It's been over five years since I reviewed the first Final Fantasy MMO, back then I was very impressed. Since then times have changed a lot and there have been countless new additions to the MMO market that have really raised the bar. I hadn't followed FFXIV through development so I didn't know what to expect, when the review copy landed in my hands I quickly got it installed and then set up my account. That's where the problems began.
Square Enix have certainly gone for a different subscription model. Rather than playing a flat fee for your subscription you pay a certain amount for your monthly subscription and then an extra amount per character on the server. This can be paid through a regular subscription or through 'Crysta', which is Square Enix currency (basically purchased in a similar fashion to Xbox points). My initial difficulties were that even though I had activated my 30 days game time, I needed to pay for a character slot, the two options were either Clickandbuy or through Crysta. My Crysta balance was zero and if I registered through Clickandbuy I would have to set up an account and do security checks which would take several days to come through. I didn't fancy signing up for a new online payment method and so I tried to find out if there were any other subscription options. Unfortunately the only help document I could find lacked any kind of detail or sense (this is a theme I will revisit later in the review). Eventually I went through to the end of the checkout process with absolutely no Crysta in my account and no active subscription through Clickandbuy and at the very last moment I was informed I would get a 100% discount for the first month. Had they informed me of this at the start I would have saved myself a frustrating hour.
For reference I played FFXIV on a relatively new machine; AMD Athlon II X4 640, Sapphire 1Gb 5850, 4Gb corsair DDR3 memory, running Windows 7.
One thing I feel I should comment about early are the games graphics, simply put the game is absolutely gorgeous and is head and shoulders above all other MMOs on the market. With the games settings towards the maximum my frame rates did drop significantly in towns which was slightly disappointing considering the spec of the machine I was using but is forgivable considering it's a new release and could still be improved with future patches. One area of games I tend to ignore is how they sound. With FFXIV it is impossible to ignore, the initial, near hypnotic, theme immediately dragged me in and during my first cut scene I was immediately absorbed and really wanted to get into the game.
My first hour with FFXIV was generally good, I certainly liked the look of the game and tried to adjust to the control system and the games overall structure. I was initially confused and due to time constraints decided to revisit the game the following day, at this point I felt the game had lots of potential and could be quite enjoyable. During my second attempt with the game my confusion remained. I am a fairly well experienced gamer, especially in the MMO field and as such I normally dread the first few hours of a game where I feel my hand is being held a little too tightly and I am doing quests that are designed for those who are new to the genre, but I understand the necessity of this design. Well FFXIV go in completely the opposite direction and provide virtually no assistance at all. So far most of my time with the game has been spent trying to work out what to do or how to do things. It actually feels like the developers don't want you to play the game. This hurdle is set particularly high. To exacerbate the lack of any meaningful documentation or tutorial is the dreaded alt+tab shutdown. If you try to use alt and tab to switch to another window the FFXIV will shutdown. In a lot of games this might not matter, but in a game where you are having to search the internet for a clue on what to do this gets very frustrating very quickly. To prevent this from happening there are various fixes and downloads from third party sources, or you can play the game in windowed mode, which for me is not ideal as I hate playing in windowed mode. To progress effectively in the game I have been using my smart phone for web access rather than having to relog after each alt+tab.
The amount of time that I have spent trying to work out how the hell to play the game has had a useful side effect. With so much time initially spent trying to find guides on my trusty G1 phone I didn't notice the lack of content.
The games content is extremely sparse, in fact the only thing to do is grind. I can understand sometimes with a new MMO that I will hit a point where there isn't quite enough content and at some point the devs will get round to filling it out but in FFXIV this occurred immediately. What little content is there is actually quite bland an uninspiring.
Another design choice that I find absolutely baffling is the crafting system. In FFXIV you don't learn recipes you must work out which items to use together. There seems to be only very basic logic in which components to use to make an item and you are pretty much forced to memorise which items you are successful with. I am normally glad when developers try something a little different with their crafting because I am bored with what the mainstream MMOs have offered lately. Having said that the FFXIV method is truly bizarre, it's the kind of idea that doesn't even work well on paper and as I have already discussed alt-tab to Google isn't an option. This is one area that desperately needs to be changed.
Square have acknowledged that the game has launched with a number of issues and so have offered 30 days extra subscription time to those who purchased the game at launch. To me this is almost an insult, it feels like having been punched in the face my compensation is to be kicked in the crotch.
The UI isn't very configurable and doesn't feel completely right to me. To make matters worse every action within the game seems to have a slight delay between command and execution. This really takes you out of the game and makes the combat feel less visceral and responsive. I have played turn based games where I have felt less removed from combat. I have a host of other gripes with the game such as the near painful player markets instead of a fully fleshed auction house and unnecessary distances to travel across in town or the system where you are penalised for playing more than a set number of hours per week. I won't go into these in detail, I'm sure you have already worked out the conclusion I'm hurtling towards
The game is basically a car wreck and should not have been released. The frustrating thing is that occasionally there are flashes of potential, I would be running through a beautiful forest, slowly being calmed by the perfect musical score and then I would select to draw my weapons and have to wait for my character to do anything, immediately pulling me out of the moment. If Square Enix really put the effort in then we could end up with a very playable MMO, the barebones are there they just need to add content and documentation, then improve the UI. The problem is I don't see these improvements happening for at least 12 months.