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[personal profile] majutsukai
(Edit: I've updated this with some newer information gained in the few days of playing around I had after writing this.)

Okay so I've been participating in the Open Beta of FFXIV, and I just finished the last of the three opening storylines, so I want to opine about it a bit.

Character creation is pretty solid. There are plenty of customization options and I have yet to run into a character that anyone with half a brain could confuse with mine. I do feel like there could be more variance for non-human races-- hell, even Highlands humans don't feel as customizable as the vanilla Midlanders. But it doesn't really matter because I never planned to play as anything but a human Midlander to begin with because I like the way they look.

Oh, sorry, not humans-- "Hyur". God they confuse me with their silly race names sometimes. It would have made more sense for them to just stick with "Humes", honestly. But hey, whatever, a name's a name.

Anyway, the class system is... interesting. You get to choose a class at the outset, but your character's current class is actually determined by the weapon they're currently holding. Your character's "physical level" (level in the traditional sense) and their class level are separate, and you gain class EXP by using your class's skills. You can level up the classes individually like you could in FF5 and FF10-2, and theoretically you could attain a high level in every single class on a single character-- though I don't know how feasible this would be due to how stat reassignment works.

There are seven traditional classes to choose from-- five in the "Disciples of War" (physical fighters) and two in the "Disciples of Magic". There are an additional number of classes based on gathering and production skills ("Disciples of the Land" and "Disciples of the Hand", respectively) that you can also choose at character creation.

Disciples of War include Gladiator (sword), Marauder (greataxe), Pugilist (knuckles), Archer (bow), and Lancer (spear/polearm). Disciples of Magic include Thaumaturge (??? I forget) and Conjurer (Wand/Radical). Neither of the Disciples of Magic specialize specifically in either attack or healing magic, but they do seem to have a different feel to them in a way. Based on what I've read, Thaumaturges are something like a warlock or shadow priest in WoW, while Conjurers feel more like a mix between a mage and a shaman from the same. (they have the whole "attunement with nature and the elements" thing going on, which is why I compare them to shamans.)

I chose Conjurer, which turned out to be a bit of a rocky choice, but not one I've really come to regret. More on that later.

Oddly, you can also choose your character's patron deity and nameday (birthday). These do not appear to have any gameplay function yet. Also, the nameday is based in this world's ridiculous calendar that I have not yet managed to decipher.

One of the most pertinent options in character creation is your starting city. You have three choices-- the port city Limsa Lominsa, the forest enclave Gridania, and the desert market-city Ul'Dah. Each of these has a storyline and associated quest line that goes with it, and currently only people who chose a particular city as their starting location can participate in that city's story. None of them appear to be truly "complete" just yet. I wound up creating three identical copies of my character so I could go through all three of them.

My initial choice, Gridania, wound up being my favorite story-wise. However, it's a visually uninteresting area, and the coolness of this game's environments didn't quite hit me until I was approaching Ul'Dah for the first time. Thanalan with clear weather and bright sunlight is probably one of the most visually stunning sights in this game.

The soundtrack is kind of hit-and-miss. Unfortunately, Gridania also wound up being the least interesting musically-- the music for Thanalan and Lower La Noscea (the regions where you find Ul'Dah and Limsa Lominsa, respectively) wound up being my favorite tracks.

Gameplay. Gameplay gameplay gameplay. Having never played FFXI, I can't make comparisons and I wouldn't want to anyway. One of this game's biggest flaws is its retardedly steep learning curve. The game makes a token effort to look like it's teaching you how to play as you go through your opening scenario, but in reality it's all up to you to figure it out for yourself. It took me almost all of the three scenarios to get the hang of combat, and I still can't really use any of my spells.

Oh yeah, about that. Most of my frustration with this game came while I was working through Gridania and trying to get the hang of playing my class. A conjurer has three options on his or her action bar at the outset-- Spirit Dart, Fire, and Blizzard. The latter two are just the ones that they decided to put there, because you actually have a full range of identical spells for the other elements at the outset. However, every action has an "action points" cost which limits the amount of stuff you can put on your action bar. I assume you get more action points as you level up.

Anyway, the thing with Conjurer spells that I eventually had to learn was, there's not much use for them yet. Not at a low level, anyway, and not in solo play. Every single elemental spell that a Conjurer starts out with is an AoE spell, apparently, and is limited by damage and cast time accordingly. It took me a while to figure this out. I say "apparently" because I have not yet encountered a situation where it would not be suicidally stupid to engage more than one enemy at a time, and so I've never been able to test my AoE capabilities. But it's worse than that, because even when I do attempt to use my spells, I can't always do so successfully. Spells seem to have their own little system for targeting and casting, and I've yet to figure it out. I will literally sit there for at least four times the spell's actual cast time just trying to get it to work-- plus time wasted when I accidentally cancel the spell and have to try again. I eventually gave up trying to figure this out.

(Update: I eventually got the hang of it and started using spells as an opener-- but there's still no use trying to use them in the heat of battle, because the cast time is just too prohibitive. Maybe if you have a tank. Also, I obtained Cure and some excellent buffs. I feel like I chose the right class.)

