Friday morning I awoke to a fun email. “Welcome to the FINAL FANTASY XIV: A Realm Reborn Beta Test!” it said, with instructions and beta keys listed below that. I had forgotten I had even signed up for the privilege, but soon, after a bit of a headache with signing on, I had my PS3 on and downloading the five gigabyte beta while iconic Final Fantasy theme music played in the background. Final Fantasy XIV has had a pretty rough start; so bad that it was scrapped and A Realm Reborn created from the ashes. Has Square Enix done enough to make the game fun?
After the download finished, I was able to launch the game to view a lengthy animated intro where crazy things happened and Bahamut emerged from a sphere and then was sealed up again. “That’s definitely a Final Fantasy cutscene, alright,” I thought, then went on to character creation. There are several options to choose from regarding race and class, though stat differences seemed to be more skewed towards subraces. I ended up choosing a female Miqo’te, a race of, for lack of better words, cat people. Human in shape and form, but with cat ears and tails, I have a feeling that the Miqo’te will probably be the most chosen race. Don’t ask me why, I just have a feeling, and not because everyone are secret furries (some are). I chose one mostly out of curiosity. I have played the likes of the other races in other games. The Hyur (humans), Elezen (elves), Roegadyn (barbarians/brutes), and Lalafell (gnomes) are all pretty familiar, but I have never been a cat person before.
I was given several choices to customize Keyleth Liadon – the name of my cat person. And afterwards I was able to choose a subrace and deity. Because of this character’s high DEX rating, I ended up choosing an archer, but, as we’ll get to, that doesn’t wholly matter.
How To Control It
Once Keyleth was ready to go, we ended up starting in a city-state in the game called Gridania located in a dense, green forest in the land of Eorzea. This is where I got my first taste of how an MMO could work on a console.
Before this experience, I have only played MMOs on PC, where, naturally, the control scheme is pretty much locked in with keyboard and mouse. And that’s not a bad thing; it totally works. Coming from that, I didn’t really know what to expect by using just twelve or so primary buttons on a controller to manage all of the things an MMO generally requires. After having played the game through the weekend, I must say that I am really impressed with what Square Enix has pulled off. Controlling the game with the DUALSHOCK 3 was both comfortable and a nice change of pace.
Accessing everything in the game through a controller is a little daunting at first, but flows smoothly enough with a bit of practice. The sticks, of course, are used for movement and camera, and the D-pad is for selecting enemies (right and left) and party members (up and down). Triangle is jump, Square pops up a map, X and Circle for accept and cancel. The top buttons come in to play when you want to do an action. On screen at all times – you can see it in the image above – is the Cross Hotbar: sixteen spots for spells, items, traits, menus, pretty much anything in the game that you need to access. These spots are fully customizable, so you can set one to be your main attack and another to open up your friends list. The way to access these actions on the hotbar is to first hold either L2 or R2 and then select the appropriate skill. The eight slots on the right and eight on the left are mapped to the face buttons of the controller, so when you hold R2, for example, you “focus in” on the right eight buttons and select an action from there. This all might sound convoluted, but in practice it works really well. Once you have some traits (skills) set up in the hotbar and have used them a bit, remembering what button presses to make become second nature. Furthermore, each face button can have its own hotbar, so really there are 128 spots you can assign with skills and whatnot. Each hotbar can be accessed by pressing R1 to cycle through them, or holding R1 and selecting one outright.
As I progressed, leveling Keyleth and gaining skills, the controller mostly got out of the way, and for most of the actions you’ll do in an MMO, I felt like the controller totally beat the keyboard and mouse setup. It was far more comfortable, for one, and I really had no trouble fighting. Not having my hands and arms “locked” into a keyboard and mouse position was GREAT. I recall long sessions of WoW where my hands and fingers felt like claws, molded to hit WASD and 1,2,3 while my right index finger clicked until it fell off. Another bonus was never having to look down to hit find a certain button because, hey, I only have so many buttons to choose from. Later on in the game, when instances and quests get more hectic (I’m assuming), the controller might lag a little behind standard keyboard and mouse inputs because they definitely are more precise, but it’d be hard for me to want to switch back.
