Sunday, 23 November 2014

Beyond Earth: It’s Civ Jim, but not as we know it!

I bought Civilisation: Beyond Earth on Friday and it was with great excitement that I started my first game. The prospect of living in harmony with the planet and sending siege worms after my enemies in the forefront of my mind. From the screenshots I had seen it looked enough like the other Civilisation games that I felt comfortable enough to dive straight in. A few hours later I emerged somewhat lost, on the verge of losing and feeling rather great about it!

I have played the civilisation series since it’s first iteration and had fallen in to a something of a pro-forma approach to the game. I would pursue the technological victory and knew the must-have wonders and techs from a relatively linear tech tree. In keeping at the front of the technological curve I usually had enough of an advantage that my small high-tech force could hold other civs at bay while I completed my spaceship.

After finishing that first (impulse) game I realised that I needed to go back to basics and learn how this game worked. For starters could no longer rely upon a linear tech-tree, neatly divided up in to ages. In addition I have never heard of any of these future technologies or building (yes, I admit it makes sense!) and therefore had very little idea of what I actually needed in order to maximise my science output! This meant a greater reliance on the in-game advisors who, while good at recommending techs, do not really explain what their end goal is.

Errrr, help I’m lost!

I also had to get to grips with this idea of affinity (what type of ideology would I follow on this new land) and I had decided that living in harmony with the planet was for me. Therefore I pursued anything that had a harmony symbol on it. While I did gain some great harmony perks, this left me vulnerable later in the game as I had ignored other techs because they were labelled as supremacy or purity. Little did I realise the use of the ‘a little of column A, a little from column B’ approach. There is something to be said for explorers that can build extra expeditions (gained at supremacy level 1) and also were not attacked by aliens (purity level 1)!

The big benefit of the Harmony affinity is the lovely green hue your buildings have.

Again with the move away from linear tech progression I found myself having to re-learn unit progression. I could not rely on my knowledge that machine-guns are (generally) better than cross bows. I need to have a look at unit stats and factors in for the fact that some units upgrade as you increase levels in your dominant affinity, meaning that your early game combat units can become your late game power-houses.

I am still smiling now as I contemplate my approach to my next game, knowing full well that I really need to read the manual/examine the tech web. With all that said it’s just too much fun to get halfway through a game, realise you have missed something critical and then spend the rest of it trying to find a coping strategy.

If you are intrigued you can pick up Civilisation: Beyond Earth on Steam for around £30. As for me I am going to swap harmonising with the planet for turning my folks in to robots, what could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Final Fantasy XIV: A Blog Reborn

 It’s been a long time since I have blogged, however the thought of return to my blog has always been in the back of my head and awaiting a decent opportunity for me to start again. I recently got this opportunity when I realised that Final Fantasy XIV was offering a 14 day trial to those who had not tried it before. So I signed up and headed in, eager to see what was on offer, how this experience felt in relation to the Final Fantasies of old and exactly how much could I achieve in one day on this game.

So after a rather straightforward account setup and somewhat lengthy download I started the game and instantly recognised the music, tapping in to fond memories of Final Fantasy VII the musical score had clearly been given a lot of consideration.

Right from the start one thing is abundantly clear, Final Fantasy XIV is BEAUTIFUL! All of the character models are sharp and regardless which of the many face, body, hair or decorative options you choose your character will look absolutely stunning.

So having opted for creating something that resembled a human cat and choosing conjuror as my starting class, I set off for my adventure in to the world of Eorzea. It kicks off with a gorgeous cinematic in which I am told I need to ‘Hear…. Feel….Think’ before showing me a rather ominous looking person in a mask who my character then proceeds to attack with spells!

I wake up in the back of a cart all of the previous images all being the result of a dream (yeah right!). Suddenly I am visited by some old final fantasy favourites, a couple of Moogles appear (imagine a cat with a giant head crossed with a tiny bat!) and tell me that I am special before drinking all the wine and disappearing.

Pot to Kettle
Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Our caravan is beset by Lizard men, some brave warriors hold them off while we make for Gridania, the starting city for my chosen class. At this point FFXIV begins to feel like a lot of other MMORPGs as I am given a variety of fetch and carry quests to help me to find my bearings. I get myself all registered at the Conjurors’ Guild and head out for my first taste of combat.

It was time to take out some squirrels and as a conjuror commanding the elements this meant only one thing, throwing big magic rocks at them! A few quests later I am still killing things with big rocks but I also have the option of laying down a whirlwind for a bit of variety.

Combat looks and sounds amazing.

After gaining a few levels I begin to notice some of the features of FFXIV that make it slightly different from other MMOs. Firstly all equipment for your character is stored separately from crafting and other items, which results in a lot of spare bag space. This is tied in to another difference, you can completely change your class (once you have reached level 10 in your starting class)! Bored with your archer? Pop over and join the Lancers guild! Crafting follows much the same process, once you hit level 10 you can register with the crafting guild of your choice and change to that class by replacing your weapon with the tools of your crafting class (a knife for leatherworking for example). 

I am tipping this guy for major evilness!

The main story goes along a decent pace and in my first day I was attacked by an angry tree as well as some over excited lumps of clay. I also bumped in to a fellow who looked suspiciously like the masked menace from the opening cutscene! All in all it feels like I have been able to achieve a lot in the first day, getting to level 12 in my starting class as well as level 5 in a crafting class. I have also participated in a few FATE battles, area events that draw players together to achieve a specific objective (such as defeat a certain number of enemies to protect a village).

There are limitations to the free trial, trading and communication options are limited and class levels are capped at 20. The game itself is very enjoyable due to its beauty and the Final Fantasy feel of it, battle-music plays whenever you are in combat, spell names and creatures are very familiar. It pushes all the right buttons to bring a Final Fantasy experience to an MMO environment. However the world itself can seem a bit empty at times, particularly if you are used to the constant activity of a populated WoW server. There are also a few questionable quests, one of which has you learn to use in game chat by talking to an NPC who will only respond if you type EXACTLY what is asked, punctuation and all.
I am not sure if I will subscribe once I have finished my trial, but I am certainly enjoying the experience so far! The game and free trial can be downloaded through steam, just press the download demo option on the page.