As part of Kotaku's extended massively multiplayer role-playing game review process, I spent the better part of the past week playing Final Fantasy XIV. I'm still not sure why.
Kotaku's MMO reviews are a multi-part process. Rather than deliver day one reviews based on beta gameplay, we play the game for four weeks before issuing our final verdict. Once a week we deliver a log detailing when and how we played the game. We believe this gives readers a frame of reference for the final review. Since MMO titles support many different types of play, readers can compare our experiences to theirs to determine what the review means to them.
Now join me as I enter the fantasy world of Eorzea in the first part of our Final Fantasy XIV MMO Log.
Thursday, September 23, 10pm
Final Fantasy XIV is an incredibly complex game. The first taste of this complexity comes while setting up your account. First I signed up for a Square Enix account. Then I registered my Final Fantasy XIV service. Then I added my registration code. Then I set up a basic $US9.99 a month subscription. Then I added an additional $US3 a month for the one character I wished to play. You can add additional characters for $US3 each per month.
I ended up somehow registering two accounts. When I log in, I have to be sure to choose the second of two listed Final Fantasy XIV accounts, as the first has no subscription attached.
The process was ridiculously complex.
The first order of business once my account was setup was to create a character. That process, which I recorded for posterity, resulted in a pink-haired member of the feline Miqo'te race named Fritti Tailchaser.
Yes, I stole my name from a Tad Williams book.
I established Fritti as an axe-wielding Marauder, chose the home city of Ul'dah, and then took a four-hour nap.
So at around 10pm, I finally logged into my character. I found myself wandering the streets of the magnificent city of Ul'dah, a large, bustling city with pale stone walls. A festival was taking place, featuring a large captive plant-like monster on a mobile display. The monster inevitably escaped its bonds, and I was forced to use my rudimentary fighting skills to take it down.
The introduction was a mixture of in-game moments and cutscenes, with irritating blank load screens in-between. After being introduced to several key players in the Ul'dah scene, I wound up at the local adventurer's guild, where I met my non-player character handler, Momodi, a diminutive Lalafell with a dirty mind. She gives me her linkshell, a way to communicate with her from afar, and guides me on my first few quests.
Momodi warns me to use the linkshell for business, though she doesn't mind talking about "how manhoods measure up from time to time". Creepy.
At this point I was still struggling to make sense of my place in the world of Eorzea. So far all I knew was that I was an adventurer and that I should start accepting Guildleves and making money.
The Guildleve system struck me as very odd in an MMO. Much like Final Fantasy XII, the player takes on missions in the form of Guildleves. Rather than traditional quests, Guildleves (at least the combat ones) are timed missions in which you need to kill a certain number of monsters or harvest quest items.
I was not aware of how this system worked, so initially I was confused. I killed the monsters the Guildleves asked me to but was not receiving credit. Other players were having the same issue. Luckily we had some beta players on hand to set us straight.
In order to activate a Guildleve you have to go to the location specified on the leve and activate it using an Aetheryte crystal. Once activated, you have a set time (generally 30 minutes) to complete your task.
Once I figured the system out, it was smooth sailing, aside from one incredibly annoying bug. During some encounters the targets I was aiming for would generate a "the target is already engaged" message, glitching out. The monsters would continue to hit me, but I could not hit them. Disengaging and then starting up my attacks usually fixed the issues. Sometimes I simply died.
Combat was simply enough. I used my normal axe swing to attack. Each hit I made and took built up my TP points, allowing me to pull off more powerful advanced moves.
Completing a Guildleve opens up an Aetheryte node. Using it allows you to receive the leve award and teleport back to the crystal, where you can start the next Guildleve. I quickly burned through the five I had and paused to take a look at my stats.
As I fought, I earned two different types of experience. Normal experience towards my character's physical level and points towards the level of the job I was using. Each physical level brought more points to spend on core attributes like strength and dexterity, as well as elemental attributes such as fire and wind. I'm wasn't entirely sure what the latter did, so I placed points randomly.
