For all the good things I had to say about Final Fantasy XIV’s beta test, there was one negative thing I didn’t say because it just wasn’t fair: For all the improvements, the game didn’t feel like home.
For all the frustrations I’ve had with Final Fantasy XIV over the years, somehow, at the end of the day, stepping into Eorzea always felt familiar in a way that only Final Fantasy XI could match. But the first two beta phases felt, well, restricted. They were supposed to be like that, but I still found myself straining at the limits simply because there was some indefinable soul not yet in place.
As it turns out, that soul was Thanalan. Phase 3 is importing old characters this weekend, and that will really solidify it, but testing the waters in the first weekend’s test was what made me feel as if I could go home again after all.
From a technical standpoint, the first night of the beta test went wonderfully. I had absolutely no problem logging in right away, getting my character (re)created, and starting up play. Despite being surrounded by people on all sides, I never noticed any slowdown or lag, and there was only one time that I encountered a quest that was actually buggy in some ways. The test was running amazingly smoothly, which is very much to its credit. It was also well-optimized, as even huge gatherings for FATEs didn’t result in notable slowdown or overtax my machine.
I started off with Pugilist because I wanted to see how the class had weathered the changes in the game. The downside is that Pugilist’s tanking proclivities appear to be a thing of the past, presumably to give players a melee DPS option without a lance. That loss comes hand-in-hand with a unique class mechanic that makes the game a lot more fun to play as you’re punching, though.
Pugilists have three separate forms: Opo-Opo Form, Raptor Form, and Coeurl Form. Some of your attack skills require you to be in a certain form, while others simply have an additional effect in a certain form, but each one places you in a new form. The result is that you can string together long sequences of attacks that feel like combos but aren’t strictly limited by only chaining off of certain skills.
It was a different experience, definitely. All of the classes have a much more distinct “voice” now, and Pugilist’s emphasis on martial stances definitely provides that, but I do sort of miss the tanking and MP-heavy nature of the class from the old days. Perhaps that can be folded into Ninjas in the future.
The battle system hasn’t changed up much, but the pacing of battle in the lower levels definitely has improved, giving characters a much wider selection of active skills in the lower levels. It’s still a very skill-heavy setup, with your abilities used frequently and resources being hard to exhaust in quick fights, but having more things to do means that you get a better sense of how your resources do run down. There are at least a couple of main Ul’dah story quests that throw you into long battles without a chance to breathe, forcing you to watch as your TP and MP dwindle and to understand how to manage those pools.
Eventually, I was able to start making my way around the world, and it’s here that the game started to shine even more. Thanalan and La Noscea are both beautiful in their own way, and both are diverse without giving the impression that adjacent zones are disconnected. Traveling to Limsa meant a chance to try out Marauder (which is still a lot of fun) and to look at all of the wonderful coastal scenery.
Adding these regions back made a big difference because it made me feel as if the game world was anchored properly. I’ve played FFXIV long enough that it feels wrong to have one nation without the other two, to be told that I can’t just roam around at my leisure. It made the test environment feel more welcoming and more joyous even if not many of the actual mechanics had changed.
Not to say that this test was all sunshine and light, but most of the non-light moments were personal nitpicks. I’m not fond of the fact that every guild is now actually centered around training your character, for example. Part of what I enjoyed about the guilds in the first version was the sense that these organizations had a purpose in a larger society. That place is diminished somewhat into places of learning with an ancillary function. I’m also both upset and concerned that the Marauders have taken up residence in the Coral Tower because if I don’t get my guns, I will be a very sad man.
I’m also slightly annoyed at the functionality of the Armory Chest. Conceptually, it’s great, storing plenty of gear and ensuring that you can use the same piece on multiple classes if it’s what works best. Functionally, though, it felt as if dragging stuff around was more cumbersome than it needed to be, and the interface was a bit clunky.
So, you know, major issues that means the game will inevitably fail and all that.
This weekend’s test will see the return of old characters, which is very much anticipated. I’m writing this from the past, but you’d better believe I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle.