I will admit, this isn’t an article that I thought I was going to write, because Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn was not a game that I thought I was going to play. I had gotten quite burned out on MMOs for awhile, and even now that I’m not, I’m still alternating between Guild Wars 2, which I like quite a bit, and The Secret World, which I also like despite a few technical issues it has with one of my GPUs. I even spent a short bit of time with the FFXIV beta and walked away not very impressed at all. So what changed my mind? Well, the game was $15 on Amazon during Thanksgiving Day, and at that price I decided that I’d give it an honest shot for a month and see if it could hold my interest.
I will make the disclaimer that since this is an MMO, and since I’ve only played a few hours into it, I can guarantee you that I don’t have a complete picture of what the game can offer. But that’s not really my purpose here. My purpose is to tell you if it can grab and keep your attention out of the gate.
So, I heard the game didn’t go over so well at first.: That’s what I’ve heard as well. I never played it, so I can’t confirm that from personal experience. From all the accounts I’ve read and heard, though, it was terrible. The team apparently took that criticism to heart, though, and have spent a great deal of time reworking the game from the ground up to make it, uh, playable, I suppose? Or whatever is the opposite of what it was.
Well okay then, so what is it now?: It’s a perfectly serviceable MMO, is what it is. That might not seem like a great deal of praise to heap upon a game, but really, it’s a testament to what they’ve done with it that less than a month after it went live, nothing immediately sticks out at me as being clunky or broken. That’s never happened with me before. Even World of Warcraft bugged out on me when I first started playing it way back in Burning Crusade.
They’ve obviously worked on it quite a bit, huh. What about the races and classes?: The races, from what I can tell, are updated versions of what I can remember from Final Fantasy XI. There are the Hyur and Elezen (the typical ‘human’ and ‘elf’ styled races), the Lalafell (a diminutive race that resembles a gnome of some sort), the Miqo’te (a race of cat people), and the Roegadyn (a race of ogre-ish giants). Unlike Final Fantasy XI, all races allow for both genders, and there are actually some fairly extensive customization options for people who really get into character customization. Most are cosmetic, save for the selection of a patron deity which slightly alters a character’s elemental resistances.
The classes, which determine your starting zone, are also fairly standard and are split into two categories: Disciples of War and Disciples of Magic. Within those categories, you have the standard class distribution between melee and ranged fighters and wielders of attack and healing magic. Class progression in FFXIV is handled in a similar manner to how it is in The Secret World: you aren’t tied down to the class you choose when you start the game. Your class is completely dependent on what weapon you are currently using. Equipping a fist weapon? You’re a Pugilist. Want to be a Marauder instead? Equip a greataxe. In fact, gaining levels in multiple classes is a requirement to unlock the game’s version of prestige classes, which are versions of the Final Fantasy jobs that you probably remember from Final Fantasy V or Tactics.
Oh, well that’s pretty cool. How does it play?: Well, a whole lot like World of Warcraft. Of course, since WoW is pretty much the gold standard of MMOs, no subsequent game can really escape being influenced by it, but some games try to differentiate themselves a lot more. There’s still a pretty significant amount of ‘Go kill X amount of X and return’ quests. There are random world events, called FATEs, that work a lot like Guild Wars 2‘s map events, though again they aren’t implemented quite so well here, I don’t think. There is also a certain amount of influence that can be felt from Final Fantasy XII, which was itself basically a single-player version of Final Fantasy XI, so the series does keep a certain pedigree there.
What about the graphics and sound? I mean, looking and sounding pretty is sort of a Final Fantasy staple at this point, right?: For the sound part, let me just put it this way. The soundtrack, or at least significant portions of it, was composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Nobuo Fucking Uematsu. The man who is responsible for some of Square’s most iconic music, and whose departure from the Final Fantasy series is one of the things that, in my opinion, caused FFXII and FFXIII to be somewhat lacking. So, needless to say, the game sounds great, and that alone gives it an atmosphere on par with (and in a lot of cases surpassing) any other MMO out there, and most other games of any genre.
The visuals, however, aren’t really up to par in my opinion. I mean, sure, the game is pretty, but it’s not Guild Wars 2 pretty. And that puts it in a really awkward spot in terms of performance. It uses enough processing power to make it stutter on my laptop on even the lowest settings, and yet when I run it on my desktop at higher settings, it doesn’t really blow me away either. Compare that to World of Warcraft, which even with its upgrades can run well on more systems, or to Guild Wars 2 which uses its art style to its advantage, and you can see my slight disappointment there. The cutscenes are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but in a lot of ways the in-game stuff doesn’t hold up.
You said you weren’t impressed when you played the beta.: Yeah, but I’ve been told that was because I picked the wrong class and the wrong starting zone. I started out as a Marauder, which I thought was going to be a DPS class but instead was a fairly slow tanking class. Additionally, the starting zone for that class is extremely fetch-quest heavy and slow to get up and going. This time around, I am playing Pugilist, which is better all around.
But it still sounds like you aren’t very impressed.: On all the major points, I don’t know that I am. Every ‘big’ thing that the game does is done better by other games. And yet….. the little things are perfect, and serve to differentiate the game in a good way. Little things such as not having to manually loot defeated enemies. Everything is autolooted in FFXIV. You have a separate inventory space solely for weapons and armor. The class level menu is much more straightforward than the skill menu in TSW. Because it inherits so many little things from FFXII, it plays more like a single-player game than an MMO, at least in the beginning, and anyone who knows me knows that this is the way to keep me interested. Additionally, the audio cues change when you enter battle, which is something that single player games do but MMOs generally do not, and for some reason that makes a real difference in the mood. It makes every battle feel like it carries a little bit of additional impact.
And the control scheme. The control scheme is wonderful. I’m not talking about the mouse-and-keyboard controls, which are fairly standard. No, I’m talking about the built-in controller scheme that works like a dream with a wired X360 controller. You don’t even have to remap the keys every time you switch between the control schemes, either. All you have to do is go to the ‘character options’ menu and there is a big toggle switch you can click on that changes between the keyboard and controller mappings. Now, I don’t know how well the controller will hold up at higher-level play, but in the beginning, it really makes me feel like I’m playing a proper console single-player FF game and not an MMO at all.
With a plot and everything?: Yep, with a plot and everything. Even the reboot was written into the plot, with as much elegance as any in-continuity reboot ever. Which is to say, they just had a big fucking meteor smash into the planet and handwaved the little things.
So here’s the big question: does it have a subscription fee, and is it worth it?: Yes, it does have a monthly subscription after the first 30 days. And as for whether it’s worth it, well, I don’t know that I can answer that yet. If I didn’t already have Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World, which both follow a free-to-play model to varying degrees of effectiveness, or if I didn’t have dormant World of Warcraft or Star Wars: The Old Republic accounts that I could reactivate, I would say this was possibly a good enough game to warrant a subscription. And if FFXIV were free-to-play, I would recommend it wholeheartedly. As it is, I may pay for it for a couple months, but I’m not really sure about even that part yet. Again, the game is good, but not great, and different in little ways but not in big ones.
Anything else?: Well, I mean, you can get a freaking Magitek Armor as a mount somehow, because I saw one walk by me on the street. And the moogles deliver mail. And I’m sure there are a whole bunch of other little punches in the nostalgia that I haven’t even begun to see yet. So there’s that.