There’s a school of thought that says MMOs, especially as typified by the World of Warcraft model, are too easy. That they’re by and large tailored for the lowest common denominator, lack complexity, and don’t deliver nearly enough challenge or gameplay complexity.
These are the kinds of gamers who no doubt look at a game like Final Fantasy XIV and think “Eureka! A game with a proper learning curve!” But even the most ardent WoW-hater, the most vocal of those looking for a challenge instead of a grind would weep at the utter inane complexity of FFXIV.
And that’s before you even get into the fucking game.
Epic account fail
To say that FFXIV is an impenetrable mess is an insult to other impenetrable messes, and the lack of transparency begins before you even get playing. FFXI had a similarly problematic account and payment system, but the masterminds behind XIV seem to be even more actively making sure people never play their game.
For instance, not only do you need to sign up for an account, you then need to create a sub-account for your payment options, and then sign up for an external service that takes care of credit card deductions. That’s three accounts, for one game! What’s worse, even using the manual as a guide – surely a bad sign – it’s still a confusing and often bewildering process. For instance, what do you think this phrase means:
"To create characters on your FINAL FANTASY XIV service account, you must possess automatically continuous options."
What is that... I don’t even, as the kids say these days. However, it’s also typical of the entire painful process. Sadly, however, we were able to work it all out eventually. In many ways, we should have just learnt our lesson from the account process.
Epic gaming fail
After a more or less baffling but suitably epic cinematic intro, the game gets down to character creation. It’s pretty deep as such things go, sitting somewhere in between the hyper-basic options of WoW, and the hyper-detailed options in Age of Conan (does anyone still play that?). However, it too gets quickly annoying; once you choose your voice type, for instance, your fledgling toon starts to sign off from every finalised option with a laugh that can be best described as... scary. Not to mention annoying.
In fact, by the time we were finished creating our faux-elf (you can call them Elezen, but if they’re tall and pointy-eared, they’re an elf) blacksmith we kinda hated the chuckling jerk.
But that does touch on one of the few things we were impressed with in FFXIV – the class system. From the get-go, not only can you sign up for any of classic melee, ranged or spell-using classes, but you can also take a crafting class. Even more impressive, class is a mutable thing, depending more on how you’re equipped than any mere job description.
That, however, was about the last thing we were impressed by.
After another cinematic, and a brief fight – where your best attack is throwing stones?! – you find yourself in whatever starting city you’ve chosen. If you’re a habitual MMO player, you know what to look for: a quest giver or something similar, something to give your game experience a bit of direction; except, in FFXIV, direction seems to be something that didn’t make it into the final build.
Instead, you’re left with the lingering feeling that you’re missing something obvious, that only if you look a little hard will things start making sense. But that realisation never occurs. Instead you stumble about looking for quests or at least things to do, while trying to work out who are players and who’re NPCs. When you do get a reason to leave the city, the open environs are large and pretty, but largely empty. Sure, the boar-heavy stock of most MMOs is probably over the top, but where’s the fun in wandering through an empty landscape, to find a quest hub lacking quests?
As to combat, it’s a poorly timed exercise that seems to have no relation to what you’re seeing on screen, making the timing of abilities problematic at best.
The truth is we’d been looking forward to something a bit meatier than your average MMO. Final Fantasy XIV, however, is huge mouthful of poor game mechanics, unfriendly UIs, and aimless storytelling – one that’s more likely to choke any optimism for the game right out of you.