Angry Jedi wrote:This thread would be a fine place to share your thoughts!
EDIT: Having read that post, yes, definitely share that here, please!
(Will do! The formatting's unfortunately a bit of a hatchet job.)
FFXIV has been eating up an inordinate share of my gaming time lately. Having reached an early milestone in unlocking the White Mage job, I figured now would be a good time to chime in with my thoughts on the game thus far.
Aegis Heaslip, my Hyuran Midlander. (The lack of short female hairstyles in FFXIV was an early disappointment.)
I am not an MMO veteran. I flirted with playing World of Warcraft on a couple of occasions and spent a good amount of time with the original Guild Wars, but I think I’m already playing FFXIV at a higher level than I did either of those games. That said, my experience with those games helped dull the impact of FFXIV’s myriad gameplay systems. Each individual system is fairly intuitive – and the game does a commendable job of slowly doling out new concepts as you level – but compared to your average console RPG, FFXIV is cognitively and dexterously demanding. To name just one example, there’s at least seven types of quests (“duties”): regular one-off duties, Levequests (repeatable fighting and gathering quests limited by a renewable resource), FATEs (ad-hoc, randomly-spawning zone quests), Guildhests (short group instances), Trials (short group boss battles), Dungeons (long group instances), and Raids (which I haven’t reached yet). There’s a main storyline, as well as storylines based on each character class and job (which you can change at any time by swapping weapons). You can earn EXP bonuses for “hunting” certain monsters and completing certain achievement-style objectives. You eventually gain the ability to level up your Chocobo, which has its own rudimentary skill tree. I could go on, but suffice it to say that the number of options FFXIV gives you is somewhat overwhelming, at least in its early stages.
FFXIV has some striking landmarks.
I knew from the get-go that I wanted to play a healer. I’m not someone naturally drawn to co-operative multiplayer gaming, but something about healing in an MMO has always appealed to me. Even in the early dungeons, I’ve had a really tangible, satisfying, and anxiety-inducing sense that the group’s success is riding on my heals. The tank (heavily-armoured party member whose job it is to keep the attention of enemies) is often taking damage at such a rate that they would go down if I ignored them for even five seconds. Healing is a careful balancing act: if I heal too much – or at the wrong times – I risk generating too much enmity (aggro) and drawing attacks my lightly-armoured character can’t handle. It’s been far too easy to develop a top-left-corner tunnel vision – darting my eyes back and forth between the party list and enemy list (which has convenient enmity indicators) while missing the lay of the battlefield. I should mention here that FFXIV’s gamepad controls are great for healing – up and down on the d-pad cycle through the party list, and targeting reverts to my “main” target after each cast. In this way, I can address a one-off heal to an ancillary party member and immediately return to healing the tank without having to manually re-target them. If I feel comfortable enough to put in some damage, I can similarly cycle through the enemy list by holding L1 while remaining a button press away from healing the tank.
The ever-present Chocobo theme makes a strong appearance.
Speaking of controls, Square Enix did a surprisingly great job of cramming the complex controls of a PC MMO onto the DualShock 3. This is in part because of the generally-smart decision to limit the number of skills, but also a result of some really smart interface design. FFXIV gives you near-instant access to 24 skills, triggered by holding down L2, R2, or L2+R2 while pressing face buttons or d-pad directions. You need to remain cognizant of the physical limitations of your hands – you’re not going to be pressing d-pad directions and moving the left stick simultaneously – but with some savvy hotbar usage, I’ve managed to get by surprisingly well without needing a keyboard or mouse in battle. The console versions support USB keyboards and mice – and indeed, you pretty much need a keyboard to communicate – but at least in the case of the PS3 version, the mouse cursor is choppy and slow to the point of near-uselessness in-battle. I do make pretty frequent use of my ThinkPad USB keyboard’s TrackPoint to control the mouse cursor in menus.
It’s not hard to poke holes in aspects of FFXIV’s presentation, but it’s an impressive achievement all things considered.
The PS3 version of FFXIV is an odd beast: a cross-platform MMO with a non-PSN patching mechanism and keyboard/mouse support on the PS3. While FFXIV no longer runs on Square Enix’s Crystal Tools engine (it was replaced with a custom engine for A Realm Reborn), the game in many ways reminds me of Lightning Returns in its technical strengths and weaknesses. The game is a looker on the now-ancient PS3 – the real-time lighting, complex character models, and vast environments are quite impressive. As in Lightning Returns, the real-time sun casts constantly-shifting (albeit noticeably choppy) shadows on everything in a manner I wouldn’t necessarily expect from circa-2005 technology. However, as with Lighting Returns, the framerate can be quite rough. In certain situations – particularly player-heavy plazas, foliage-heavy forests, and particle-heavy battle scenarios – the framerate can be downright lousy. I sometimes find myself wishing the game included an option to turn off certain superfluous details and effects in favour of better performance. The loading times aren’t as bad as I was led to believe, but the online nature of the game means that seconds spent looking at a loading screen can sometimes be seconds spent falling behind PC and PS4-owning party members in a dungeon. I do look forward to taking advantage of the free PS4 upgrade in the hopefully-near future, but in the meantime the PS3 version is exceeding my admittedly-tempered expectations.
Look at this adorable little pup!
Lastly – and as I am wont to do – I want to call attention to FFXIV’s fantastic soundtrack. Despite its breadth – 119 tracks, as of several major patches ago – and consistently high quality, it was almost entirely (and almost inconceivably) composed by a single relative unknown: Masayoshi Soken. It’s unfortunately not comprehensively available in legally-questionable form on YouTube, but here’s some favourites I manged to track down: