Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written something here, and wanted to attempt to write a quick intro to the new Final Fantasy game, as I’ve been spending some time with it over the last week.

The game is a re-launch from the earlier FFXIV – which was horrible, with everything revamped and to a certain extent optimized. When I played the previous game I just couldn’t bring myself to like it regardless of how much I wanted to, and I actually ended up playing FFXI for a while instead, that’s how horrible it was.

The new version is a huge step up from the previous one, although it’s still being marketed for PS3 as well as PC, and have slightly more clunky UI than regular MMOs, it’s not horribly apparent like it was in the previous version. There’s still signs of the insane things that Square likes to do, they have a Sony type mindset where they don’t want to do something simply because others are doing it, even if it makes perfect sense, and their own way is just insane. Note that this isn’t exclusive to the game, take for instance when I decided to actually pre-order the game from their official page, I actually had to navigate around for close to 45 minutes to satisfy all their requirements and update my account with all kinds of information. I’m fairly sure new accounts wouldn’t suffer these issues, but still, it’s harder to give money to someone that makes you jump through hoops to actually give them the money.

The game itself is quite pretty! The graphics are very typical Final Fantasy, and when you throw up the details to their extreme levels, it’s very hard to move away from the wonderful sunsets, lush forest and skimpy females in character creation…

The gameplay isn’t too horrible either, although I suspect some ADHD kids will find the 2.5 base global cooldown on skills to be slightly over the top. The UI isn’t 110% responsive either, so if you cast a cure, it’ll land, and you’ll see the results roughly 0.5seconds after it lands. In tense situations, this isn’t ideal obviously, but once you get used to it, it’s not too bad.

One of the primary selling points of the game is the emphasis on story, which is thoroughly underlined by having the main story arc be what unlocks most of your useful utilities. There’s also the flexibility of the job system, where you can level all the different classes/jobs on one character, and swap between them simply by swapping your main hand weapon. In theory, if you’re smacking a monster, and he’s very resistant to physical damage, you can break out a wand instead, which switches your class to Black Mage, and rain fire down on him instead. This obviously requires both of those classes leveled to a similar level to be efficient, and there’s also a skill-lock delay, so you can’t hotswap in combat… but it’s still an option!

Up to roughly level 30, I wasn’t thinking much of the dungeons and instances you do, as they seemed to be sane enough. The main story quest actually forces you to do some of these to progress, so you’ll end up in some parties whether you want to or not. The party configuration is a 4 player party, with 1 tank, 1 healer and 2 dps. I didn’t really think much of it one way or the other earlier, but after finishing the last boss fight, it struck me how different this makes this game, with the boss encounters designed around this.

Based on the last fight I did, I’m fairly confident that, this is *not* a simple game. The fight had mechanics which meant that every player had to do exactly what they needed to do, or the fight would be a wipe. In WoW, I could usually load up a sane tank and healer, and be 99.9% sure that the dungeon would be cleared without incident, but let me describe exactly what the mechanics in this fight were…

Every now and then, the boss would jump up into the air, dash down and deal damage, and at the same time chop away at the platform the fight was on. If you were in the middle of the platform when he landed, you’d die. If you were on the edge of the platform, it’d get crushed, you’d fall, and die. If you were almost at the edge of the platform, you’d “only” take 40% of your hp as damage, and you’d live on. That’s not so bad, but let’s move on to the specific party roles!

The tank actually had it quite easy in comparison, he simply had to keep agro on the boss, and avoid any charge attacks. The boss would do a line attack, where he’d knock back everyone in it, and deal roughly 60% of their max hp as damage, this is avoidable, and if someone by chance gets trapped in it, it’s very likely a wipe.

… as the healer has to conserve mana while trying to keep everyone up. There’s not a lot of different healing options, you have a basic heal, a better heal and an AE heal. The problem is that the better heal costs twice as much, but only heals for 50% more than the basic one, so if you just keep spamming the top heal, you’ll run out of mana long before the fight is even close to ending. The boss deals unavoidable AE damage to everyone just to keep you on your toes, huge hits from 25-50% to the tank at times, and obviously the huge leap where everyone drops to 40% provided they were at 100% to begin with. In addition to this you need to avoid the line attacks, and if you’re the target, you need to stop whatever you’re doing and just run. This is especially rough if you’re halfway through your heal, and you need to cancel it to run and save yourself. In a bad spot, this could actually be a wipe on its own, needing to run out of a danger zone to avoid a certain wipe. When we managed to beat the boss on my healer, I was completely out of mana and had just died, think one person had been hit by the avoidable line attack once, and I had been spamming the basic heal like crazy to make sure I had best sustained healing possible.

The DPS people should technically have it easy, but not today. In addition to needing to avoid the obvious damage, the boss would spawn a part of him that needed to be burned down on a relatively short timer, and at the same time, trap another person. Whenever one DPS would get trapped here, the other one *needs* to shift focus immediately and blow everything to get the other guy out of the trap asap, or there’s simply no chance of burning down the part in time, and it’s a wipe.

Essentially, if either player is not on their game, it’s a wipe. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen it be as obvious as this, but cutting the party size down to 4 people really makes it tougher on everyone when they implement mechanics like disabling one DPS, who then is dependent on the other DPS and so on. The challenge is also level capped, so you will be down-scaled to be level appropriate for these fights – so no use getting help from overgeared maxlevel characters here!

Now, the slightly worrying part is that if you can’t beat this fight, you’re not able to progress the storyline, which again locks out areas with quests and potentially other benefits, so, it’s probably not the best move for attracting casual players, as I’m fairly sure some people will get really discouraged when they get to that point, but it’s also refreshing to see that they actually dare to put something that’s challenging to a certain extent in a very central role.

All in all, I think there’s a place for the new FFXIV – I’m not sure what it will look like when it comes to endgame, as my preference for arena PvP makes most other endgame content seem boring – but we’ll see when that time comes!

Link to the boss fight described at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bATN5hI4fTA