The remedy to this problem was Spirit Dart. It's a no-cost, instant-cast thing that I guess functions like a Conjurer's "basic attack". It changes element depending on the elemental properties of the weapon you're wielding. When I heard someone describe this ability as the Conjurer's "bread and butter", I started trying to fight exclusively with it, and combat got much easier. I've been dropping points into the elements it's currently using, and its damage is pretty decent now.

So what are you expected to do once you finish the opening scenario? I can answer that question with a single (fictional) word: levequests. The guildleve system is apparently pretty central to FF14-- a guildleve is an assignment you can receive from the Adventurer's Guild that gives you a quest (levequest), and gives you leave (I assume this is where the name comes from) to fight certain enemies or enter certain areas that you would not otherwise be allowed to for the duration of this quest. You can also opt to receive a buff from your patron deity ("Guardian's Aspect") by spending some of your "favor" with that deity-- it lasts until the quest ends and increases the rate of skill-ups while you work on completing it. Favor is earned by completing these quests, so I suppose you can keep doing this indefinitely so long as you consistently finish the quests.

(Update: This does not actually appear to be the case. I think it actually just replenishes very slowly on its own, like Anima. Too slowly, if you ask me.)

All the levequests I've encountered so far have been timed, and last between 25 and 30 minutes. I haven't tried very many of them, though, so this may vary much more widely than I am currently aware.

So what does a traditional quest system like WoW's have that this system lacks? Story. Story story story story story. There is only a small briefing blurb and absolutely no character interaction for these quests, which is a sharp contrast to the opening scenarios-- which used a more traditional quest system.

Another problem with the system is that you are limited on how many you can do within a given period of time. I can't remember the exact limitation, but you can do 8 levequests every... 24 hours? 8 hours? I can't remember the time. I've never actually approached this limit because I've been busy with exploring and finishing the story, and never found levequests to be that interesting. However, outside of this time period, levequests are 100% repeatable.

(Update: The lockout period appears to be 48 hours, and resets at the same time for everyone on the server. I wound up playing with Levequests a bit more since writing this, and the lockout period is actually extremely annoying. Also annoying is the massive level gap between the Rank 1 and Rank 10 levequests-- the only levels available in the beta. It seems to be referring to your class rank and not to your physical level. I never quite reached 10 in Conjurer, unfortunately, but they do not appear to lock you out of levequests that outrank you.)

So what's travel like? Key locations (major cities and camp outposts in each region) have a huge glowing chunk of crystal called Aetheryte that you can attune to. You can teleport to any Aetheryte you've attuned to at any time by expending Anima. Additionally, there are "Aetherial Gates" scattered across the huge regions that you can also attune to-- you can use these to teleport to and from the nearest Aetheryte for a reduced Anima cost. The "Return" command returns you to the last Aetheryte or Aetherial Gate you touched, also for a reduced cost. Return can be used for free when you die, and will revive you.

This is a pretty okay system in theory, but I've got a few nitpicks with it. Anima is restored in small amounts (one or two points, I think) every hour or so that you spend logged in, for a maximum of 100. You start out at 100 when you create your character. Supposedly, teleporting costs more depending on how far you are from your destination, but it doesn't scale very sharply-- for instance, it costs 4 Anima to teleport to Gridania from Camp Bentbranch, which is the nearest Aetheryte to Gridania and only a minute or two away; it costs 6 anima to teleport to Gridania from Limsa Lominsa, which is no less than an hour of foot travel plus a 10-minute ferry ride away (the furthest point from Gridania I've yet made it to). However, I suspect this shallow curve is due to how hard Anima is to recover. The costs seemed reasonable to me at first, before I realized how ridiculously slow it is to recover-- to my knowledge, I have not yet recovered a single point of Anima in my entire time playing. This is because I can't afford to stay logged in as long as they want you to in order to recover it, because this game wreaks havoc on my computer. The way that Anima is recovered makes the cost of teleporting ridiculously exorbitant even at only 4 Anima. I think that if I had less Anima I would even be reluctant to use Aetherial Gates, which only cost 1 Anima to teleport from. This system needs fixing, badly.

(Update: The amount is a bit larger than that, I think, but I can't be certain because I've never actually witnessed it replenishing. It's still too slow. Additionally, I think the anima cost of teleporting is actually determined by whether you're teleporting within the same region or to a different region-- at 4 and 6 anima, respectively. The scaling still seems a bit odd even if that does turn out to be the case.)

One more thing: once the retail version hits, apparently it's going to cost $3 for each extra character you make. Not just a flat one-time cost like Mabinogi has, but an actual $3 increase to the recurring monthly cost you pay for the service. This is because of the design philosophy they're trying to adhere to, where you can do everything you want to do on a single character instead of having to make multiple characters to experience everything. Let me just say that, if they are doing this, then they had better make all three starting questlines available to all characters.

(Update: Still have not confirmed this 100%.)

Though apparently it will only cost $1 a month initially.

(Update: Nope, $13 a month. Basically: fuck that shit.)

But at any rate, I guess it doesn't matter much, because I have no plans to participate in the retail version of this game-- My involvement with FF14 ends September 22nd.

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majutsukai

July 2011

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