I’m going to come right out and say it, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is easily the most engrossing gaming experience that I have had in a very, very long time. Having participated in the previous beta phases, one would think that I wouldn’t be surprised by what the phase 3 iteration of beta would offer… you would be wrong.
From the get-go, the opening cinematic that was added in this phase is masterfully done and gets you whipped up in just the right way to make you want to leap in head first.
Character creation has been revamped as well, with an incredible amount of customization available. My one gripe here is that there is only 4 face templates available for each race/gender combo. In fact, everything is a preset, so if you, like my fiancee, love the look of the Roegedyn female, but hate their noses, there’s no way to change them. Aside from that one minor complaint, character customization is some of the best I’ve seen in an MMO. The detail in facial expression, mannerisms and even hair (which by the way, is the best I have EVER seen in an MMO) is incredible!
Which, of course, brings me to my next point: FFXIV handily beats every other MMO currently out there in one facet. It’s graphics are second to none. From the second I finished character creation and was whisked off to arid deserts of Ul’dah, I was floored. The improvements to the graphic engine, even over phases one and two of the beta have been tremendous. And performance has been increased overall as well. We tested the game on an early 2010 iMac running bootcamp and even then, the game ran without so much as a hitch and most settings were in the mid range, with textures turned all the way up. The crew at SE definitely know their stuff and the game is tuned to perform at all levels.
Another piece of graphical mastery that impressed were the animations. With near zero input lag, and beautiful, unique animations for each skill, even hardcore WoW fanboys will have to take a serious step back and appreciate just what Yoshi P. and the team have accomplished here.
For this weekend, I focused play on the Gladiator and Pugilist classes, while our own Victoria Frey focused on Marauder and Archer. The start of the game is a bit slow, with the first 30-45 minutes of play dedicated to Fed Ex quests in your respective city. When you finally get set loose upon the world at large, you’ve got enough built up tension that the first marmot or ladybug to suffer your wrath is the subject of supreme hate. However, once you do get out in the field, you’ll find a vibrant world, filled with all kinds of cute stuff for you to pummel. And while at first, the combat system seems pretty cut and dry, it builds drastically in complexity over time. You begin to see semi-dynamic combat very early on – when an enemy is casting a big ability, run behind it to mitigate it’s attack entirely – if there’s a red circle underneath you, move out of it. It’s enough to keep you on your toes and watching, invested in combat.
The pugilist, in particular, has some very neat mechanics to the class that make combat quite intriguing. As you use skills, you shift into different stances, which unlock combo abilities, which shift you into another stance, and so on. Each culminating in a finisher that provides bonuses such as a stacking 5% haste buff, or additional damage. It almost feels like a fighting game at times.
The questing system is by and large, the same as you would find in most games, however, with the addition of FATE events, hunting log entries and Guildhests, you never find yourself to feel trapped into questing. On top of that, once you have unlocked your first dungeon, it’s a uniquely fun experience which provided a massive amount of XP and chances at some pretty amazing gear drops.
All in all, the experience has been simply amazing so far and I cannot wait until the weekend comes again, because I’m in some serious FFXIV withdrawal! Stay tuned for a more in depth look into the Gladiator and Pugilist class and my impressions on them and the Nation of Ul’dah!