I took the leap after a certain benchmark application drew me in a few weeks ago and decided to hop into this weekend's Open Beta for the new, totally-not-terrible version of Final Fantasy XIV, to whet my appetite before launch in a few weeks. Do you like Cat Men? Cat Men with... spears? Then say hi to Rikhi'to Tyun!

All Lancers - as well as Archers and Conjurers - start in the woodland city of Gridania. Even for beta, it's pretty packed. Square-Enix have been closing off entry to most of the servers on and off over the weekend, or diverting them to freshly created servers, to try and stymie the swathe of people looking to get in. Turns out that when Final Fantasy XIV is a well made, super-polished MMO experience rather than a turgid, ugly mess, people want to play it.

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All these tall Hyurs (Humans), Elezen (Elves) and fellow Miqo'te (Cat people) were beginning to intimidate my rather short character...

... so I found a Lalafell to stand around to make myself feel better. His surname was Giantsbane!

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On the whole the community on Odin-EU (I would've gone Moogle-EU, but it was full! Boo.) has stuck to proper naming conventions too - that said, I've come across multiple Starks, two Lannisters (yes, they had blond hair), a Mormont (Jeor, not Jorah), quite a few Strifes, several Lionhearts and even a fully fledged Aeris Gainsborough. If you're not sticking to the rules, it looks like Game of Thrones and PS1 Final Fantasies are your main source of character names.

Now that we've faffed about town for a bit, it's time to head out and stick some baddies with the pointy end of a stick. To combat!

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... Against some not particularly threatening squirrels. Combat is quite methodical thanks to a 2.5 second global cooldown on all your actions, and simple from the get go - it's basically a slower paced WoW, but with way prettier animations for everything. There's more emphasis on linking certain moves together to create combos, as well as positioning yourself to do the most damage you can, which at least keeps you thinking about what to do next (the answer? Keep on stabbing them till their lifebar is empty!). It almost feels turn based. Guild Wars this ain't.

Except when it is! Full Active Time Events, or FATE - you see what they did there - are basically the public quests from Guild Wars 2, where a random event pops up on the map prompting people to zerg rush their way through hordes of enemies. And just like Guild Wars 2, they can get a bit messy - framerate-killing too, given all the sparkly spells flying around. My PC buckled a bit on max settings, but not by much. Also, take note of the FATE title - the English localisation team for this is brilliant, there's tons of little jokes like that dotted around the quest names and flavour text.

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My first piece of actual armour! It's... a blue skirt. Aww.

Let's fast forward a bit. I'm now Level 12, and I've progressed the storyline a little - killed a giant tree, met a Mysterious Masked Mage, had a conversation with a crystal who happened to also be the planet, received a prophecy about the end of the world and Warriors of Light, you know. Final Fantasy. They're actually tying in the fact that this game is a reboot of the original FFXIV into the plot, which is surprisingly meta/cool.

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But I've also come across... this.

THE SUBLIGAR IS BACK!

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Subligar - a Latin synonym for Subligaculum ('A little binding underneath') and the Roman precursor to the bikini - were one of Final Fantasy XI's most infamous pieces of armour, and they're back with a vengeance in FFXIV. There's something oddly charming about a few mauve strips of leather being the best armour I can wear at this level.

And it looks exactly the same on men and women - if anything, the women get a little more armour, in order to retain their decency, or at least some of it. Equal opportunity battle panties!

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Sexy. Bet that chafes when you're sprinting.

Anyway...

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Fast forwarding again, this time to a future with more clothes. I'm now Level 18, and have access to armour dyes (goodbye, mismatched clown-gear!) as well as dungeons, and in true Final Fantasy style, access to an airship - allowing me to travel to the different cities of Eorzea, and perhaps level up a secondary class that wasn't available in Gridania. For now, with a beta cap of Level 20 I decided to finish off what I could as a Lancer and continue my story in the Pirate city of Limsa Lominsa - lead by the badass Lady-Pirate Merlwyb Bloefhiswyn, who I'm pretty sure is voiced by Knight Commander Meredith from Dragon Age. Might wanna watch out for that one.

I won't be around for the actual headstart weekend next week, but I'm glad I managed to get some time in now ahead of the game's launch - outside of any potentially fatal game breaking bugs that could force a rollback, Square-Enix are letting progression from this weekend roll into the full game in 2 weeks time, so I'm crossing fingers, touching wood and all that jazz. There's been a nasty sounding bug where people accidentally disconnected during loading screens can't log back in at all because their character still reads as logged in, but I'm hoping that doesn't necessitate a full wipe of Character Data.

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That said, I've enjoyed playing this a lot over yesterday and today enough that I probably wouldn't mind doing over my progress. I'll leave you with a picture to sum it all up - take it away, Rikhi'to: