Access:FFXIV A Realm Reborn Beta

Wint shares his experiences with the ARR beta!

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Less than a week ago I got a fantastic email from the Square Enix media team informing me that the embargo for the closed beta test would be lifting today, and that not only could I write about phase 1 of the beta for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn but that I could cover things also happening in phase 2!  I’m very excited to share with you what I’ve experienced so far!

I’ve taken a poll on the ZAM forums and I’m going to attempt to answer your questions while providing my account of how the beta is going so far as fairly as possible.  For those readers currently participating in the beta please be aware that this lifting of the embargo is for media only, and that you are still under NDA regarding your own experiences.

Discuss in the Zam Forums!

Character Creation, Races, and Classes

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The character creator is a good place to start, since that is where most will begin with ARR unless they are planning to use their own character for the launch, even then, they may be tempted to tweak with settings since you are allowed one re-make of your character when ARR launches later this summer.  The options presented for tweaking are staggering.  You can change hair color, highlights, facial features, birthmarks, tattoos, all of the normal MMO fare.

Rather than having sliders, Square Enix has decided to give you a vast number of choices to customize your character. For example, hair color is one of 24+ shades, and the highlights increase the individuality as well.  Eye color is the same.  Facial features have several pages of options as do hair styles including facial hair.  My lalafell looks pretty darn cool if I do say so myself.

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One thing you might be wondering is whether Manthras (male miqot’es) are dominating the population in the beta.  I can happily report that there seems to be a healthy distribution of races and genders on my server.  I didn’t create a female character (I had a male taru taru in FFXI and I feel a certain loyalty to my online persona), but there was never a moment when I saw another female Lalafell and felt that it was a gross or inappropriate use of the game engine’s assets. The team has done a good job of making the characters look distinct without allow immersion to be broken.

Another interesting point about the race you choose: according to the beta manual, the starting stats for STR, DEX, VIT, INT, MND, and PIE are affected by your race and clan.  Gender has no effect.  Since I never made anything other than a Dunesfolk lalafell I can’t confirm what differences those might be, but for those who were hoping for at least a token nod to FFXI‘s races can rest assured that there will be minor differences between the race you choose and the starting stat boost you are given.

The starting attributes are actually a bit different than those mentioned above. The changes that have been made made to how stats work are beneficial to players, there is a definite meaning attached to each stat and their effects are that may have been lacking in FFXI.

  • STR – Increases melee attack power and percentage of damage mitigated from block and parry.
  • DEX – Increases ranged attack power and the chance of blocking or parrying an attack.
  • VIT – Increases max HP.
  • INT – Increases magic attack potency for Thaumaturge (Thaumaturge was not available for beta phases 1 or 2.)
  • MND – Increases m.attack and healing magic potency for Conjurer.
  • PIE – Increases max MP

There are other stats that are increased using armor and weapons that I will cover more when I talk about equipment later.

Along with attributes are abilities for each class that you can earn both from leveling and from completing class quests.  My highest class in the beta right now is a 32 Conjurer.  Most of my abilities I’ve gained from leveling, the notable exceptions being an ability called Fluid Aura (featuring Knock Back and bind) and Cure II (obviously a more potent cure spell), which are from the level 15 and 25 class specific quests.  While those abilities aren’t required for progressing, they do make life easier.  Class quests come along every 5 levels, which I assume will also be the same for launch.  The quests can be difficult, but coming at it the right way can make all the difference.  I died several times on the level 15 CON quest before I realized I could heal the NPC’s fighting with me and a 30 minute ordeal turned into a 5 minute win.

