At this point, if you're at all interested in online gaming, you probably recognize the 'MMOG' abbreviation. Massively Multiplayer Online Games are one of the most popular genres in gaming right now, and today I have impressions from two titles that do things slightly differently from the norm. Final Fantasy XI has been out for three years on the PC, two years on the PS2, and as of last month made its debut on the Xbox 360. The first Massive title to grace Microsoft's next-gen console is, regrettably, starting to show its age. More sprightly is the standalone expansion to last year's Guild Wars, simply entitled Factions. It adds new content and classes to a very popular Player vs. Player (PVP) title, and manages to meet the high expectations set by the original game's launch. Read on for my impressions of Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360, and Guild Wars: Factions.
- Title: Final Fantasy XI
- Developer/Publisher: Square/Enix
- System:360 (PC, PS2)
2003 was a long time ago, though. The Taru Taru are still cute, but just about every other aspect of the game feels dated in comparison to modern online games. Questing is extraordinarily awkward; There are lots of quests to do but almost no way to know how to find them. Hint books or the internet are really the only way you'll know that the surly gang of school kids behind the fish warehouse in Windhurst is a consistent source of fun missions. Graphically, the game looks serviceable but out of place on the Xbox 360. On a hi-def screen the jaggies ignorable on the PC or PS2 try to reach out and remove your optic nerves. The job system (allowing you to try all the classes with one character) is still one of the finest examples of balance and utility in the genre ... but raising levels on those classes will drive you to distraction. Leveling is an unrelenting, punishing grind. The first ten levels are basically required soloing, but beyond that you'd better be grouped or you're going to be enjoying the 'feature' of xp loss on death. My favorite moment is when you die just after having gained a level. You lose xp so, of course, you lose your level. That's some class A fun.
The 360 version collects up all three expansions to the game (Rise of the Zilart, Chains of Promathia, and Treasures of Aht Urhgan) along with the original gameworld, to allow the 360 experience to be a 'complete' one. Unfortunately, unless you've already been playing this title on the PC or PS2, much of that content will be weeks or months away from your level 1 character. The most recent expansion, Aht Urghan, has been getting very positive commentary from those who can play it, but the expansion's inclusion into this bundle is of limited interest to the new player.
- Title: Guild Wars: Factions
- Developer: ArenaNet
- Publisher: NCSoft
The two new classes brings the total up to eight, and fit seamlessly into the world of Ascalon for both PVE and PVP play. The Assassin is a direct damage character, carrying a lot of similarities to the Warrior class. An Assassin character has to get very up close and personal to do maximum damage, though, not having some of the skill with ranged weapons other classes do. The class also breaks ground with 'combo' moves. The mix-and-match actions that any character can slot are always fun to combine in interesting ways, but the Assassin relies on stringing together specific moves for increasing damage. The other new class, the Ritualist, is a support class that features a good deal of group buffing and debuffing. I found the Ritualist's laid back style of play kind of awkward in PVE, but it was a lot of fun in PVP matches. As long as you're in the main pack of your team, you're doing some good. A simple strategy even an inexperienced player like me could follow.
The new questing continent, the region known as Cantha, will keep the PVE players happy for a very long time. It's simply gorgeous, and artistically very different from many of the initial Prophecies zones. For example, the summer green that the lower-level original zone uses gives way to an autumnal orange and gold in Eastern-themed Cantha. There are over two dozen core quest missions, and enough side-quests to keep even the most dedicated PVE character busy for some time. For me, the most enjoyable element of these environs is the smaller zones, some of which go far beyond the traditional fantasy tropes we've come to expect. A beach-front area dominated by villages built on giant tortoises, and an ancient city built into a massive gorge, are just two of the nonstandard zones you'll travel through in Cantha. The Guild Wars designers went about as far as they could from the look and tone of the original Prophesies zones, and the Eastern sensibility and flair is like a breath of fresh air.
PVP is the gameplay that most people come looking for when they sit down to a session of Guild Wars, and Factions provides for these players as well. Besides the same gameplay seen in Prophecies, travelers to Cantha have the opportunity to align with two warring groups seeking to control the newly found lands. In PVP battles, guilds can struggle back and forth across a highly militarized zone. The more PVP victories a faction has, based on the guilds associated with it, the more land it can claim to control. The most interesting thing is that individual guilds can then lay claim to some of these lands, based on the amount of favour they've curried with their patron faction. This favour is earned not by PVP, but by PVE questing. The most successful guilds under Factions, then, are mixed bags. PVE questers garner favour with the ruling faction, while PVP gladiators ensure that their faction has control of a large swath of land. It forces players that normally would not associate to come together in a common goal, and is a right brilliant idea.