This weekend I slipped back into the realm of Eorzea. I intentionally wanted to have an entirely different play experience than I have had in previous weekends so I decided to make use of the Playstation 3 client and instead of playing my typical melee centric characters I choose to start anew as a thaumaturge.
I have a confession to make. I never really play alts. In fact up until a few years ago other than using them as mules I downright despised them. I’ve since lightened up on my stance on alts (it was kind of ridiculous to begin with) but I had some kind of stupid "moral objection" to them. When I played an MMORPG and created my character, that character became my primary concern in the game. I would do anything I could to make that character as powerful and as complete as it could be, whether that is through crafting, fishing, doing every quest the game has to offer, exploring every nook and cranny on the map... that’s what you would find me doing. While chasing this goal of completion of my one character I ultimately missed out on a lot of what any one game had to offer. This is one of the reasons that I adore the job system in Final Fantasy XIV:ARR. I can still spend all of my time on a single character but now I’m not limited to only ever getting to play one class and job. I can now play all of them. This system, for completionists like me, is a dream come true. While this sounds like it may present a whole new set of challenges when it comes to inventory management, Square Enix had the foresight to add in the Armory Chest (see Ryahl's article earlier this week) which addresses this concern.
I had reservations about playing the game on my PS3. First, how could it look as good? Second, how was the game going to handle. The answer to the first question is, it will not, but it still looks good. In fact it looked much better than I assumed it would. I was also pleasantly surprised with how the game handled with the controller. While I still prefer to play the game with a mouse and keyboard the controller scheme works very well. The cross hotbar design that SE has developed for FFXIV:ARR is very well done. You have immediate access to 16 slots on your hotbar and that is more than enough actions for any normal situation. SE could teach Trion a thing or two about creating UIs for a game that is going to be played both on the console and the PC. The biggest limitations when using the controller are that you have to toggle across menu items on your UI that you can just click on if you are using a mouse and keyboard and secondly it is much slower to chat. I'm sure that last one doesn't come as a surprise to any of you. For me this lends itself to using the different clients for different purposes. If I want to participate in group content and be social I will choose to play the game on my PC in my office. If I am in the mood to work on my tradeskills and lounge about in my living room I can play the game on my PS3.
After getting familiar with the controls on the PS3 I switched back over to my PC and leveled my thaumaturge. Last time I leveled a job I spent the majority of my time in The Black Shroud. This time, with a new job came a new starting area. Ul'dah and her surrounding areas of Thanalan provided a nice arid contrast to the deciduous forest of the Shroud. The new Thanalan does fell like less of a wasteland than its 1.0 version did. I had no difficulty in finding enough quests to keep me occupied on my journey to level 20. In fact my main job quest did well guiding me through the story of the game as well as opening up new systems to my character. Job specific skills become available at certain intervals: the ability to learn a new job, how to dye your equipment, and how to use the armory system among other things all become available and explained to you by following your main job story-line through the world. Square Enix has also done a masterful job at crafting their tutorial system in this game. The pop ups that explain new systems as you encounter them are invaluable. I like to look at tutorials as insurance. You may never need one, but when you finally do you will be extremely happy that you have it.
I enjoyed my time as a Thaumaturge. I found it interesting that he was able to equip a shield. Even when I did not wield a shield, this job was much less squishy than I thought I would be. I also like how SE differentiated the Fire, Ice, and Lightning spells from the very beginning. Instead of essentially being the same spell having the same amount of damage just with different elemental affinities, each spell had different properties. Fire dealt more damage and cost more mana. Ice cost less mana and dealt less damage but increased in combat mana regeneration. Lightning spells left a damage over time effect on your target. One thing that I wish SE would change is the naming convention of the spells. Blizzard I was a single target ranged spell, Blizzard II was a point blank area of effect spell, and then Blizzard III went back to being a single target ranged spell. I hope they find a way to work spell names like Blizzara, and Blizzaga into the mix. It is attention to the little details like this that will continue to make this game feel more like Final Fantasy and not just another high fantasy theme park MMO.
I also spent some time working on my crafting this weekend. I switched back over to my console and worked on Goldsmithing. Much like hunting logs, SE rewards you with bonus experience for completing a recipe for the first time. This makes it much easier to complete the early levels. If it wasn't for this bonus experience learning a craft could quickly become a grind. You are also able to craft items that you would actually use very quickly and for a reasonable cost in materials. I also like that, at least in this stage of beta, you can buy all the low level materials you will need besides crystals from a vendor in your guildhall. This still leaves a market for gatherers to sell crystals on their retainers but does not make the hunt for materials so severe that crafters are forced to either gather all their materials for themselves, go broke in the bazaar, or just abandon their pursuit. You also learn skills as your progress in crafting that allow you increase the chance that you will make high quality items.
The more I play FFXIV:ARR the more I keep wanting to play. I continue to applaud SE on taking the risk to rebuild this game and I hope their efforts are properly rewarded. I'm also hopeful that FFXIV:ARR can be one of the leaders in a MMO renaissance on consoles. With Dust 514 already on the PS3 and PlanetSide 2 and Elder Scrolls Online recently announcing they too will be on next generation platforms, eventually MMO gaming on consoles could be as commonplace as it is on PCs. I'm looking forward to the next beta weekend where I can start to tackle some more of the systems that make FFXIV:ARR different. While I have done Tam Tara Deepcroft I have not participated in any of the other dungeons yet. I also want to take part in more Guildhests and I'm interested to find out more about what SE has in store for the Free Companies as they are allowed to gain points for something. What about you? What was your favorite part of the past beta weekend and what are you itching to learning more about? Does the game feel enough like Final Fantasy to you? I look forward to reading your comments below.
Robert Lashley / Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen
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