Here comes Beta

SE just finished a promotional campaign for FFXIV 2.0 and released three videos, as well as a Live Letter from the Producer and the Benchmark Tool.  This is all set up in anticipation for the Beta testing that is to begin this Monday, February 25th.  All legacy members are invited to join in the first phase of the closed Beta test.  I am a legacy member, and while NDA may have something against disclosing anything on the BETA, I can still disclose that I am excited for the recent media that we are seeing about the release of 2.0.


This first video shows the same thing players will see if running the benchmark program.  It is basically a mash-up of cut scenes similar to what will be seen in the game, as these are in the same style as cut scenes I remember from 1.0.  However, as with 1.0 the graphics from game play and the cut scenes tend to be very similar and I hear 2.0 has been reworking their engines to make it so what you see in game play and what you see in the cut scenes look even more similar.  Where other MMORPGs might have elaborate cut scenes that feel very surreal to the normal gameplay, having ones that match the gameplay closely can help keep the player feel like it is happening all in one living, breathing world.

 

This second video really got me excited – because it not only shows the quality of gameplay, but also shows how much the world of 1.0 has changed, and to my relief, how much it has stayed the same.  The graphics are as beautiful as they were in 1.0 and SE didn’t cheapen anything or cut back on any of the graphic styles for their new engine.  My fears of cartoonish faces and choppy animations were put to rest.  Many of the same locations still exist such as the city of Ul’Dah and the landscape around Limsa Lominsa.  Everything still has great lighting, sounds, and environmental elements that make the world of Erozea feel to fresh and beautiful compared to other MMORPG’s I have played.  It’s not just a game, but a living and breathing world worth visiting time and time again.  The PS3 version doesn’t match the capabilities of a fully tricked out PC – but I do think it has a nostalgic console gaming feel with the less than crisp graphics.  And when the PS4 comes out, this game will be easy to port over and gain back those missing details.  Nothing is said about the PS4, but one can imagine…

I did notice they are hiding the UI from the gameplay video, so does that mean they have some nice changes in store for us in the coming months?  Hmm…

 

And finally the third video I enjoyed recently was this one showcasing the gamepad controls.  I was very impressed with how easy a gamepad will work with FFXIV 2.0 and how simple it looked to operate.  Looking on how the interface is, I really do see myself using a gamepad in the future.  It might be easier to keep my eyes on the screen knowing where all the buttons are by feel instead of constantly having to glance down at the keyboard and make sure my fingers are on the right buttons 🙂

 

ImageI must say that after all was said and done with these recently released videos, with Beta coming up, and with all the news and PR going around with 2.0 recently that I am more excited than ever about the changes being made.  There is not one thing I am upset about after all I am hearing about 2.0 and I look forward to seeing more changes and plans for the future.  I know a lot of things I am hearing in the press releases and on the forums have been designated as being considered for a later patch or future updates, but starting at launch there should be quite a few new things to explore.  I can’t wait to dive in.

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TERA and the F2P model

I should have posted this sooner, but i’m still playing TERA and i’ve gotten past level 20, so it’s time to check in for the next update.  Since the last update I was able to find a nice guild that is active, and was able to get up to a higher level to try some dungeons and work on the story line and just experience more of the world in general.  The graphics still look amazing, the community still seems friendly, and there still seems to be a lot of interesting sites to see in the game.  However a lot of the mechanics that I was hoping would improve over time don’t seem to really improve.  In the end, it still feels to me like a tired classing MMORPG with little to offer.

I’d have to say the biggest complaint I have with TERA thus far is the combat system in regards to how the gameplay feels.  Sure it is fun to have true combat, run around the enemy, let loose the great attacks, and gain exp.  But it seems like every enemy and every fight are just the same thing over and over.  And it also seems like I am always playing catchup.  I am currently playing an archer.  It takes about 20 arrow shots to bring down an enemy.  This isn’t fun.  Especially when I have multiple enemies and they all constantly come at me.  I can stay in an area long enough to level up past the enemies so my attacks do well enough to take them town in 10 shots (which is nice) but by that time the experience points are miniscule and not worth it.  So I move on to the next area where I fight slightly uglier monsters at a slightly higher level and take 20 shots to kill again.  When I am finally comfortable attacking those, they are not worth fighting so I have to move up to another area and do more of the same thing.  It’s this repetitive attacking and dodging and leveling up to do the same again that really irks me.  That and all the quests still being the “Kill x mobs,” “gather x items,” “talk to x person” quests.

