’. I decided to try and force this and found it too be true. It starts off small at around a 10% decrease (called ‘Surplus skill’ in game, making it sound like it’s going to a secondary rank) but build up more and more the more you play. SE has said they included this as a ‘reward’ for casual players, as a way that they don’t feel they are missing out only playing an hour a day. I personally hope SE get rid of this ‘feature’ as it rewards no one and just seems like a way to piss off the players who have the time to play longer.
That’s all for now, I would have gotten this up sooner but I’ve been playing it quite a bit. Beta Phase 3 is ending soon (25th of August) but the Open Beta will be starting early September and have all three starting cities and the areas between them and plenty of fixes and features not found in beta 3 (such as a friends list and /sit commands).