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FFXIV has come a long way since it's original release. A game that was once so marred and tarnished that the developing company went so far as to issue a public apology to everyone who purchased the game, it has since been re-built into a potential AAA contender title. Led by the now famous Yoshi, a charismatic up-and-comer in the industry, he has sought to restore the once-sovereign Final Fantasy name.
Admittedly, when I received my beta invite back in Phase 2, I was wary. I didn't want to play this game. I had suffered through the original 1.0 FFXIV, and I had no desire to go back to the worst game ever produced in history. Still, after 2 years of re-development, I wanted to give it a fair try, if for no other reason than because I had been such an FFXI fan for so many years. for the last few months, I have gone through the content of levels 1-30 on nearly every class and craft. I've seen the story line from three different city perspectives, and explored various play styles. I'm writing this because I feel like I've seen enough to comment on what to expect, both as a new player and a veteran, and some possible concerns for the future.
As a new player, the first the you have to come to terms with for FFXIV is that the game is not striving to be ground-breaking. If you've played a few MMORPG's in your time, you've played FFXIV. the game's emphasis is not on the leveling process, but rather, the story-telling and the lore. If you aren't interested in the Final Fantasy Universe, the background, the story, the characters, etc, than you're going to be quite bored. Combat is totally hit or miss; you're either a fan, or you aren't. I personally hate it. But I love the crafting system, and I have to say it feels more polished than any game I've played in the last 3 years. I love the convenience of traveling via teleports, warps, aethernet crystals, chocobos, and airships; there's plenty of ways to save time navigating. A key point that you might not understand is that this game is essentially in tutorial mode until level 15, and doesn't even really start until 20 in my opinion. It can be tough to get that sense of immersion when the training wheels are on for such a prolonged period of time, but if you endure, complexity will start to appear, I assure you. Community will make or break the game for you, as finding a good linkshell fit/free company will help you progress through content and exploration that may be restricted to you as a solo player, and will also reduce your reliance on the duty find. The FATE system is like a better version of Warhammer Online's PQ system, or weaker version of Rift's invasions.
As an MMORPG veteran, you'll appreciate the community of players. FFXIV draws in fans from multiple generations, whether you came in from the Garland Saga, the Cloud/Sephiroth Saga, or the Tidus years. There's tons of FFXI veterans, which I think will add to the longevity of the game, because you're playing with people who are here for the franchise and the long haul, rather than the new flavor of the month MMORPG. The primal battles are really fun and intense, and I only got to see a few of them courtesy of my friend's legacy account. Classes are very specialized, but some of them lack variety when it comes down to playing them early on, such as Thaumaturge. The graphics are good, but not great. The visual effects are top-notch, if not a bit overwhelming. The voice-overs are moderately weak from what was introduced so far, and the cutscenes feel incredibly dated in comparison to other MMORPGs, but they still add a sense of immersion to the game. FFXIV isn't the best MMORPG you'll ever play, nor the most innovative, but it's a solid game that deserves recognition for it's evolution from the worst MMORPG ever released to a competitive AAA title.
Going forward from this last phase of beta, I still have many grave concerns for this game. For the most part, mid-late game content hasn't been thoroughly tested yet. While 1-30 is nearly seamless, it's hard to say what 31-50 will be like. While P2 and P3 of beta essentially presented me with 0 bugs, Phase 4 demonstrated that there are significant concerns related to server and data stability. Error #3102 benched nearly 20% of the game's population from being able to play the entire final weekend of beta, and was complimented further by Error #90000 and Error #1017. It's incredibly troubling, to me, that we have such game-breaking bugs still on the horizon a week before launch. More troubling than this was SE's refusal to communicate with their player base for the majority of Sunday. Rather than post an official response, SE took down their forums and their technical support for the majority of the day, and chose to communicate once via their Twitter feed, essentially saying "We are aware of the errors...and we have no idea what caused, why, or how to fix it at this time" This is most certainly not the kind of statement you want to see with less than a week until the game is released. Furthermore, since no hotfix or patch was implemented during beta, you will be playing release with an experimental fix that may or may not fix the data/server problem, as it will not have been adequately tested. It's an important note, because it may persuade or dissuade you from per-ordering/purchasing the game.
In conclusion, I feel that SE has done much to repair their image over the last 2 years. My concern is whether they have done enough. To me, the game feels about 95% ready for release, but would have benefited from more beta testing and stress testing. I think it's a solid game with solid leadership in the form of Yoshi. My biggest concern going forward is that SE has not learned from their past mistakes, and will continue to neglect their customers. Their reputation for poor customer service has preceded them, and they are certainly living up to their reputation. Despite being transparent throughout the development process, the true mettle of Yoshi's character, to me, has been revealed this weekend. It is not fair to take credit and be open with everything while everything is working properly, but then to remain speechless, silent, and invisible when trouble or unexpected setbacks occur. I encourage SE to continue to work on their transparency and feedback to their customers. As many of you may have noted, 2 years of consistent progress can easily be overshadowed by 1 weekend of indifference; there was much outrage over this weekend's problems, and SE needs to work on disarming such public disenchantment with their service.
With that said, I have seen enough good in this game to convince me to pre-order it. I will be playing on the Ultros Server, and have already formed a Linkshell and Free Company on that server. For those of you interested in this game and the long haul, please, feel free to message me for an invite . I hope this helps some of you folks on the fence lean one way or another.
Waiting for something fresh to arrive on the MMO scene...