For Disciple of Hand and Disciple of Land jobs like Botany or Leatherworker, these are best approached after having made some progress in a combat oriented roll first.  I say this because you can get crystals and synth items while completing levequests and defeating mobs, although there are a healthy number of crystals gathered while harvesting from trees as a Botanist.  If you run out of items to synth however there are NPCs that sell what you need.  Crystals must be farmed though, so Botanist is a nice complement to Leatherworker.  The other DoL and DoH jobs were unavailable during the beta so far, although I believe they will be available during phase 3 which I am particularly excited for since I love fishing in XI (and in 1.0) and I am very excited to see where they have taken it.  Crafting and harvesting are much more engaging in ARR.  At no point was a bored with crafting and harvesting is a fantastic job because you gain abilities to avoid aggro and explore much more effectively than you can with one of the melee or magic classes.

Combat in A Realm Reborn

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Combat in ARR becomes progressively more fun as you level up.  Disciple of War jobs get skills while Disciple of Magic jobs get spells, I’ll refer to them as abilities.  You get a new ability every couple of levels as well as extra abilities for completing your class quests along the way.  Abilities can use either TP or MP, or both in some cases.  As you progress higher, skills can be chained together to become more effective for the DoW jobs.  DoM jobs can get a chance to crit a spell for extra effect, like a critical Esuna will hit all party members and not just the spell target.  TP and MP regenerate automatically over time, no resting or healing required.

During normal Guildleves, resource management with regard to TP and MP, is not really required.  Where it becomes more interesting is when doing instanced dungeons or longer lasting Full Active Time Events, or FATEs.  I noticed that I really had to manage my MP well when tanking as a Gladiator during Tam Tara Deepcroft runs, because a lot of the abilities the GLA has to manage also use MP.  There is nothing worse than having a few mobs turn on your healer and you can’t bring them back to you because you don’t have any MP for Flash.

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Leveling, FATEs, Quests, Guildleves, the Hunt Log, and more

For the first 15 levels or so, leveling can be done primarly solo, although there are real benefits to finding groups, even if it’s just a couple of people.  Your first job will be the easiest, as the quest content takes you on a natural progression through the zones of the city and surrounding areas.  FATEs become available as low as level 3 that I saw, and you can start doing Guildleves at level 10 on your first job.  There are actually level 5 Guildleves which are helpful for leveling alternate jobs since those are only available once you’ve unlocked Guildleves at level 10.

At the start, quests do lead you around by the hand for a bit, but the progression seems very natural and it’s a great way to pick up those first 5 levels while getting to know your surroundings.  Once you get out of the main city they become a bit fewer and further between but I managed to make it to level 10 or so without having to do anything other than quest content.  There are the standard “go kill these monsters” quests, but there are also other types of quests.

Some involve taking some items from the NPC and using them on various points in the surrounding area, which usually results in battles.  There are also gathering quests.  Others include waiting for some brigand or bandit who needs to be brought to justice.  It may sound like standard MMO fare, but I never got tired of doing them.

While running around doing quests or Guildleves, you may come across the occasional FATE.  These events allow you to join in some missions without any grouping at all and participate for experience points as well as currency for the Grand Company you work for, once you join up.

FATEs can vary greatly.  Some of the ones I experienced were massive battles between invading beastmen, driving hoards of Opo-opos from a village called Hrystmill, bringing down a gigantic golem, hunting rogue bandits through the forest, and gathering items spilled from a merchants cart and returning them to him while fighting mobs trying to stop you.  The amount of XP and other rewards granted for completing these FATEs are not trivial either, and are a great way of leveling up if any of the other activies don’t sound good (or if you have used up all your Guildleve allowances).

Guildleves represent structured quests with several different types to choose from.  There are those where you are required to defeat monsters, collect items, escort NPCs to safety, and more.  While doing Guildleves, NM’s can appear that you can defeat for more XP and gil.  They are usually quite challenging, requiring extra effort to defeat.

While Guildleves can be completed solo, I found that grouping with a couple of friends made the effort to get XP faster, as well as more fun and rewarding.  While in a group of 3, we started noticing that not only were we getting more XP because we could set the Guildleve’s level to much higher than we could attempt it solo, but with 3 people we started to notice treasure chests appearing out in the field that gave very good loot, armor and other equipment on par with what you get in the instanced dungeons.