The further along I get in the game and higher levels, I am making disproportionately huge experience points.  I’m not even sure if the exp I am getting is good or not.  At level 5 if I got 300exp for a mob, that was great.  If I got 5exp for a mob – that was a puny mob that wasn’t worth my time.  Now at level 27, the puny little mobs are giving me 672exp each, and the big mobs are giving me 4500 exp each.  Is this good?  I don’t know.  Because it takes a lot longer to level up, I don’t know if I am leveling more slowly because the exp is low (and it should be over 9000) or if there’s just a longer wait each level.  It’s probably a combination of each.  I complete a quest worth 35000 exp (which sounds great) but my exp bar only goes up maybe 1% of the way to the next level.

Finding a party at later levels is proving a challenge.  There is a party finding tool in-game but most people don’t utilize it.  The area I am leveling up in for my level range is pretty deserted so I am having to opt out of quests that require more than just myself so I can continue my leveling up.  I have a nice guild, but we’re spread out into so many areas and levels that it is difficult to find someone who is doing what I am doing to help.  The last time I needed help someone from the guild answered.  This person was several levels higher than me so we didn’t share any exp in the party (due to the difference) and they had nothing to gain from helping me.  And that’s one HUGE problem in TERA – the fact that once you are advanced one or two levels or have completed the quests for an area – there is no good reason to ever go back.  That feeling of being pressed down the assembly line to level cap is a very isolated and boring feeling.

Now, some fun things I did get to do in TERA thus far involve participating in the Valentine’s Day events and checking out some item shops in the new F2P store.  The Valentine’s event was great, as every hour on the hour if I was logged in I would receive a letter with attached event items that allowed me to open some of those locked strongboxes or healing items with a Valentine’s theme.  This was unexpected and made the game feel a little more fun.  I also was able to pick up a snowsuit from the market place to wear over my gear for about $5 which was neat to try.

The Valkyon Outfitters (the store is called) contains many items like vanity gear, mounts, exp vouchers, strongbox keys, consumables, etc.  I also dropped some cash on a character appearance change voucher.  I went from being a fat little rabbit popori to a fat little panda popori.  It was a frivolous expense, but the process was easy to work with and I got what I wanted out of it.  The prices in the store are high though, and I easily spent $20 just getting a few items to experience the novelty of it.  I can see where the F2P model does come into helping a struggling game.  It is like the Farmville effect, where you can play for free, but knowing that paid items will get you further eventually you’re going to want to drop some cash to make the experience easier.  If you only had a few hours to play a week, spending a few dollars online could get you to level up 50% faster to catch up with your friends.

The one thing I do not see in TERA that would have made the game great is lasting appeal.  I can imagine once I finally muddle my way to level 60 and have some nice gear and finished the story quests, I don’t see what the point is to continue playing.  If all areas are explored, all gear is maxed out, and all activities are complete – what’s there to do but sit on a fancy horse, brag about all the gold I have, and kill some people in PVP that can’t best me because i am on top?  I guess I could start a new character and do it all again – but why would I?  ImageOne thing I am glad for with FFXIV 2.0 coming out is that there will be a lot of additional activities that a player can do with people at a variety of levels.  Since I’ll be playing TERA while waiting for 2.0 to be released, maybe my opinions will change.  But so far TERA is just a generic, boring, and empty MMORPG with a good community and nice graphics.

More about TERA

Huzzah!  TERA has the community feel I was looking for and the UI that I was looking for.  Seems very similar to the UI layout in FFXIV from the Alpha videos and I can finally cram my chat window nicely into the corner of the screen, which is a plus.  There are also a lot of fun and new players since going F2P, which makes it very easy to find people at my skill level who want to explore and level and chat with me.

