Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Mouse In The Room : FFXIV

For those sufficiently committed or profligate to have paid in advance, Guild Wars 2 Headstart begins on the 25th of August. The cagier pre-orderers roll in two days later on the 27th and the doors fly open for all-comers on the 28th. Presumably that'll be people who had to work all weekend and obsessive box-collectors with a pathological distrust of postmen. Exactly one month later the March of the Pandas begins.

Anyone interested-enough in MMOs to be reading this knows all that already, but as I can affirm from personal experience, there are people playing major Western MMOs day in, day out who have never heard of GW2 and who neither know nor care whether World of Warcraft is adding pandas, pangolins or pachyderms this autumn. If even great cultural events such as these fail to strike a gong that 's heard across the land, imagine the size of the gong-bonger Naoki Yoshida has to swing to get anyone to pay attention to his re-launch of Final Fantasy XIV.

Yes, FFXIV is re-launching. Remember how it went the first time? After a lengthy closed beta in which all but the most blinkered loyalists pointed out, repeatedly, that launching such a quarter-finished shambles would be a disaster, FFXIV launched unchanged in September 2010. Disastrously.


There followed a prolonged period where the game was available to play for free since it was clear no-one would pay for it. Mr. Yoshida was drafted in to put the game through the many months of development the previous management had somehow forgotten and eventually the shaky ship was righted sufficiently that the ticket office could be opened and subscriptions sold.

Oh yes, let's not forget. FFXIV, like FFXI, is a subscription-based MMO. In all the lengthy debates on the relative merits of payment models, few remember to cite the example of these two games. FFXI has been running for more than ten years not just under a subscription model but under a relatively expensive and awkward one at that. FFXIV, once it was finally passed fit, went for a similar option. The former has prospered, it seems. The latter?

Good question. What with Funcom's gloom over their 72/100 Metacritic score, you'd imagine FFXIV, whose current Metacritic rating stands at 49/100 even after all the repair-work, would be lucky to have any servers running at all. It has eighteen! (And FFXI has 16 in case you were wondering, which is damned impressive for a decade-old MMO).

If that's what a disastrous MMO looks like I imagine there are a few "successful" ones around that wouldn't mind a little disaster coming their way. Square Enix, the most enigmatic of all MMO Houses, must think they can do better, though because very soon (no official date yet, supposed to be going into beta in the autumn, might go live this year or early 2013...) FFXIV will get a reboot.

What changes? Don't ask me. I haven't really been paying attention. Has anyone? I know that Eorzea becomes worldier, which is good. I believe all zones are getting a graphical revamp to emphasize individuality, which they sorely need. The original FFXIV looked magnificent in screenshots and, like FFXI, the outdoorsy "feel" in game was unparalleled but the landscape was tessellated from a disturbingly small set of tiles, something that became obvious very quickly when you set out to travel more than a few hundred yards in any direction.

Not that you could travel a few hundred yards in any direction because you can't jump in Eorzea. A six-inch drop means a half-mile detour to find some flat ground you can cross. They've been debating adding the ability to jump since beta and for all I know it might already be in. It's definitely been promised for the relaunch if not before.

The UI, which was diabolical beyond imagining, has already been rendered tolerable but 2.0 should feature a "normal" Western PC MMO front end, with hot-keys and moveable, resizeable windows. (Almost unbelievably FFXI is getting something similar). Then there have already been many tweaks to things like the insane Guild Leve quest system and the really certifiably, insane market system. Presumably more will come in the new version of the game.

That's about as much as I know because as I said I really haven't been following it as closely as I might have, but the gist is that the second coming of FFXIV will see it refitted in a format that Western PC MMO gamers will find comfortable and familiar. And still no-one's interested, or so you'd think from the complete lack of commentary.

I like FFXIV. No, I wanted to like it but the UI, the marketplace, the generic landscape, the attritional combat, the bugginess...  I'll try again when version 2.0 comes around. Kudos to Square for sticking at it, sucking it up and carrying on. I just hope 2.0 turns out to be something close to the game I wanted it to be two years ago.




2 comments:

  1. I tried this about a year ago, and indeed it was a particularly sadistic game to play. I had a sense that there was a kernel of real promise there. Something very different and time-consuming but with promise.

    I sort of hope the relaunch is a big success just because the industry needs games that aren't the same old, same old.

    Personally I don't think I can ever play a game without jump ever again though. Not because I want to bunny jump around constantly whenever not in motion; but because the whole "half-mile detour" thing is such a horrendous design issue. It's probably my number 1 bugbear from Guild Wars 1.

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  2. What got me was the crafting. It took an ungodly number of hours of failure to obtain the plethora of resource needed to make something. You then had to fail repeatedly at the 'manage this fistful of timed expanding and contracting bars' minigame before actually producing anything of worth.

    The problem is that while grind may actually be a feature in the east, Western audiences are known to be vehemently intolerant of it in their MMOs recently. I do hope they've remastered the game, and wish them the best.

    But unless there's something original in there, it sounds like they've simply tried to meet the rising standard of MMO average, and have only barely caught up to it at best.

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