Early Thoughts on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

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Recently, a large portion of the NDA on Square-Enix’s reboot of their latest MMORPG was lifted and beta testers were given permission to discuss the game’s current state and even post screenshots of it (sorry, no videos or live-streaming just yet!), and I thought that this make for a fitting time to talk about my early impressions of the game.

For those that don’t know, Final Fantasy XIV has a rather jaded history.  The game released in the fall of 2010 to a very lackluster reception.  Most of the players felt that while the game itself looked quite pretty, it lacked the overall polish that they hoped it would have.  Combat was sluggish and clunky, the engine ran slow even on the best of machines, and there was very little direction as to what you should bother doing in the game.  With all the bugs the game had compounded on top of this, many critics felt that the game was more of a beta than a “final product,” and this prompted the RPG giant to keep the game free-to-play for quite some time.  Yet, despite all that, they did eventually make the game subscription-based as planned and it floundered for a short while before being shut down in January of 2012.  This, however, was not the end of the story.

In the last year-and-a-half, the game has received a major overhaul.  This overhaul was so big, in fact, that the game has been branded as “Final Fantasy XIV 2.0,” lovingly subtitled “A Realm Reborn.”  This has more than one meaning as it indicates that not only is the actual game itself being reinvented as a new experience, but this has to do with the game’s lore as well.  You see, much of the land was razed at the end of the first game, and now, five years later, the world is being rebuilt.  People have kept their civilizations alive, but the world itself has changed a good bit.  Yet, the heroes who were there at the last battle have suddenly reappeared, returning to the memories of those who had forgotten them, and now they are ready to face any new threat that is thrown at them.

My experience with Final Fantasy XIV wasn’t a very positive one, although I did make some good lasting friends out of my time there.  So, despite how some people have praised Square-Enix’s efforts on this game, I was very skeptical about it.  With so many half-rate MMOs out there, I didn’t want to get my hopes up about the game and start believing that it might come close to the esteem that I put on “Guild Wars 2″ currently.  So, when I received an invitation to play the beta version of the game, I figured I’d just poke into the game with virtually no expectations and just see what I thought.  No strings attached and nothing to get too excited about.

The time I’ve had to dedicate to this game so far has been rather limited given my busyness on weekends lately, but I can say that what I have played of this game’s beta I have quite thoroughly enjoyed.  First of all, I like that you won’t lose your characters from the initial version of the game if you wish to port them over to the new one.  Because of the way the game’s story is set up, you can play your old characters because they were teleported to the “present” (5 years after the original game’s events).  Yes, this potentially brings up complicated issues of time and space and how timelines work (are they even in the same “universe” or a parallel one due to their temporal/spatial movement? [Eh…It’s best not to over think this one, lest it become like Ocarina of Time]), but it works in terms of not pissing off players who actually invested a lot of time in their characters.  Those who are bringing their characters over will need to select an initial profession (and thus starting city), but all their money, gear, and skills will be intact.

“What about their experience level?  Man, that would suck if you lost that,” I can hear you saying.  One good change that has come since the launch version of FFXIV is that you no longer have a “physical level” associated with your character.  Your character’s goal is to master professions, be they magical, hand-to-hand, or of the gathering and crafting nature.  The gear you use is dependent on your current class, and essentially this allows you to become a jack of all trades if you wish (think of “The Secret World” in a way).  This allows very interesting builds as you can mix and match skills from other professions with your current one, and thus it allows for quite varied gameplay.

When I ran around on my legacy character to smash baddies for a bit, I found the gameplay to be quite solid.  While it is not quite as fast-paced as “Guild Wars 2″ currently, it is still quite engaging and a huge improvement over the original version.  Characters actually give you quests to complete, there is a storyline, and you still have the freedom to run around and do pretty much whatever you want (if you like somewhat sandbox experiences).

One of the things that makes the gameplay successful in this version, though, is that the overall game engine has been significantly improved.  The graphics are quite gorgeous, even on medium settings, and I was able to get the game to run on “Maximum” (which the game client doesn’t even recommend most people try) and have it stay at or very close to the frame rate cap the entire time.  The game runs as smooth as butter, and even just running around and exploring or chatting with friends is fun.

Currently, my main gripe with the game is the UI isn’t quite as customizable as I would like, particularly when it comes to being able to move or adjust much of the chat window.  Yet, this is likely going to change by release.  I also would have liked if the game had voice acting instead of walls of text, but this might be because I’ve been spoiled by the cinematic experiences of “The Old Republic” and GW2, and ultimately that isn’t a big deal.

I’m going to continue to play around with the game as time allows between now and release, but so far I think this one is definitely worth picking up.  The game is set to release on August 27, 2013 for the PC and the PlayStation 3, and you can get a few perks for pre-ordering it if you want.  But, if you did have an account with the original game registered to it, you’ll get your digital copy of this one completely free, so that’s something, right?

[box_light]Have any of you played around with this game yet, and, if so, what are your thoughts?[/box_light]

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