On Wednesday last week, I got on an airplane to head across the United States, starting a long and grueling trip. I spent half of Wednesday in the air, half of Thursday either on a train or in a car, and more or less all of Friday in the air once again returning home. All of this for about two hours of playing Final Fantasy XIV and a couple of interviews, in case you missed everything going live on Thursday.
Would I do it again? In an instant.
There’s no way that I can repeat the amount of information that was in the roundup in a single column, so I’m not going to try. What I am going to do is talk about some of the other assorted bits and pieces of my Final Fantasy XIV experience and the surrounding events because it was truly something to see. I’ve been fairly skeptical up until this point, but I’ll say that after sitting down and playing the beta version for a little while, I’m now a believer.
A lot of this comes down to little things. Yes, it looks as if bonus points are still in the game exactly as they were before, and that should upset me… but it doesn’t, largely because they actually seem to be a bonus now. The verdict is still out on how easy they are to reallocate, but if you can actually use them to tweak your stats and build your character toward a distinct sort of playtstyle rather than auto-spending them in the most immediately relevant stats, that makes things much better. I actually never spent my points in my high-level playthrough, and I didn’t run into issues of survivability or damage.
Furthermore, there’s the fact (touched upon in my hands-on preview) that the game might have a traditional quest model, but in no way does it follow the tried-and-true hub model. Quests are scattered hither and yon along a variety of paths, and it’s very easy to miss them rather than simply starting here and going on to there. The game is large and diverse enough for you to find things as you level a new class you never noticed before.
And then there’s Naoki Yoshida.
Seeing the man in person made it even more clear why, exactly, he’s managed to capture the hearts of Final Fantasy XIV players. There’s an energy about him, a definite sense of purpose and direction that at the same time can be tempered by outside forces. Yoshida knows what he wants to do, but he also is flexible enough to take outside input into account. He’s like the ultimate developer.
There’s also the fact that the entirety of the venue was decorated to remind everyone about FFXIV. National banners hung from the ceilings, walls were covered in Gridania-appropriate art, and concept art decorated the windows. There were even plenty of fake trees, which sounds like overkill but wound up giving an air of warmth and closeness to the goings-on.
On a personal level, this was a watermark trip for me for a couple of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that it’s the furthest I’ve ever been. Going from one coast of the country to the other is sort of by definition the farthest you can go, yes, but I’d gone all of my life without going further from my home than Chicago. But I absolutely needed to be at this event.
Normally this sort of trip just isn’t in our budget (and we don’t accept travel stipends from studios), but even Joystiq knew this was a big deal worth splurging budget on. There’s nobody on the staff who knows FFXIV as well as I do, and this is the real start of the media push for this game. That wow factor I’ve been talking about for the past several months? This is where it needed to start.
So how did it go? Pretty well, I’d say. The game is open without being empty and directed without being on rails. It offers guidance but does not push; it offers options without bewilderment. There are some factors that I think need further examination — housing sounds unnecessarily restrictive at this time — but that’s the point of testing, and it seems as if we’ll be getting a better game as a result of the tests.
Obviously, I can’t talk about the test in depth, and neither can anyone else who would like to continue to test the game. But I think other Legacy members will be pleasantly surprised, and I think new players coming in will find more than they bargained for.
Can the game sustain a subscription model in a world of free-to-play? Before I would have said no. Now, I’m going out on a limb and saying… possibly. It’s really something else, after all.
Oh, and because everyone’s already sharing this? At maximum resolution and graphical settings, I scored 8673 on the benchmark. Slightly tweaking down the shadows and having long-distance objects at lower detail kicked my score up to 9609, and the shadows were only really notable when looking at the Aetheryte from above. So the game is just plain going to look better more consistently.