Final Fantasy XIV doesn't exactly have a lot to prove. It has a ton to prove, for not only does it need to make itself a true competitor to in a market of MMOs, it also needs to prove to a lot of fans that Final Fantasy, the MMO, can be done right.
And it's not that Final Fantasy XI was a bad game. Far from it! It's just that Final Fantasy XI was such a difficult game, with a huge barrier to entry. It was brutally difficult at times, and the level scaling was outstanding. And don't mention the epic boss battles that would take 14 hours to defeat. As Square Enix's last entry to the MMO market, it was good, but not great. Final Fantasy XIV is, then, a sort of reboot, so we'll see if Square Enix recognized many of these initial faults, and applied them to the next. Fingers crossed they have learned their lessons.
Final Fantasy XIV (PC)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
To be released: September 30, 2010
Starting things off, the representatives from Square Enix wanted to show off some of the new intro areas of the game, as well as the create-a-character. I went over to create a couple of characters and see what I could go for. When building a character, players will have five playable races, the humanesque Hyur, the elven Elezen, the cute dumpy Lalafell, the hulk-like Reodagyn and the cat-girl race of Miqo'te.
Each of these races are typically broken into two different regional types as well. For example, in the Hyur race, players can choose from the more metropolitan Midlanders, with both males and females, or they can choose from the Highlander clan, who are bulkier and can only be men. It's an interesting choice, forcing players to choose a clan identity for all of these races, and it offers a lot with regards to the aesthetic choices of the characters as well.
It is pretty easy to make a character that is distinct and unique. Unfortunately, the options for changing each character can be a little sparse, and some of them, such as the hair for the male classes, border on a little too frothy and braided. Oh well. However, the job classes will change the look of your character from the get go, so if you want a distinct looking character, having the right class associated is the quickest way about that.
The whole class system is pretty interesting, evoking many older Final Fantasy games. Players have four Disciplines to choose from, known as Disciples of War, Disciples of Magic, Disciples of the Land, and Disciples of the Hand. Under each of these disciplines are a number of classes, such as Gladiator or Lancer under the Disciple of War, or Fisher under Disciple of the Land. While smart players would not choose to be a Weaver or a Culinarian as their character's first class, it is very easy to change jobs. With the switch of a weapon, the character's class will change, and all the skills learned with that class will be available.
As for gameplay, I was shown three separate areas, two of them opening areas for low level play. The first was the forest city of Gridania. I was rolling “Bigg Dude”, a pale green colored Roegadyn blacksmith who was wandering along in the forest when a dark explosion went forth in the sky. Running ahead he finds a blistery little Lalafell and a slightly scandalously dressed blind Hyun girl. After a fight with some wolves (my blacksmith sucked), we were chased by a giant tree and saved by a troop of singing moogles and a boy with horns on his head. For the next hour I found out that the forest elementals did not like me, and that I needed to be cleansed. I also found out that the blacksmith class is a terrible class to start out with, and that I was screwed.
So when we were shown the next area opening area, the desert city of Ul'dah, I decided to make a buzz-cut Highlander Hyur Pugilist. Right from the get go, there was a lot more people to interact with and chat with, and like Giridania, there was some explosions in the sky. This time, however, the explosion resulted in the escape of a gnarly monster during a big parade. My Pugilist was much better prepared to deal with enemies I fought (seriously, squirrels were killing my Roegadyn), and overall, I found this city to be much more interesting to explore than the quiet forest of Girdania.
Finally, we were shown some of the higher level instances with a group of people. We may have had about 16 players running off in a troop. With a troop leader choosing out instance then sending out an invite, we were off killing high level bugs and monsters in no time. While many players complained that Final Fantasy XI struggled with the difficulty scaling, we seemed to have no problem dealing with the problems of these foes.
One of the most exciting areas of the game was the aesthetics. The game is a lovely looking title, and there is some really strong musical and design elements at play. Of course, considering this is Square Enix, one can almost guarantee that this will be one of the best areas of the game.
Final Fantasy XIV still has a month to go, but there were a couple things that concerned me. The basic UI and interaction with NPCs and players alike felt like more of a chore than it should be. Also, if you decide to play some of the non-violent classes, you are basically screwed unless someone gives you a weapon to change class. Of course, this is a brand new MMO, so there is going to need for some balancing and patches, so I hope whatever those are Square Enix can crank those out ASAP. Thankfully, the really strong production values really shine, and it looks like this could be a great starting over point for players who were interested in Final Fantasy XI, but turned off by the high barrier of entry. One hopes everything will come together by September 30 when Final Fantasy XIV launches.