It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Beta-3 for Final Fantasy XIV:A Realm Reborn has come and gone with melancholy and anticipation left in its place. Melancholy because my Final Fantasy XIV itch can’t be scratched for the moment, an irritant made worse by our recent five-day beta-3 finale. Anticipation because we are one step further along the road map and one day closer to Beta-4.
The FFXIV:ARR beta has been one of the more pleasant betas I have experienced. The stability of the game has been quite good. The systems made available to players are very well done. There are very few placeholder systems in place and the ones that exist are often there to keep the story fresh for launch.
Most importantly, the breadth of the game two months from launch is quite impressive. While many of the game’s systems seem very simple on first contact, all of them gain complexity as you progress through the title.
In this post, a final goodbye to Beta-3, I wanted to touch on three systems that have received less discussion in these past weeks. These are systems which will be popular with some and controversial to others. They are also the systems which, while I primarily like, I find some clunky-ness in them. I look at these as systems with some room for improvement, but overall nice things to have.
Chocobos are one of several franchise staples. These cheerful helpful birds with their familiar chocobo anthem are a common form of transportation. Here in FFXIV, they return as trusty mounts, but they also add a new system, functioning as travelling battle companions.
You encounter chocobo nearly immediately in FFXIV. Early on in the game you gain access to Chobo Porters which provide cheap, fairly quick travel between adventuring outposts and cities. You also gain the ability to rent a chocobo for short durations of free riding.
After joining your Grand Company, you get the opportunity to acquire a permanent chocobo license. Once obtained, you have your very own chocobo for personal travel. No more hoofing it to the nearest quest objective! Gaining a chocobo is a right of passage in FFXIV and one players will be eagerly working towards.
Still later though, your chocobo becomes an adventuring companion. By providing your chocobo with a tasty treat, he or she can be encouraged to join your party as a battle companion. The chocobo battle system uses a series of stances. Attack stance puts your chocobo into damage dealing mode, Defensive stance makes the chocobo a tank with some enmity generation, Heal stance turns your chocobo into your very own pocket healer, and finally Free stance lets your chocobo decide on its own what actions are best.
In general, the chocobo battle companion is nice. It isn’t as robust as companions from Star Wars: the Old Republic, but it is far more versatile than “pets” in most other MMO’s. The AI needs some work though, your chocobo currently has the unfortunate tendency to fire off area of effect (AOE) attacks in all the wrong places, bringing new hostiles into the fight. As a healer, the chocobo likes to stand right at your hip (taking the idea of pocket healer far too literally), placing the chocobo in the brunt of cone attacks. Overall, their hitpoints seem low and they succumb quickly to area of effect attacks which predominate FATE and higher level leves.
These oddities and irritants are recognized and we may see some new chocobo functionality during beta-4. Even if we don’t, I expect to see this system continue to get tweaked after launch. The basic system is great and shows promise for the future.
FFXIV:ARR has a number of milestones that are gated content. Do you want your chocobo? Well you need to join a Grand Company and that is gated by the completion of three starter dungeons and defeating the Primal, Ifrit. Each of these require a party and a party isn’t always available.
The long-promised Duty Finder made its debut in Beta-3. Duty Finder lets you queue up for a number of duties (currently primals, dungeons, and guildhests) and assigns you to a role based on the class you queue as. The Duty Finder then assembles a team balanced for the needs of the Duty itself. For the early encounters, this is a “light party,” a four-person team of Tank, Healer, and two-damage dealers.
I have done a number of Duty Finder runs in Beta-3. The system is very convenient and quick to cycle. Granted, as a tank who typically queues up with my wife who plays a healer, our queue time is in seconds. But, listening to members of our Eorzea Reborn linkshell, Duty Finder queue’s haven’t been bad even for DPS classes (although clearly not instant).
Best, though, you can do a number of things while waiting for Duty Finder. You can change classes even and work on things. Once your group is ready, you’ll be prompted to change roles and join the fun.
Yes, the system is cross-server, but seems to pull from your server group (e.g North American data centers, not your specific server). Yes, it’s a pickup group environment which means you will get some real dud groups.
I have spent a dungeon run with Silent Stan the Stoic who managed to do an entire dungeon run only offering a pair of emotes (both /bows) despite being asked a number of direct questions. He did say “ok” once when he walked over and sat by me (the tank) after being asked to go stand by the healer. So, the vow of silence wasn’t permanent.
I have also run a Duty (or two) with Determined Dan, the DPS. Dan can’t change targets, ever. Even if the encounter requires switching targets to deal with new threats in different stages, Dan stays focused on the initial target. He’s determined after all!
I even started an instance with a pair of thaumaturge’s who clearly had death-wishes. They chain pulled, focused on separate targets and generally ignored the conjurer’s plea for a few mana points. We, the conjurer and I, left after the third such pull - queue times are too fast to put up with that type of damage dealer!