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The Hunt Log is a fantastic new addition to ARR.  For each job, you have tiers of hunts that have you going out and finding mobs that you may not otherwise encounter during your questing.  Once you kill the appropriate number of mobs, you receive an XP bonus.  Once you complete the entire tier, you get a huge XP bonus and unlock the next tier of mobs.  They are grouped by tens, so the first tier feature mobs that are between level 1 and 10, the next tier mobs from 11 to 20, etc.  These mobs can also be quest mobs, so you can kill two colibri with one stonega, so to speak.

Experience points can be boosted in several ways as well.  Once you finish the first set of main storyline quests, you get access to the Inn in your city.  If you log out while in the Inn you accrue a resting bonus to your experience the next time you log in.  Resting bonus can also be found by hanging out in a sanctuary, which are the camps that have Aetheryte crystals.  Another way to boost your XP is via food.  Almost all food gives some kind of bonus, from 3% up, among other effects.

Instanced Dungeons

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There are three instanced dungeons availble to players of the beta test.  Tam Tara Deepcroft is for level 15+, The Thousand Maws of Toto-Rak for level 25+, and Haukke Manor for 30+.  All of these are a lot of fun to do.  They require a party of 4 to enter, and since there are limited numbers of jobs available to the beta testers, most of these runs really do require a healer, a tank and two damage dealers (either Lancer or Archer).  The lower level dungeon Tam Tara Deepcroft can probably be mostly completed with 3 DDs and a healer, but the boss fight at the end would probably be tricky.

Instanced dugeons are like mazes that you have to fight your way through to get to the boss at the end.  They require you find key items to unlock the lower levels, with the exception to that rule being Tam Tara Deepcroft.

Starting with Toto-Rak, you have to be careful of your surroundings since there are exploding pods and ooze that slows your movement down.  The boss battle for Toto-Rak is tough and fun, you have to move around a lot and be aware of where you are standing (so as not to be hit with the -80hp per tic poison) and paying attention to the boss so when he alters his stance you can get the kill quicker than wearing him down.  I’m trying not to give too many spoilers!

Equipment

Most of the NPC gear is good enough for daily use, but the armor and weapons you can get from dungeons is amazingly good.  I acquired a wand in Toto-Rak that turned my cure spell from restoring 200hp to well over 300hp with crit heals going over 400hp.  The armor is also helpful in other ways.  For example, you can reduce the recast time on your global cool down with armor (Spell Speed and Skill Speed).  You can prevent your spell casting from being interrupted as much with armor that buffs your Determination skill.  Traditional buffs to Vitality, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Mind, and Piety are also present on this advanced equipment, but in higher strength than easier to obtain armor.

My experience with equipment choices mostly involved the Conjurer.  When soloing, I found that a staff (two handed) was better because it has better stats for magical attack.  When doing instanced dungeons or things that require more healing than nuking, I found that using a wand and a shield was more appropriate.  Gladiator has access to both swords and daggers. As far as I know, Lancer and Archer only have access to spears and bows, respectively.

Once you unlock a second job after hitting level 10 on your first, you get access to gear sets.  Gear sets allow you to store armor/weapon configurations for your character and switching between them is as simple as picking the gear set from the list and clicking equip.  One issue that has been reported so far is that to set up a gear set, you drag items from your inventory over to the set, which makes that item unavailable for use by any other gear set.  This functionality will be undergoing overhaul between phase 2 and 3, so I expect that issue will be resolved by then.  It’s a very handy feature, not only are your weapons and armor not cluttering up your inventory, but changing jobs is as simple as selecting the appropriate gear set.

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Monsters

Monsters are varied and interesting in ARR.  While I didn’t come across any colibri, there are plenty of other cool monsters to smash out there.  Goblins appear starting around level 10 near Hawthorne Hut and later on by Quarrymill when you are level 20+.  Beastmen include the Ixali, which kind of remind me of Yagudo without feathers.  Mobs don’t just include animal types either.  Around Quarrymill and Buscarron’s Druthers there exist Elezen and Miqo’te bandits that definitely make life interesting for the wandering adventurer!  While there are no open world NM’s, the diversity of the creatures dotting the landscape, along with the hunt log, make exploring every nook and cranny of ARR fun and worthwhile.

