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[Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher for the contents of this article]
Well that was quick. After shortly starting Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and giving impressions that found itself on the wrong side of community amicability, it was time to head back to Eorzea and find out what the game was like up to level 10.
Now I imagine anyone reading up this far is either 1.) seriously interested in the game and wondering what the early-game mechanics and experiences are like or 2.) a fanboy looking to see if this impressions article lives up to the expectations they've already set for the game. For the latter, I will simply say that you may as well stop reading here because it's not all lollipops and daffodils from here on out. For the former, you may want to stick around.
Now here's the thing: If you're an experienced MMO game player and you head into Final Fantasy, you're probably not going to be interested in any of the early game mechanics at all, because there's nothing there to be interested in. If you're a complete newbie to MMOs or only have experience with World of Warcraft, you'll find that the early game of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will fulfill your WoW-clone needs with some nice little Final Fantasy reskin pastiche.
For me, I was not impressed with anything I've played of A Realm Reborn. I still stick to my belief that the scope and atmosphere of the game are grand (though, sadly, not grander than Mortal Online) but at least the game feels large and that's very important for an MMO.
Now for those of you expecting anything to really change from start up to level 10 regarding the questing, you might want to lower your expectations. Through level 10 you'll still be doing the same newbie fetch quests with some instances and “Fate” encounters tossed in, just with more armor options, more weapon options and the ability to rent chocobos.
So what are these “Fate” encounters? Well, they're basically mini-events that take place on the field, where a bunch of players pile up on each other and beat on a bunch of stuff to get rewards. Think of it as a poor-man's Arc Fall from Defiance or a far less sophisticated rift opening in Rift: Planes of Telera. However, this is still early game, so maybe the whole Fate mini-events will pick it up later on... for now they're just an easy way to rough it up with a bunch of NPCs and get a ton of experience and money without doing a lot of work. You can see some of the action of the mini-event below.
Unfortunately, Fate's aren't quite as engaging as they could be due to the combat system. Why? Because it's still the WoW-style clickety-click fest where you have to tab through targets instead of using a non-targeting system. This means that it's hard to sometimes track what you're hitting during this events where there are a lot of enemies on the screen and you can only attack what you're actually targeting. There's no way for this to change in the game given that it uses a target-based combat mechanic.
I was hoping that the game's combat – by level 10 at least – would show signs of differentiation from the thousands of other WoW clones out there but alas, it has not happened. Some people have said “Wait until you get to level 20” but I imagine that may turn into “Wait until you get to level 30” and so on and so forth.
The main problem is that combat isn't very skill based. I was at least expecting something along the lines of Red Cliff Online, where even though the game was still target-based, you had to use parry and blocking techniques effectively for higher-level enemies. Strategy and timing were key, even at low levels.
Heck, even Age of Wushu managed to completely turn the WoW-style combat system on its head by having a Rock, Paper, Scissors style setup between the different styles of wuxia and their attacks. Even though the game didn't have levels, within the first few hours of Age of Wushu they let you know (and sort of showed you) how the combat could scale to be very, very, very technical. The kind of technical combat mechanics in Age of Wushu, Red Cliff or even the fast-switching brawl tactics from a game like Ran Online, are not present in Final Fantasy XIV. Heck, you can see just how the combat works with the quick clip below.
There is, however, one positive caveat to the combat in A Realm Reborn and it's that bad guys at least telegraph their attacks with either a red circle or red cone to indicate where their attack will strike. You can see it in the image below.
Other than little bit above, combat really is completely standard. There's nothing particularly exciting or different about it that you wouldn't find in a thousand other clones out there. Again, this could all change at level 20, but it's looking a little doubtful.
So what about the rest of the game? What about the story and the characters and the player interaction? Well, the story is slowly etching itself into the game through small cinematics and instanced sequences, but there's nothing really there yet to get excited about... again, level 10 here.
There have been some interesting characters introduced in the game, but they don't stay long. Hopefully some of them will come back and join you in questing later? Maybe? Hopefully? Anyway, player interaction is just about nil. Other players are there and that's about as far as it goes with interaction. You don't have to interact and there's no reason to interact.
It seems odd that APB: Reloaded and Age of Wushu do a better job of fulfilling the roles of an MMO more than this premium MMO does. In fact, Age of Wushu actually gives you cultivation points (used to enhance and grow your character) just by interacting with other players; making friends with them, making enemies out of them, robbing them, stalking them or working with them. Within the first two hours of play, Age of Wushu requires players to make some attempt at social connection since, after all, it is an MMO.
I imagine later in the game Final Fantasy XIV will enforce partying up for raids, I spotted a few “LFG” in the chat window so that time will come... that time will come.
For now, I'm still trying to find the strong redeeming factors to this game that clearly separates it from the rest of the MMO herd. If you've never played an MMO before than A Realm Reborn is a fantastic place to start (assuming you're down with the subscription fees). If you're a veteran of the MMO space there are a handful of free-to-play MMOs that clearly offer more unique challenges and experiences in the early parts of the game over A Realm Reborn.
Up next... level 20.
You can learn more about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by visiting the Official Website.