Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Fast Thoughts on Final Fantasy XIV

With New World's recent announcement to delay launch until Sept 28th and my general dislike of Crowfall I've found myself in need of an MMO to hold me over a few weeks.  With the uproar around Blizzard/World of Warcraft and some high profile defections to Final Fantasy XIV (FF14) I figured now is as good as time as any to give the 8+ year old game a go.  I dropped my $20 into Steam to get the starter edition and here are some thoughts after a few hours of play and leveling two starting classes to level ten.

The immediate thing about FF14 is that it takes its time.  It is a Final Fantasy RPG first and an online game second.  Watching some new player videos and reading some guides it is strongly recommended to accept this fact before you start playing; which I am glad I learned about before starting or my expectations would have been off.  The RPG portion is also primarily solo driven thus far and other players are pretty much background noise at this point.

Also slowing down to match the Final Fantasy RPG pace of the game is the combat (at least initially in my experience thus far).  Cool down between skills is longer (I think 2.5 seconds) and classes do not start out with abilities that can be used in-between that global cooldown.  My understanding is later on I will have more "off global cooldown" abilities to mix in.  At first this felt a little boring, but now that I have two classes (Lancer and Archer) up to level ten I sort of dig it.  Coming from New World closed beta and Crowfall where action is fast and furious it is a nice change of pace; ironically also fitting my physical skill level much closer (I'm old and getting older and my reflexes reflect that).

The story in FF14 get's a lot of praise, but I am not sure I buy into it.  I am already just fast clicking past a lot of text boxes as a lot of NPC speech feels like filler.  I've heard it gets better overtime and that players really get engaged with the characters that recur in the story, so we'll see but for right now I am blowing through text boxes and only skimming for the basics.  I do prefer when there is voice acting in the scenes; it is a much better experience, but unfortunately that is few and far between for some reason.

Archer!

As far as graphics and the game world the age of the game is showing in the starter area I am in (New Grandia?).  This does not detract from the experience; character models are great and there is an impressive array of variety to clothing, armor, weapons, and mounts.  However, the rest of the world is bland and mostly unimpressive.  Monsters sit around in tiny groups and often don't really fit with the area.  Buildings are inconsistent, some you can enter and others you cannot.  Interiors are well done for those you can enter.

I have found myself stopping several times to watch another player playing a song, watching an impromptu dance party, or craning my neck skyward after catching sight of an epic flying mount.  One memorable moment was going up a giant log ramp and a motorcycle-looking mount blew past me; engine roaring.  In the grand scheme I do find a charm to the game even with the dated graphics.

Random Flying Unicorn Mount with Flaming Horn

With what I've done thus far and where I am going I do foresee myself continuing to play.  I have not determined a goal yet to shoot for.  I did make a class change to Archer which feels better than the Lancer I was playing previously.  I like that it is easy to switch and I think the main quest line (referred to as MSQ -- main scenario quest) offers enough rewards that I may be able to keep both classes leveled.  After switching it was much quicker to level the second class and so I may dabble into a healer/support role; it seems like I need to always hit three different builds/clases in an MMO to find my home.  Also if I do end up in dungeon/raid content for some reason I don't want to be relegated to just a DPS role (which is Lancer and Archer).

I think FF14 will hold me over for a bit more at this point and I've already gotten my $20 worth out of it.  If time permits I would like to get through the original content and into what is called Heavensward (spelling?) as I hear its even better.  I am glad that I gave it a whirl and enjoy reading and learning more about the game.  If anything it is clear the community and developers of FF14 care deeply about the game which is refreshing.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Thoughts from New World Closed Beta

New World (from Amazon Game Studios) held a closed beta over the last two weeks and I had the opportunity to play a few hours over two weeks.  And by few I mean 50+ hours!  I have not enjoyed a game this much in years and I am here to tell you all about it so sit back and relax; it's a New World!

Visually Stunning!  Sounds Great!

The most immediate thing about New World is how amazing it looks.  I have a mix of screenshots scattered in this post (along with a few on my last post) and they barely do it justice.  Everything  looks amazing from the moment you set foot in the world.  Take a journey up to any of the mountain tops and the vistas are breathtaking.  Sit back in popular PvP areas and watch the fireworks as players battle each other; ranged PvP combat is especially fun to watch.  Walk into a settlement and marvel at the detail of the buildings (crafting workstations especially).  Combat effects, player movement, armor, weapons, and so much more are top notch.

