Final Fantasy XIV
As one of the world’s most successful role playing game series, it’s unsurprising that with Final Fantasy XIV Square Enix have decided to have another stab at taking the experience online as an MMORPG. Obviously with the likes of World of Warcraft, AION, GuildWars and others, it’s entering a very competitive market, but does this latest offering bring anything new to the party?
In true Square Enix style, on opening the game you are immediately greeted with a very impressive introduction movie that really makes you incredibly keen to play the actual game; it features some truly stunning visuals and highly immersive storytelling that very quickly absorbs you into the world and final fantasy plot. Unfortunately this heightened excitement comes crashing down when you actually launch the game proper, due to some somewhat strange and ill-thought out design decisions.
The first of these strange decisions is that (at the time of this review) the game insists on booting in windowed mode. Similarly for any players wanting to play in full screen there is no clear means of switching in-game. Although solvable by opening your hard disk, browsing your program files and running a separate configuration application within the Final Fantasy folder, it is disappointing to find such a lack of polish in the game’s front end.
After getting the game setup as you like it, you then enter a lengthy account and character creation process. Character creation itself is quite nice; you are able to select from quite a wide range of base characters, select a range of disciplines and then tweak a range of the character features, including all the basics such as height, face, eye colour etc. This ultimately allows for a quite large capacity for varied characters, something which the majority of its rivals fail to really offer. This is one of the way Final Fantasy XIV really does differentiate itself, in that rather than only offering the stereotypical character meta-types of a “Tank” or “Healer”, as a player you can instead choose to become a mix of multiple traits which brings quite a new dynamic to in-game groupings. This is quite a bold decision on the part of Square Enix in that while the added customization options are great, it can make establishing an effective group a far more complex process as a specific character that you could traditionally assume was a “tank” in this case may not be.
There is further confusion to be found in the game’s somewhat obscure payment model. On the surface it seems simple enough, with a base subscription giving you access to one character slot. However, underneath this, there are a host of other “add-on-subscriptions” including extra slots, extra items and a multitude of other options that together ultimately make the process of simply signing up to hand over your money all too complex.
Once finally into the main game it takes quite a while to get to grips with the movement controls, using the keyboard for movement and the mouse for selection and combat. While the keyboard controls are fit for purpose, the enemy selection and combat system using the mouse feel as though they haven’t been properly thought through. With multiple enemies moving around you, trying to move while also selecting enemies with the mouse can be a quite frustrating experience. The good news however is that the game works far better if you plug in a Xbox 360 controller, as the controller setup is far more suited to the game play and helps elevate the frustration with the controls, allowing you to get back to enjoying the game.
Unfortunately, the design of the user interface is also frustrating to use, with nearly every small feature, such as opening the map (which in other MMORPG’s would take all of 5 seconds) turns into a five minute quest in itself to try and find the correct button.
While there are a number of serious design flaws in its current form, what really shines through within the game is the story, visuals and character design. It’s immediately clear that there has been a lot of work and thought has gone into pre-production and this has really paid off, helping the game to draw you in and keep you engaged. It is also quite an achievement on Square Enix’s part to wring out such an engaging narrative inside the framework of an MMO and tying the multiplayer social experience and storytelling together so neatly.
Ultimately the PC version of Final Fantasy XI is somewhat incomplete and it feels like the development team weren’t given the time to really give the game any real polish. In fairness, Square Enix is obviously aware of this, having extended the games free trial period multiple times, but it’s disappointing all the same. The game does have some truly outstanding sections (including very impressive artwork and storytelling) but much of its potential is currently locked behind problematic controls and balancing and interface issues, all of which make the initial barrier to entry quite a high one. Having said that, the obvious advantage that MMO’s have over other genres is the ability to continuously evolve and update; if Square Enix can take advantage of this and sort out the underlying issues which cause so much frustration, there’s every chance that Final Fantasy XIV can become an all together more enjoyable experience in the future.
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