So whenand started talking about their experiences in FFXIV, both and I were sorely tempted. And thus, we ended up signing up and trying it out. I was very interested in the experience because it turns out I could play it on my PS3; this is good for me, because my wrists can't handle long stretches of time on the keyboard/mouse combo (well, not and still be able to type for work, which I have to do a significant amount). So the ability to use a gamepad interface was quite appealing, as was the big-ass TV screen. I did eventually default back to the desktop in the office and started using the gamepad there, mostly for social reasons.
The first thing that struck me was how incredibly pretty this game is, starting with the introductory (and annoyingly unskippable) movie and flowing right into character creation. While the race selection is very limited (human, elf, gnome, cat-person, and very-tall-orc, basically), the selections for character customization within those limitations is enormous (including, depressingly, "bust size" for females, but let's leave aside the gender politics for this article; sufficed to say this world is just as screwed up as the real world when it comes to gender, sex, and relationships and leave it at that for now). My new favourite option: heterochromia iridim (eyes that are two different colours). There's a bunch of mix-n-match selections which do a great job of making sure that you can have a character that's almost unique.
The animations for the characters themselves, as well as the action effects (spellcasting, attacking, etc.) are also amazingly pretty. They're niftily unique based on spell/attack, and there are a lot of really cool little details I've noticed as I've made my way through the game, like the fact that the little book that contains the spells for the caster starts as blank but as the loot level goes up, the book gets more and more writing within it. The animations are also used to clearly indicate things like "who is targeted", "what effects are active", "which spell is being cast", and the like, a brilliant use of UI design that I wish I could steal for every other game ever in existence. They did manage to borrow a bunch of clever ideas from previous FFs (the targeting/being targeted/mobs in the field stuff is all lifted from FF12, as far as I can tell, wholesale) (though they didn't borrow my favourite FF12 mechanic, the gambit system, which I would pay extra to see implemented in the game and I understand entirely why they won't do it).
Thirdly, the world itself is incredibly beautiful. The NPCs, mobs, and environments are really amazing and feel both refreshingly new and comfortably lived-in by the characters inhabiting the world. It is, in fact, so pretty that my desktop machine tries to grind to a halt unless I step down the rendering settings, and even on my PS3 things can get a little choppy when big groups of people and mobs all end up on the screen fighting each other.
The gameplay is, in one word, smooth. Things are laid out intelligently and the quest sets are designed to introduce both new players who've never done any MMOing but are interesting enough that vets of other games will have no trouble grasping the advanced choices quickly. The number of abilities is not as restricted as Guild Wars 2, but it's much less extensive than RIFT or World of Warcraft, so effectiveness in a particular class is about timing and order rather than ability selection and optimization. In addition, the idea that any character can be every class (a la Final Fantasy Tactics and the like) means that the biggest concern for the player is which way you want to play, and which way you want to look, rather than 'what role do I want to fill'. This, by the way, includes all of the crafting and gathering classes as well: mining and weaving and cooking are "classes" just like warrior, archer, or arcanist.
The non-questing events, called FATEs, feel very similar to GW2's area events and RIFT's rift events, are interesting and well-implemented. The mob AI is pretty good, and the NPCs are interesting if not exactly high-quality writing.
I have some minor complaints and at least one major one, however. The minor complaints include the fact that there are several quests that are animated as if they were supposed to be fully-voiced, but aren't voiced at all, which is horrendously distracting after the experience of SWTOR; I'd rather just have them default to the wall-o-text quest stuff, rather than trying to replicated the "press x to continue the conversation" style of JRPGs in the past. Also, there are some UI issues that are annoying but not game-breaking. And the player population (including the astounding level of spammers) is less-than-ideal for play in MMO-mode (like in WoW, SWTOR, and GW2, my experience of an MMO is "this is a single-player game that I have to share with a bunch of other people, to my eternal sorrow").
My major complaint, however, is this: in order to level a character past around 15, you must, are REQUIRED, to run through a dungeon, probably using their "looking for group" system. And you will have to do it several times, in fact. You have to do it at least three times before you're allowed to get your mount for fast-travel, in fact. For someone like me, who doesn't particularly enjoy multiplayer functions, this is very nearly a game-killer; I've only continued to level because I can schedule time with my sweetie and our friends (and the dungeons require four people instead of five). The only thing more annoying than this would be requiring PvP.
In conclusion, FFXIV is very pretty, very grindy, and annoyingly committed to the MMO model, but it's exceptionally pretty and, if you can ignore the majority of the player base and the disturbing politics, quite a fun diversion. It's never going to compete with WoW, but then again, nothing will. It's definitely worth the money I paid, for sure.
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