Windsward settlement (aka town) buzzing with activity

The next immediate thing is the audio.  I play a lot of games and New World easily has the best sound I've ever heard.  In the initial rush of beta with tons of players chopping down trees, breaking up rocks, and shooting turkeys the world crackles to life.  As you move into caves the sound changes enhancing the feeling of being in an enclosed area. On numerous occasions I was able to find other players mining nodes or firing off muskets just by following the sounds.  Walking into a settlement has not only the visual pop but the audio pop of being on a bustling city street.  There is also proximity voice chat which can be shocking when someone drops that first fart.mp3 but otherwise is refreshing to not need to jump on a discord to talk to the person next to you in game.  One of my favorite beta videos is someone who hosted an impromptu guitar and song session in a local tavern; only possible because of proximity voice chat!

Proud home owner once again!

Fun Combat and New Content

Combat changed from the preview event and in my opinion it changed for the better.  Stagger is gone so you no longer get "stun locked" and fights don't revolve around who gets the first stagger hit in.  There is some debate about whether stagger could have been preserved, but I am personally glad it is gone.  New weapons were added; specifically I tried out the spear, rapier, and ice gauntlet.  All three felt good and brought new play styles; ice gauntlet bringing some more "magic" to the game.  I mostly played rapier/musket and spear/musket before I changed to great axe/lifestaff towards the end of beta.

With trying out life staff I got my first try at playing a healer in New World.  It is a very unique experience compared to tab-targeted MMO healing and ironically it brings some tab-targeting into New World's action combat.  There is a slew of unique control settings specific to healing; one of which is to enable tab targeting your own group members.  I didn't quite figure out the tab targeting but didn't really need to as area of effect healing was sufficient and I was not healing for any dungeon runs.  Healing felt a little too strong as a solo player; if you max your constitution and use life staff you are basically invincible inside your healing circles.

Dungeons (known as Expeditions) were not in the preview event and were brand new to the closed beta.  I only completed Armine Expedition (several times) and it was a straight forward beat em up; as long as you have a healer you completed it.  Rewards were mediocre; just random gear I ended up salvaging (which is what I do with the majority of gear rewards).  There is a repeatable quest each time you run Armine; the first time rewarding a unique dog pet for putting in your house and then giving a bucket load of experience for each completion.  It is good to see new content in New World, but work is still needed to make the expeditions more engaging and difficult.  Hopefully the higher level expeditions offer more challenge.

Hanging out at camp

Crafting and the economy

Crafting is in a good spot mechanically and seemed about the same as the preview event (i.e. I couldn't tell anything much changed).  There is a ton to craft and that lets you make use of all of the stuff you are collecting throughout your journey.  There is crafting quests as part of the town project boards (that help level up the settlements) which were great crafting experience and great leveling experience.  The only areas I am concerned about crafting are:

  1.  Gear drops like candy from quests and killing monsters (the good ole' kill a wolf and get a battle axe) and also there is great gear available from the faction vendors so there is not a market for crafted gear.
  2. Gear never breaks and leaves the game so once folks have their end game gear I am not sure where demand will come from for crafted gear.
  3. Everyone can do every craft so you can be self sufficient for consumable goods and components.  There will always be lazy buyers who don't want to do it themselves, but there is no way for a crafter to really make their mark.

If there is one thing Crowfall did well it was making a dependent crafting system where players had to work together to produce end goods and thus crafters fit into their expertise areas.  Crowfall also ensured that items leave the economy by permanently breaking at some point and thus drive demand for new crafted goods.  New World has to drive more in that direction or crafting won't be its own area for folks to focus on which will be a miss for this game.

Decorating the house

The economy (or market) of the game was hard to judge in closed beta, but that was expected since progress wasn't permanent.  Early on, it was easy to sell off some stuff like weapons as players looked to play with the new toys that came with closed beta, but that market closed up quick once folks realized everything drops weapons/gear and you will have more than your fair share of it before long.  Having played on a few different servers in different starting areas there is differences on what materials are readily abundant in each area of the map so that felt good that you different regions will hopefully have different prices for goods.

With that mention of regional differences one thing that definitely changed since preview is the ease of acquiring Azoth which is a limited currency (you can only store up to 1,000 at any given time).  It is primarily used for "fast travel" across the world and to aid in crafting.  In preview it was very rare so fast travel was not a regular option; moving goods from region to region required huffing it out on foot (there are no mounts).  You had to be a dedicated market mover to take advantage of price fluctuations per region.  With Azoth being more plentiful fast travel is on the menu.  The more inventory you have the more costly it is to travel so there is some checks in place on mass movement of stuff.  You can also move items between storage in each area for a small amount of gold per item (prohibitive on large quantities; useful for single items). With these changes it is now more realistic to play the game as an economy player (my favorite niche).

