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Final Fantasy XI

Although clearly effort has been made to provide substantial single player content, practical playing proves that partying up is essential. If you begin in the popular Elvaan city of San d'Oria, you'll jog around all day looking for enough bats to tear the wings off to fill a mission's requirements ... unless you enlist friends to help you find them. Still, it's easy to make friends in-game and developing a group of hardy compatriots is part of the fun. The naturally social environment makes a USB keyboard essential since nothing makes chatting it up easier and the tiny hunt-and-peck on-screen keyboard is as painful to look at as it is to use.

Combat will be second nature to Final Fantasy veterans, but those still unfamiliar with the quasi-turn-based system shouldn't have trouble. At the earliest levels, you only get the most basic attacks so fighting results in watching your character swing a sword, club, or staff until your monster dies. Of course, you might end up dying yourself if you don't use the handy "check" option to make sure you are a match for your opponent (watch for the testicle thumping rabbits). Later on, things pick up once your character gains levels, earning new powers that result in flashy light shows and more exciting battles.

The recently released beta version already delivers the high-res visuals that PC players have enjoyed since day one. But while they blow away the PS2 version, they still don't quite pass the next-gen muster. Plus, at the moment, the installation of the software and its updates takes hours; we hope that's not a sign of misery to come.

It can't be forgotten that this game is, in fact, two years old. But we, along with the collosal Fantasy fan base, are eager to see how essential this proves when the adventure begins in May.

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