It took me a bit longer to get around to writing this post, due to the holy trinity of EVE Alliance Tournament, EQ2 double-XP weekend, and awesome summer days over the weekend. So let’s finally have a look at the points I scribbled into my notebook and that didn’t fit into my last post.
In the beta, social interactions were a bit of a mixed bag. At first, I was appalled at how little people spoke in general channel. This was until I realized that there is no general channel. Now, I’m not a big fan of the inevitable “Anal Barrens” chat that seems to follow large groups of people in MMOs. In that way, it was very nice not to see the ugly side of the community exposed like that. On the other hand, I have to wonder whether this really is the better solution? There are still shouts, after all. Thankfully, nobody abused them much during the beta. I wonder how that will play out on live though.
The training dungeons I mentioned in the last post were pretty bad when it came to interaction. Nobody seemed to talk except for an occasional “hi” or “よろしく” in the beginning. No communication meant some fights didn’t go as well as they could have gone. In the actual dungeons, communication was a bit better. It very much depended on the group. Most people were still pretty quiet, but those that talked mostly were quite nice. I even had two dungeon groups with people I noted the names down (friend system didn’t work properly during the beta) because it was so much fun to play with them. The only outright negative experiences I made in dungeons were one person who was obnoxious and berated our tank who, to be fair, was quite terrible. He said he was new to it though, and became better and better during the run, all while I was telling the impatient DPS to STFU and encouraging the tank and giving suggestions. It pays off sometimes to be a class in demand. Who knows whether I might’ve been able to do the same if I had been DPS. The other situation was with a a person who seemed extremely clueless and didn’t listen to the helpful explanation by someone who had done the dungeon before. I suspect language differences might’ve been a problem here, although the player claimed to speak English.
Speaking of language differences: One of the coolest features of the game, and one I’m looking forward to, is the language choice in the dungeon finder. When you choose dungeons to run, you also choose which servers (from which language group, not individually; sadly , no “local only” option) you are willing to play with. This gives me the possibility to play with Japanese players, which I’m looking forward to a lot. I’m not sure how realistic this hope is, but at least on the weekends, I should be able to have ample time overlap with Japanese players. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to practice my Japanese a bit that way!
Mouse+Keyboard or Gamepad?
This is obviously a trick question, because I don’t see how you could ever play a game like that with a gamepad. Of course, I also have no idea how you could ever play a first-person shooter with a gamepad, so it’s probably a question of just getting used to. To be fair, the gamepad input is actually not too shabby. you choose “wheels” with the shoulder keys and then an ability on the wheel by pressing the dpad or button direction. I assume the game will not end up with the huge amount of abilities that, for example, EQ2 has, where a keyboard is almost not enough any more to access all your abilities. For casual strolling around and easy fights, I can see myself using my gamepad every now and then (which works well on my PC). For anything serious though, it’s back to tried and true input systems. There is not a lot of use to the gamepad in group situations either, because I’d need the keyboard anyway to write. I hope most PS3 players have a USB keyboard by now, because without it, the game will probably be very frustrating for them. Good thing you can get a cheap one for a fraction of a monthly subscription.
Maybe not being able to use the gamepad in hot situations is also because I have the feeling I haven’t understood all UI elements yet. Have a look at this picture I posted last time:
Overall, the UI looks sleek and not overloaded. A lot of information is conveyed via icons that take little screen estate, which I like. However, I simply haven’t figured out yet what a lot of them mean.
At the top left are the party bars. That’s easy. Name, class, health, mana, buffs, debuffs. The “S in a circle” means that the player has been mentored down automatically. If you join a low-level dungeon group, you area automatically mentored to an appropriate level. What do the “L” and the “A” mean, though?
When you look at the other group members’ name plates, you see a “play”-like icon next to their name. Does that mean they’re in a group with me? I saw people with different kinds of icons next to their name over the course of the weekend, but I never figured out what exactly they meant.
What stumps me most, and gives me the feeling that I haven’t figured out a vital method yet to improve my performance are the bars to the middle left. They show a list of all enemies you are engaged with at that moment. Each of them gets a letter that starts at “A” when you enter a zone, and just increments and cycles over after reaching “Z”. I’m almost sure it must mean that I can choose enemies directly via that character, without having to click them on the field or resort to tab-targeting (which feels awfully clunky and unfocused in the game, btw). If there is an easy way to choose your target from there, it will give an immense increase to my gamepad performance, too. One of the biggest problems I had with the gamepad was targeting the right mob, and jumping back and forth between them quickly if necessary. Then again, the markers are letters, so I’m not sure how that would tie in with a gamepad.
What will I play at launch?
I started the game as an archer with my eyes on the bard class. Bards are a combination of archer and conjurer (30 ARC / 15 CNJ) and trade in some DPS for group buffs. However, at the moment, I’m not quite sure about them. From what I’ve read, it feels like bards are a far cry from purebred bards in other games. FFXIV’s bards really sound more like “archer DPS with some minor buffs”. In addition, I realized that I like the conjurer class quite well. So I’ll probably start with that. It gives me the possibility to switch to bard via archer later on, or to pick up gladiator levels and go the “prime healer” white mage route (30 CNJ / 15 GLD) or become a tank by going for paladin (15 CNJ / 30 GLD). To be honest, I think being able to fill both roles with so little overlap is almost ridiculously good.
One thing I like about the conjurer is a toggle ability called “cleric stance” that allows you to increase your DPS and decrease your healing. It’s almost insta-cast, so it allows for a lot of stance-dancing during fights. Switch into cleric stance, do some damage. Switch out when people’s health starts dropping. Heal a bit, switch back. It’s hard to put into words, but this seesaw-like play feels very engaging: nuke enemies a bit, then pick up the tank when he’s starting to drop – then go back to nuking. With a few mixin spells from the Thaumaturge, the damage might actually be respectable for someone who’s primarily brought for heals.
I’m looking forward to FFXIV’s release. I’m still not convinced about every last thing in the game, and I’m not sure it’ll stay in my rotation for more than the proverbial 3 months, but I have some hope. Finally, there is one thing going for the game: Since WoW, I don’t think there has been an MMO released to such a powerful gaming franchise. There were games such as SWTOR, but they were not backed by a franchise that is primarily about gaming. That might be an important factor in retaining your player base. You know better who you’re catering to, it’s more of a known entity than if you franchise comes from outside gaming. If the player base stays stable, I think my chance of staying in the game will also rise. The number of servers doesn’t seem to be ludicrously high, either, so there might not be the typical wave of expansion and contraction, which will probably help a lot if it works out.
 Hmm… Ok, so there was WAR, but let’s not talk about that. Plus, I don’t think FFXIV will fail like WAR. If only because WAR failed so hard…