Final Fantasy XIV – Open Beta Phase 4 Screenshots

I’m not going to go into a big article dissecting the game yet, but I will say Final Fantasy XIV is a beautiful MMO and it runs flawlessly on my system.  Nice work, SquareEnix.

Random Screenshots of The Secret World

I’ve been playing The Secret World a moderate amount of time since its release and my screenshot folder just keeps growing!  So here’s a few, just  for fun.

The Secret World Launch – impressions and thoughts

This weekend Funcom launched The Secret World for those who had pre-ordered with what appears to be great success.  Servers were up promptly (though early-early access for lifetime subscribers was only an extra hour or so) and things were running quite smoothly in Kingsmouth.

For myself, I played way more than I should have.  I got much further than what I did on the open betas – already I’m sitting pretty in Egypt and making good progress there with a refined and enjoyable skill loadout.  There have been highs and lows along the way, I’d like to take a moment to comment on them.First, a bit about the zones.  Kingsmouth has already been played and discussed to death but playing through it a second time was no inconvenience at all.  It still stands out as a truely masterful starting area with dense missions and lots of variety.  With the large population at the game’s launch quests were easy to help one another with, with many an impromptu group forming up and then going their seperate ways.  People were eager to jump into the first dungeon, as well.  Overall the atmosphere of the game was very good – better than what was seen in the Weekend Betas, I would say – with people being helpful to one another.

Kingsmouth was good, but The Savage Coast blows it out of the water for quest and level design.  It was good to see things continually feeling fresh with really inventive environments.  The Savage Coast serves up a Haunted Amusement Park (complete with investigation mission!), a Haunted House, a Treehouse for elementary school monster slayers, the hilariously disfunctional Innsmouth Academy, and Sam Krieg who just has to ‘drink-write-shoot-write-shoot-shoot-drink’ every day in his Lighthouse.  It’s a pleasure.Blue Mountain, by comparison, feels less polished.  It’s still a lot of fun and we see the Dawning of an Endless Night storyline come to a head here when characters from all the previous zones come together to help you in your battle with Beaumont.   The initial missions in the zone feel kind of week – those you pick up from the military detail just inside the entrance to the zone from the Savage Coast.  But once you branch out you’ll find a lot to enjoy when you run across a tribe of Sasquaches, step through a stand mirror in a haunted house back to 1904, help with the problems facing the Wabanaki tribe in their trailer park, and explore the infamous Blue Mountain Mine.  The difficulty really ramps up in this zone so you’ll want to group up when possible to run quests, but everything was soloable for me if I took enough time to be careful.  My only real gripe about the zone is that it has this half finished Indian Casino and you never really get to explore it.  My hunch is that this is where the lair boss for the zone is at, so this might not be a real criticism later on.

The final tier of Dawning of an Endless Night is one of the best written and most thoughtful sequences I’ve seen in the game.  I hope they keep things coming with this quality and it’s made me very eager to see just what choices I’ll have to make in the future.

The three dungeons I’ve run so far – the Polaris, Hell Raised, and the Darkness War – are all superb.  Polaris is quite easy when you tackle it with people who are interested in succeeding but feels just right for a first dungeon.  Hell Raised ratchets up the difficulty and really begins to punish anyone who stands in fire while rewarding those who are light on their feet and can throw interrupts at appropriate times.  The there’s the Darkness War – let’s just say that by this instance, the third instance of the game, we’re already seeing content that’s as hard as any Heroic blizzard has ever put out.  Running the Darkness War with QL5/6 gear on everyone felt like tackling Magister’s Terrace in Burning Crusade pre-nerf.  The game throws a huge number of adds at you, has constant aoe ground attacks, and many other gimmicks such as mobs you can’t get within melee range of.  It’s crazy, and it’s wonderful.

So as I’ve already said before:  The zones are great.  The quests are great.   The instances are great.  But what problems have we seen so far?

