Sunday, July 7, 2013

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn - Beta Review

Last month I had said that this blog would return to it's normal .NET ramblings, and I meant it...but then I got into the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Beta. To anyone checking in here for tech articles, do not despair; I will write extra posts this month to make up for yet another gaming distraction!

Also, please remember that this review is strictly my personal opinion about a product that has not even been released yet. Anything can change, even my stubborn opinions. Enjoy!

What is back?

There are two things returning to the franchise in a Realm Reborn that die hard Final Fantasy fans have not seen in a long time.

  1. Fantasy

Final Fantasy fans, this MMO is for you. In a desperate attempt to recapture their past glory, Square Enix has pulled out all of the classic Final Fantasy elements out of storage and put them on parade. Best of all, it really works.

There is Chocobo song plays when you mount up and ride. Old school combat music kicks off every fight, and the classic victory theme plays after you defeat bosses. There are moogles, airships with balloons, and mages with robes. Heck, there is even Magitech armor from FF VI! This game has become an overdue homage to the long since past golden era of Final Fantasy.

A realm reborn succeeds in reminding me not just how much I enjoyed the classic Final Fantasy games, but also how much I have missed them.

  1. Panties

There are an absurd amount of mini skirts and panty shots in this game, to the point where even I start to think that it is in bad taste...and believe me, that is saying a lot. The starting outfits make it seem like either all adventures bought their armor from a Victoria's Secret catalog, or that they are escaping a life of servitude from their home country's red light district.

For a long time now I have said that Square Enix can make amazing artwork, but that I dislike the art style they have chosen. Their landscapes, spells, and monsters all look great, but their character models have have boobs, underwear, and pectoral muscles popping out everywhere. You could argue that this is just an innocent cultural difference, but I don't see how that would make a battle thong (yes, that is in the game) any more practical.

What is new?

Not much. However what is new does work very well, and these strengths are what the game is betting on to succeed in an over crowded MMO market.

  1. A fresh take on the class system.

Your character may change class and level simply by swapping out your primary weapon. This means that you are free to play as many classes as you would like without have to redo your skills or professions. It also means that you may then take select abilities from one class and add them to another. Thus your archers may heal, and your tanks may cast fire. It is an absolutely fantastic system that I am sure will provide untold amounts of customization and experimentation for hard core and casual players alike.

  1. Some dynamic new questing mechanisms.

The fate system adds a fun and spontaneous social aspect to group PVE combat. Levequests, while horribly named, are a great new way to offer more dynamic single player oriented question. These are both great additions to the game play that go a long way towards helping distract players from the MMO grind.

  1. Good story telling.

I will give Final Fantasy XIV credit, the main quest line is filled with cut scenes that actually make you feel like you are playing a Final Fantasy game. The primary story provides a nice sense of both progression and grounding, offering up a relatively personal touch to an otherwise generic save the world plot.

  1. A much needed UI overhaul.

I really do not have to say much about the new interface other than it is not the old one. Menus no longer lock the game. Questing is easy to follow and includes mini map tracking. Character creation is second to none. You can, for the most part, figure out how to do anything with a few extra exploratory clicks.

What is old?

As I hinted above, a lot of things have become stale in the world of Eor...Eorzea...Eor see why I'm not gonna want to pay for this stuff anymore?

  1. The standard MMO formula.

Do you love fetch quests? Do you love fetch quests that send you running back and forth? Do you love fetch quests that send you running back and forth through the forest? Do you love fetch quests that send you running back and forth through the forest just to deliver notes? Then boy howdy do we have the perfect game for you!

Despite my singing the praises of their new dynamic quest mechanisms, the game on whole feels static and stale. You move from node to node through your zones, taking quests, killing monsters, collection items, and watching your experience bar raise ever so slowly.

This is a time tested game design formula that works, and it does work here; but it continuously gives me a feeling of deja vu, as I have already been there and done that.

  1. Static combat mechanics.

While I really like the new customizable class system, the combat abilities feel very static. For the most part you will stand in one place and press buttons. Your characters won't jump around the battle field, you wont nimbly dodge attacks, you just kinda stand there; there is no action in this adventure.

Let me be clear: the PACE of the battle is fine, the global cool downs are usually generally around two and a half seconds, and I actually LIKE that quite a bit! I am criticizing the MOTION of combat and the lack of fluid action or movement. You don't leap to your enemies, you do not drag them to you, you do not jump over or around incoming attacks. You push buttons and try not to stand in the fire.

Perhaps this is part of the classic Final Fantasy feel that they aiming for, but again I feel like they could have done more to spice things up.

  1. The behind the scenes technology.

Zoning. The year is 2013, and a brand new, triple A development, massively multiplayer online role playing game, still has zoning. You have got to be kidding me.

Nothing says dated quite like loading screens. Worse yet, the zones are not even that big! The capital cities are each split up into multiple zones. Worse still, the mini maps are broken into these zones too, forcing you to zoom in and out to find quest objects. You have got to be kidding me!

There are other technology problems too. Characters live on specific servers instead of dynamically re-sizing due to population. The install client can not stream game content, you must be fully installed and patched to play. Their log in screen always has a temporary password prompt, what is up with that?

Square Enix is very clearly a game company, not a software company.

Conclusion

It may seem like I have been ragging on a Realm Reborn pretty hard through the course of this review, so let me be very clear regarding my conclusion:

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a GOOD game, but it is not a great game.

What Square Enix has done to revamp XIV after it's failed launch is very impressive, but the few new mechanics that are here do not try to change the tired old MMO formula in any significant way. Square Enix is playing it safe; they have merely added a much needed fresh coat of paint to an otherwise old car. However, if you are a Final Fantasy fan then you will enjoy a Realm Reborn, at least for a while.

All that being said, a Realm Reborn is undoubtedly above average in an over saturated MMO market. It's greatest strengths are...

  1. It is all new content
  2. It unapologetically harkens back to it's classic roots.
    (For which, I will specifically give it a plus one to the final score below).

If I had to give it a number, it would be: 7/10

Game on,
Tom

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