I hadn't played FF14 when it came out originally, but trying it out after the whole remake thing was quite a good experience. I was impressed overall by some clever mechanics here and there that - I thought - would make me want to play the game past its free month. That being said, some disappointments here and there had me change my mind a few days before my trial was over. This article might be more a series of points than my usual ones because there is much to say about this game.
The intro of the game depressed me greatly, after a bunch of cutscenes, you're dropped into one of the three big city-states in their universe. Then it's time to run around, talking to people and doing quests that are basically that, talking to people. I talked to my guild leader - to get started as a pugilist in my case - and then he sent me fetching gil he dropped around town. I don't like big cities in MMO, there's too much ground to cover, and in this case, there were too many quests that didn't involve me leaving town and fighting things. Start me where there's action, where I can appreciate the things your game is offering, don't allow me to get to level 5 by talking to people - I skip all the text anyways - the first impression is quite important...
After you complete some main storyline mission, you unlock the mechanic of changing your class into another. To do so, you only need to change your weapon - gladiators use swords, miners user pickaxes, weavers use needles, etc. - and you can create gear sets to help with that. I love this system, I love being able to multi-class, since the thing I love to do in MMOs is restart new characters to see all the different classes, I thought FF14 would do that perfectly for me. Problem is, if you do all the quests in an area as one class, you're stuck with no quests at all (besides a pitifully small number of class quests) to level up. Another bad thing is how gameplay mechanics (crafting materia, changing class, riding a mount) is based on main quest progression instead of level, so if you don't care about the main quest, you'll miss on stuff, and the main quest isn't that great.
You have 100 inventory slots and to help with the large amount of gear you'd want to carry around - you can have up to 20 classes or so - you have armory boxes. They're very painful to use once you level up enough with a bunch of classes since it's impossible to compare items in this game. If you have 15 different pieces of torso armor - a bunch for fighters, a bunch for mages, a bunch for crafters and gatherers, and different levels of each - getting a new piece of armor is a comparison nightmare. There should be a bunch of filters and sorting options, filter by class, sort by level, compare with the item you currently have equipped, etc. Either that or each class should have their own little armories, with 5 slots instead of 25 for each type of gear, but that would help.
The map is so big and feels so empty, you'll run back and forth for no reason for most quests - or you can rent a chocobo, which is the equivalent of WoW mounts - or you can pay a large-ish sum to just teleport to certain other locations. If you want to know what levels monsters are or where you should go next to find new quests, the map is sometimes woefully inadequate. Why not have more numerous but smaller maps? That way it's easier to separate content and not have three quest hubs in the same zone.
I love most of the classes and the way they're different. Pugilists have 'stances' which they change during fights based on their skills, thaumaturges get charges of fire or ice energy and that affects their other spells, gladiators have combos, marauders can heal themselves when they deal damage, arcanists can heal, invokers have tons of damage over time spells and summons, archers have long range instant attacks, and so forth. Even the gathering classes are different in the way that fisherman and botanist aren't really the same (botanist and miner, however, are very different). It's a bit sad that all crafting classes are the same, minus the recipes and ingredients you need.
You can mix and match your skills between classes, and that's interesting because in theory, you can make very powerful combinations. In practice, however, I've just piled up all my damage over time spells on my pugilist class, so all it changed was that I used my DoTs and then started punching guys instead of just punching right away, it's difficult to tell if that made my class better or worse. And of course, you can't use all skills with all classes, but that's fine. Speaking of which, there isn't much of a point of taking skills from other classes if you're a hunter/gatherer - the classes are so identical.
You have these three logs - hunting, gathering, crafting - and besides the crafting logs - which is the only way to craft - they have their issues. The gathering log doesn't provide enough information on where to find the things you need to complete your collections - getting you experience bonuses - the fishing log is particularly poor at this, telling you that you can get 10 different fish in a given area, but not that two of these fishes are 30 levels above you and you should come back later. The hunting log gives you a few monsters you can kill to get some bonus experience, but it's only four monsters. Either you'll kill them during random quests and be done with it without trying or you'll need to search on google where exactly these things are, run across three maps, kill four things and then sigh. Why not make it 40? Or any significant number?
The main story has you grouping for instances in multiple occasions. Dungeons pretty much like in WoW or any other MMO, but this time you only need four people instead of five. There are a few weird things with them, like the fact you can't change class once you're in. So if your tank leaves, you need to find a new tank, you can't just switch to a more defensive class. Also, I've managed to complete such dungeon with only three people and I never came close to losing my entire party, maybe the starting dungeons are supposed to be very easy?
