Final Fantasy XIV Journal Part 1: The Breakdown
I don’t think I’d be surprising anyone if I said MMOs are a time sink. The myriad things to do and places to explore define the genre, and the type of experience a player gets and the type of pace the player progresses in is usually entirely different than a non-massively multiplayer game. Where some games can be completed in something around 10 hours, I’ve spent longer than that just exploring, researching, and planning in most MMOs I’ve played. Everything takes a bit longer in an MMO compared to traditional RPGs and other multiplayer games. Final Fantasy XIV 2.0: A Realm Reborn is no exception. Essentially completely rebuilt from the ground up from the unpolished mess of a foundation that was 1.0, Final Fantasy XIV brings an entirely new presentation to the table. Having never played 1.0 nor the online Final Fantasy XI before it, this is my first venture into a multiplayer Final Fantasy.
Now, I’ve played MMOs in the past, and have gotten relatively addicted to some. There was a 4 or 5 month period after the Cataclysm expansion pack for World of Warcraft came out where any spare time that wasn’t work or sleep found itself eaten up by the MMO giant. Before that it was Phantasy Star Online, over the course of it’s Dreamcast, Gamecube (one of the only reasons to own the Broadband Adapter add-on), and PC versions. Both of those games had its respective claws in me deep, and in terms of general video game consumption, they were all I cared about.
I had also spent quite a bit of time in Guild Wars 2, and while I wholly recognize it’s a smart, well-made game, it never imposed on me that magnetic effect that left me unable to tear myself away. During the time I’ve spent with Final Fantasy XIV so far, though, I find myself drawing parallels to Guild Wars 2 rather often. Some of FFXIV’s systems, such at the FATE system which I will get into more later, seemed to be drawn directly from Guild Wars 2.
I tell you all this, because based on the limited amount of time I've spent with Final Fantasy XIV so far, I’m getting an inkling feeling in my gut that this will be a game that digs its claws deep into my brain.
As far as the basics go, Final Fantasy XIV operates just like the many other MMOs that preceded it. You pick a race, pick a class, customize your character, and you’re thrown into a world filled with monsters to kill, quests to complete, and dungeons to explore. And, of course, real-life people to talk to.
After I had made my character, I was presented with the choice of 8 classes: Archer, Gladiator, Lancer, Marauder, Pugilist, Conjurer, Thaumaturge, and Arcanist. I chose Lancer, because that means stabbing people with a blade on a stick and after some lengthy cinematics and introductions, I was on my own in the world.
Now, let's talk about classes. The 8 bolded jobs above are what the game makes available to you right away at the beginning, but that is by no means the end of it. What the game doesn’t tell you in the beginning is the existence advanced classes, obtainable by meeting a combination of level requirements in base classes. This is huge, because it's here where one of Final Fantasy XIV's best mechanics comes into play:
With one single character, a player in FFXIV has the ability to become any class they want. Though a player will start out picking just one of the available 8, once they reach level 10 and complete enough quests in the class quest line, they are given free reign to then explore different options of classes and jobs. Once a player has proven their worth to a respective class trainer, they are given the option to just throw on a new weapon, and the transition to a different class is instant. Each class has their own level and experience to gain, so after switching for the first time the player will start back at level one. The advanced classes, then, require a single character to level up a couple of classes independently. Only then will the option to promote to an advanced class become available.
Professions, like crafting and gathering, are considered under the same job/class category. In MMOs like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, and others, crafting does have their own level-ups and experience, but that was typically integrated into your character and class, with experience gained from crafting towards your overall character level. Not so in FFXIV, where even switching to a crafting class requires a change of weapon and a level switch. Everything is a job, everything is a class, and everything is independent.
So, if a player really has the time and the drive, they can literally become everything in every job, reaching the level cap of 50 for all 8 base classes, all the advanced classes, and each gathering/production job. The game has the potential to be an incredible time sink, but I don’t mean that to sound like a negative point. Extreme bang for the buck is really the point, here. This also supplements the choice of subscription plan Square-Enix makes available, since subscribers can choose to be limited to one character per server (with a maximum of 8 character) for a reduced rate from the $15. Why switch characters when you can do everything with just the one?
No mention of the advanced classes are made to the player in game, unless they were to do some independent research, which I highly recommend. Fan wikis are a player’s best friend, and if you want to maximize efficiency, I’d advise doing a little planning on where you want your character to go before you start. At the same time, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with winging it and making decisions on a whim, since there’s no penalty for switching classes whatsoever. Switch all you want! Find the combat style that fits for you, and go from there, though you should also be aware of the advanced classes and the requirements for achieving those.
At this point, though, I’m getting ahead of myself. My lancer, at time of journal entry, is level 16. He only has distant dreams of becoming the Dragoon he so desperately wants to be, so he must focus more on levelling. Early-level questing is pretty standard fare as far as the MMO genre goes, FFXIV makes little effort to switch it up. Talk to this guy, or kill X of these things, or gather specific amounts of whatever-who-cares. There is a main story quest line and supplementary side quests, and the story quests are usually infinitely more interesting than the ones doled out by the random talk-to-them-once-then-never-again-ever schlubs standing around. Which is fine, I never felt that bored even while plowing through the most simple quest objective. The combat is fun enough that it just seems like more of an excuse to stab things, and I’m pretty alright with that.
One thing Square-Enix integrated to break up the drudgery of linear questing is the FATE system. The FATE system is something that presumably came from Guild Wars 2, mirroring the dynamic quest system that involves every player in a given area. When a player discovers a FATE event, a popup appears on screen that alerts the player of the surrounding conflict and the overall objective. All adventurers in the area are called to help, and at the end of it experience is given out based on the amount of contributing they made. The FATEs I’ve encountered so far have usually consisted of taking down a large beast or clearing out waves of enemies. The system is great, getting involved in a FATE is a great way to break up the usual questing grind, and it’s a cool way to pull independent players together without the messy need for organization and excess communication. It does a good job of making me feel like I’m a part of a larger objective, even at such a low level in the early environments.
The combat is fast-paced and engaging. I can actively move around while attacking, and some of my skills even gain bonus damage based on my position in relation to the enemy. When in larger parties, my goal is to remain in a positional advantage and do as much damage as possible. A class starts out with just one combat skill, but more are quickly given to me as I gain levels, and take quests from class trainers. So far I’ve felt a pretty great sense of character growth, both as part of the story and and as a warrior.
This is the type of game my mind starts thinking about the moment I log off. Engaging is a perfect word for it, and whatever recipe Square-Enix is using for combination of MMO ingredients is a potent one. I know this section turned out to be more of a summary than a review, I had to break it down to dive into further details later. I’ll be chronicling my characters growth in subsequent entries.
The bottom line is: so far, the game is crazy well made. The initial server errors that rendered the game almost unplayable when it launched have largely been ironed out with recent maintenance. With that in mind, I can easily give this game a recommendation, even based off the little I played.
All this comes from the very early game. I have so much to discuss, I haven’t even gotten into the instances and dungeons yet. There is MUCH more to do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some levels to gain. My character isn’t going to become a Dragoon by himself.