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In Anticipation of Beta

Ryahl Smith Posted:
Columns The Eorzea Prospect 0

With 2012 and FFXIV 1.0 now things of the past, discussion of what was is for historians while the rest of us look ahead.  The upcoming year promises to be an interesting one for Final Fantasy MMO fans.  We will soon see the Realm Reborn beta, which should take us through the first half of the year.  Following that we will see something relatively unheard of in the industry; an entire rebuild and relaunch of an MMO franchise.

I wrapped up last year looking back at the tremendous work Yoshida’s team had accomplished in their build updates to Final Fantasy XIV 1.0.   In this column, I want to review what we know and what we might project for the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn beta.  I am going to look at this from a scheduling, technical and game features perspective.

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Recently, the Final Fantasy development team published the beta road map for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  We should expect three closed beta phases, each followed by a debug (offline) period.  Following that, we are looking at a short open beta without non disclosure agreement (NDA) restrictions.  Using the road map, assuming a 10-February start date (mid-February is listed on the road map), and taking the long duration for each stage, this leads us to expect

  • Beta stage 1 - 10-February through 9-March.  This would be followed by a two-week debug period.
  • Beta stage 2 - 24-March through 13-April.  This would again be followed by a two-week debug period. 
  • Beta stage 3 - 28-April through 18-May.  Sometime during this period, the NDA should drop.  This will again be followed by a two-week debug period.
  • Open Beta - 2-June through 15-June.

Don’t bust out your planners just yet, though.  That is purely a speculative schedule. It’s built from the long-side expectations for each stage.  It assumes a 10-February start date and it assumes no stage encounters overruns.  The timeframe could easily be shortened several weeks, but it could also easily extend if things don’t go as planned.

At any rate, barring early admission to the beta, what is the FFXIV fan to do with this five month hiatus?  Sadly FFXIV 1.0 is now a thing of the past, so nostalgic trips to Eorzea are right out.  Obviously there are a number of new MMO’s coming out to pick up and give a whirl.  Recognizing that FF is a group oriented series, you could always boot up a group oriented older MMO like FFXI, Vanguard or Everquest.  If you are really looking for a Final Fantasy fix, though, consider picking up Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy Tactics which all recently released for iOS devices.

Of Matters Technical

There are two hardware oriented changes coming to FFXIV:ARR that I believe merit looking forwards to.  Just as FFXI was a multi-platform MMO, besides the PC it was available originally on PS2 and later X360, FFXIV was to have had a PS3 offering.  The 1.0 version of FFXIV never managed to get the PS3 product out the door.  Indeed, it is possible that engine restrictions which precluded the PS3 launch may have set a foundation for Yoshida’s complete overhaul of the FFXIV engine. 

The current beta roadmap suggests that the PS3 launch and PC relaunch may happen simultaneously.  I am sure that a concurrent launch is something the Square Enix marketing team would appreciate.  Further, by synchronizing the launches, it might be easier to convince retailers to restock the PC title.  A separate PS3 beta is on schedule to begin in Beta Phase 3.

The second change technical change in FFXIV:ARR involves the interface.  Those of us who played FFXIV at launch were treated to an interface abomination.  It’s not just that the PC interface was designed for a controller, it was that it was a poorly designed PC controller based  interface to boot.  To their credit, Yoshidas team worked diligently to fix the UI and the end of an era UI was at least playable.  That said, the old UI is gone and we will be getting two in its place.

A PC specific UI was unveiled for the ARR Alpha.  The UI worked pretty much the way one would expect a modern PC based MMO UI to work.  That UI will return in the beta and, who knows, we might even see some improvements as we progress through.  However, there are FF fans who prefer to play with a controller.  To that end, we will see a controller based interface launch in Beta Phase 2.  No more dealing with a hybrid interface which satisfies no one, we might just be seeing the standard for future MMO UI design.

There is one final technical aspect worth discussing, data centers.  In Beta Phase 1 and 2, there will only be one data center, located in Japan.  While there will be multiple server worlds available, European and North American customers will potentially face some connection issues.  This should change in Beta Phase 3 where we will see global data centers with multiple servers.  We don’t know yet if this will lead to restrictions on playing out of region.  Given efforts Square Enix used in FFXI to provide in-game translation services, hopefully we will retain the ability to play globally.

Content, Content, Content

There is an adage in business that success is a function of location, location, location.  Even though it is overstated (e.g. plenty of other things matter), there is some truth to the matter.  For the MMO, the location statement is probably better thought of as content, content, content.  You can have all the best systems (e.g. great graphics, an awesome interface, rock solid dependable network code, etc.), but none of it will matter if the quality and quantity of the content is lacking.  Will there be enough to do in FFXIV:ARR and will it be interesting? 

FFXIV:ARR is shaping up to be a multi-sphere game, with content offered for soloists, group based gameplay and even multi-group gameplay.  The party is a core game element of Final Fantasy, so it makes sense to have robust group game play available.  Throughout the beta we should see dungeons and fully active time events (FATE) scenarios brought in for testing.

Social staples like guilds are an expected element of the MMO, so its good to see FFXIV will have two different takes on the multiplayer side of game elements.  FFXIV features two takes on social organization systems.  Linkshells appear to be social chat channels while Free Companies provide the structured player guilds we are used to in other MMO’s.  For people who like raiding, it’s promising to hear Yoshida talk about 24-person raid content in iconic playfields like Crystal Tower and the Great Labyrinth of Bahamut.  Hopefully these are part of the PVE dungeon type content being added throughout the Beta and not a “coming sometime” element.

Depending on your perspective, the ample amount of solo-oriented content is either welcome or troubling.  Granted, some of that solo-oriented content is simply extensions to your character choices (e.g. wider gender/race options and the inclusion of new classes and jobs).  It’s also true that the FF MMO’s have always had a bit of solo-oriented content via their quests.  Whether it was the story-line quests or the job unlock quests, you have always had solo oriented (with some group based encounter exceptions) class advancement quests. FFXIV  also offered a staple of solo game options through repeatable leve-quests and the faction quests and duties tied to Grand Companies. Similarly, both FFXI and FFXIV had ‘quality of life’ solo game elements like housing and chocobos.  So, on the whole, the fact that these reappear in FFXIV:ARR is to be expected.

What is new to A Realm Reborn is the inclusion of quest-hub oriented character progression.  Based on the Alpha reveal videos and examination of various producer letters, it is apparent that a FFXIV:ARR player will have the option to advance their character to maximum level, on multiple jobs, through in-world story-driven questing.  The addition of story-line quest hubs are a new feature to the Final Fantasy MMO’s and not one without contention.  A recurring comment during the alpha involved the “just another quest hub grinder.”  That sentiment is likely over-reaching as there are clearly more things planned. 

Will the content planned be enough to keep the fans happy?  Will there be enough excitement to bring new players to the title?  Will the addition of quest hubs help, or hurt, FFXIV?  To see a bit more of my thoughts on quest hubs, check out the companion articles, “what have we lost to solo play? and “enough with the (solo) quest hubs,” at Eorzea Reborn.  What aspects of the beta are you most excited about?  Which concern you?  What do you need to get you to jump into FFXIV:ARR?  Join us in the conversation below and share your thoughts!

In a future column we will explore some of the group and multi-group features to look forward to in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.  Thank you for reading and remember to check back in two weeks for the next installment!  Also, don’t forget to check out Eorzea Reborn for more editorials and musings about MMO’s and follow everything Eorzea Reborn at Twitter.

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Ryahl Smith

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 remembers when the holy trinity didn’t involve DPS. You can follow him on Twitter @EorzeaReborn or just argue with him in comments anywhere he posts.