This post is getting much longer than I expected, and I’m still a bit short on time, so in the end, I decided to push out the first part for now, and hopefully will be able to write the second part until Friday. The length is mostly because I kept meandering from topic to topic, so even though I tried to structure this post a bit, it’s still somewhat stream-of-consciousness.
Beta 3, the first one I got a key for, has come and gone. Our characters are by now all tossed into the bit bucket. If the next step is open beta, like the plans seem to say, we’ll get a freshly wiped slate, but those characters then will roll over into live. And I said this phase was a publicity stunt… Anyway, now is a good time to write down a couple of my impressions from the beta: memory still fresh enough, and nothing else to do anyway (well, there’s of course playing other games, which… no, I’ll stay strong!)
The leveling is mostly quest-based and follows the tropes of “kill 10 rats, collect 5 bear asses, deliver this letter to over there”. Some quests are a bit unusual though, as the one that required you to get ready for your new challenges and present yourself in all gear that requires at least level 5. Too bad that none of the quest actually reward pants! I think this dearth of pants is starting to become a conspiracy, I tell you… It felt like this quest showed FFXIV’s heritage as a console single-player game, in that I had been sent to check out the NPC vendors as introductory quest when I first reached town, and I guess I was supposed to just buy pants from a vendor. Which I eventually did… after all other means were exhausted and I was already level 10. So, note to self: vendors in this game might actually be useful occasionally, instead of being just a reverse vending machine you dump all your trash loot on. Speaking of which: I don’t think there is any. Everything that drops is used in some way, mostly for crafting.
FFXIV adds the en-vogue public event things, were you have a marker on your map and then rush off to mash your buttons like crazy to kill stuff and get XP. Never been a big fan of those either, because it seems the best solution to large amounts of players that developers have come up with so far is scaling the HP of mobs to ridiculous levels, which makes these events tedious, but still not really a social thing, because everybody just mashes buttons and then leaves without a word after the enemy keels over. But that’s not really a FFXIV-specific problem, I’ve seen it work like that in every game so far that had these types of events.
The main story line seems to be ok, though it’s hard for me to get massively engaged into it yet. Who cares though, main story lines are more of a distraction anyway. An important distraction in this game though: you can’t play dungeons before your story line gives you a reason to go there and explore them as a quest objective. Thankfully, you will only have to do endure this kind of gating once because there really is no reason other than personal preference to ever roll an alt. Combat is harder than in many more “mature” (=older) games, probably because the game hasn’t gone through several rounds of mudflation and streamlining. I actually died quite a few times over the weekend. Things will probably get easier naturally over time, because of multiclassing and in the future, having helper abilities from your other classes even when starting out at level 1 with a new class again.
This is the main reason leveling will get easier in the future, and why there’s no reason to roll alts from a game mechanics point of view. FFXIV has no limit on how many classes your character can be. There is nothing that prevents you from being a 43 Archer, 17 Gladiator, 34 Thaumaturge, and 26 Conjurer. However, you can only have exactly one “main class” at any point in time. Switching is as easy as changing your weapon (which defines your class), but you will only be awarded experience toward your main class. However, depending on your main class’s level, you will be able to mix in 1 to 10 abilities from other classes. In a way, the system is like a more restricted version of TSW’s ability wheel. The order in which you acquire abilities is fixed (like in level-based games), you only have one main class (as opposed to two main weapons), and each class can only mix in some abilities of other classes instead of the total freedom TSW gives you. For example, a Conjurer can use very few Archer skills (because I guess you need a bow for most, duh), but a somewhat larger amount of Gladiator spells.
This makes sense in a way, because on top of classes, there are “jobs”, something that other games might have called “prestige classes”. For example, once you reach 30 Archer and 15 Conjurer, you can become a Bard, and at 30 Gladiator and 15 Conjurer a Paladin. This will award you some extra prestige abilities, though I’m not sure yet how exactly you level your job. It might either be tied to the higher of the two contributing classes, or maybe you can then choose that job as a class that will level on its own.
Overall, I like the idea of that system. Even at low levels, it can be fun to mix one class’s cooldown into another class for some extra hurt or heal. It will probably allow for some experimenting with builds, though sadly not to the extent TSW allows. Then again, TSW is famous for giving you the opportunity to shoot yourself in the foot really bad with gimped builds, so I guess I can’t blame the FFXIV developers for trying to limit players from doing too much harm to themselves. Different philosophies, I guess.
World & Dungeons
I had the chance to try out the first three dungeons in the beta. The first one is a cave with lots of pirates, the second a mausoleum with cultists, and the third an overrun mine. (See how many tropes you can spot there if you compare it to popular low-level dungeon settings from other games). As starter dungeons, these all felt appropriate in their difficulty. Most mechanics are obviously on the simple side: kill adds, prevent adds from spawning by clicking item, etc. By the third dungeon, the complexity scales up a bit by requiring you to kill mobs in a timely fashion, either because they multiply, or because they will prevent your from triggering an ability to made the boss vulnerable.
