Thoughts on the Final Fantasy XIV beta‏ (part 1)

I played FFXI for years. I loved it but it was just too damn difficult all the time forcing me to continually look up where to find quests, leveling areas, job advice and practically how every aspect of the game worked, especially crafting. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to take on the FFXIV beta last Saturday when it rolled out for the PS4.

Sure enough, it’s not easy to start with; the beta client has to be updated, you have to create a Square Enix account to link to your PSN account, if you’ve already got a Square Enix account you have to remember your ID (I thought this was going to be easy, I wrote it down in my old XBox360 FFXI User Manual, then I couldn’t find my 360 copy of FFXI so had to request a password reset via email etc.), then whilst sitting amongst strewn about game cases I had to go through character creation (very deep), select a server (just pick one that isn’t full), sit in a queue whilst waiting to join my server that wasn’t full when I selected it, THEN the game started.

Biggest tip I can give you for this? If you’re stuck in a queue stay in it despite it apparently giving you random queue lengths every so often, you’ll get in after a few minutes. If you back out impatiently you just start at the back of the queue again.

The game begins with a cutscene that basically says “hey, we screwed up so we killed off the old Realm, here’s the new one, just set 5 years later” and your life as an adventurer begins. The first few quests will have you running about a massive city, especially if like me you chose Gladiator as your starting profession. The city of Ul’Dah where I am is huge, spread over a couple of maps, lots of NPCs and quests to keep you running about even more, and eventually you’ll discover quests that actually take you outside so you can start killing things.

If you’re more eager to just get cracking heads, find one of the exit gates of the city and you’ll be in one of several starter zones where you can whack stuff to your heart’s content. Either way, as with most Final Fantasy games, it’s better to grind through the small stuff first as it’ll teach you the basics, give you the gear you need to tackle your first hostile Ladybird without losing face and basically build up your confidence with the controls.

So lets get the bad stuff out of the way first. The fonts are tiny. I play on a 32″ HD widescreen and I have to move in close to read map icons, some NPC text, pretty much 80% of everything written requires me to lean forward, or worse get up and cross over to the screen. That’s not good. I also have issues with using the PS4 Dualshock, sometimes pressing the touchpad as a button just didn’t register and trying to use the touchpad to guide a mouse cursor around (because finding the correct button combination to do the same thing is too tricky) can be as hit and miss as playing Flappy Bird blindfolded.

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However, this is all outweighed by the good stuff. FFXIV now has public events called FATES which pop up randomly in whatever zone you’re in, delevel you if necessary to the correct level to participate and there’s lots of XP and Gil (money) as rewards for these. They’ve obviously been playing Guild Wars 2. FFXIV also looks great, as you’d expect from any PS4 title.

And the best bit for me? You can level everything on one character. All the classes, all the jobs, all the gathering and crafting professions. My Gladiator is only level 10 at present, but he’s rocking. He’s also taken up mining and this aspect of the game has been improved too. Mining is actually a class itself, and to change class all you have to do is change your weapon from, say, sword to pickaxe. It also helps that you can store you current armour configurations so that instead of just changing weapon you can change your entire outfit at the same time, so I can switch from fully protected Gladiator to ultimate gathering Miner at the press (ok, a bit of pfaffing around in a menu first) of a button.

Once you’ve switched class all your abilities change too, so I can select abilities that show up mining points on a map, have skills that increase my gathering chances and so on, then when switching back to Gladiator these same abilities become Fast Blade and Rampart instead.

And therein lies another good thing, combat using the Dualshock is sublime just as long as you remember which abilities are on left trigger and which are on the right. They’re displayed at all times on the screen anyway but it’s easy to make the odd transpositional mistake and taunt an enemy instead of drinking a potion which has cost me 2 untimely deaths already.

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Other features I’ve noticed but haven’t participated in to any great degree yet include fully customisable controls, the ability to switch to mouse/keyboard if you wish (you can even use both at the same time), housing (very expensive in the beta, 5 million Gil is a bit of a stretch when you only have 2,000 to your name), a zillion other great xp granting options including leveling up by mining, completing hunting, crafting, gathering and other types of ‘Logs’, even faction grinding once you join a relevant faction, and many more.

I guess the biggest difference of all is its solo-ability, so far it’s been lone wolf all the way, though I suspect my first Dungeon later on might necessitate grouping, so I’ll see how that goes.

The only thing that really tells you you’re playing a beta is the names of the servers (Beta 1, 2, 3 etc), and the knowledge that all this work will be wiped on March 3rd at the end of Beta phase one. It’s running just fine. It plays just fine. It’s ticking all the right boxes for RPG fans, especially MMORPG fans, so if you’ve got a PS4 download it and play it for free whilst you have the chance.

If you do, I thoroughly recommend a read of the official Play Guide (all 7 pages of it) which you can find here:

 http://eu.finalfantasyxiv.com/lodestone/playguide/ps4/

On my way to mighty level 10 on my Gladiator I was trying to decide whether all this would be worth the £8.99 a month I’d eventually be paying in the final version, as it comes with that dreaded subscription business model. The answer after Day 1 of playtime is yes, and I’ve got lots and lots more gameplay to get through before I make a final decision on it. Overall though, so far so good.