Thu, Jul 25, 2013 | 21:15 BST
Final Fantasy 14: a noob’s journey – part one
Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn launches August 27 on PS3 and PC. VG247′s Dave Cook has been played the beta and charted his noob-like progress every step of the way.
I’ll admit that I never played the original Final Fantasy 14, so I’m not au fait with exactly why gamers and critics hauled it over the coals, and before I started doing these Noob’s Journey blogs last year my general experience of MMOs was limited at best.
That said, I do remember looking at a batch of pre-launch screens and thinking they were more HUD than game. If I hadn’t known better I might have mistaken the table-heavy shots for some weird fantasy DLC for Football Manager 2012.
I was this close to getting on the phone to Sega and asking what the fuck Sports Interactive was playing at. Poor GUI design aside, I had limited practical knowledge as to why Square-Enix reeled Final Fantasy 14 back in and decided to re-make it.
Since then I’ve tried to further my experience of the MMO genre. It started with my first Noob’s Journey blog on Guild Wars 2, a game I thoroughly enjoyed despite my initial concerns about getting addicted or having to spend many hours to get the most out of it.
In many ways I’m starting to better understand what makes for a solid MMO experience, although I’m certainly no expert. Going into Final Fantasy 14: A Real Reborn as a long-time fan of the series brought with it all kinds of expectations, but I quickly found them to be incompatible with the turn-based console instalments. They’re quite different.
This isn’t your regular Final Fantasy experience, but it’s certainly no slouch. I’ve spent the past week playing through Square’s beta phase on PC to try and get a handle on where the MMO succeeds and where it still needs work. This is my noob’s journey.
Arise, Noob Journeyman
See him above? That’s my character ‘Noob Journeyman’. He’s of Hyur descent – Final Fantasy 14-speak for ‘human’ – and because I’m Scottish I bracketed him into the ‘Highlander’ sub-race of tough, northern brutes. I’m a big fan of melee-class characters in any game that gives you a choice, so I decided that twatting things with swords was the best way to go
After making my character I was treated to a strange cut-scene that saw Journeyman wearing brilliant armour and a crown fighting what I can only describe as a bad bastard. I should explain that Final Fantasy 14′s world of Eorzea was largely destroyed by the dragon Bahamut when Square decided to close it.
Now, five years later, the realm has been reborn and many warriors of the old world roam the changed lands with lingering memories of their past lives in the old Eorzea. My guess is that this flash of the past is from Journeyman’s days in the old game, or maybe it’s a glimpse of the future? Fuck me this is confusing.
Anyway, Journeyman’s quest for fame and riches began at the grand city of Ul’dah, which is A Realm Reborn’s starting point. It’s a huge hub of attractions and players that reminded me a lot of Final Fantasy 12′s capital city of Rabanastre, thanks to its grand walled keeps and cobbled roads.
I was quickly accosted by a sneaky-looking punk called Wymand at the city gates who told me that if I wanted work I should head to the Adventurer’s Guild, so I did just that. Now, I think the term ‘adventure’ needs to be redefined in this context somewhat, because while I was expecting the guild to dispense exciting hunts and battles in exchange for XP and loot I had to first undergo an assortment of dull fetch quests.
The next 30 minutes were spent walking around Ul’dah, ferrying objects to NPCs, putting up posters for lazy-arsed merchants, threatening people and at one point I think I irreparably broke up a squabbling couple. Journeyman was quickly becoming king of the dicks, and I didn’t like it.
It’s clear that these initial chores are there to ease newcomers into the MMO experience, but compared to the exciting opening moments of my Guild Wars 2 play-through it was tedious and slow. I just wanted to batter small creatures into pulp, but the game wasn’t letting me. When the opportunity to abuse raccoons came, things started to improve.
While I was walking around doing the work of sods, I was pleased to see just how busy the server was (I’m playing on ‘Bahamut’ if anyone’s interested). It was refreshing to see so many people giving Square’s re-make a chance, because despite my own impatience with the starting quests, I had no additional complains.
The world’s visuals are solid, the typically ‘Final Fantasy’ music gave everything a charming veneer and the HUD no longer reminded me of the dreaded spreadsheet I do my taxes on every year. I didn’t have much to grumble about, but I still wonder how those who felt burned by the original Final Fantasy 14 feel about Square’s changes.
Cactaurs versus clutter
I know, I know. Even in the above image there appears to be a lot of HUD-chunder all over my screen, but it’s not that bad honestly, and you can even drag, re-size and minimise elements to give yourself a clearer view of what’s going on. It’s fine, honestly.
By this point Journeyman was just past level five. I had progressed from clobbering small creatures into paste and was content fighting Cactaurs out on the Western plains of Thanalan Desert. It didn’t take long for me to properly understand have the games combat worked and this is entirely to Square’s credit.
See, part of what put me off MMOs for so long – and I explained this in my first Guild Wars 2 blog – was that their scope and density really intimidated me. As a person who has to play a lot of games for his job, the thought of having to pour 30 hours into hitting rats before reaching level ten didn’t appeal to me.
I was totally wrong in my fears of course, as no traditional MMO makes you grind that hard for that long. In Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn your understanding of the rules comes naturally and at a pace that neither overwhelms or confuses. Veterans of the genre might find it slow to start with but I was thankful for the chance to learn the game’s combat in such a safe, stress-free area.
Battling itself is straight forward, with both hot-bar and hot-keys for special attacks such as combo hits, healing magic and more. It felt intuitive because of its familiarity but it didn’t do anything new or striking at the outset.
For example, you have HP, MP and TP, which is effectively stamina used for dispensing special physical abilities. If you’ve played any RPG or MMO, you already know how all of this works. I can’t complain too much as it’s a format almost everyone readily understands, but I didn’t feel overly-enthused by the mechanics at hand.
I also yearned for the big dynamic events of Guild Wars 2. While I was perfectly happy killing a set number of creatures to fulfil a bog-standard quest objective, I felt isolated. I wasn’t a member of a group or guild, and even though there were scores of human players all around me fighting beasts I didn’t feel part of their activity at all.
In Guild Wars 2 you can engage in big dynamic skirmishes with about 30 other players and grab a share of the spoils. While you may never speak with those people there is always great incentive for players to get involved and help each other out. It also felt like you really were part of a big, world-consuming war, but I never felt that vibe during A Realm Reborn’s opening hours.
While Final Fantsy 14: A Realm Reborn runs perfectly well and does everything right, it limps along slowly at the start. I’m well aware that MMOs are massive and do come with a learning curve, so for the second part of this blog I’m keen to compare my initial experience with gameplay much further on.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Stay tuned for part two of my blog during the game’s next beta phase to find out how I get on. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve been taking part in the Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn beta, feel free to share your experience with us below.