Massive: Delving Into High Fantasy in MMOs 

Checking out Final Fantasy XIV and Neverwinter

A First Look at Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

A video game is the sum of its parts. Especially in the case of massively multiplayer games, if one element dominates, the result is a one-dimensional experience that the playing community inevitably drifts away from. And when it comes to one title in the video game world that carries immediate name recognition--Square Enix's Final Fantasy series, for example--there are expectations from players. It doesn't matter whether it is a strategy game, a card game, a movie, a single-player role-playing game or a MMO.

When I was invited to participate in a beta test of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, the response was immediate: When can I start playing? FFXIV is not a brand-new game. It's the rebirth of a title released in September 2010 and closed in November 2011, and is the second in the Final Fantasy franchise built as an MMO.

When an MMO closes, it usually does not reappear. But that seems not to be the case anymore. Sometimes a game is simply too good to let go of, and gamers often complain that some MMOs fail because they were released too soon.

FFXIV is one of those games that had great potential--enough that Square Enix decided to re-imagine the game and re-release it. At first glance, it is apparent that reworking the game, using current (aka newer) technology, has resulted in a visually stunning spectacle.

Before delving too deeply into the game, there is a bit of a kicker: If you are running a PC with Windows XP as the OS, you won't be able to play. Microsoft stated that it would no longer support XP after April 9, 2014 (time is ticking), and many developers are moving away from the operating platform.

As for the game itself, FFXIV carries the game's original lore and story lines, but offers new graphics, a revamped user interface, redesigned maps, more variations in the gameplay and added story content.

The game presents the classes players have come to expect from a Final Fantasy offering, including the ability to assume more than one role with a single character (you can eventually run the gamut with a character), and its fair share of "fetch and kill X-amount of this mob or that one." If you don't expect stellar or groundbreaking gameplay elements, you won't be disappointed.

The most notable bit of redesign with this title is its graphics. The game looks amazing and, in that category alone, it is very much next-generation. But, while graphics are one element that feed the visual desire, they certainly won't sustain a game.

Leveling is not that hard initially, and players won't have a difficult time getting into the swing of the game early on. Skills have reuse timers and the game has potential. It will be interesting to see what was added before the game was released, because what was in the beta version was not enough to sustain interest.

Bear in mind that this "first look" was based on the beta and the game has just been released--meaning some elements may have changed from the initial first impressions.

Neverwinter Delves into the Lore of the Sword Coast

For those who remember the BioWare single-player RPG, Neverwinter (from developer Cryptic Studios and publisher Perfect World) is a return to that lore, albeit with a few twists. The game is free to play, although players can only have two character slots (you have to buy more, which is part of the micro-transactions/marketplace that is being used to sustain the game), and while the game presents a nice array of character classes, from the outset players will notice a few things missing, like a ranged scout class. The scout is a trickster rogue, dual wielding and high in agility and damage output, but no bow.

The game does not have the graphic eye candy of FFXIV, but what it lacks in initial visual appeal it makes up for with great combat animations and generally fun action sequences.

There are eight races and one coming soon: human, half-orc, drow, dwarf, elf, half-elf, halfling and tiefling. And yes, the drow are from Menzoberranzan--for the uninitiated, that's the City of Spiders from the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting.

Currently there are five classes in the game as well (and one "coming soon"): the aforementioned rogue, a control wizard, devoted cleric, guardian fighter and great weapon fighter. The guardian is the sword-and-board type of fighter, great at defense, while the great weapon fighter is the damage dealer who utilizes the oversized, two-handed greatsword.

The game begins with the usual suspects, in terms of introductory tasks. Go to place A and kill mob B, or go here and fetch that. As players level, they will gain companions, which makes it more fun, and the dungeon crawls are enjoyable, though the random drops are merely average in nature.

What sets the game apart is that players can create quests and dungeons for other players. There is a subscription element as well that garners some interesting items and the events calendar seems robust.

Obviously, as players contribute the game will have legs to carry it down the road, rather than depending on developer updates for new content.

The downside is that it is somewhat limiting unless you have subscribed, bought coin (called Zen and used in a variety of Perfect World games) to put on your account or have purchased the founder's package. Don't try to send a tell to someone if you are on a free-to-play account--at least not until Level 15. Find a nightmare lockbox in the game? You will need an enchanted key and those only cost 125 Zen.

Neverwinter contains a vast world with solid interiors, terrific combat elements and solid gameplay. The micro-transactions go a bit far and feel limiting, and the graphics are serviceable.

Overall

FFXIV and Neverwinter will be up against it when The Elder Scrolls Online releases in early 2014. If it's everything it is billed to be, the bar may be raised too high for stock gameplay elements in titles like these to compete against. And there are other games coming down the pipe that will also present interesting challenges--games like ArcheAge or EverQuest Next. And for those wondering, yes, another attempt at a Warhammer 40K game is on the horizon, as well as a Tom Clancy massively cooperative multiplayer game called The Division and a racing game called The Crew.

In other words, for MMO fans, the horizon is pretty full of options, and if you're not thrilled with what is out there or coming out, just be patient.

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