The Mog Log: Summing up Final Fantasy XIV beta phase 1 and 2

There are days I do love my job.
Whenever I try to summarize what it is I find so special about Final Fantasy XIV, I find myself at a loss. It's not just the game mechanics, it's not just the setting, and it's not just a history of roleplaying that's stretched for the entirety of the game's history. So trying to summarize the first two beta phases is going to be difficult.

I've hit all of the major points of the beta already, both the points of divergence and the points of similarity from my big tour back in February. But there are little dribs and drabs here and there that I haven't yet touched upon, things that I feel are relevant to the beta test of Final Fantasy XIV even if they don't fit into an individual column.

So this is the conclusion. This time next week, we'll be awash in E3 news, so there's no finer time to wrap up my beta musings than now.

We will stand strong.  We will stand together.The thing that struck me the most all through the beta phases -- and still does right now -- is how the game feels very different while still being a strange animal. I've said before that FFXIV feels like the product of some divergent evolutionary track, and while the relaunch seems designed to compete in the modern world, it's still a very odd game in many ways. But it's also accessible in ways that it never was before.

If you've played an MMO in the past five years, you will be able to get a decent sense of how the game will play. Movement is handled in a familiar fashion, targeting and attacking work in the usual ways, and so forth. The thing is that all of these are just mechanics. They don't change the soul underneath. This is not a game about being forced to start at one point and continue to another; it's a game about heading off on whatever path you want and coming back whenever you're ready. If you want to eschew the main scenario in favor of crafting and gathering, the game gives you the tools to do exactly that and won't bother you to go back. If you want to go back and forth, again, do as thou wilt.

You can say the game has become a more directed experience, which is true, but it's less a matter of holding your hand and more a matter of not leaving you in a cold dark room to figure out what comes next.

The game also still oozes flavor. During the last part of phase 2, I set out to just explore the map, and there was quite a bit to see. Landscapes both engrossing and varied awaited me at every turn, with appropriate music and sounds to give me a feel for the region. Some parts of the Shroud were wrapped in perpetual autumn, giving way to desolation as I moved further along. Others just became more lush and green or tapered down to marshlands as the forest met the water. There was a sense that everything was a real place filled with actual people, not just a collection of NPCs standing about performing unclear functions.

Add to that lively quest text and the same care for aesthetic concerns as the original version and you get the idea. The world feels solid and lived-in, a quality that always made me very happy. You know me and my verisimilitude.

We do not forgive.  We do not forget.  And we do not forfeit.The biggest issue the beta seems to have right now is a bit of thinness to the character customization. You can port over abilities, but the ability list is fairly narrow. I don't like the idea that any two Gladiators in the same equipment will be functionally identical. It does avoid kicking people based upon specialization, but it also removes some of the fun in my eyes. Then again, we're talking the earliest betas here, so more may be on the horizon that I have yet to see.

I've seen people complain that the game is a World of Warcraft clone now. Having played both, I can't really say that's on target. Certainly the game has borrowed elements, but that's just a matter of not reinventing the wheel. The pace of combat, the feel of resource management, the overall structure of the game -- none of these resembles World of Warcraft in anything more than the most cursory sense. I think a lot of this is a knee-jerk reaction to the difference in the early levels, since the original game just sort of flung you into the aforementioned cold dark room. Now you're being pulled along and are actually shown how to do things.

Contrary to popular belief, being told how the game is supposed to work is not actually a bad thing. Especially not here. Before, you could easily pick a class to start without understanding what you were meant to do with that class, and you might wind up starting in the wrong town with a crafter class and wind up stymied right away. Yes, you have to wait a little longer to dive into the meat of the game, but once you get to that meat, it's delicious.

At least from the first two test phases, FFXIV still seems to have that certain je ne sais quoi, even if it no longer comes across as being quite so aimless in the early levels. You have to play a bit to get at the heart of things, but it's time well spent.

Also, I'll admit to recreating my old character in the character creator. I got some feels.

Feel free to send feedback to eliot@massively.com or leave it down in the comments below. Next week, we've got E3 on deck, so I'm certain there will be news to discuss.

From Eorzea to Vana'diel, there is a constant: the moogles. And for analysis and opinions about the online portions of the Final Fantasy series, there is also a constant: The Mog Log. Longtime series fan Eliot Lefebvre serves up a new installment of the log every Saturday, covering almost anything related to Square-Enix's vibrant online worlds.
This article was originally published on Massively.