Final Fantasy XIV Online Reader Review
If you follow MMO's then this latest attempt by Square Enix to conquer the market could hardly have passed you by.
FF9 failed, its UI was unusable to a PC user, gold trading was rampant before SE finally caught on and started to crack down and the grind was legendary. But it held on, partly from fans of FF in general and partly because it was refreshingly different from everything else out there. And it had cat-girls.
So, how does the "sequel" hold up. Not good. Its UI is still a nightmare to a PC user, although it has improved. The grind is still legendary, although it has improved. The hit to your PC is however far far harder and the lag will drive you insane.
I have long believed that a MMO is closer to an application then a game. In a pure game like quake I don't have to do much but run around, shoot things and... that is it. In a MMO I got to manage my inventory, chat with people, read maps, plan raids, decide on content, hold auctions. It is closer to using Outlook/Gmail then Tetris. Therefor it continues to amaze me that most MMO's gives us only the most basic tools. No threaded email, no archive. Auction's that have learned nothing from e-bay. Social media that make the earliest unix version of wall seem advanced.
In FFXIV you can only have ONE "dialog set" open at the time. So you are either looking at your inventory OR your characters OR your journal. No multiple windows open. Possibly because this would be hard to do on a controller. But I am NOT using a controller. I am on a PC, I am a PC user used to dealing with multiple windows.
But you do use windows, so for a controller user, things are akward.
This UI isn't going to please anybody. Unwieldy for both. SE has improved on the previous version, it is now barely usable, but someone REALLY needs to give SE access to a PC and ANY MMO so they can see how stuff works.
Ah, we have moved on since the earliest days haven't we... or have we? FFXIV starts off (no idea how it is later in the game) differently. You obtain quests from a quest giver who is not marked in any special way. Then you have to find a glowing rock, start a SINGLE quest from it, then follow the arrow to a mob, that might or might not spawn anytime soon (the game is lagged to hell and back), kill it with your SINGLE combat skill, get a completly random outcome (killed same enemies with just 50 hitpoints removed and gotten killed minutes after the fight by lagged damage) until you done what you are supposed to do with in half an hour, use a glowing thing to port back rince and repeat.
It seems as if SE hates their own servers. The constant tracking back and forth for each single quests means that this "central hub" becomes over crowded. At busy times it takes minutes for everything to load and the glowing crystal is NOT part of the scenery, so it won't show up. It gets better at odd times but come on. DESIGN 101, do NOT make everyone in your game HAVE to be in the same spot. Almost every other MMO has people spread out from the quest hub so they are gone for an hour or two. Not jump back every 5 minutes.
The quest themselves are the typical kill X of Y. This ain't the Shire.
If you want to know if FFXIV should be counted among the western MMO's or the Korean, then you only need to look at your skills. 1. ONE. That is it. ONE combat skill. Sure, you get more later on, but it kinda removed any notion of tactics or skill for the first hours of gameplay.
In Lotro and WoW, you get a feel for the most basic elements of your chosen class pretty early on. Use a pet, rely on damage mitigation, ranged vs melee, self healing. You KNOW from the start wether you are a tank or a healer or a debuffer.
Not so in FFXIV. You hit things... OVER and OVER again.
And this would be alright, if it wasn't for the lag. EVERYTHING is lagged. Easily a second or more even at quiet times. At busy times, think minutes. Just try sitting down. If in a remote area and in the late late hours, it takes about a second to react. At busy times, you can get a cup of coffee. I did and then as I sat down, so did my character finally.
In combat, this is a killer. Not of your character but of any sense of fun. Combat is already boring as hell with one skill, but when that skill feels uncontrollable, when you push 1 and NOTHING happens... just what the hell is going on? This ain't complex stuff. Are their servers totally overloaded? This would be understandable from a company that is either new to MMO's (SE isn't) or low on cash (SE just launched a succesfull single player game)
It suggest to me that the code itself is not ready. The delays even at off times are just so long that something must be going on and NO it ain't on my side because other MMO's work fine.
Splendid... up to a point. The NEAR area looks great. The characters, stunning. The general architecture... oh dear. This is a korean game after all. How does it show? Cities that are FAR to large! It is a general MMO failing (large cities with lots of people just increase load, so why do them) but FF adds another layer. The cities contain just far to much open space. And generally don't feel like a city but as some designers idea of what a city that nobody actually has to live in should feel like.
But the characters and their clothes are probably the best I have seen in a MMO so far.
Pity it all seems to bring even high end PC's to their knees. Future proof or sloppy coding? I got an SSD and plenty of memory, so why do level loads take so long? It is not like the SSD is even being stressed. Get the feeling some PS3 designer forgot to take account of machines with more then 512mb and faster HD's.
Oh dear, what is SE thinking. 9.99 for the base game. WITH ZERO CHARACTERS. That's right. The BASE pay isn't actually enough to PLAY the game. You HAVE to pay a MONTHLY fee for each character you want to play...
So, while the BASE fee might seem cheaper then others, if you have multiple chars, say 3, you end up paying 18,99. MORE then any other MMO.
The auction house is a simple tool, it allows you to sell your items without undue load on the server, without being logged in and anyone can find everything on offer without searching for it...
So what does SE do? Copy the lazy Korean method of having personal sellers that have to be parked in the real world often in high traffic locations...
I am really going to have to be racist on this, but just what is it in the asian mind that makes this seem like a good idea? You put a burden on the buyer who has to find the seller, compare by hand every sellers overing. You put a burden on the seller who has to find a peak location AND you put a burden on your server by putting all the sellers and their detailed characters in high traffic areas and not being able to off load the auction database to a seperate instance with its own hardware.
This game is a MMO but tries to do a lot of things differently. It is the only MMO for the consoles with the consoles being the lead in design but launching first on the PC. It is asian made for a western audience. So you kill with quests but the quests have a "oh well, we had to add some but didn't want to" feel to it.
Frankly, I think with close to two decades of MMO's now, companies should have learned what does and what doesn't work. I am no longer willing to make excuses because MMO's are new or very hard to do or because people are still trying to find out just what works and what doesn't.
I want my MMO to be like the latest shooter from ID, perfected.
And FFXIV is NOT perfected. It is NOT the results of twenty years of experience. It is NOT the MMO that FF9 should have been.
If you absolutely need catgirls in your MMO or are a die-hard FF fan, then maybe you can accept all FFXIV's short comings. But if you have become used to WoW/Lotro/Eve/EQ then stay well clear. This is like asking someone used to Outlook to use mail (the mail command on unix) fpr their office work. Mail IS usuable, but why would you when there are far better alternatives?
I recommend avoiding FFXIV if you can't afford to just buy the box for a laugh because:
A: The lag makes it unplayable B: The interface will drive a PC user to tears C: Your PC can't handle it D: It is the most expensive mainstream MMO out. E: It just ain't ready at the moment.