Sunday, 19 September 2010

Final Fantasy XIV - PC - Preview

On May 16, 2002, Final Fantasy XI was released in Japan on PlayStation 2. It was a radical departure for the long-running series as the franchise ventured into the online world for the first time.

The game was ported to PC later that year, while European audiences would have to wait until September 2004 before they could experience Square Enix's MMO debut.

It was a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of players descending on the magical land of Vana'diel to be part of a thriving online community set within the Final Fantasy universe.

The game still boasts a healthy player base but all that could be about to change with Final Fantasy XIV Online on the horizon.

I've been taking part in the beta for the last few weeks and my experience with the game has been hugely enjoyable, leaving me desperate to get my hands on the finished version.

Here, I take a look at the opening portion of the game to give you a flavour of what you can expect when Final Fantasy XIV's servers go live on September 22.

Starting on the beautiful character creation screen, the player is presented with a choice of five races and an incredible 18 classes. From Lancers, Archers and Conjurers, to Blacksmiths, Leatherworkers and Alchemists, the range of job classes available eclipses most other MMOs by a considerable margin.

After choosing your starting city - I plumped for the woodland setting of Gridiana - the player is whisked off to begin their adventure.

Unlike other MMOs such as World of Warcraft, EverQuest II and Lord of the Rings Online, Final Fantasy XIV controls much better with a control pad rather than the standard keyboard and mouse set-up.

I hooked up my Xbox 360 controller and as you can map specific actions to any face button, everyone should find a comfortable set-up. This control scheme bodes well, then, for the game's forthcoming release on PS3.

After an airship crash involving Yda and Papalymo - two characters who were aboard the stricken vessel - the player is coaxed through a standard battle tutorial which covers the bare bones of combat. The on-screen input commands are easy to understand, while screen clutter - the bane of most MMOs - is thankfully kept to a minimum.

In this opening segment it's clear how much work has gone into making Final Fantasy XIV the best looking MMO on the market. The Bloodthirsty Wolves who surround you and your new companions are well designed and animated, but it's a deliciously evil bug-eyed Treant who steals the show. His twisted roots make short work of the remaining wolves before he turns his attention on your party.

Thankfully, a merry band of harp-playing Moogles float into the scene, leading this wooden freak away from you and your companions and into the depths of the forest.

The attention to detail is exquisite, and the dazzling graphical effects aren't just reserved for eye-popping set pieces. The world of Eorzea in general is beguiling; Pouring rain covers the land, trees sway in the wind and soft light burns from city lamps. It's a stunning looking game.

After the bout of Treant trouble, the player is swiftly introduced to their starting city via the Adventure Guild. Here, Mother Miounne gives you a quest to venture out to nearby Camp Bentbranch.

Upon arrival, some of the game's finer points are explained, before a class specific quest is dished out. Once completed, it's then back to the Adventure Guild where more quests await and the world of Eorzea slowly begins to reveal itself.

It's also at this point I discovered the flexibility of the class system. The player is free to chop and change their chosen skill set depending on what gear they have equipped.

For example, a Culinarian can create stat-boosting food but when it comes to battle, an old weathered skillet and a pocketful of rocks just isn't going to cut it. Simply equipping a weapon such as a bow will turn the character into an archer, therefore giving you a much better chance of survival. Once battle is over, you can switch back to your Culinarian class and continue to bake acorn cookies to your heart's content.

It's an incredibly versatile system and one which especially makes tradeskilling - one of my favourite aspects of MMOs - a tantalising and deeply rewarding prospect.

While Final Fantasy XIV does a fabulous job of immersing the player in the gameworld, those weaned on World Of Warcraft may find these initial stages bewildering.

There are no golden exclamation points above NPCs' heads, and only by asking around - or properly reading your journal - will you be able to keep track of what's going on. Off putting for some, no doubt, but this lack of hand-holding is a plus in my book and gives the game a real sense of adventure.

While you don't need a monster rig to play the game, it certainly helps to get the most enjoyment out of the experience. I was able to run the game without problems on my fairly modest PC. For those whose PCs simply won't take the strain, a PS3 version is planned for release - but not until next March.

Final Fantasy XIV is shaping up to be something special and with Square Enix's dedication to their product, there's every reason to believe this latest in the long-running series could blossom into one of the best MMOs on the market.


xbox controller said...

Thanks for sharing a updated post with us. Xbox Controller 360 games are the new wireless technology and it's features are amazing.

Yiannis said...

I can't wait till 22nd Sept, I really want to get going on FFXIV!