But, you know what? I also grouped plenty of times with perfectly good people and perfectly good players. Often even both at the same time! Time and time again, I came away from Duty Finder with good groups and successful runs. Even the treks with Stan and Dan were perfectly successful runs (by the way, all names have been changed to protect the silent and determined).
In the early stages of FFXIV, players will be spread out over different levels and gated by different tasks. Duty Finder helps keep everyone moving forwards, because there should always be a few people needing the content you need. Later in the game, Duty Finder will really benefit people who play at off-times (second and third shift players in particular).
Beta-3 also gave us the introduction of Limit Breaks. The Limit Break is a party maneuver system which permits organized parties to apply specific maneuvers for advantage in tough encounters. The party accumulates Limit Break points as they adventure. These points fill up a Limit Break indicator.
You can have up to three bars of limit break points accumulated, gated by the type of encounter. The dungeon bosses available in the early game have a maximum of two limit break bars while all other group content (so far) is limited to one limit break bar. We haven’t actually seen three bar content, that will likely be end-game hard mode and raid content.
Once your bar (or bars) are filled, a member of the party can activate the Limit Break. The effect of the Break is determined by the player who initiates the maneuver. Tanks trigger a protective Limit Break, healers trigger group heals, melee DPS trigger massive single target damage, while thaumaturges (and probably arcanists) trigger area of effect damage breaks. Used well, these are quite beneficial, but not mandatory for early content.
The system seems very simple and to me that’s a bit of a shame. I really adore the party combo system in Final Fantasy XI, figuring out your chains was part of what made an elite party elite (at least when the game launched). It’s also a lot easier to execute with simpler effects than the Lord of the RIngs fellowship maneuvers. So, while I’m happy to burn Limit Breaks and really enjoy it when they pay off, I’m a bit saddened to not have really complex breaks.
I will admit though, that as simple as they are there are people struggling to understand them. Silent Stan the Stoic, the non-responsive fellow I referenced in the Duty Finder section? Yeah, we really needed him to throw the Lancer limit break and he never quite figured it out, despite detailed instructions.
My other concern about Limit Breaks lies in the way the abilities play out. There are currently four powers and two classes which can trigger each given power. For early game content, you could easily put together a group that doesn’t have access to the Break you would like to use.
For example Grafflas, the final boss of Toto-Rak is a great choice for a Lancer or Pugilist started limit break. Similarly, Lady Amandine, the final boss in the exceptional Haukke Manor really benefits from a well-timed AOE-limit break at a certain point in the fight. If you lack a Thaumaturge though, at least in Beta-3, you lacked that break.
For now that’s not a huge concern. You don’t need Limit Breaks on the early dungeons, you just benefit from their use. In later content, with 8-person hardmode dungeons and 24-person raids, it’s quite likely that you will have the right break for the job.
There’s another intriguing aspect to Limit Breaks. We don’t know exactly what fills up the bar. The in-game help says that it involves ‘playing your role well.’ For now, it’s all conjecture what that means. I know it’s not kills, kill speed, or percent progress as I’m paying very close attention to when and how the meter advances and those are all easily ruled out. Some specific actions fill the bar, they happen often enough that every group will eventually have a Limit Break. But, it’s quite possible that an excellent group, well versed in building breaks, will have more of them and more intense ones in harder content. It could very well be that LB’s are a complex system masked behind a simple interface.
Farewell Beta-3, We barely knew ye
So Beta-3 has come and gone. We are now currently in a bit of limbo, waiting on Beta-4. Beta-4 promises to bring about the open beta experience, bringing thousands more into Eorzea. Further, there is a possibility that Beta-4 data will carry forwards into head start and launch itself. Square Enix has left themselves an escape hatch on that, noting that problems detected in Beta-4 could prevent a carry-forwards. If they do pull off the Beta-4 carryover it will be one more unique thing in this MMO’s very unique relaunch.
So the real speculation is when exactly will Beta-4 begin? There’s some intended downtime between systems and apparently a new client installation will be needed in Beta-4. We can work backwards from the launch date at the end of August though.
If we allow some time for a headstart and possibly a short delay between Beta-4 and headstart, we are looking at a 20-August (roughly) timeframe for headstart. This puts Beta-4 at around 4-August to 6-August as possible targets. This is all napkin math, though, and only powered by my own speculation and a handy, dandy calendar. Until then, we’re just left with this video of FFXIV fashions to tide us over.
I know there are plenty of people invoking the “shut up and take my money” meme right now and ready for Beta-4 to start sometime later this evening. What’s your guess for the start of Beta-4? What are you looking forwards to? What was the best part of Beta-3 in your experience? Join into the discussion below and share your thoughts.
Ryahl / Ryahl is a columnist for MMORPG.Com. He is also the host and primary author for Eorzea Reborn and TSWGuides. He has been playing MMO’s since 1999 and has failed miserably every time he has attempted to predict future dates. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.