When I noticed that dungeon queues were quite long for my Archer because he’s DPS (surprise!), I decided to try out the conjurer class. It’s the only healing class at low levels, and I wanted to try it out anyway. Suddenly, I got instant queues (surprise again!). First of all, for those that weren’t happy about the archer’s care-free way of (not) covering himself, let me tell you that mage-affine classes seem to be more conservative in their attire choices. Not much uncovered skin here! And while I didn’t play a female character, this seemed to again hold true across gender divisions.
I never really broke much of a sweat healing those early dungeons, except for once, when I mistargeted and healed myself instead of the tank, which promptly killed him and wiped the group because I noticed too late and couldn’t recover. While I can’t comment on the quality of pug healers for obvious reasons, pug tanks seemed to be a mixed bag. Many seemed to know what they were doing, but I also got a bunch of tanks that were rarely able to hold aggro on more than one mob, which lead to a lot of kiting and (silent) cursing on my part. Also to being chain-stunned or -silenced, and wipes. But I guess people still need to get to know their abilities, and they might be limited at lower levels, so I can’t complain too much. I’m curious what the other dungeons will bring. Not only did beta characters cap out at level 35, the list of dungeons didn’t even include any over 32, so I have no idea how many there will be in the game at launch.
I have to say though that the world doesn’t feel very large. It’s as if Square-Enix has to hide something there, because I couldn’t find a decent “world map” view in the game, just zone connection maps which never seemed to cover everything. But it looks like we get three main cities, and each of them surrounded by about 4 zones that each share a common theme: Gridania is surrounded by woods, Limsa-Lominsa by grasslands, and Ul’dah by desert. (Snow is conspicuously missing, not that I miss it. Always been more a desert than a tundra person.) The zones seem to be about average in size, so I would say we’re looking at a game world that spans one continent the size of about Kalimdor (so 50% of what WoW provided at release). That’s definitely on the light side, and when I talked about it with other players, I heard that it supposedly was the same for FFXI too at release, but they were relatively fast and steady at extending the world. Let’s hope that is true and will stay true for this game. What is definitely nice, though, is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong level segregation: I wandered into level 30 and 40 areas several times when traveling from one level-10 area to another. That gives the world a nice touch, and maybe will help bringing high-level players out into the world close to the low-level players. That way, they could help them and maybe even level a secondary class in the process by “mentoring down” into a different class they haven’t leveled yet.
Crafting & Gathering
Crafting is quite well-designed in this game. It’s similar to crafting in EQ2 and Vanguard, though not quite as deep (especially not as deep as Vanguard). You make sure you have the ingredients, choose a recipe, and a window with additional information opens.
Durability and CP (crafting points) count down as you use your abilities. Abilities mostly increase progress or quality. Increasing the quality meter increases the chance to produce a high-quality item. Crafting ends when you finish the progress bar (item is created, with a certain HQ probability), or when you run out of durability. In that case, no item is created, and you lose all or part of the ingredients used. Beware, especially as abilities can fizzle and leave you without enough durability points to finish the item. It’s actually a quite nice mini game, and I guess at higher levels, you’ll be able to have a reasonably high chance to create lower-level high-quality items. Another way to increase your chance of HQ success is to use high-quality ingredients. Some of them are created by yourself. For example, many items need some sort of leather that you first create out of hide from animals. If you create HQ leather, you can use it as an ingredient to start with a boost during item creation.
From my low-level experience, the very first levels fly by, but around level 15, everything slows down considerably, and you will probably need to grind quite a lot to reach level 50. This is for two reasons: (1) Every item gives you an XP bonus on first creation, but since you only get about 2-3 new items for each level, and you need to create more and more items at higher levels, that bonus becomes less relevant. (2) Most items require at least 2-3 materials that you have to collect out in the wild. Most items not only require, for example, leather, but also some sort of crystals, for reasons I’m not sure. (I mean, I see them in the crafting window, but what is the in-world explanation for needing those? Who knows.) At level 14, I started to run dry on the appropriate crystals. So knock yourself out farming these. Maybe if you also pick up a gathering class, you will be able to collect these more easily. The concept for those “disciples of the land” sounds interesting, with gathering quests that send you out into the world and such; sadly, I did not have the time to test them out during the beta.
In any case, the grind makes it seem like it might take some time to cap out the crafting levels. I fear it might also mean that normal crafted items will be nearly worthless, because they will be created in high numbers, just to grind level. The low chance of creating high-quality items at-level might make those sellable though. Oh, one last thing: to make crafting (disciples of the hand) and crafting (disciples of the land) classes feel more like actual classes, there is equipment, as in outfits and tools, that boost your abilities to craft and gather. All of those, as far as I can see, are created by crafters, so nice touch there.
I plan to talk about a couple of things in part 2. These include (but if it goes like this time and I remember additional stuff during writing, will not be limited to) “gamepad or keybard+mouse?”, social interactions, a look at the UI, and “will I play at launch, and if so, what class (first)?”.