Unfortunately quite a few.  The main issue we’ve seen with this launch has been missions bugging out server-wide so that no one can progress in them.  This has happened to me in a few cases as well but seems to usually effect quests with a lot of scripting or phasing.  The biggest culprits this weekend were:  Men in Black Vans, Something Wicked, Taking the Purple, The Black House, and the Scavengers.  Ultimately it wasn’t really effecting a huge amount of the content, and often times you could complete these quests just by taking a break and coming back to them later, but because it effected such a large number of people these issues became very apparent.  Also, it led a lot of people to assume that just because they couldn’t complete a mission that it was automatically bugged.  I saw a lot of people complaining about a quest in Blue Mountain where you had to destroy an A’kab burrow saying it was bugged – but it wasn’t.  They were destroying the ‘Royal Burrow’ which is used in a later part of the quest rather than the regular ones which were further to the east.  But when it didn’t give them credit after destroying a burrow they just wrote it off as being glitched.

The game is showing a lot of potential.  I’ve moved on to Egypt and it’s a very different setting than I’ve seen so far.  And it’s bloody hard.  Hopefully Funcom can run a few patches through to squash the bugs that have crept into some of their missions.

Dungeons – Fast and Fun in The Secret World

The 3rd Beta Weekend is finishing up now and I really enjoyed myself.  I wasn’t able to commit as much time as I’d have liked to all of the quests on The Savage Coast but I’m actually glad that more of the content will be fresh when the game launches in July (June 29 early access!). Because I wasn’t able to really deck out my toon in QL 5+ gear I didn’t step into the second dungeon.  I did run through the first dungeon two times and wanted to comment a bit on how I felt about it.   Firstly, Polaris was obviously an entry level dungeon.  It was challenging, but a lot of the challenge came from the players not having a strong understanding of what they were doing, not knowing what boss abilities to avoid, or not understanding how their class role would fit into the group.  Although I always looked for groups as dps I would invariably wind up tanking even though I had very low HP.  This made the dungeon artificially difficult, but still a lot of fun.  The design of this dungeon couldn’t be more different from that used by WoW.  There is virtually no trash, it feels very focused.  I talked to various people who said you could run it in under fifteen minutes with a geared out group who knew the encounters.  With a group learning the encounters the first time you’re probably going to need an hour or more, particularly if you have a handicap like not having a dedicated tank.  I enjoyed the brevity of the first instance – it clearly fit the design goals that Funcom has been espousing about dungeons.  Basically they’ve said they want instances to be very fast so you can log on for 30 minutes to an hour and get a lot done with friends without feeling the need to marathon dungeons/raids for 3+ hours.  I think the design of the first dungeon meets those guidelines well and I can imagine running the ‘heroic’ version when you’re decked in QL10 gear in just the same way.   Secondly, it guides players to learn mechanics as they move through the instance.  This is another design goal that Funcom has talked about in detail and they’ve done just what they said they would.  In Polaris the learning progression goes something like this:

  • First Boss: Electrified Water
  • Second Boss: Adds, Summoned AoE Cloud
  • Third Boss: Electrified Water, Electrified Crates, Adds, Boss Centered AoE explosions , Conic Smash
  • Fourth Boss: Adds, Column Blast attacks, Boss Centered AoE
  • Fifth Boss: Player Centered AoE explosions, Adds, Conic Smash, AoE Cloud
  • Sixth Boss: Conic Smash, Boss Centered AoE explosions, Player Centered AoE explosions, Channeled AoE breath attacks, Adds, Roots Players, Destructable Line of Sight Environment

Whew!  You don’t see many ‘tank and spank’ bosses in there!  The Fifth and Sixth bosses in particular have so much going on and so many mechanics to deal with you won’t be sleeping at your keyboard mashing the ‘1’ key.  Even though there is nothing hugely difficult about the first dungeon the encounters – particularly with the final boss – feel very creative.  The final boss required my first group to basically sit down and create a strategy for beating him with smart kiting and making use of cooldowns, and even then we barely eked by because of the soft enrage built into the encounter once all of the hiding spots are destroyed.

After playing the first dungeon I feel optimistic about the quality of the PvE content Funcom is bringing to the table.  Compared to other MMO’s I’ve played I can say this instance hits all the right notes: it’s challenging, rewarding, it has an aggressive pace, and it encourages just what MMO’s need: communication.  Keep up the good work, Funcom!

There should be at least one more beta weekend before the game releases in July but I’m torn between wanting to play further and wanting to save content for launch.  For anyone who is on the fence about the game be sure to take advantage of the final Beta on June 22nd-24th to give these dungeons a whirl!

The Secret World