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FFXIV: A Look At The First Week (Part II)

October 3, 2010

It’s been a week since the collector’s edition headstart began.  I have put off making any comments on the state of the game until after Square-Enix gave us at least the first patch.  That day happened yesterday.  So here are my initial thoughts on the state of the game as it moves into the its official start date tomorrow.

In the first part of my look at the first week of Final Fantasy XIV I discussed the good, the bad and the just plain strange parts of several parts of the game.  This time I talk about the good and the lag of the User Interface, Combat, Crafting and the overall Economic system of the game

The User Interface:

Coming from playing multiple games over the last 10 years, I will say that the Final Fantasy XIV user interface is one of seeming familiarity.  There is all the familiar parts of the average MMO interface to be had here.  I say seemingly because hardly any of the portions of the default interface is new to those who have played any massively multiplayer game over the last decade.

The first thing we have to acknowledge is that this game was made to be a hybrid over both the PC and the console environment.  Like its predecessor, every UI element has to be functional to both the PS3 and PC player.  This understandably brings some huge lack of expected functionality that we PC players have come to expect out of our user interface.  Things like “mouse over” both in casting and in tooltips are simply not available in XIV.  While being hard to get used to for those who did not spend years playing FFXI, most of these missing aspects do not directly impact the enjoyment of the game.  Players will merely need to understand how to access the information they were used to having much easier access to.

Things like buffs and debuffs are one of the few things in the interface that illustrate this fact.  In order to truly understand what buffs and debuffs you or your party members are inflicted with at any given time you will have to learn what the icons are and how they effect you.  Fortunately, this is not a game like World of Warcraft.  The game has a very specific set of debuffs for you to learn.  Things like Slow, Poison, Plague, Silence, Gravity, Magic Defense Down, etc are back from the Final Fantasy series.  We do not have random and changing debuffs like is commonplace as new encounters are added in WoW.

Everything is meant to be simple, so the UI can be as well.  You can hit the B button on your keyboard and a text description of your buffs will pop up.  This is not the case with your party members, but you shouldn’t need it.  Once you play the game for a short time and encounter your first monster you will begin to learn which icon corresponds to which debuff.

The other major change for most players coming from a PC MMO will be the actionbar.  Most PC players are used to being able to show multiple actionbars on-screen at any given time.  This is not the case with XIV.  You have a single bar visible on-screen but have easy access to your #2 and #3 bars as well as multiple macro bars.  While you can mouse click any action, or select your action with the arrow keys or controller, you may also use keyboard shortcuts.  This change from the PC user is very minor and is more of a mere inconvenience to most players.  (Although players coming from FFXI will now have a visible action bar for the first time in 8 years.)

Other aspects of the default user interface includes all the standard fare.  The minimap that shows your relative position in the world and what monsters and players are around you.  The minimap itself is a huge step forward from its predecessor.  Final Fantasy XI merely had a radar system showing you where nearby monsters were.  In that game you had to be of the correct job or subjob to enable this feature.  Now in XIV all classes are able to detect monster placement throughout the world.

The Target and party unit frames are much more complete than FFXIs.  While it would be nice to see party member TP as well, it is not nearly as necessary as it was in the older game.  However, with a single step forward we are still lacking a few things that are standard amongst games now.  A Target of Target and Focus Target frame are greatly needed.  I can understand why both of these were left out as targeting does take a fair bit of server load, but its 2010 we need these things.

The Main Menu:

I split the menu system off of the UI for one simple reason.  The on-screen UI itself is pretty damn complete.  It has minor issues, but seriously what game in any genre is 100% perfect.  Square-Enix will continue to polish that as the game moves forward.  The menu system is just not nearly as well-developed as the rest of the UI.

Sure, the main menu screen looks pretty nice.  It is crisp and clear menu system.  It’s just the functionality that is lacking.  The interface lag while attempting to accomplish anything in the game is significant.  Now, we are used to a little interface lag, but the amount that is currently found in XIV is simply unacceptable.  The pathetic thing about this is that it has improved significantly since the menu was added back in July with the start of Beta1.  When you add the fact that many of the menus have further embedded menus and you have a recipe for annoyance.

Combat:

I am not really going to say much about the combat system in FFXIV.  It has continued to be fine tuned since the new Stamina system was added in Beta1.  It has come a long way and combat can alternate between insanely fun to frustrating.  I actually believe that a little challenge and frustration in combat is a very good thing in an MMO.  What I do not think is a good thing is the ability lag that can be prevalent at times.

I know that I am continuing to point out that the game has some lag in many aspects of the Interface.  The sad fact is that it is so prevalent that it effects just about every aspect of gameplay in some negative manner.

Actual combat is a fun and someone strategic experience.  All combat classes have different abilities.  Some better than others, but a lot of abilities are specifically meant to fill a niche.  Even early “on event” abilities such as Haymaker (on dodge) and Phalanx (on block) may not mean a lot in the lower levels of gear and avoidance, but they mean more and more as you level up.  The only problem with these abilities is having to watch super carefully to the animations on-screen in order to know when you are capable of using them.

Mana consumption and return got a huge tweak since Beta3 and is now a huge non factor.  With all the abilities to regain mana and spell costs be reduced, unless you are grinding on monsters far over your level, you should never have mana issues  if you are playing as intended.

The battle log makes things a little bit interesting.  Because you have to keep a watch out for certain things when it pertains to combat.  Everything from monster aggro to “on event” notices are placed in this log window.  However, because you have to choose between your chat log and your battle log at any given time, it is difficult to use.  Not being able to split these two log windows on the screen like we are used to is a problem in the modern age.

Even back in FFXI we could very easily open and control the chat window with controller or keyboard commands to let us read and focus on certain aspects of what was in our log.  These options are not present in XIV.

