A few days ago I got the opportunity to run through some of the high level content in Final Fantasy XIV. My experience with the game thus far has been mixed: I love the visual style, I appreciate the level of immersion in the game, but I've had a tough time with the user interface and the learning curve. It's because of these things that I haven't yet committed to a full review of the game. So when I got the chance to preview some of the high end content I jumped at the opportunity, hoping to see what the game feels like once you level up a bit.
During my tour, I got the opportunity to first check out one of the most exciting parts of the game in my opinion -- the crafting system. I know, I know, crafting is exciting? Well for me it is. You see, for years now I've been waiting for a game that was strong enough in its world immersion to allow me to play a non-adventurer. What if you got the chance to log into a game and play a merchant, or a quest giver, or an artisan? This concept has been an almost obsession for me. Very few games have tried it, and there's only one I can think of that actually pulled it off -- Star Wars Galaxies. Therefore, I was keen to see how the crafting classes worked in FFXIV.
When I first played the game, I rolled a crafting class (I believe he was a cook) and was sad to learn that the starting quests still required you to fight monsters. So when the tour started last week, I was pretty happy that the developers first gave me a look at how crafting works, since I was never able to get to it on my own.
Unlike most MMOs, FFXIV has an interactive crafting system, meaning you have a minigame to play, with various actions selected within in it. As you progress through the process of creating your item (they had me making a chestpiece) you have the chance to speed up the process, but can also destroy the durability of the item if you fail. Think of this more like how crafting works in EQ2, and less like the system in WoW. I love the fact that there is more interaction with the tradeskill part of the game. I really felt like I was sewing that chestpiece together myself.
Once I got a chance to check out crafting, it was time to try some high level questing. There is a ton of strategy that goes into how each character works in battle, and the Pugelist is no exception. I first got the chance to learn my punch skills in a special kind of levequest where we had to kill a certain number of monsters, and then the wrangler who was controlling them. As in previous sessions with the game, I found it a bit challenging to figure out how to engage mobs in battle. Finally I figured out that you not only have to bring out your weapons, you have to click on each individual mob in order to start attacking it. Only then can you start selecting from your various abilities.
Most higher end abilities spend TP, and some of your lower end abilities build up the resource so that you then can use the special moves. Once I got this down, the basic system of building up TP and spending it seemed simple enough. Then we moved onto different monsters, to illustrate how some of the Pugelist's special abilities can only be used when the mob is in a certain state. This is where the strategy comes in. To illustrate: Fighting skeletons I was told that when we build up enough threat with the mob they would then start to evade. At that point I could use a special ability in the Pugelist's repetoire to stun them, removing their heads. This was pretty tricky to accomplish, but I managed to get it done a couple of times. Stunned enemies offer special loot, or at least these skeletons did, and it felt powerful to be able to remove their heads from their bodies.
This moderate level of strategy definitely increases the challenge level in battle. I think this is a good thing, although it does require a good deal of research before you head into a fight. You have to know what a monster is vulnerable to, what he's immune to, and what just makes him good and angry. What this means is that this is a very different type of gameplay than many of the MMOs out there. This isn't the MMO that you can just jump into and start playing. This is a plan your next move MMO, a research the heck out of every mob in a dungeon MMO. It was only when I realized this that I started to truly appreciate FFXIV for what it is. It's not that the game was bad, it's that I was playing it wrong.