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The World of ARR

Eorzea has changed quite a bit from 1.0, and overwhelmingly for the better.  The beta testers for phase 1 and 2 get to play in Gridania and surrounding areas.  Instead of having seamless transitions between areas, there are now zones.  One nice feature about the UI is that while zoning you can still chat and see your friend’s responses, so changing areas doesn’t disrupt communication at all.  The load times for the zones are very fast as well, it becomes less and less noticable the more you play.  Zone sizes seem large to me, with plenty of unique features terrain wise to make the zones so much more interesting.

Gridania has undergone some changes as well.  Some of the zones of Gridania look similar to how they did in 1.0 but with enough changes to somehow improve them.  Another nice feature about Gridania is the Aetheryte network.  There is a big Aetheryte crystal that you can teleport to in the main plaza, and sprinkled around Gridania are smaller crystals that once you attune to them, you can teleport from one to another for free making traveling around the city easy and painless.

Travel in ARR is vastly improved.  Teleportation no longer requires anima and instead uses gil.  You still need to travel by foot to the Aethrytes to attune to them once however.  Chocobo porters also help you travel between smaller sanctuaries that may not have an Atheryte to attune to.  Again you need to first visit the sanctuary on foot once but after that travel is as simple as speaking to the NPC and selecting the place you wish to go.  It’s usually quite a bit cheaper than teleportation as well.

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Unlocking your personal chocobo is where the beta has really shined for me.  Once you hit level 20 you can join the Grand Company and spam a few FATEs to earn enough company seals to buy your chocobo whistle.  This changed the game for me.

It is so much fun to hop on your bird and run across the world, exploring new areas.  As soon as a FATE pops up on the map you can get there quickly and you can usually outrun aggressive mobs as well.  At one point, I was exploring and came across some level 45 knights west of Hrystmill and they managed to hit me hard enough to knock me off my bird and then beat me senseless!

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Controls

Controls in ARR have been updated as well.  For a keyboard and mouse user, the game’s controls are more in line with what standard PC games use.  There is an option to set the control scheme back to how it was in 1.0, if that is what you prefer.  The gamepad controls work much the way Yoshi-P demonstrated in the video he released for the media event.  For casual play, like a pick up group for an instanced dungeon where you don’t necessarily need to type as much, the game pad is a joy to use.  When using the game pad, the only issue I found is it’s not immediately apparent what to press to get to the window you want to interact with.  Once I figured out that the select button would allow me to target any of the various windows, and using LB and RB lets you navigate those windows, it became easier to use.  I still found myself using the mouse for some things, simply because it was easier (like dragging abilities to the hotbar) but the gamepad support is a solid choice.  I’m actually torn on which format I will use more once the game launches.

Performance

Performance-wise ARR blows 1.0 out of the water.  There is a vast array of settings you can change to get the performance right where you want it.  These settings are almost identical to the ones in the benchmark actually.  My wife’s computer is not quite as powerful as mine yet runs the game well enough that to the layman they appear to look the same.  One thing that blew me away was how many characters can be displayed without slowing the game to a crawl.  The Aetheryte plaza in Gridania is a pretty busy place, but not only do I see everyone there but I can run through the zone without it looking like a slide show.  The new engine is very impressive.

Everything I’ve seen in the ARR beta phase 1 and 2 leaves me very optimistic for ARR’s chances once the game launches.  Not only has Square Enix vastly improved upon 1.0, but the developers are actively engaging with the beta testers on the forums when they provide feedback.  You get this sense that Yoshi-P and company are listening to feedback with an open mind, and tweaking things accordingly.  The testers for the most part are providing tons of input and doing a great job at kicking the tires of ARR.

Be sure to visit us regularly at ZAM as we will be bringing you all of the Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn news as it happens.

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