Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FFXIV Launch Review

So, launch. Let me begin by saying an MMO having a flawless launch is pretty rare. The closest I've ever experienced was the launch of Age of Conan, a game that was somehow better out of the gate than it was several months down the line. The worst launch experience I've suffered through was the launch of World of Warcraft, where the game was by and large unplayable (a fact many people seem to have forgotten). By comparison the launch of FFXIV 2.0 falls somewhere in between.

In my beta review I mentioned how ambitious I thought having such a short stress test was and how brave it was to do so so very close to retail launch. Everyone I know tried to convince me I was just being a Negative Nancy, perhaps bias from my previous experience with the earlier incarnation of the game. I stuck to my guns though and, shocker here, was right. People forget I've had a lot of experience here. I'm a Stress Test guru of sorts. I can read that shit like a psychic reads palms.

Let me preface with, I know the below sounds really bad, but the fact that despite all of that I'm still playing every day says a lot. The game itself is enjoyable. So what has the launch experience been like?

During Early Access many servers hit cap right away. By 10:00AM the next morning, many servers were locked to character creation meaning no new characters could be rolled there. So if you didn't pop on right at 2:00AM, you probably didn't make it on in time to create a character on the same server as your friends. Even if you did, most servers are full at all times of the day.

This, originally, was alright because you could just get into queue and eventually get in game. To throttle, they removed the queue on day one in a vain effort to get people to just reroll on other servers. Thing is, people roll on a server for a reason: to play with their friends. Convincing large groups of people to up and leave isn't an effective means by which to solve the congestion problem because it's just not going to happen. Especially not when their friends are likely already well established on the server due to there being no character wipe after open beta.

This means that early access was basically useless for a lot of people because they couldn't create a character and/or log in. To have any chance at all you had to sit and spam the log in process repeatedly, sometimes for hours, to get in. The sad part about this is that it's kind of an easy fix. As of now there's still no log out feature implemented for idle players online. This means that once you're online, you can go afk perpetually and remain in game unless your computer crashes or servers go down, meanwhile people who would actually be playing, can't.

That's kind of a huge oversight.

By official launch the problem was only worse. On launch day every single North American server was closed to new character creation. So you essentially went out, waded through a crowd, spent money, and couldn't even play the game. Square has been ineffective about communicating its intentions to fix the problem, creating a lot of understandable frustration. In short, my prediction during beta came to fruition.

I'm not wholly certain how they so woefully underestimated the amount of interest in the game. It's almost as if they didn't even bothering looking at the presale orders before setting the original server caps because, let's face it, the issue of over population became apparent during the first 24 hours of early access. Throwing retail buyers on top of that mess was obviously only going to exacerbate the issue.

In summary, if you are on your way to the store to pick it up... give it a week or two. Trust me, your experience overall will be much more enjoyable. Don't worry about falling behind, you'd do so anyway unable to create a character or login. Waiting will spare you the frustration.

Other than the congestion problems the launch has been a success though. I've yet to encounter any glitches, bugs, or game-breaking exploits that ruin my good time and if you do manage to get on, the game runs smoothly and there's very little (if any) lag.

Monday, August 19, 2013

FFXIV, Again

Disclaimer: Please pardon any jumping around that may take place with topics as there is a tiny human who insists I get up and sing the ABC song every five minutes.

After playing the atrocity to gaming that was FFXIV during it's initial open beta (launch build) back in 2010, I have to admit that I was looking forward to this do-over about as much as one looks forward to going to the dentist. Let me begin by saying, this is in fact like an entirely different game. Sure it's still the same setting (in fact the other launch is even written into the plot) with the same locations and races, but everything about it is better. Which isn't difficult because I'm fairly sure my infant son could've designed a better game than what this one had been back in 2010.

Character customization is much the same, which isn't a bad thing as character customization was basically the only working feature from the first launch. Though they have updated the controls during, which makes the process much smoother. For instance you no longer HAVE to use J, K, L, and I to move the camera during this process. You can just swivel views with your mouse.

They have expanded upon your options here a bit. For example, before there were gender restrictions on two of the races, those have been removed. You can now be a giant chick (Roegaydn) and a cat boy (Miqo'te). Granted I'm still not a fan that cat people exist at all. Your feature selections are all still presets with no sliders or color wheels, but you can manage to look fairly unique if you spend enough time on it. It's more in depth than WoW, but not as in depth as some other MMO's presently available.

