So I'm starting with the obvious. I'm going to talk about aspects of the first two beta phases in as much detail as I can realistically fit into a column starting with one of those obvious cornerstones of video games: combat. This isn't meant to be about impressions so much as dissecting and analyzing what I've played to this point, what is working, and what isn't. If you want to know my more in-depth impressions of killing things in Final Fantasy XIV's early test version, read on.
General combat impressions
These early beta phases are not indicative of the game's entire combat setup. Marauder, Pugilist, Thaumaturge, and Arcanist are all unavailable due to the way the Armoury System works, which means that it's hard to get a clear grasp on how all of the classes will interact in the end. But even here there are some obvious differences, starting with the fact that some standby abilities just don't matter any more.
Case in point: Cure. Cure has gone from being madly useful for every class to being borderline useless on most classes. I even went for broke on Lancer and pumped up my Mind only to find that it still healed for paltry amounts, meaning that I would need to look in other directions to avoid my health being whittled down in larger fights. This may have been neutered to make potions a more attractive consumable option.
This is not exactly a bad thing. It's frustrating in places, but it does mean that certain abilities are no longer automatic additions to your skill bar. For the record, while Cure is pretty useless, Protect remains an excellent option.
Actual combat is mostly a matter of managing your cooldowns, resources, and combo attacks. At lower levels in solo combat, this is fairly brainless; since TP starts full and refreshes quickly, the first several levels require you mostly to just hammer out your weapon skills as quickly as possible. Once you get into the mid-teens, however, you have more activated abilities to manage to momentarily boost attack power or add an effect or whatever, and you probably have your first combo attack to spice things up.
The further along you get, the more it becomes clear that your TP is not nearly as unlimited as it looks. It does regenerate fairly quickly even in combat, but as you get out your higher-level abilities, you can also burn through it very quickly. Tanking in particular often forced me to be careful about which skills I used and when because I just didn't have enough TP or MP to blast out with guns blazing at all times.
Having a global cooldown set for 2.5s seems a bit slow at first, but in practice it allows just enough time between abilities that your individual choices are a bit more significant. It doesn't really have an impact on battle pacing overall; a normal fight was over about as quickly as a fight with a single enemy in World of Warcraft, for example. At higher levels, combat felt methodical but not slow -- cripple the first target instead of using high-damage abilities to reduce incoming damage, set up a combo, then buff my attack power and finish that combo on the second target. It was strategic rather than frantic, if you will.
Class by class
Gladiator: The class I played most in the original version of Final Fantasy XIV and also my preferred class in the beta phases, the Gladiator has taken its nature as a tank and run with it. The net result is a class that feels more cohesive but still has a few options for dealing damage, mostly for porting over to other classes or using while solo. It's also got both a healing buff and the ability to use Cure with some utility, making it resilient even while solo.
Lancer: Of all the classes in 1.0, Lancer seemed to have the most issue with its overall identity; despite its unique Surge mechanics, it struggled to make a niche for itself. Here, as one of the two pure DPS classes, it's taking the role of heavy burst damage to heart, inheriting traits from Final Fantasy XI's Dragoon. It also lacks much in the way of defenses, having grown a little more fragile than before even with a more reliable self-heal option. But at least you don't have to worry about your wyvern dying.
Archer: At low levels, Archer is simply unbelievable. Ranged attacks, plenty of TP, and the ability to chain out weapon skills means you kill things very quickly. At higher levels, the class seems to be more about being the utility sort of DPS class, something that matches the fact that its associated Job is Bard. The change from "crazy fast killing" to "buff, debuff, and harm" is going to throw some people off, but the actual mechanics are still fun, and they give Archers a unique niche compared to Lancers.
Conjurers: Clearly slotted into the healing role now, Conjurers do get a self-buff that allows them to increase magic damage and decrease healing done when they're out and leveling solo. That having been said, most of the class's really neat abilities now are focused toward heals and buffs, getting most of the usual White Mage tools along with the lesser-used elemental magics. Those who have played similar classes will feel right at home.
The biggest weakness of FFXIV's combat in the beta is that it doesn't come out of the gate at its full strength. You have to level and explore the game for a while before you can really start to feel what the designers were going for. This isn't to say that the system is bad, but it means that your first impressions might not line up with what you'll actually be playing.
Once you get past that hump, though, the combat system is a joy to play. It feels very similar to games like World of Warcraft without quite falling into the trap of being identical. Some people will call it a thinly veiled clone, but some people will call Defiance a thinly veiled clone of WoW, so that isn't entirely indicative. It takes pages from WoW's playbook while remaining distinct.
And it's fun. The combat system had to try to retain the baroque sensibilities of its predecessor while being faster and more strategic, and it managed those changes quite well. Not perfectly, but the design document was pulling in a few dozen directions.
Feedback is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. As a reminder, while Square-Enix is allowing media outlets to discuss the beta phases, the general NDA remains in effect, so please do not break the NDA in the comments. Next week, I want to talk about questing, levequesting, and fatequesting... er, FATEs.
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