Analyzing the Latest Details From the FFXIV Beta

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Midway through last week, Game Informer got hold of the “Alpha” manual from one of the lucky testers selected to get in. There’s a good amount of info we already knew in the article, but there are some other tidbits that are pretty unexpected.

The article hasn’t gotten that much blog attention since it hit (probably because of people’s skepticism of FFXI), so to start the week off right, let’s look at the new information.

First things first, they’re calling this an Alpha test. That alone is a little strange, I think, since those kinds of tests are usually reserved for “friends and family” of the company. Looking in from the outside, you wouldn’t be wrong to think this was a closed beta, so that’s how I’ll refer to it.

Also remember that any of the below can, and probably will, change in some way before the game launches. Such is the nature of beta.

Now, the new stuff:

Characters will gain “physical levels” the way most MMO players are used to — by gaining experience points, which currently is only done through killing monsters. “Skill ranks” are separate for each weapon/tool type and are raised by use in combat or crafting.

This is disappointing, to say the least. Early on, the developers told us that there wouldn’t be levels or experience; characters would “progress naturally” as they adventured. Who would have thought that becoming more experienced as you kill monsters would be ‘natural’?

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But, it may not be as much of a let down as it sounds. Let’s take what we know.

Your class is determined by what weapon you’re wearing and is raised in “skill ranks.” Skill ranks are totally separate from your “physical level” which we all assume to be the usual industry standard. Taken on its own, that’s pretty damn confusing. What do you go by, physical level or skill rank, and if your class level is separate from your physical level, how are the two related? I mean, if you’re rank 2 in three different classes, does that make you a level 2, or 6, or 3?

The best I can figure is that physical levels are an approximation of your overall power. As a community, we’ve grown pretty comfortable with the idea of being “level WHATEVER” and it seems like this is an answer to that comfort.

In the end, your skill rank will be most important and it’s a skill based system. Think of Fallen Earth, because it doesn’t sound that different.

Both physical levels and skill ranks are capped at 20 for the alpha.

Not surprising, but I’d still like to know the level cap for the live game. They’ve said in interviews that beta players will see “less than half” of the game during testing. Could it be 50?

The bigger question is how polished the other half will be. Square is known for putting out quality, highly polished, titles; I’m not worried but it’d be reassuring to know what the other half is testers won’t have access to.

Basically, you’ll be able to find an Aetheryre Crystal in most towns. Using it will restore your HP and MP, add the location to your teleport list, and set the crystal as your home point. You’ll also have the option to begin any “levequests” available at that crystal. “Aetherial Gates” located around the world will allow you to refill your HP and MP and can be set as your home point but will not allow for normal teleporting. Finally, “Aetherial Nodes” will appear after completing a levequest, allowing you to instantly warp back to your home point and turn in the quest.

… Likewise, opening the menu and hitting “Teleport” will allow you to choose to warp to any Aetheryte Crystal you’ve previously visited. Using the Teleport option will even send a notice to others in your party asking them if they’d like to teleport with you. As far as the manual mentions, there is no cooldown to either of these options, meaning you should be able to jump around the world freely whenever you want.

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I’m a little torn on this one. On one hand, the old school player in me wants to be against free teleports to anywhere in the world. But then, the more reasoned experienced me remembers that other games, like Guild Wars, use a similar system to great effect.

There’s also the benefit of making the game more welcoming to new players. This is the kind of system that players like because it lets them jump in and jump out that much easier. It stands in contrast to its rote FFXI little brother and, for expanding the audience, that’s a definite plus.

My only remaining worry is that this system will make the world feel that much smaller. Players will have to find each node once, then they’ll be able to return to it whenever they want. Given the opportunity, most players will elect to never traverse the land again if they don’t have to, and then complain that the game is “small.” It’s a trade-off and I probably won’t be able to decide where I stand until I can experience it for myself.

There’s also the note about the crystal’s refresh qualities. We know that MP doesn’t replenish on its own, so it’s nice to know that crystals will be frequent throughout the world. It will be interesting to see how non-restoring mana is received by the modern MMO player, though.

Cindy also dug up another interesting tidbit not mentioned by Game Informer.

Translated Character Stat Window... click to enlarge

SE has said on the matter that gaining physical levels will also grant points to distribute amongst your physical stats. So instead of gaining one level and have all the stats are automatically raised for you, you get to choose where to spend your points. Here’s a better explanation:

Famitsu Alpha Sneak Peak: In FFXIV, levels are called “physical levels.” Points you acquire during battles can be put into HP, MP, strength, intelligence, and other stats. You can choose one of them and specialize it. For instance, you can just focus on strength, or you can try to balance all of them. So, how characters grow is totally up to you. This system should give rise to a lot of originality.”

Attribute or status points should work somewhat the same way, check out this image to give you a better idea: ZAM character window.

This is also a really interesting addition that harkens back to our RPG roots. I like the idea that we’ll be able to customize our characters through individual stat points. It’s yet to be seen whether it will truly be possible to “gimp” your character but, much more interestingly, the options for making your character your own have just been expanded. I’m excited to see how this will impact character planning and the min-maxers among us.

That’s about it for the new stuff though. If you’re interested in finding out more about the game, there are a couple of really great communities dedicated to the effort (they also put out some rockin’ podcasts, too). Check out FFXIVCore or Eorzeapedia, and dig in.

They’re pretty much one stop shops for everything you could want out of a game community… including full translations of some great articles out of Japan.

How about you, does this news change your opinion on the game at all, or make you even more interested?

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