I’ve been playing a variety of games lately, and feel like sharing my opinions with the world, because what’s a blog for, right? Recently making a foray into MMOs, not a genre I generally enjoy, but I figured that since there’s a number of free-to-play offerings out there I might as well give some of them a shot.
Final Fantasy XIV (free “re-beta”):
- It looks like two-thirds of the development budget went into making the menus for this game egregiously shiny. I can appreciate some menu bling on occasion, but…
- This game looks like it can’t decide whether it’s Final Fantasy or an MMO, and kinda fails at both:
– Voice acting in the opening scene! And then never again.
– What appears to be the “main quest” in the area I started in consists of running back and forth across the needlessly-large city map talking to various NPCs. Oh, this next section of the plot is at the archer’s guild, simply because we haven’t made you visit there yet!
– The map system is horrendously inadequate even by the standards of a singleplayer RPG, let alone one whose plot consists of “go here” quests. It appears impossible to set markers for destinations (the aforementioned go-here quests don’t even put a marker on your map); there’s a compass indicator for monsters on the monster-hunting quests, but never at any other time; and the map doesn’t even zoom to make navigation feasible.
- Dear level designers: doodling a cave system, removing the roof, and painting everything green is not how you create a forest.
- No jumping. I get it, it’s Final Fantasy and thus A World Without Knees, but still. This game suffers from the cardinal design sin of not being about what it’s about: Specifically, over two-thirds of my gameplay time is spent running from place to place, rather than fighting monsters or gaining new abilities or exploring the storyline. And yet there is absolutely nothing fun about this majority activity. The scenery was dazzling for all of 5 minutes, and then I realized that the entire forest is just cut-and-paste green caves. I struggle to cross a river because of the ankle-high riverbanks impeding my progress. And due to the aforementioned map issues, I can’t even tell if I’m headed the right way half the time. I’m somewhat inspired to write an essay on travel in games soon, using FFXIV, Champions Online, and Zelda: Wind Waker as referents.
- I created a Pugilist character, and there are several attacks for that class that are only usable if you’ve just evaded an enemy attack – but other than the enemy’s damage saying “Evade” rather than a number, there is absolutely no cue indicating when these attacks are available. The toolbar buttons for those attacks don’t even visibly change state. I want the big green triangle from Kingdom Hearts.
- Lots of gratuitous mystery in the abilities. There’s no way to gauge the relative strength of attacks from the interface, for example. I mean, sure, you can hit an enemy and see what numbers pop up, but all the skill-slotting interface gives you is a sentence that says “does physical damage and increases evasion” or the like.
Champions Online (f2p):
- Character costume design is hugely flexible, for the most part, though half of the options are obscured by bizarre interface design. It takes some work to deviate from the “superheroic” body-type, though.
- Travel powers, available as soon as you finish the tutorial zone. If I can hook up a gamepad and have a good 30 minutes of fun just Acrobatics-ing around the city, you’re doing something very right.
- Speaking of gamepads, versatility in game interface. By changing input, camera, and targeting settings, you can play Champions Online as a standard MMORPG, something almost like an FPS, or something almost like an action game. I say “almost” because there are many occasions where the veneer cracks and the “MMO-ness” shows through: a sword-swipe that always hits at most a single enemy is not visually distinct from one that hits enemies in a cone-sweep (but only a maximum of five at once) – and cone attacks always need to be centered on a primary target. It’s simply impossible to swing your sword if there’s nobody around to hit. Likewise, charge-up attacks get invalidated if an enemy is out of range during any point of the charging, even if they’re in range when it would go off. There are also aspects of the interface, such as the “usable device” slots, that don’t appear to be accessible at all via the gamepad.
- Utterly bizarre procedurally generated item/crafting system, that is at times both frustrating and endearing. An enemy can randomly drop Colossal Ears or a Reinforced Kick that improve your strength when equipped. It’s probably just as well that equipment doesn’t affect your appearance in this game…
- Plenty of quests. There’s enough missions that if you take everything that shows up and try to go through them in order of recommended level, you’ll level up faster than you finish them. And there are multiple primary zones each with its own family of missions, so if you get bored of the city you can head out to the Canadian Wilderness and keep on going without ever having to stop and grind.
- Too many options are behind the pay-barrier. Free accounts are limited to a small selection of preset “archetypes” when it comes to powers; this would be less of a problem if the game allowed more than two characters per account without buying extra slots. (Although I suppose that since accounts are free, there’s nothing stopping me from registering an additional account to try out more of the archetypes, except possibly the ToS.) As it is, I feel like I don’t get enough of a taste of what the game offers mechanically to justify sinking money into finding out.