The last thing I was able to do this weekend was run through an instance with three other people. I had worried that because they were all on PC my character would be the worst one, but I didn’t find that to be the case. Of course it all comes down to the skill of the player, but I never felt hindered because of my controls while shooting my bow. In fact, I felt like I had a pretty good trait rotation going and often times pulled aggro from our tank. I’m not bragging about that, really, because you don’t want that to happen, but I am just saying that I certainly held my own just fine.
The biggest downside to the controller only MMOer is chat. There is simply no comparison to a keyboard for that. Luckily, you can pair a bluetooth keyboard with your PS3 to solve that problem, and I believe you can use a mouse, too, but I never attempted this. Typing on the controller is as slow and painful as you’d expect, but to offset that a bit, there are dozens of emotes. During my instance run, I basically just emoted the whole way and was able to get through most conversations. Emotes are not a replacement for a keyboard at all, but they are varied enough to be useful in quite a few situations.
The World In General
One thing this game certainly has on what I remember about WoW is atmosphere. I really like the aesthetic that A Realm Reborn has created for its cities and peoples. Although the PS3 probably isn’t the best place to play the title with PC and PS4 versions in the works, Gridania was still pretty lush and pleasant to look at, the large city in Ul’dah even more so. Ul’dah is in the middle of a desert and sports a ton of verticality to its locations – that is to say: valleys and cliffs – that are really cool to run around in. The PS3’s biggest bottleneck in all of this is the ram, so you’ll see some pop in and at times it takes a few seconds for NPCs and some architecture to load, but the game ran solidly. Even in the middle of public quests, where there were several monsters and a lot of other player characters in the area, the game didn’t slow down or feel sluggish.
I also really enjoyed the fact that NPC characters usually had a story to go along with their quests. Instead of a paragraph or two of “Hey, kill these hogs!” generally there is a bit more meat to the story of why you need to kill those hogs. In fact, there seems to be a pretty strong single player side to the game, where some quests go so far as to force you out of parties to complete. These quests have cutscenes and tell a larger story about the region you are in, so as you progress and gain levels, the story unfolds and you become deeper involved. My time was mostly played running solo, and I really didn’t feel bad about that because there was progression in my character AND the story. Sure, the world didn’t change or anything because I got further along, but it was nice to see.
The game sports some pretty general classes: archers, swordsmen, mages, etc., but the way it handles these classes is pretty interesting. Unlike other MMOs where you are leveling one character with a specific class, in A Realm Reborn your character can level up in anything. Your level is tied to the class and not the character, so I may be a level 16 archer but a level 1 Lancer. And your high level gear cannot be equipped while leveling as another class. Essentially, you are just making one character that can fill all roles as you please instead of several characters that all have a specific role. Some may not like that, and they can just make a new character, but I think it is great. Say you have a friend who just joined the game but you are too high a level, simply swap to a new class, start at level 1, and play the game with them. No need to log out and log back on as someone different.
Things That Were No Fun
For all the fun I had in the game, Square Enix really needs to fix their log in system. It’s fine once it gets going, but the instructions on how to start the beta and get the right software and where to register what is pretty crappy. Specifically, there is a system in place to help aid with people hacking in to your account that uses a short term password. Everywhere your log in, whether it’s in the game or to your online account, there is a space to put in a temporary password that you can make using a phone app. That’s all well and good, but to make one of these passwords, you have to login in and register your copy of FFXIV first. But you can’t log in without a temporary password. Or so I thought. You can actually just log in with your username and password and skip the temporary password altogether. And maybe I missed in the instructions where it said that, but there definitely some frustrating moments at start that could be easily ironed out with a bit more explanation.
Furthermore, and I know this is a Japanese originating title, but can we give our female characters nice armor? I am blue blooded American male who is certainly fond of attractive women, but no one is fighting monsters in a bikini. No one is doing it. Just stop making armor that is visually non-existant that I have to use because the stats are better than anything else. It just looks silly. Luckily, most of the stuff is pretty cool looking, but some of it is definitely just there to please people who want to see half naked cat women.
But Hey, It Was A Good Time
I really enjoyed my time with A Realm Reborn. I haven’t been on the MMO scene in a long time, so maybe that’s why it all felt good. Couple surprisingly comfortable controller controls, good gameplay, and a really nice aesthetic, though, and you have what is shaping up to be a pretty solid game. As I understand it, the open beta is set to go live in just a couple of weeks. I’d say give it a shot.