Cheeky-faced warbler Lee Ryan once crooned, alongside Elton John, that sorry 'seemed' to be the hardest word. Given that he was laying down a track in an expensive studio, you think he might have been a little more sure about it, but that's selfish celebrities for you.
Regardless, if he had six words to play with, there'd be no 'seeming' about it: the hardest words to say are *obviously* 'Final Fantasy XIV is a bit rubbish'.
It doesn't always seem that way. First impressions are, in typical Square Enix style, polished. Luxurious cutscenes welcome your arrival into Eorzea, and early story quests - including escorting an NPC to a camp and breaking up a fight using the various emotes available - are different enough from the MMO norm to signal promising things.
Also promising is the vast open-endedness of the game's character development system. One of its core differentials is that it doesn't impose a single class upon you: simply equip a weapon or tool related to a particular role and, voila, you're a whole new man/woman/cat-thing.
It's a liberating and intoxicating system - initially, at least. Jobs rank up separately to your 'physical' level, and performing actions related to the job type - fighting for fighters, healing for healers, crafting for crafters - gives both job-specific skill points and physical experience.
The initial flurry of trying out the different roles leads to almost effortless levelling; and the ability to choose exactly which attributes will be increased when doing so further pushes the possibilities beyond anything that's been seen before.
Visually, too, the game is a treat. Powered by Square Enix's Crystal Tools - the same engine that put the muscle into Final Fantasy XIII - the game is a startling visual treat on high-end PCs. In particular, it's satisfying to see an MMO that can provide vistas as dramatic and sweeping as its concept artists' most fevered of scribblings.
The castle-like town of Limsa Lominsa stretches upward against a sheer craggy coast, connected to the mainland with a vast and intricate bridge that evokes Tolkienesque imagery. One area features as its landmark a colossal dragon that lies entangled around a fallen aerial battlecruiser, so vast as to always have a presence on the horizon and so intriguing as to inspire adventure in even the most battle weary of adventurer.
Naturally, such imagery comes at a price: some pretty demanding system specs. That's not much of a surprise, really, given an MMO's expected 6+ year lifespan. Except that even if you've got a high-end system, so much of the visual detail is server-dictated that you'll spend an awful lot of time watching other players pop into view alarmingly close up, or standing at closed doors waiting for the server to get its arse in gear and open them.
Visual fidelity means nothing when the spell is so frequently broken by sluggish communication. In fact, the game's complete reliance on the server is one of its major undoings. You'll no doubt have heard about the game's interface, and in particular its laboriousness and sluggishness. Yes, it's not going to win any awards, and it's so pad-focused that it almost might as well not bother with mouse support at all, but it's passable.
What can't be forgiven is its insistence on validating every single click with the server, which often means that it's laggy beyond use. Just flogging all the trinkets and lint combed from fighting enemies to an NPC vendor can take five minutes as you wait for each and every item to be checked. To describe it as torturous is no exaggeration.