Final Fantasy XIV was released approximately 2 years ago now. It had a very rocky debut and was hindered with bugs, issues, lack of content. The development team was sacked, and since then Square-Enix (SE) has been doing their best to salvage FFXIV. Had the name not been part of a historic heritage that saved them from bankruptcy I do not believe SE would have gone through the trouble they have to what is clearly a complete remake of the game. Everything from the battle system to the menu system, interaction, all has changed. But is the update an improvement, or is this simply just a re-skinned version of the previous attempt and ultimately doomed to have the same fate as FFXIV 1.0 (initial release).
So lets talk about the changes from 1.0 to 2.0 (ARR). Without going into too many spoilers, the game takes place 5 years after the End of an Era video that ended the main FFXIV 1.0 game. The world is mostly the same as previously however, it's shrunk. Areas are smaller and now, rather than true open world, you now have a zoning system akin of Final Fantasy XI which personally, I did not like but did understand why they went with this approach in the end. For what it is, the game does a good job in getting you started.
Questing was made simple, and joining a guild was straight forward. Unlike other MMOs, FFXIV has always had this single player element to it. Almost like the game itself could not decide whether or not it was a single player or a multiplayer MMO game. However, I also believe this is one of the strong points of the game. You are never left with nothing pointless to do. The game implores a 'Levi' system which are quests that you can either do single handily or in a group. The Levis range from crafting, battle to fishing quests. They are an aid to the player in progressing in the early stages, and if they remain as useful, as they were in 1.0, then they will be useful at all stages of your playing time.
The beta allowed you to pick a certain job and that job would determine where you start in the world of Eorzea. You have your usual classes from the original: Marauder, Pugilist, Archer, Lancer, Conjurer and Thermotauje. These then after a certain requirement are meant transform into jobs such as Warrior, Monk, Bard, Dragoon, White Mage and Black Mage respectively. Each class and job has their own merits and specific skill set and should be explored till you find the right job for you. Changing jobs is also very easy. Switching your weapon alone is sufficient to change your job entirely. This can be done anywhere on the battlefield or town except raids. This adds a complete different dynamic to the game as you are able to chop and change at will depending on the situation of battle youre in.
So what of the battle system? The battle system has vastly changed from the previous rendition of the game. However, in doing so, the game's HUD is fully customisable to your very own pleasure. You can move EVERY menu about anywhere you want on screen, allowing total customisation. This is very useful and allows the user to create the experience in the manner they want. The battle system is both active and auto. You have the option for auto-battle, but also the choice to manually take over. Think Final Fantasy XII and you're half way there. Its hard to explain, however it works. It works so well, I would like to see something similar in their future titles. As well as your regular abilities you unlock as you level up, you have quested abilities via your guild and the ultimate Limit breaks. These limit breaks are only available in groups of 4-8 players. With 4 players getting access to Level 1 Limit breaks and 8 players getting access to Level 2 limit breaks. The only down side is, that only one person in the party is able to use this ability, however depending on the type of job that uses the limit break, it also has a area of effect on all your party, from increased defence to heightened attacks, or even Regen. Its an ability that will be used strategically in the midst of battle to overcome the foes and dangers that present themselves against you.
SE have also added a new system to the game. Called FATE (Free Active Time event). These take place throughout the Eorzean world. Entry is simple, run in range and you're immediately part of the event. The event ranges from killing normal enemies to killing huge bosses. These are very fun watching everyone try and take down such powerful enemies. To make sure the game is kept in balance, if you are above the recommended level you have the option of lowering your level for the event. If you choose not to you will not be rewarded. As you progress to higher level areas, higher level FATE battles are present. These battles are a great way to let loose on some gung-ho fighting and gain a generous amount of experience points. Previously in FFXI similar events were available, but SE finally got it right with this system and it's definitely a winner.
Graphically the game runs in 720p and SE did a fantastic job, in keeping the frame rate a solid 30 fps and also keeping the visuals, the lighting and the overall experience looking as it does. Top marks to SE for such an amazing achievement. The environments looked detailed, well done, well thought out. You can feel their heart and soul went into the environments to make them as fresh and interesting as possible and glorious graphics add to their vision. What you are left with is a stunning looking game, a little rough around the edges but that is to be expected with a game of this scale, add to that the game is still in beta, so still room for last minute fine combing.
Character creation is vast and complete. You can spend hours literally trying to customise your character to the exact way you want, I was very impressed. You even get the choice in this version of 2 extra types of a race. Male Miqote and female Roegadyn. These are nice additions and from what I understand, people from the 1.0 era will have the choice of changing their character appearance when the game is finally released.
On to the matter of control, this is sadly where I feel the PS3 falls flat. Despite being controller friendly, the game does not support a virtual keyboard like its predecessor on the Xbox 360 did on Final Fantasy XI. However with that said, anyone playing a MMO without a keyboard of some sort is not going to fully appreciate the game. For chatting to your guild members, a keyboard is certainly a must. SE has tried their best to include all functionality with button combinations but there's simply not enough. To fully utilise the game, you will still need a keyboard and mouse for the PS3. Yes, mouse support is available on PS3. Essentially you could play Keyboard and mouse full time if you wanted to. This should not be seen as a negative however, more of a positive of choice. If you want to play with the controller, for the most part you can. Keyboard you can.
Raids as you would expect are the heart and soul of the game barring the main campaign. They are restricted to minimum of 4 players with SE saying some will require up to 24 players! I participated in the 4 player raids and the experience was very fun, refreshing, engaging and entertaining. You worked as a team to stay alive and looked out for each other doing your best to get the enemies attention as your team mates health got lower and lower. Thoroughly enjoyable and I can't wait for another chance to experience it again.
So from this preview am I excited for the future of FFXIV ARR? Very. Am I looking forward to the next beta? Without a doubt. Has the game impressed me beyond that of the original release? Absolutely. It's everything a casual player could want. The game is very solo-friendly yet at the same time rewarding for grouping-up and playing together. That being said, Yoshi has made it clear that end game fanatics will not be forgotten and difficult and engaging content aimed at those players are also being developed in time for launch. With all that being said and done, how do i view this game. Simple. The game has issues and glitches but it's in beta stage I expect this and will not strike it down for such things. It's a fantastic game and deserves a second chance. Play the beta now while it's free or during open-beta which should be soon. You won't be disappointed!
(PS3 beta preview)