Square Enix has been juicing the hype on their new MMO Final Fantasy XIV, and I can admit the game is a solid release.

However, due to the fact that it has not been released in its final form, the game is clearly not what it will be in the future. I’m sure that as the MMO develops Square Enix will be able to buffer and clean up the experience.

First, let’s focus on the current problems facing the game. The main issue? The servers, but this is to be expected in any brand new MMORPG. During the open beta Square Enix was completely flooded by interested players and had to shut down the overburdened servers. Throughout the entire period of the open beta the game was near unplayable due to the lag that bogged down every single player action.

Unfortunately not much has been done about the problem in the final product. The game lacks the smooth experience you’d expect from a retail product. Though it is not as laggy as the beta, the response times are still frustrating – even when performing the simplest actions such as moving your character.

Another problem is the excruciating wait players endure while NPCs spawn. Whenever you enter a room, you’ll have to wait for the various shopkeepers or guild assistants to appear. I have spent upwards of four minutes standing in one spot – just waiting for an NPC to show up so that I can get a quest. I run a 2.4 GHz processor and have premium internet service, so I know it’s not my set-up.

In addition, your character can, on occasion, freeze altogether – unable to move at all. While it’s unknown at this time what the cause of the freeze is, I ran into the bug in a number of different scenarios – drawing a weapon (or putting it away) or re-spawn after death. At one point, my character spent upwards of eight minutes frozen during a quest with a 30 minute timer. Frustrating, to say the least.

Final Fantasy XIV - Gladiator

In terms of non-server related problems (and it will only be a problem for some), the game provides very little in the way of educating the player about the game mechanics and gameplay features. Basically, you are dropped into the game without any sort of tutorial – neglecting topics such as what to do, how to select people or things, how to move around, switch to combat modes, etc. For some, it won’t be much of an issue (because you can always open the menu, check out the configuration of the buttons, until you are provided with a little help later in the game).

However, some players will undoubtedly be frustrated by the “thrown into the deep end feel” as they enter the universe. Frankly, it might discourage some players from continuing after the trial period… or after the first fifteen minutes.

But Final Fantasy XIV isn’t all doom and gloom; there are plenty of awesome aspects to the title. Some people have been critical of the character system (I was at first too) – you are only able to create one character on the basic $12.99 a month subscription to the game. If you want an additional character it will cost you an extra $3 a month. However, Square Enix makes up for the restriction with the greatest class system you could ever have in an MMORPG – your character is able to access any of the eighteen classes.

So, if you feel like being a fighter, then you just have to equip one of the various fighting type weapons and take on that class. Be it a lancer, archer, marauder, gladiator, or pugilist, you can change on the fly.

If you don’t feel like fighting then you can equip a different class, like a smithing hammer and proceed to work as a blacksmith. In the case of a blacksmith, you have to bang out a specified object as accurately as possible and in a limited amount of time (before the durability of your object hits zero). Make no mistake, it’s a challenge.

The job system is great, you not only level up your rank in different classes, but your physical level too. Even when you are crafting you gain levels for your class and physical level. So you never actually have to fight in the game in order to level your characters up, which could be a major bonus for some.

Character creation is equally enjoyable. Players have a lot of options, you pick from the five different races and then there are two clan types per race. In addition, physical customization is extremely robust: add a scar or two or maybe a mole, as well as biographical information including starting class, birth date, and starting location (there are three).

Right off the bat, when you have picked your starter location you are thrown into a few cutscenes to get the game started. Each location has a different story behind it and both the visuals and storytelling are stunning. This is where Final Fantasy XIV really takes off.

The graphics in the game are the most stunning visuals I have ever seen in an MMO. It’s extremely cool to watch your character march around in the cutscenes – including your customized details. The characters have a great design and each outfit has been rendered in great detail. Adding to the immersion, the shadow effects look incredible, and the creature designs are, as always, top notch.The environments are compelling and immersive (be it desert or a lush forest).

The strongest aspect of Final Fantasy XIV is the community. The community experience has been great – whenever I was stuck, and needed help, other players didn’t hesitate to give me a hand. From time to time, I had trouble finding players willing to band together for quests but I’m sure the influx of retail players will help further enrich the community.

Community is so important in an MMO and it’s great to see so many supportive players connecting and enjoying the title

Final Fantasy XIV is definitely a game to check out – especially if you’re a Final Fantasy or MMO fan. The lag on the servers seems to be improving and the gameplay is captivating. You won’t regret taking your first steps into Eorzea.