When the simple act of creating an account for the massively multiplayer online game you just bought is a convoluted mess, you know you're in trouble. It's unfortunate that the first impression you have of Final Fantasy XIV is so indicative of the experience at large. It's hard to miss these gaffes--the bizarre and unfriendly method of getting an account set up, the troublesome patcher, having to exit the game if you want to adjust the graphics settings, and so on. These might have been forgivable flaws had developer Square Enix provided an excellent reason to overcome these obstacles, but in fact, they set the stage for a misguided effort that uses its atrocious interface and tortuous mechanisms to veil its core simplicity and unending repetition. The brighter aspects speak to the MMOG that might have been. A robust graphics engine gives your travels some razzle-dazzle, an open-ended class system offers welcome flexibility, and a focus on storytelling makes the initial hours more bearable than they may have been otherwise. But these minor peaks are outweighed by abyssal valleys of aimlessness and unfriendliness. Final Fantasy XIV isn't fun; it's work.
Get used to fighting dinky creatures, even dozens of hours into your adventure.
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Once you get past the confusing process of opening an account and endure the arduous patching, Final Fantasy XIV puts its best foot forward. Character creation offers a slick look at race and class choices, showing off a number of fantastic character models and dividing them into subcategories. There aren't a staggering number of ways to physically customize your character, but there are enough selections to keep you content, and the races are visually diverse enough to get you excited about exploring a new fantasy world. After you finish making an avatar, you choose one of three starting cities and get treated to an impressive, competently voiced cutscene featuring the game's expressive character models and idyllic music. It's a strong first statement, though it's a fleeting one. Other cutscenes feature more of the same solid voice acting, though most are eerily silent and showcase characters that move their lips but make no sound. Nevertheless, this is a good way to set the stage for what would seem to be a great-looking, narrative-focused online role-playing game.
Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIV dampens the goodwill this opening might inspire from almost the moment you take control of your character. You might wander off after this introductory sequence, only to respawn where you started with a simple message that you left the zone, though the game makes it unclear where you should be going in the first place. "Where should I go?" "What should I do?" These questions will be constantly on your mind in the first hour--and the fifth, and even later--as you struggle to figure out what the game expects of you. Once you finish up your first story quest, you never get an indication of how to further the tale. As it turns out, you can pick up the next main quest from the same non-player character once you reach a certain class rank requirement, but the game never tells you when that is or even whether you should be talking to the same character or not. You can view the quest objective on a map, but this gargantuan eyesore is separate from the main map and labels nothing but the quest goal without giving you a sense of relative location or direction. It's meant to be used in conjunction with your main map, which is an equally monstrous disaster that fails to label any number of important locations, doesn't allow you to zoom out, and requires you to use the keyboard to scroll.
Never pick up a blind hitchhiker.
This is your real welcome to the land of Eorzea. The interface is an abomination; it was clearly designed for a controller and fails to fulfill basic functions. You can't simply press a key to open your inventory--you have to enter your primary menu and select the correct option from there. When you want to equip an item to a particular slot, the game doesn't just list the objects you can choose for that slot but, instead, lists your entire inventory. If you want quicker access to what are standard keystrokes in other games, you must create macros, which are shortcuts that require you to know specific text commands. If you plug in a controller, you might understand the thought process behind this abysmal interface, but even that isn't a simple task; you have to manually configure buttons and thumbsticks in the configuration utility, which exists outside of the game. These and countless other oddities make interacting with Final Fantasy XIV a chore and constantly have you asking, "Why?" "Why aren't there just normal hotkeys?" "Why can't I set a waypoint on the map?" "Why can't I just drag and drop my skills and spells into the quickslots I want them to fill?"
You can add numerous "hows" to the list as well. Once you start earning income, you will seek out new gear and other important items, but finding what you want or need requires you to face an avalanche of design follies that consistently waste your time. A few important NPC vendors are labeled on your map, but the majority, which are located in merchant strips, are not. Once you reach a vendor area, it's difficult to figure out who sells what, given that most stalls have no sign indicating what they offer. Until you remember which vendor meets which needs, you click on them hoping they might have what you want. Similar inconveniences plague player-based transactions. There is currently no auction house. Instead, each player gets use of a single "retainer," which is a character that functions like a storefront. To use one, you must place the retainer in an area called the market ward and equip it with the items you wish to sell. A shopping trip to the market ward is a nightmare that first involves figuring out where it is (because the map doesn't label its location as such); teleporting in; waiting for all the retainers to pop into view after you arrive; and selecting each of them one at a time to see if they might sell something useful.
Skeletons who stare at goats.
Getting to the market ward is a minor hassle compared to navigating Eorzea at large. There are chocobo stables and airship docks, but for now, those sights are a big tease: These methods of transportation are not implemented yet. Instead, you either need to hike to your destination (the long, boring way) or teleport there (the expensive way.) If you walk, you might be inclined to beat up on the occasional monster, but there are noticeable problems when considering an enemy's relative strength. Some monsters may "con" blue, which indicates that they should be pushovers, but they might instead put up a reasonable struggle. Others may "con" red, indicating a tough or impossible fight, but they might go down with relative ease, so it's not always easy to know whether a foe is an even match. The critter variety is disappointing as well. Dozens of hours in, you are still fighting rats and dodos while encountering tiny ladybug-looking insects that are too tough to tackle. If you'd rather avoid combat and the long road home, you can teleport to camps you have already visited, but this costs anima, which is a resource that accumulates at a ridiculously slow pace.
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