Last week, Square Enix invited me down to San Francisco to take part in a special event for Final Fantasy XIV. While impressions of the beta are emerging, now that Square Enix has lifted the NDA restrictions, the beta only allows players to explore the small island where one of the three starting cities resides., Limsa Lominsa. The other two cities, Gridania and Ul’dah remain shrouded in mystery, except the small excerpts from the official website. Mr. Tanaka already confirmed with RPGamer earlier this year that these two areas would not be available until retail release next month. Fortunately, this event was a sneak peek into what players should expect.
A lot of talk has been made how these three starting points are simply upgraded version of the original starting cities in Final Fantasy XI. Likings have been made that Limsa Lominsa is a match San d’Oria, Gridania replacing Windurst, and Ul’dah being the new Bastok. I intentionally looked for these similarities during my exploration. Overall, I see exactly where these notions are coming from, but only in the cities themselves. Once out in the open, a fresh experience awaited. Each city has a unique storyline to turn the player into the adventurer the game requires.
The first place visited on the event was Gridania. The scene starts with my character, a Miqo’te, seeing something fall from the sky. As she rushes out to investigate, she comes upon two dazed individuals. Before she can even catch their names, a pack of wolves finds the group and attacks. Since the Miqo’te is the only one with any wits about, she takes on the creatures. The NPCs do very little to assist, but the battle is a staged one and ends quickly. Once complete, the group is quickly assaulted by a treant. With no chance to win this fight, they run off toward Gridania. Mysterious heroes of the forest come and intervene, stopping the treant before escorting the group back to town in a more peaceful manner.
Once in town, oddly enough, the two side characters basically disappear on their own interests, leaving the Miqo’te to explore the new city on her own. A nearby NPC is happy to take her directly to the Adventurer’s Guild. Another small instance, this time where the main objective is to talk to the named NPC, but others around give flavor to the city and a little backstory as well. Talking to the named NPC moves the story along. Like the scenario in Limsa Lominsa, the NPC gives the Miqo’te a linkpearl, a device where they can communicate over long distances, and a quest to finds the closest camp outside the city. Finally, he ends the discussion with promises of more information to follow if the girl can follow this simple task.
Gridania is embedded deep within a forested area. Different areas of the city are spread out with long, lush green passages of natural beauty, much like Windurst had. Still, it’s a lot smaller overall and doesn’t take nearly ten minutes to cross like Windurst. Once outside the city, there is no stark transition like the previous title. The areas outside are still forest, with a serene feel to this tranquil area. The requested camp isn’t far off and there’s nothing aggressive to stop our Miqo’te from reaching her destination.
Unlike the other two cities, the story here begins already in the city. Our adventurer has a vision, much like the other two, but it’s just a quick vision. There’s no remaining demise or destruction. The city of Ul’dah is comprised of heat and stone. An oasis in a desert, Ul’dah is build to last the test of time and windstorms. Today, a carnival is beginning, first with a parade. Some mischief seems to be afoot as NPCs look like they are planning something, but before anything can come of this, a large beast, a goobbue, breaks free of its magical shackles and starts destroying everything in sight. Our adventurer is in the fray in a moment, making sure to save everyone. The same type of instance, except one giant monster instead of three small ones, but the foe falls easily just as before. The scene continues before the adventurer is left to find her own way, again the NPCs seem to vanish without a care.
Unlike Gridania, the city is nearly as compact as it can be. Except for the large sweeping halls between buildings, there’s building upon building to wander into. For those looking for a quick get in, get out experience, Ul’dah would seem to be the city of choice. Again, an NPC guides the adventurer to the guild where she can find the same type of quest as Gridania. Head out to the closest camp and wait for instructions. Outside of Ul’dah, it’s exactly what would be expected, a deep orange and brown landscape of a rocky desert. All foliage is colorful bushes, very few trees to break the otherwise flat horizon.
Gameplay in Final Fantasy XIV is designed to focus around a system called guildleves. By traveling to large crystal structures called Aetherytes, parties or single players can initiate quests here to skip a majority of grinding otherwise required. Once a guildeve is accepted, the minimap lights up leading the group where they need to go to complete the quest. Once the quest objective is completed, the reward is granted immediately before a temporary Aetheryte shard appears to send the group back to the origination point. From here, another quest can be started immediately, allowing for quick progression. The quests don’t seem to have much to do with the story, but more of a focused experience system, rewarding players with experience, money, items, and even regional favor.
There are multiple types of guildleves to cater to Final Fantasy XIV’s diverse discipline system. Like Final Fantasy XI, FFXIV promises that one character can have as many disciplines, or classes, as they like. There are over a dozen classes ready at FFXIV’s launch. Each discipline has to be leveled separately, but there is also a physical level, representing the full experience of the character. In addition, abilities can cross over into other jobs. Lancers gain an ability called Ferocity, which can then be used with other classes, like Pugalist, making them more effective overall. This gives the player a sense of accomplishment and an advantage, even when they have to start off a new discipline at level one.
Final Fantasy XIV is currently in its third beta stage. Like Final Fantasy XI, this is an MMORPG with a recurring monthly fee to play. The collector’s edition will be released on September 22, with the regular retail version coming out over a full week later. Thank you to Square Enix and their PR people for making this event possible.