Again there are two clans available to each race that further define you as a pixelated being, but again they don't seem to particularly matter a whole lot. Neither do your birthday or patron deity as far as I could tell.

Your class dictates your starting city and the beginning of your storyline and you cannot leave until you've progressed far enough in your quest, so if you want to play with your pals right off, plan for that. Don't worry too much about your initial class choice either, as you can change it at any point in time except inside of dungeons and during combat. Eventually you can master them all if you're so inclined.

The guy narrating the opening cinematic sounds a little like the guy from True Facts About... which is pretty distracting and made it hard for me to take seriously. But Square has never been known for their strong voice acting when it comes to their English cast, so, this shouldn't be new to anyone who has ever played a modern FF game. The mini cut scene next is fairly uninspiring and if you're starting in Limsa expect the little plot that introduces you to things to feel forced and more than a little awkward. Having played the other cities as well I can say they flow more naturally. Maybe this is something they'll work on before launch day. It's basically just an introduction to the game and the world anyway. The story doesn't really pick up until about level ten or so and from there it seems alright.

Graphically the game is on par with most of the others presently available, but musically it's fantastic. Which, being a Square game, shouldn't be surprising either. I was more surprised when I played the original game and the soundtrack was bland enough to be classified elevator music. Movement is typical of an MMO, though you also have the option of using a gamepad rather than mouse and keyboard.

The chat interface is fairly intuitive and you can expand your chat box to encompass your entire screen if you so choose, which may seem excessive, but for roleplayers or people trying to get a clear screenshot of a conversation, this is fabulous. You are limited to four chat tabs total though, which is a little weird. The HUD itself is clean and polished and you can customize it in a number of ways. Among the quick buttons like character sheet, armor chest, inventory, and system is even an emote list that brings up all of the animated emote list.

The emote list is fairly expansive and every one of them is thoughtfully animated. Speaking of emotes, there are also custom emotes also, so you can roleplay to your heart's content if that's your thing. Just keep in mind the command to do so is /em not /e, not /me, etc., etc., otherwise you'll stand around motioning towards yourself like a tool rather than actually emoting. Oh, and when you have entered text into the chat buffer, your character's mouth moves as if they are talking. That's pretty cool. More cool? Jewelry shows up on your character model when you equip it.

You can also sleep in beds, and sit on anything nearby with an appropriate sitting animation! So if you are standing beside a chair and type /sit you will sit in it. If you're standing beside a bed and type /sit, you'll sit on it. If you're standing out in the open and type /sit, you'll sit on the floor.,. And all three animations vary.

The game now makes use of hardware mouse! Not software mouse like it used to, for some insane fucking reason. This alone is cause for some serious celebration. Here's a drink to you, hardware mouse. Taken for granted until you're gone.

Quests will be very familiar to you if you've ever played an MMO before. Collection quests, kill quests, and random world events (likened to GW2) they call Fates. Quests are not voice acted but scroll out into chat bubbles via text. This gives the game a very RPG feel, which seems suiting of a Final Fantasy game. I like it. Having to sit through hearing Kate Mulgrew be my Trooper Mommy all the way through SWTOR got old after the first "Hey it's Captain Janeway!" moment. The NPCs however can be overly verbose, so figuring out what you're being told to actually do feels a lot like trying to solve a math word problem. This encourages you to just spam click through the dialogue to accept the quest and then just follow your quest tracker. Ignoring any story completely.

It doesn't help that many NPCs speak with a bad Cockney accent ('ey 'dere 'ow yous doin' lass? I be nee'n ya ta go'in get me summa 'dem whatev'as! -- FFS) meaning you may spend several seconds per sentence trying to sound that shit out to figure out what's even being said... and there's paragraph upon paragraph of it when all they want you to do is go get a carrot. Dear Square, not every quest needs an epic dialogue. If the farmer just needs some carrots he can just ask me to get some carrots. He does not need to tell me the life story of how he became a farmer, how he planted his crops, what his favorite colors are, and that he has a wife and nineteen children who all love carrots so so much. That's all entirely unnecessary to my gaming experience.

Once in a while would be funny. All the time is just a little obnoxious.

