Last week's Choose My Adventure polls on Final Fantasy XIV were very close. With a few more votes in one direction instead of another, we'd be playing a Roegadyn arcanist or a Lalafell thaumaturge. Unfortunately for people who hate human-animal hybrids, voters selected a Miqo'te pugilist by the hair on a cat's tail (Is this a saying? It should be a saying). Consider our character's cat ears the Massively version of growing a Movember moustache.
With our hero forged and her job chosen, it's time to start adventuring.
Welcome to Eorzea, please hold
While I am generally wary of making broad statements, I am willing to wager that no one has ever criticized Final Fantasy XIV for starting too quickly. The opening cinematic is gorgeous, long, and unintelligible -- a contractual requirement for all Final Fantasy games. There is a massive battle, and then there's a dragon, and then there's fire. The impression the whole production gives me is that the world was barely saved or maybe time-warped or split-dimensioned into a different world? I am sure to uncover more about the story as I progress through my character arc.
Final Fantasy XIV has a wonderful character creator. It took me at least half an hour to choose all of the bits and bobs of our crowdsourced Miqo'te female. Hair highlights, facial scars, height, tail type, eye shape, and yes, bust size are all on deck. Choosing a voice is easily the best part; I'm pretty sure my downstairs neighbors evacuated their porch picnic thanks to my scrolling through all the shouts and yells in the voice picker. There were some options I didn't understand, such as my birthday and my patron deity, but I'm 100% certain those decisions won't come back to bite me later on in the game. Right?
The opening experience from installation to character creation is polished and enjoyable. And then, for some reason, Final Fantasy XIV makes us sit through a long, boring carriage ride where a random NPC asks us questions and tells us about the world. I'm not sure why game developers still think players want to spend their first 15 minutes of a game not playing it, but here's Square-Enix again repeating the mistake. This is, of course, a nitpick. Maybe some FFXIV players absolutely loved the carriage ride and I'm just an impatient jerk.
Things pick up after reaching the starter city (Ul'dah, for pugilists). I checked in with the adventurer's guild to ensure I didn't accrue any fines for illegal adventuring or having fun without a quest tracker on my screen. I stopped by the pugilist's guild to meet its stripper-seducing sensei. And then I leaped out into the world, ready to punch all the things.
Quests on quests on quests
Final Fantasy XIV's early game is what I would consider quest-centric. New quests pop up everywhere you go. A surprising number of these initial quests involve nothing more than finding a particular NPC and talking to him or her to learn some basic thing about the game or the world; it's clear that Square-Enix is hoping players will feel comfortable in their surroundings and invested in the characters around them. The front-loaded design can create a sense of information overload. Within the first few levels, you are introduced to questing, your class story, emotes, fast-traveling, shops, combat, the hunting log, FATE events, and more. The pacing is a problem. You go from pages of cutscene text and game delay directly into having access to a million different things. Then again, at least you're not learning seven new abilities each level (SWTOR, I'm looking at you).
That said, variety abounds in FFXIV's quests. I've killed five things, naturally, but I've also delivered messages, recruited weavers via emote, given cookies to starving kids, and fist-fought a rock. Keeping a quest-based MMO feeling fresh must be an immeasurable challenge, and Square-Enix has done an impressive job of giving the early player plenty to do and making it seem worth doing. It probably doesn't hurt that the game has the Final Fantasy name affixed to it; the hallmark musical cues, character designs, and world elements give everything in FFXIV an increased sense of meaning and importance. Periodically you look around and go, "Oh yeah, Final Fantasy is sweet!"
Worth mentioning is that FFXIV features some of the most beautiful character models I have ever seen in an MMO, with animations to match. I don't know how the team at Square-Enix packed so much personality into the facial expressions and body movements of MMO characters that presumably need to work on a wide range of hardware, but the studio has done an astounding job. My Miqo'te's animations are borderline weird in some places ("pose" especially), but otherwise they're a good mix of funny and cute and supremely well-rendered. Even the running animation is perfect. Well played, Square.
Moving on and moving up
As with most first-week Choose My Adventure updates, we haven't accomplished much beyond making a character and stepping out into the world. Now that the fundamentals are in place, we can start making some more interesting decisions as to what to explore and how to explore it. We'll soon be able to investigate the crafting professions or switch to a new combat job, and our options should only expand as we proceed forward into the game.
First, of course, is the question of how to spend the majority of our time next week:
Since I'm cruising up on level 10, perhaps we should try out a new class? I'm limiting the poll to those available in our current starter city:
Finally, I'd love to know what you folks want to see in a FFXIV stream:
Get your votes in by Friday, November 14th, at 11:59 p.m. EST and keep an eye on the Stream Team schedule for updates on the next big stream. In the meantime, find me on the Jenova realm (Edelit Heller) or shoot me a tweet if you have advice or anything else to share.
Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.