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It's a Beautiful World Out There
Please keep in mind that this a review for the FFXIV Open Beta (care to join?) only. Gameplay can and probably will change by the time the full release comes out at the end of September. A week of play in the beta has provided an opportunity to form some initial impressions of the game.
There is nowhere an FFXIV beta review could start except the graphics. The system requirements don't seem that hefty, but to do the world and the game itself justice, more than the bare minimum is very much required. The game environments carry the same natural quality that was the hallmark of FFXI, the game's predecessor. There are also fully rendered cut scenes that the player characters appear in, with all their customizable glory. The graphics in all of the screen captures show the game at its lowest graphical settings; on a new, top of the line machine, they're simply breathtaking.
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Class Flexibility and Leveling
FFXIV's main selling point is its extreme flexibility. It's possible for a single character to eventually max out every class – and crafting and gathering are considered to be classes. It's possible to level as any class, though battle and gathering seem to be the easiest. There are levequests for all classes, and all activities – grinding marmots, weaving yarn, chopping wood, etc – contribute experience both toward the current class, and physical level. Stats are linked to the physical level, which means that even going back to level a new class, an “older” character will have something of an advantage – more HP, more MP, more stats. One character can literally do everything, and since class is linked directly to equipment, class changes can happen on the fly.
The biggest personal draw of the game for this reviewer is actually the crafting system. The crafting classes are tightly interlinked – often recipes for one crafting class will require materials made by several others. The recipes are also quite complex, and have a certain amount of realism to them (one example here). Players that enjoy complex in-game crafting will consider this a selling point. Players who just want to burn meat on a fire so that they can get on with their life will likely not.
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Quest for Glory
There are a variety of quests in Eorzea – the easiest ones to begin with are levequests, which can be picked up at a central location. Levequests are conducted one at a time, and come with an option to tune difficulty to match party size (from 1-5). There is a built-in quest helper, which directs the player to the right place on both mini-map and main map, and also monitors goals and the quest's timer on the user interface.
All of these things make questing extremely player friendly, which helps balance out the fact that Eorzea is a dangerous place. Mobs tend to come in linked groups, and it doesn't seem to be unusual to die from being overwhelmed or from being poisoned. Recovery is at least quick; releasing takes the player back to where he or she started the quest, and the debuff from it falls off within minutes.
There are several repeatable levequests; on the down side, all of them are on a 48 hour timer. This is good news for casual players, though possibly less welcome for anyone who wants to grind through levels quickly.
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The FFXIV Beta Review in a Nutshell
It's pretty. It's fun. The questing system is user friendly, the gathering system is composed of mini-games to keep it interesting, and the crafting system is wonderfully complex for those who like that sort of thing. The game is not without its problems – primarily clunky interface issues and frustrating mouse lag for less-than-ideal machines – but those problems will hopefully be fixed over the course of the game's early life. The concepts at the heart of the game seem quite sound and solid, however. For fantasy MMO lovers, particularly those looking for a casual player-friendly game, the general release looks very worth a try.
A sneak peak at the new Final Fantasy XIV beta.