Scattered through the world there are FATES, which are kind of like Rifts in Rift. They're little quests with timed objectives that sometime can be accomplished alone but most of the time you'll need more people - especially for tougher monsters. They give some experience and gold when you complete them while being in the right level range. I found it weird how you 'unlearn' skills when you level-down to be able to do these FATEs. Additionally, I didn't think they gave enough exp/gold to bother running after them.
Overall, I found the game pretty easy and didn't die for the duration of this review - 3 weeks. It's a bit curious because I didn't have always the best gear and I didn't play particularly well. One archer died in a dungeon once because he ran first to loot all the chests before we could get there, thus aggroing five enemies on him, and I almost died during a story quest where there was a level ?? enemy I attacked by mistake,
The bosses were okay. The first one didn't do much except summon a bunch of other guys. The second turned invincible until we killed an imp, there was a slime boss that you had to use bombs on to split in multiple easy to kill slime things, there was a guy that punched holes in walls to let out more guys to punch more holes in walls to let more guys out, there was Ifrit and you had to destroy a needle otherwise he would kill your whole party. If I can extrapolate from this, I could assume that it stays interesting for a while.
Especially for crafting classes, I feel like there's not enough to do in this if you want to try all jobs. It's quite bad because the option is there, and for some people like myself, it feels compelling to try everything without needing to make new characters. I understand that they couldn't make that much content for all classes, but having an empty 'Recommended' list of quests and things to do is quite depressing.
I didn't enjoy the main quests either. Lengthy cutscenes, having to talk to five people before being told to run to another map and then come back after talking to two guys there. Fighting one enemy then another cutscene, running back to the first place, another cutscene, then a scripted fight where max level NPCs 'help' me fight very high level monsters - and by help, I mean I just stood back and let them deal with it, because why wouldn't I? Boring, boring, boring. Even the main 'crafter' and 'gatherer' quests are nothing more than 'GO MINE FIVE RARESTONES' or 'MAKE ME A STEEL BARBUT' Boring.
That said, there is some merit to the crafting/gathering systems. Being a gatherer is plenty fun (except fishing ) you have specific stats related to gathering and you can equip gear to raise it. You have gathering skills and various buffs to help you mine or harvest trees and the whole process is more involved than just waiting for a bar to fill up. You have a percentage chance to gather things based on your level, the level of the thing, your stats and various buffs you used. Each gathering 'node' - which are only visible by you - have a set number of tries you have on them before you need to move on.
And then there are the Levequests. These are 'random' quests spread across the world that you can take as long as you have 'commendations'. You can't just do these quests over and over, you need to wait for a timer to fill in. That being said, if you dont do them for a day or two, you'll have plenty commendations to spend. Some levequests are about killing monsters, some are about crafting specific things, but the ones about gathering are the best, they give ton of exp, are easy to accomplish and wont have you watching cutscenes.
After a while you get weird skills such as being able to get bonuses to gathering rates, high quality chance or number of mining attempts by fulfilling certain conditions such as having a high enough gathering stat or even one of the main stats - strength, dexterity, vitality, mind, piety and wisdom - which I haven't talked about yet because I found them inconsequential. You get 3 points to place at level 10 and then 1 point per five levels afterwards and I never saw a big difference by placing points or equipping gear specialized in certain stats.
Trying to craft everything, however, is horrible, there's never enough space to hold all the material types you'd need - just go the guild wars 2 route! - you need materials of all classes to be able to craft even the simplest thing - such as this goldsmith recipe that took something from a weaver - and sometimes the guild shop doesn't have the item, then you need to switch to another class to make it, or just don't craft the item for now - which is a bummer since crafting things for the first time gives you an experience bonus.
Speaking of which, it takes forever to level crafting, even if you 'quick-craft' 99 items and leave the computer - which is a terrible way to play a game - you'll never get anywhere in a satisfactory time frame, you need to actively work at crafting things that you might not be able to use - either because your armoury chest is full or you just don't have any class that can use that one item. And selling things is kinda counter-productive, why are the sell values so low?
To craft an item, you have to fill a bar by using a skill that has 90% of chance to work. You have a certain number of steps you can take - and you can increase that by using another skill. There's a "quality" bar that reflects the odds your item will be high quality and have better stats than the usual. Crafting is pretty involved and you juggle between making sure the item is done before you have no more steps and having the highest quality possible. It'd be fine if you didn't have to do it a thousand infinity times.
The materia system is weird, the game explains very few things like how the main story is very important for unlocking gameplay systems, the menus are badly done and you'll need to grind a ton unnecessary if you want to level up crafting to be versatile. Besides that it does interesting things with classes and the hunting/gathering systems are novel. It was worth a try and until that point where I realised that levelling everything would take forever - and I wanted to level everything - and that the menus were making my multi-classing experience painful, I just decided to quit.