Once I was finished with the Guildleves I followed the initial quest line Momodi gave me. The quest took me to the Gladiator's Arena, where I fought and lost. Next came the Mining Guild, where I broke up a fight.
That led directly to an escort quest, where I defended an NPC from rabid chinchillas. At the end of the escort I was treated to a cutscene in which a small girl confronted the man handling the plant beast from the opening cutscene. Apparently the beast hurt her father, leaving him on the brink of death.
The final step of the quest took me to a hospital-like area of the city, where the child's father met his final fate.
At this point it was nearly 4am, but I was riveted by the story and wanted to know more. Unfortunately the quest hit a dead end at that point. I suppose I have to level up a bit more before continuing. Feeling lost, I head for bed.
Friday, September 24, 6pm
It's mining time!
Bored of combat and wanting to try something new, I purchased a pick from the Mining Guild and headed out into the lands surrounding the city to find my fortune.
Changing jobs in Final Fantasy XIV is as easy as swapping out equipment. It takes about half a minute to do so, though I hear some folks use macros to quickly swap between combat, gathering and crafting skills.
At first, mining frustrated me. Every time I found a mineral node, someone else was there. It took me a good hour to figure out that Final Fantasy XIV doesn't follow the one person per node model other games do. Things were a lot easier once I figured out that anyone could mine a node at the same time as anyone else.
Mining is a complicated process. First I had to find a node. Then I had to select the position I was mining in. Then I had to strike using a fluctuating meter, playing a hot-and-cold game until I either struck ore or struck out.
That was a lot of work and not particularly entertaining. I decided to try my hand at some crafts instead.
At the adventurer's guild I picked up a few local Guildleves for crafting. Unlike the Guildleves for combat and gathering these aren't timed. I have to find the NPC initiating the leve, get supplies from them and then go about the complicated process of crafting an item.
Yes, more complication. First I opened the synthesis window. Then I selected requested items. Then I chose main hand to indicate the tool I was using. Then I had to verify the recipe twice. After all of that, it was time to craft.
Synthesis had me choosing between various methods of crafting as a meter slowly filled up to show my progress. As I worked, the quality level and durability decreased. If the durability dropped below zero, the item I was working on would break and I had to start over. The process was quite time-consuming.
As I completed the local Guildleves I earned new recipes. An hour later I realised that those recipes were not recorded anywhere in-game and I would have to visit a community website for a list.
I tried to alt-tab out of the game to consult such a website, but alt-tabbing crashed the game. Frustrated, I gave up.
Saturday, September 25, 1am
Maybe I was just in a rut. Perhaps another character would give me a fresh perspective?
Enter Adharsuil, an Elezen Thaumaturge.
I could have easily made Fritti a Thaumaturge as well, but again, I wanted a fresh perspective. Swapping from an axe-wielding Maurader to a spellcaster didn't feel natural to me, anyway.
Now familiar with the combat system, my time with Adharsuil (Adder for short) went much smoother, although the dreaded "target already engaged" bug reared its ugly head more often when using ranged magic attacks.
I completed my set of five Guildleves in record time, played about with a few new spells and then realised it was nearly 5am once again. Time to call it quits.
Sunday, September 26, 7pm
I logged Fritti on long enough to take a couples videos of combat and mining. I try to find something to do, some driving motivation to continue, but I fail. After fooling about for an hour, I log off again.
The Story So Far
Perhaps I've been spoiled by the user-friendly format of other massively multiplayer online games, but I feel lost in Final Fantasy XIV. I'm used to being led about by quest after quest, but that's not how this game works. I'm used to having all the information I need at my fingertips, but so far FFXIV has fed me scraps and left me to my own devices.
I'm sure more experienced players could tell me what I am supposed to be doing. They could give me insight into what my motivation to battle and craft and gather is supposed to be, other than amassing in-game money. They could potentially show me the way.
I just feel they shouldn't have to. This should be more intuitive. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.
But I soldier on. This week I plan on trying to get Fritti into a linkshell (guild). Maybe it's time I leaned on my fellow players a bit more.
Tune in next week to see if things get better for me in part two!