So far I’ve gotten to level 16, which is a pretty good point to be at to be familiar with the game.  I’ve tried creating several characters on a couple of servers, but after trying a couple magic classes and getting a feel for the game play, I settled on a Popori sorcerer, reminiscent of my Lalafell black mage on FFXIV.  And so far I am much less disappoint than I was playing WOW.  The character creation tool is much more diverse and does a great job explaining each class’s role in the game.  Many ways to customize the baddest ass character or the cutest fluffy character.  Combine this with all of the elements that were good in WOW and replace some things that were not so good in WOW with things that are good, and TERA is a step up on my favorite MMORPG list.  In fact, If I had to rate my favorite MMORPGs of all time in order of what I can tolerate, it would be FFXIV, then TERA, then WOW.

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The graphics in TERA so far are amazing – much better than WOW and much more realistic looking, similar to how FFXIV tried to create the “real” feel of the environment with high-end textures and bump mapping and water graphics, shadows, and all the sort.  Also when playing TERA in windowed full-screen mode I notice it is not making my computer scream so loudly with heat and processing power like WOW did.

TERA has a story and cut scenes too.  Not as grand as FFXIV, but it does help tie the player into the story a little bit.  However, my complaint on the cut scenes is that they feel so different from the rest of the game – almost like each one is a movie trailer with cinematics and an announcer, and it doesn’t fit the mood of the rest of the game.  For example, on the Island of Dawn there is a mission where I have to kill a tree monster named Vekas.  The battle is a simple one like slaying any other monster, however it cuts to a giant and dramatic cut scene.  Imagine Morgan Freeman narrating Tetris before another level of just stacking bricks.  Doesn’t really fit the mood of the game.

Speaking of mood – there are several annoyances of TERA that I hate, yet I can’t see them changing.  First of all, all interactions in TERA are done through NPC’s with little exclamation points above their heads and walls of text with the mission objective and reward.  Talk about tired mechanics for progressing the game.  The game itself feels so rushed that I just burn through the walls of text because I know eventually it will end up being either “kill these mobs and return” or “collect these things and return” or “talk to that guy and return.”  As much as I want to get into the lore and story, the world just seems too hectic and generic to really pull me in.  I still have to give props to FFXIV for the use of dialogue boxes to progress the story and cut scenes that actually fit the game.

ImageAnother thing I hate are the mobs.  There are so many of them and they keep spawning very quickly after defeating them.  Great for the combat (which is great combat by the way) but annoying for exploring the world.  The roads are as prone to mob attacks as the lands off the roads.  It’s a very claustrophobic feeling to see many groups of mobs everywhere on the horizon no matter where you go, and knowing all those mobs will give chase as you pass by.  ALL mobs seem to aggro ALL players ALL of the time.  Everywhere you go, you’re either fighting mobs or running from them.  There’s no system to have them ignore the player after they are leveled past the mob and there’s not enough space between mobs to sneak around them.  Very annoying to have to run in a panic everywhere just to keep them from pecking away at your health as you pass by.

I also do not like the “segregated” area feel where there isn’t any reason to backtrack to a previous area after you’re past the level range.  Something WOW and TERA have in common.  Great for getting pushed through a factory line to level cap, but not great for the community and getting to know both new and old players in-world.  There is also the system of seeing a trainer to learn abilities.  I used to think this was a good thing and missed it when WOW no longer did this, but then I realized I was learning every ability I could when I was leveled enough, so there really wasn’t any point to seeing a trainer.

ImageWell, I think that is enough to ramble on about for TERA for now.  My next goal is going to be to try and get to level 20, which is where glyphs open up and I’ll probably have a good feel for the sorcerer class.  I hear the sorcerer becomes pretty powerful later on, and it will be awesome to really get into combat as a party.  It is easy to grind on mobs and easy to solo thus far, and I hear possible to solo the whole game, so we’ll see what I’m most comfortable with.  Oh, and crafting also sucks in TERA.

TERA Take 2

So my recent 10-day trial of WoW had ended without me wishing to renew my subscription.  Part of it is because I am cheap, and the other part is that I really had no want to continue.  Sure it was nice to have quests, and a polished UI and dungeons and gear and loot and mounts – but something wasn’t there.  It could have been the graphics, or the game play, or the story – but something just wasn’t there.  So I tried TERA again, since it was just sitting on my shelf staring at me.  I heard recently it was going to be Free to Play starting February 5th, and with that being a few days from now I wanted to get a head start.