Player vs Player

Next up to hit is PvP.  Not much changed from the preview event that was readily accessible.  PvP comes in three forms; open world flagged PvP, wars, and instanced battleground.  The instanced battleground was only available to level 60 players which I did not reach in beta.  Wars are for control of territory in the game and there is an influence system that elects one company (aka guild) to set an army of 50 players for that war.  Wars happen at pre-determined times and unfortunately I was not selected for any wars during the beta.  

I did have my PvP flag on for the majority of of my time in beta.  There is an experience boost of 5% for being flagged and you can complete PvP-only quests for your faction.  The faction PvP missions were changed to be the same every time so you are always going to the same area doing the same things.  These missions contribute to territory control and being in the same area for everyone it can be hit or miss as far as action goes.  Sometimes its a ghost town and sometimes there is a faction furiously preventing anyone from completing missions (aka a gank squad).  Outside of faction missions I had a ton of random PvP encounters; I won some and I lost some.  While there is item damage on death the repair costs are reasonable at lower levels (but I hear they get significant at higher levels) I found that getting killed in the open world meant one of two things: a quick trip back to town that I needed to make anyways or a respawn at my campsite which I religiously reset nearby to any area I was questing in.  PvP kills give a good chunk of level and weapon experience so it was satisfying to get a kill; though I will admit I did more of the giving of experience than gaining when it came to player kills...

Weapons, Armor, and Experience

And with that mention of level and weapon experience it is important to cover how New World works in regards to character definition and progression.  There are no classes or races selected at the start of the game.  There is only humans and your skills are determined by the weapons you have equipped.  Then each weapon has a skill tree that you unlock over time as you level the weapon up (through using it).  You also gain traditional levels through gaining experience and pretty much everything gives experience so its not just grinding monsters.  This set up allows flexibility to switch between set ups; just as I noted previously how I tried multiple different weapon set ups before finishing up on a healer-like build.  

Mr Bad Ass

Armor determines weight class; the lighter the weight the more you can dodge: heavy armor can barely dodge while light armor gets a diving roll dodge.  I think heavier armor also plays into stability of some sort but not entirely clear.  I am not sure if I'm a huge fan of how the armor system works. Later in the beta it started becoming apparent the good PvP approach was to increase constitution which increases health while keeping light armor to keep the advantageous dodge roll.  That dodge ability is significantly better than any armor in my experience (similar to how Guild Wars 2's dodge mechanic was better than any armor or healing).  I am worried we will end up like Guild Wars 2 where everyone goes for the same armor types/stats and the rest of the armor is relegated to trash status.  New World needs to make each armor class more distinct and make some sort of change to constitution so it does not overpower other aspects such as armor.

Gathering

Before we finish up this post I do want to touch on gathering in New World as it occupied a large amount of my time.  As New World started its development as a survival game the world was positioned in a manner where everything is collectible.  That bush over there?  Can be harvested.  That tree?  Can be chopped down.  That boulder?  Can be mined.  That stone?  Can be picked up.  That dead animal?  Can be skinned and chopped up for dinner.  Pretty much anything in the environment that catches a player's eye can be collected and the more visually distinct the better it is (and the higher level skill required to get it).  What this amounts to is leading the player to almost always having something to do; so many times while going from quest A to quest B I made a dozen stops to gather something.  

Taking care of the infamous dead trees from beta; if its in the world it likely can be chopped up!

My only gripe with gathering is that nodes are static in the world; always in the same place.  I can understand this for the basics like trees and boulders, but for the more nuanced items such as rare trees, metal veins, etc it loses some of the appeal to exploration players who like to explore every nook and crannie.  What feels special the first time you find a hidden node feels a lot less special once you realize it always re-spawns there.  This means high end gathering nodes will be on lock down by players walking a circuit between known node locations.  New World needs to randomize gathering node locations in some fashion; this change would make a huge difference for explorers! 

Chopping down the big tree

Conclusion

Over all New World has made great use of the time since it delayed its launch and delivered a better game.  The transition from strict survival game to more traditional theme-park MMO has created a unique experience that is unmatched in the market.  One of my complaints with the preview event was a lack of variety in content and the team behind New World delivered a bucket load of variety.  Is it going to match the 15+ years of content of a game like WoW?  No.  Is there still repetitiveness in quests? Yes.  However, what the New World team has shown is they can deliver new variety if given the time.  They added expeditions, new zones, and added enough variety to quests to prove it.  New World is on the right path and again it's unique history puts it in a position that is not available in any other game.  New World gives the player the best of both survival and theme-park worlds and that is exactly what has me pumped to no-life the heck out of it on launch in September!

 

 My crowning achievement of beta; getting my house up to the top points spot so it displayed to the public in Windsward!

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