Making things worse is that 98% of aggressive monsters do not have an audio cue on becoming aggressive.  Having to read a log that we can not easily access in order to see aggro while out adventuring is a huge issue and needs to be fixed.

All in all combat has room to improve, but it is probably the most complete aspect of the game.

Crafting:

Crafting in Final Fantasy XIV is fun.  Well its fun when the interface does not get in the way of that fun.  The design of the entire crafting system is an extension of the very successful system that was present in FFXI.  That system was an extremely deep and sometimes stressful and often rewarding system.  The developers have taken most of what was good from the old and combined it with the new Armory system and tossed in a mini-game to make a complete experience.

There are only two negatives about the system.  The first is the big thing that every crafting system in every non WoW MMO.  When you fail you lose your materials.  This is not really a negative in my mind, its just part of the game.  You risk death and loss whenever you go out and fight, you should be risking something while crafting as well.

The second negative is not so much about the crafting system, but the User Interface and its laggy embedded menu system.  By having to go through 5 different menus and confirmations to start the crafting process you have to deal with interface lag that often can extend  the time to craft from 90 seconds to 5-6 minutes.  Illustrating that one of the biggest problems the game has right now effects multiple portions of the game.  I really love the crafting system in FFXIV, but have ceased to craft because of the frustration caused by this lag.

The Economy:

Unlike most games in the genre there is no Auction House to be found in the preliminary release of Final Fantasy XIV.  We are left to a “player based economy” as the developers like to call their Retainer and Bazaar system.

A bazaar system is nothing new for an MMO.  Although it is mostly an asian MMO staple it has always been included as an addition to an Auction House based economy.  As a way for players to avoid Auction House fees on certain items.  As well as set up specific shops to sell their goods that they could not auction.  Bazaars are definitely a good thing and the retainer system to allow players to continue to bazaar their good while offline is a huge step forward for the bazaar in general.  This eliminates a great deal of lag and server load from players who routinely never logout of the game while trying to bazaar their goods.

The real problem is that the wards in which the retainers are places are so packed that it makes finding anything that you want to purchase almost impossible.  With 200+ retainers packed into an extremely small area you can hardly see even a portion of what is available.  Not to mention the fact that you may find an item you want for 10x the price that you find it 10 minutes later.  Prices can never be nearly uniform when you can not see what others are charging.

When you combine that with the fact that browsing a bazaar is not nearly as simple as it was in FFXI you have a system that demands an Auction House.

Even with the proposed changes to the Market Wards, we will be in the same boat.  The changes as they stand as a good idea  and are welcome changes, but they do nothing but augment a system that simply is not enough to maintain an MMO economy by itself.

There are a lot of good and a lot of bad to be had in Final Fantasy XIV.  I encourage everyone to make their own decisions.  However, I have been playing MMOs for over 10 years.  I have spent my life in Final Fantasy XI and have a pretty decent handle on what made that game work so well for those who gave the game a fair shake.  I have played WoW, Aion, AoC, EQ, EQ2, and Warhammer over the years.  Final Fantasy XIV has a ton of potential.  It requires the developers over at Square-Enix to read player comments and reviews and fix the major issues and things lacking with the game.  They need to address certain issues within its first month of play.

We have to remember that this is exactly how Square-Enix handled the initial release of Final Fantasy XI.  On release of that game, bazaar’s were once again the only way to buy and sell items.  There was no Auction House back then either.  Combat was slow, there were no things that players of XI have come to understand to be staples of that game.  Things like skillchains and experience chains were not added for sometime.

An MMO is a game that by definition evolves and expands over time.  Nearly everything will be changed in some way over the first 6-12 months of the game.  We can only hope that we are listened to as fans this time and the game becomes what most of its players hope it to be.  The next step forwad from FFXI and a valid alternative to even the largest of MMO’s and its upcoming expansion.  We can only hope that the changes required to make it live up to our hopes will come soon as with the December release of Cataclysm will no doubt take many of the release players away from XIV and back to Azeroth if things do not get better quickly.  Many players have already decided that they will “revisit” Eorzea only when the PS3 version ships in March.

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3 comments

  1. I can see how the UI could be frustrating to get through if you are used to other MMORPGs. Fortunately for me that FFXI is the only true MMORPG that I have ever played. If the interface is similar to FFXI then I shall have no troubles jumping right in. I actually loved using the Dualshock controller for traversing Vana’diel and I became a very efficient WHM/BLM using the limited shortcuts.

    I remember joining the FFXI fight when it was released on the PS2. I loved it even with all the bugs but I would be willing to bet that those bugs were nothing compared to when it was officially released on the PC. Five months was apparently enough time to fix these major issues. I hope this is true with FFXIV. I guess I’m going to be in the exact same boat this time around and I’m hoping to love this game just as much as it’s older brother. Thanks for the writeup and I look forward to more info to prepare me for the upcoming PS3 release or if I’m lucky the Beta :D


  2. The thing is … right now the UI is a step backward from XI’s sleek and minimalistic approach. Sure some portions of it have been improved, including the ability to see party member’s MP in addition to just their HP. This was a step, but being able to see TP as well since Battle Regimes do use the TP abilities as well.

    What you forget about the PC release versus the PS2 release for XI was that the game started out in Japan as a PS2 release. The game was available in Asia for almost 18 months first on the PS2 and the PC before the NA PC release and 5 months later the PS2. The game was a very playable but buggy, problematic and feature lacking game for 12 of those Asia only months. We can only hope that SE steps up to the plate and gives us the features that every MMO should have before the PS3 release in March.


  3. Great write up. The UI lag is absolutely atrocious. It really is ruining all of the things I am finding enjoyable about the game.

    Also no AH is a monster turn off.



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