Coming from a background of liking Final Fantasy and caring very little about MMOs, Final Fantasy XI served as a great window into a new world. While most Final Fantasy fans knew the game wasn't going to be of the typical ilk, there was still the urge to check it out and give it a chance. Those that did give it a chance typically fell in love with it, despite its very unforgiving nature. However, despite Square Enix's best attempts to keep players interested with numerous expansion packs, the game's attraction started to wane.
With this in mind, they came up with a solution - one that was extremely unexpected, but expected at the same time - Final Fantasy XIV. A game that on the surface looks almost identical to its predecessor. All of the races have been retained, albeit with different names, and the landscapes have the same graphical style. Square Enix believe that the familiarity will see players more inclined to drop their Final Fantasy XI accounts and move over to Final Fantasy XIV, while also hoping that all the new gameplay innovations will draw in other players from games like the behemoth that is World of Warcraft.
The biggest change probably comes with how players progress their characters. Final Fantasy XIV will really build on elements of Final Fantasy XI, while removing staples of the series completely. It was initially revealed that there would be no experience points, but this isn't entirely true. Players will gain experience points which help toward their "physical level". This will improve stats like HP and MP, as well as other attributes, much like Final Fantasy XI. However, there are no specific job levels, the levelling is universal for a character.
The job system has also been refined, as by simply wielding different weapons and crafting tools, the player will be able to assume different roles - even their appearance will change. There are four different disciplines, which cover all the bases, and some confirmed jobs are Gladiator, Archer, Conjurer, Miner and Goldsmith. Each of the offensive job types will be able to perform different arrays of moves and they appear to be quite untraditional in terms of Final Fantasy. During our hands-on time with the game at E3, we took charge of a Thaumaturge. They appear to be a cross between a Red Mage and a Dark Knight from Final Fantasy XI - although their physical attacks are negligible. They can perform enfeebling spells, like Drain and Gravity and their main attack is Phantom Dart. By performing strikes, players accumulate TP, which can be spent on casting other spells and the more devastating spells, like Damnation or Numbing Rime. Players have to make sure they manage their actions though, as only a certain amount of points can be spent/stacked up at a time.
The centre of the game, and how players will occupy most of their time, will come from Guildleves. You can perform them multiple times and they seem quite reminiscent of Assault, which was introduced to Final Fantasy XI in the Treasures of Art Urgan expansion pack. They're relatively quick and can be done alone, or with friends. They're exactly what Final Fantasy XI was missing, so they're a welcome addition to the game.
Our time with the game was quite brief, so it's often hard to form decent impressions due to the sheer size of the actual game. Needless to say, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that will invigorate those Final Fantasy XI gamers who lost their way and hopefully it'll pick up some people from the other games too. It's now scheduled to come out on the 22nd of September, 2010 on PC.