There is rested experience, so you should log out in appropriate cities or inns to maximize your exp gain when you log back in. There is no trash loot, which is amazing all on its own. When you realize you never have to buy a bag upgrade, it's even better. You start the game with all your bags and they're roomy and spacious and you can hold lots and lots of goodies. Your armor goes into it's own separate inventory so the fact that you need several sets of it to change job classes at a whim doesn't at all impede your ability to be a hoarder. There is also an onscreen display do that you know when your bags are getting full without having to open them all and dig around.

There are armor dyes that allow you to customize your look further once in game. You can buy them from a vendor and change colors as much as you like. Sadly not all of a piece of armor reflects your dye choice though. So sometimes it's not as useful as you'd like it to be. Even so, it's better than no armor dyes. In this day and age of gaming there's really no excuse for that except developer laziness, if you ask me.

Guild features are fully implemented and extensive.

Class roles exist and are fun to play. I disliked that class roles were done away with essentially in GW2. I prefer knowing who will be doing what when we enter a dungeon based on what their class is, honestly. Dungeons are straight forward, which is a great thing, in my opinion. I am so tired of dungeon content trying to be new and innovative. Don't mess with a good thing, man. New and innovative typically just comes off as absurd and convoluted.

Where it's like, "Okay, tank this while standing on one foot, reciting the alphabet backwards, and hopping. Oh, and keep all the adds on you by doing cartwheels counter-clockwise. Don't forget that you need to shout 'Bananas!' every 31.2 seconds or you'll lose threat." W-T-F. That's how I felt by the second WOW expansion.

This is better. It's tried and true. It's classic. If you're the tank, you tank. If you're the healer, you heal. If you're dps, you dps. As it damn well should be.

When loot drops, you can roll need on it if it's for your class. If it's not you can only roll greed. No longer will your leather hat be stolen by the mage who wants to sell it on the auction house.

Unfortunately holding a open beta stress test that lasts only a single weekend , ten days before launch seemed a little over-ambitious to me. This was only reinforced when I logged in on the very first day of open beta and the server all of my friends were on was already full. To prevent over-crowding Square restricted access to the server, meaning no new character could be created there. This meant I could not play with my friends. There were fifteen North America servers and of them only one was available to create new characters on. And that server had a queue. I created there just to test the game out to write this review, hoping that the server I wanted to be on would reopen to new characters at some point, but Sqaure never increased the server cap. So I spent the entirety of the weekend playing by myself, when I was able to play.

Error 3102. Around ten PM on Saturday night my game crashed. When I tried to log back in I received an error stating that I could not log in because my character was already logged in and to try again in a few minutes after the game had finished logging my character out. Okay, I thought and did just that. Only five minutes later? Same error. Ten minutes later? Same error. Several hours later? Same error. Even after Square took the servers down, same problem. Actually the problem got worse. Before it only seemed to affect those who had crashed, after the server down it was effecting over half of the beta testers on North American servers. So now not only could I not play with my friends, I couldn't play at all.

Japanese servers were fine though, so you could at least hop over there to play in the meanwhile. Granted uselessly. Open Beta characters won't be wiped come launch. So it would have been ideal to roll your character on your future home server. Those of us who couldn't now have leveled characters on useless servers. So when the game launches, if you plan to play it in retail, all of your friends are going to be levels ahead of you. If you have early access you'll be spending it playing catch-up. If you don't and they do, you're going to fall further behind. This isn't a deal breaker, it's just a little disheartening.

At around seven PM on Sunday error 3102 struck Japanese servers too. They managed to finally fix the problem at around eight or nine, but it persisted  on NA servers until past midnight. Over twenty-four hours of being unable to access my character. By then I had to go to sleep though, so when they extended beta from two am until eight am it wasn't much compensation.

There is a misconception that FFXIV will be free to play. It isn't. From what I was told, if you actually bought the previous FFXIV, as an official apology from Square, you can play totally free up until September 9, 2013 and transfer over your old character to a Legacy server with a few special rewards. Everyone else has to pay to play.

Overall? I enjoyed the game. I'm still personally undecided about whether or not I'll play it. If it were free to play I'd definitely invest. As it's still following the monthly subscription model though (get with the times, Square!), and with my limited time I'm just not sure it's worth fifteen dollars a month to play only two hours a day.

Do I think the game will be ready for launch in less than a week? Probably not, no. However with this whole experience from last launch to this open beta I feel Square will continue to improve the game even post launch, for free. PVP won't be in for launch, nor dueling, and several other things, but they have been promised to come soon, so. We'll see. It has potential to be a great game.