I played TERA a few months ago, and I had heard great things about its combat system.  But after playing for a few days and finishing out the first area, it just felt too tired, so similar to WOW, and too hard to get into.  One thing I hate about an MMORPG is having to read all sorts of text walls to find out where I am going and what I am doing.  Dialogue boxes and cut scenes and instances are one thing – but running around from point to point on the map reading walls of text from stiff and lifeless NPC’s with no story behind them are not my idea of fun.  And sadly TERA is full of this kind of non-fun.

Another thing I did not like about TERA is that it is not solo-friendly.  The community is noob friendly (which is a blessing), but not solo friendly.  Difficulty while solo isn’t the issue, just that playing solo is very slow and tedious and boring.  WoW was more solo friendly because no matter what you were doing, you could see on the horizon what was next, where you had to eventually go, and how much further you had to level to get there.  In WOW there were also several options on where you could go.  In TERA, the gameplay seems very linear, like getting pushed through an assembly line.  It may have just been that I was on the noob island and training in the first few missions was built this way – but as far as an introduction to a game, this is not how getting used to the gameplay should be.  I’m more for a game showing it’s full appeal starting out, rather than the worst it has to offer.  All the promises I got from other players that “It will get better” didn’t hold much merit when I’ve been playing for several hours and it’s been more and more of the same.

ImageHowever, TERA does have some saving points that make it worth playing.  Compared to the claustrophobic and segregated feel of WOW (which wasn’t so bad, but still noticeable), the world of TERA feels like it is open and beautiful.  The character creation system allowed for a variety of different game play styles and customization options that made the world come alive.  There are character options ranging from hulk-like players who want to show off how tough they are, to more commonly used human-type/elf-type races that make up the majority of players seen in-world, as well as some cute races like the Popori who are fat little animal creatures that can take up the same weapons and skills as their humanoid counterparts.  This variety of hardcore and cute player choices make for a dynamic world and can add a touch of humor in player interaction – especially in parties and otherwise serious-feeling dungeons and mob-invested areas.

The combat system in TERA does not disappoint either.  It takes a while to tweak the UI and controls in a way that works best, but once you’re comfortable working with them, you start to gain an appreciation for the new play style.  To me it feels like playing Skyrim in third-person.  the mouse is used to look and turn, while the WASD keys are used for moving and strafing.  I picked a sorcerer-type class and was able to do circles around an enemy while timing long-range fireballs as well as sneaking up behind the enemy and doing close-range burning attacks.  Having a jump feature combined with some combat skills to do a dodge roll, a jump-back, or some quick side-steps really makes the combat feel real and fun.  Abilities and items can be mapped to the numbered keys on the keyboard, but there is also the option to map more commonly-used attacks to the mouse left and right keys.  The mouse keys aren’t necessary, but some abilities really work best when being able to keep an eye on the enemy, so this is where it comes in handy.

The number one feature that will keep me playing in the coming days though is the community.  Somehow, among the mass of people coming and going from this game and the lack of success it has seen on a subscription-based model I found one of the best gaming communities I’ve seen since FFXIV.  Everyone in the local chat was friendly and had a good sense of humor around them.  On the starter island, there was a good mix of veteran players creating new characters who were more than willing to take me under their wing and show me things.  I’ve played twice, and made a new friend each time who was willing to help me out in combat and provide me company.  This is where TERA shines through the most so far.  Just having players who care enough to look out for the little guy and are in in for fun more than competition.

ImageSince I really have nothing going on until Beta of FFXIV 2.0, I think I will stay in this TERA world and see if I can figure it out.  There might be something underneath that is shiny and fun under all the generic wow-style muck.  I don’t hate WOW, but I hate clones of WOW.  There is an entire crafting system and rune-augmentation system for equipment I need to explore, and a whole world I’ve not set foot in.  In the end, I am not sure if I will come out of this game glad to have known it, or glad to have gotten away.  But for the next 10 days or so, I’m going to try my best to enjoy the game.