When Final Fantasy XIV was first released on the PC in fall of 2010, I was at a point where I had taken a hiatus from the MMO genre. New entries in the genre were popping up seemingly all of the time, but none of them were able to pull off anything new and/or interesting enough for me.
Initially it seemed like Final Fantasy XIV might offer something new, but what fans of the genre ultimately got was, by most accounts, a clunky, uninspired mess that did very little to set itself apart from its competitors. The game was such a disappointment, in fact, that Square Enix decided to reboot it. Enter Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
When I loaded up A Realm Reborn for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect; my expectations weren’t particularly high, but if Square Enix had enough faith in the game to put time and money into giving it a complete overhaul, well, I was willing to give it a shot.
It wasn’t long before I was starting to feel like I made a good call.
Once you start up the game for the first time, the first thing you need to do, of course, is create your character. You’ll start off by picking one of five races, each of which has two clans each. Apart from the aesthetic differences between clans, there are also minor stat differences.
As far as the character customization goes, it’s fairly detailed; you’re able to customize your hair, hair color skin tone, height, muscle tone, iris color, and so on. Some of the races, such as the cat-like Miqo’te, have additional customization options.
The next thing you’ll need to do is pick your “Patron Deity.” The game doesn’t make any attempt at explaining what this is at the outset, but it’s fairly simple: each option gives you more or less elemental resistance to certain attributes. The differences between each choice are so minor that it doesn’t seem worth putting much thought into it.
Lastly, you’ll need to pick between one of seven classes: the Gladiator, your standard tank; the Pugilist, a hand-to-hand melee fighter; the Marauder, a greataxe-wielding tanky damage dealer; the Lancer which, of course, focuses on the use of lances; the Archer, which takes on targets at range with projectile-based weapons; the Conjurer, a magician who focuses primarily on utility spells such as healing; and, finally, the Thaumaturge, a magic-wielder who is capable of using devastating elemental attacks.
Once you’ve created your character, you’ll be treated to a cutscene – and, for me, this is where the interest began. The intro is (intentionally) vague – and fairly short – but it gives you a sense right from the start that you really are playing a Final Fantasy game with an underlying story, not simply an MMO with the name attached.
After a brief in-game cutscene introducing you to your starting City State, determined by your choice of class, you’re thrust into the game’s world, and your very first quests open up to you. If for some reason you hadn’t already noticed just how gorgeous the game looks, you will soon enough.
If you were to judge Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by its first round of quests, you would probably find it to be pretty boring; none of the early quests are particularly interesting. However, once you’ve made it through those early quests, which are mostly designed to introduce new players to the world of MMOs – and the game’s controls – things begin to get more interesting.
In your first ten levels, you’ll encounter four types of quests: your standard MMO quest, FATE quests (more on that in a moment), your Guild (class) story quest, and the main story quests. Before diving into the quests, however, it’s important to discuss the gameplay first.
To put it simply, Final Fantasy XIV‘s combat controls – at least with a mouse and keyboard – are about as familiar as can be for veteran MMO players. In order to attack you must first target an enemy, and using a special attack initiates a global cooldown that prevents you from following it up right away. Ultimately, this keeps combat at a fairly slow pace.
The global cooldown system is a tired one, but the traditional combat system is spiced up slightly thanks to the game’s “combo” system. Certain moves, such as the Gladiator’s first attack, will open up combo opportunities for enhanced damage on follow-up abilities and, in some cases, buffs. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to wait until your global cooldown is over before following up with a combo.
Of course, the flow of combat could change as you progress in levels – and once you’ve unlocked the ability to change your class, which is one of the game’s best features.
Upon hitting level 10 and completing your Class quest you open up the ability to change your class to whatever you want, removing the need to make an entirely new character if you’re not satisfied with your current class.
The best part about changing your class, however, is that you can use abilities from your other classes – and this could help solve, or at least alleviate, the problem of sitting around waiting for your global cooldown timer to run out.
Moving your mouse and camera around is a pretty standard fare as well, but your character’s walking animation and the camera controls don’t feel as refined as they should be – they’re very stiff, but nonetheless manageable. Considering that the build I was playing was closed beta, this could change as we move closer to launch.
As previously mentioned, the game features four types of quests. Most of the standard quests are, well, standard, but most manage to avoid becoming too mundane, and a few even turned out to be somewhat fun. FATEs, however, are more interesting.
Akin to the events in Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn features FATE quests that randomly open up on the map. Once you’ve entered in the vicinity of the FATE – marked by a large circle on your map – you’ll automatically join the event and will be able to take part with other players, regardless of whether or not you’re in a party.
The story quests from your guild and the main story, however, are where the game really begins to shine – and feel like a true Final Fantasy game.
Although the first ten levels didn’t get me far enough into the story for anything overly dramatic to happen, there were some moments that seemed to be building up to something much more interesting. Even some of the “side” stories are interesting; at the very least, they capture the essence of the franchise.
If Square Enix manages to keep this up all the way through to the game’s level cap of 50 – or near enough to it – then I will be thoroughly impressed.
I started Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn with a healthy amount of skepticism but my experience, brief as it may have been, left me wanting to see more. The combat may feel slow and the camera controls stiff, but that isn’t enough to hold back the experience very much – especially when the game’s locales and story are so well-realized and brimming with Final Fantasy charm.
Once the game launches August 27 on PC and PlayStation 3, I will definitely be interested to see how the full game turns out. Considering that I’ve mostly stayed away from MMOs for several years now, I figure that says something about the game – or me, perhaps.
Note: Impressions based off of the PC version using a mouse and keyboard.