Ragar tries the new PS4 beta client and compares it to playing on the PC
Hello and welcome to the ninth edition of the Eorzea Examiner, ZAM’s column on Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. For this column we’ll be taking a break from all of the armchair game designing and talking about actually playing the game. FFXIV has been out on PC and PlayStation 3 since last August, but there’s one more version of the game that’s not yet released: the PlayStation 4 client. The PS4 version of the game won’t be officially released until April 14th, but in order to prepare for launch Square Enix is holding two beta test events. The first was this past week (February 22nd through March 3rd) and the second will be right before launch (April 4th through 7th). As someone who plays FFXIV (well, and just wants something else to play on his PS4 until Infamous Second Son comes out), I jumped into the beta this past weekend to see how playing on the console compares to the PC.
Eorzea on a 50-Inch Screen
After my editor and I finally found the beta client (note to Sony's PSN Store team: why does this beta only exist under New -> Demos and not in your actual Search results?) and all of the installing/patching was finished, it was time to grab my controller and log in. For this phase of beta the PS4 is not connected to the existing PC/PS3 server base, so anyone who wanted to try out the game would be playing on fresh beta servers and rolling new characters. After recreating my character from the live version of the game, I chose Conjurer as my starting class (I'll go into why later) and started my PS4 Eorzean adventure.
To provide everyone with some perspective, I play FFXIV on two different PCs - a desktop and a laptop, both running Intel i7 processors, 12+ GBs of RAM and fairly recent GeForce GPUs (one's a 770M and the other is a 760). Neither of these rigs is a top of the line, $5k gaming powerhouse, but both are easily capable of running most modern games, especially MMOs, at max settings and a good frame rate. I say this so when I tell you that the PS4 client's performance was easily comparable with what my PCs could do, it has a little more weight behind it.
The picture was just as crisp as the PC client, particle and spell effects were identical, and the frame rate was always acceptable even in main cities and FATEs. While I may not have been doing endgame FATE chaining to really stress it like I would on the PC, given that everyone had new characters for the PS4 beta, I think cities and low-level FATEs are about as stressful as I was going to get. So now that we've established that the game looks pretty on consoles, how does it play? Well, that depends on what you're using.
So Many Hotkeys, So Few Controller Buttons
When you play FFXIV on the PS4 (or the PC), you can choose between using either a keyboard and mouse or using a controller. I verified the keyboard and mouse controls during the PS4 testing. Both functioned perfectly and I even learned that the PS4 recognizes these devices at bootup, asking me for a user name for these devices. I assume this feature is for other games where Player 2 can use K&M while Player 1 uses a controller. While I could play the game with a keyboard and mouse, neither of mine were wireless devices, so I opted for the controller instead, which I assume most console players will lean toward.
Player and camera movement operate off the analog sticks and are reasonably responsive; I prefer WASD/mouse movement, but that's likely just a matter of being accustomed to the other. All of the nested menus FFXIV likes to use are accessed through the Options button, giving you a menu similar to the one used by the PS4 itself. This is very accessible and the controller works well for navigating the menus. The inventory and Armoury Chest menus are a little cumbersome to work with, but not overly so. To handle those UI areas that would normally require a mouse to navigate/access, the trackpad at the center of the PS4 controller comes into play. Pressing in on the left and right sides tabs between the different elements (quest tracker, maps, tutorial popups, etc); once you've highlighted the UI element you want, you use the other buttons to interact with it. Sliding your finger on the trackpad does move a mouse pointer around the screen, but there doesn't appear to be any way to click once you've moved it, so you'll still have to tap the touchpad buttons until you get it that way.
Your hotkeys operate similarly to how DC Universe Online handled their controller layout. You see your active 16 keybinds, eight on each side of the screen. Each half corresponds to one of the two shoulder buttons (L2/R2) on the controller; hold down one side's shoulder button and now your D-pad and face buttons will control the eight keybinds on that side of the screen. If 16 keybinds isn't enough for you (and it's not with FFXIV), you can swap between eight different keybind bars using R1 and the D-pad/face buttons. All in all, the keybinds on the controller feel pretty good and would be a viable way to play the game. There is one problem though: target selection.
Please Live Long Enough For Me to Target You
Many of you who have played FFXIV are likely familiar with its rather lackluster tab-targeting. While there are games that have done it worse, that's a very short list. In general when I'm playing on the PC, I have to pick my tanking targets with the mouse to make sure I don't Tab to something two rooms further into the dungeon. This is actually why I chose Conjurer as my starting class with the PS4 beta; I may not do any tanking at low levels, but healing FATEs is very common and a good way to test their targeting system.
Combat targeting was fine—aim toward an enemy mob, hit X and you would usually get them right away. With healing it was a bit more involved since you need to switch between targets. Switching targets on the controller is done with the D-pad: up and down toggles between your party members, while left and right switches between other targets. For healing in a dungeon this method would be adequate for the most part, though it would add some potential lag on healing spike damage. When you're healing FATEs and everyone's not in the same group, things don't go quite as smoothly. By default your left/right targeting will go through players as well, but it prefers mobs to players and you'll need to tab through all of those first, and then tab until you get the appropriate player to heal. There are ways to improve this: in the Character Configuration menu, there are filter options you can set for targeting. With L1 and one of the face buttons, I can switch between the default All setting to a healing-focused Players (only targets friendly NPCs), Enemies for combat or a customized filter set if you have specific needs.
This still doesn't change the fact that you're tabbing between targets for enemies or players. While the game is playable like that, it does add time to your reactions and has the potential for targeting the wrong player/mob. Admittedly, there aren't many alternatives when you're limited to controller input, barring something like L1 and using the right analog stick to highlight your target, but then you're sacrificing potentially more time for precision targeting.
So in the end, what's my opinion of the PlayStation 4 version of FFXIV? I'm honestly quite impressed with it. Both this game and DCUO show that you can put an MMO on a home console without sacrificing graphical fidelity or gameplay. There are some limitations with playing it on a PS4 (target switching, no Ventrilo/Teamspeak with your PC friends, more awkward to switch to a browser and look things up on XIVDB, etc), but even these aren't dealbreakers. For someone interested in the game that doesn’t have the budget for a high-end gaming rig, I would easily recommend getting a PS4 to play the game. Granted, I'd also suggest getting a wireless keyboard and mouse if you're looking to play from your couch, but the game is playable as is with a controller.
That's it for this week's edition of the Eorzea Examiner. What do you all think of playing MMOs on consoles? Are some of you already playing the game on PS3? Are you wondering why I'm even talking about consoles instead of just focusing of the PC? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. If you've got any suggestions for column topics, toss those in as well. Until next time, see you in Eorzea.
Michael "Ragar" Branham