What happens when a major publisher pushes out a huge release that ends up being buggy and receives almost unanimous criticism? Well if you’re Square Enix, you spend 3 years re-designing and polishing that crap and end up producing a diamond. As someone who has played every recent major MMORPG release, and most minor ones, I can confidently say that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the most polished and comprehensive MMORPG on the market today.
It’s clear that not only did Square Enix want to smooth out this black mark in their reputation, but fans of Final Fantasy and MMORPGs alike wanted this game to be great. Surprisingly, the initial response from the community overwhelmed even the predictions of this publishing giant. Despite the incredible amount of assets available to Square Enix, they had grossly underestimated the number of players that would pre-order Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and want to play it on release. Strike two was already against Square Enix, the initial strike being the 2010 launch, as a vast majority of players were unable to log into the game due to constant errors and servers bursting at full capacity, until around the second week of the official launch. If they expected players to stick with the game at this point, it seriously had to deliver.
With the exceptional amount of content in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn it’s best to start from the beginning. Upon logging into the game for the first time there’s a gorgeous opening movie, which can be re-watched from the opening menu, and an array of configuration options. Being only the second major MMORPG to fully utilize and recommend gamepad use, with Tera Online being the first, opens the game up to a whole new player base; this is also the first cross-platform MMORPG of this generation and will even extend into the generation via the PlayStation 4. The rest of the configurations are more than satisfactory with multiple resolution, sound, visual and keybinding settings.
Immediately after tweaking the game to the desired settings, it’s time to select a server and go into the lengthy character creation process. From the start there’s a total of 20 possible combinations of the 5 races, 2 clans for each race and gender selection. Even though each race and clan has slight stat variations, it’s unlikely that these will carry much weight after the beginning of the game. Once that’s sorted out there are over 20 separate character appearance options ranging from muscle tone to voice style. The final steps include picking the character’s birthday, patron deity, which provides a small bonus to resistance, and then one of 8 starting classes.
I would like to emphasize that the class selected at the beginning is not the end all be all because the glory of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the job, and interchangeable class, system. Once a player hits level 10 and completes their “class quest,” the option to begin a new class is unlocked. Technically it’s possible to play every class with a single character, which eliminates the need, but not the option, for alternative characters. Each class is linked to its weapon and off-hand. Therefore, switching a weapon will revert a character to the weapon’s respective class and level; meaning players can have as many classes as weapons they can hold.
Levelling multiple classes not only provides for varied gameplay, but it also rewards players who do so in many different ways. First, certain skills learned from classes are cross-class skills which can be used by other classes depending on their level. This means that a Thaumaturge can learn healing spells from an Arcanist. On the other hand, the Arcanist can learn additional damage spells from the Thaumaturge. Furthermore, the biggest benefit for levelling a secondary class is that when a main class hits level 30, a job becomes available.
Jobs combine a primary level 30 class and a secondary level 15 class to create something entirely new. While playing the Arcanist I had the option of either levelling a Conjurer (healer) or Thaumaturge as a secondary class. This would either turn the Arcanist into a Scholar, which specializes in restorative magic, or a Summoner with the power of controlling certain Primals. It’s possible to have multiple jobs, but only one can be equipped, with a soul crystal, at any given time.
Now, hopefully, the first thing most players will notice upon logging into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are the amazing graphics. While it might not be the best looking game ever made, for a MMORPG the texture quality and detail put into the game is off the chart. I know that aesthetics are incredibly subjective, but it’s hard to argue with the amount of detail put into the cities, weapons, equipment and even the chocobos. The texture quality is so smooth, in order to see any distortion or pixelization you have to zoom all the way in on very large objects, and even then most objects still look pretty good.
One of my pet peeves, with otherwise good games, is boring skill animation; when I use what should be a devastating skill I want it to look that way, instead of just a minor alteration to my normal attack. This is something that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn greatly delivers on. Every skill looks awesome, even what would normally be considered “boring” skills such as buffs or de-buffs. One of my favorites so far, Blizzard II, literally creates a mini snowstorm that explodes into a massive ice field.
As for the story, it follows the land of Eorzea after the cataclysmic events of the Seventh Umbral Era. The three main city-states of Eorzea: Limsa Lomina, Gridania, and Ul’dah have been rebuilt, but face many constant issues, including the threat of the beast tribes, primals and an imminent Garlean invasion. Like most other RPGs, the initial quests are very basic and the pace is pretty slow; go here, talk to this guy, kill these rats, thwart this plan and deliver food to the guards. Things really start to get interesting around level 20 when the primal fights are introduced, starting with Ifrit, and they key plot begins to unfold. During important cut scenes the voice-overs are done quite well, but it’s unfortunate they’re so far and few between.
Combat in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is done in very typical MMORPG fashion, complete with tab-targeting, global cooldowns and stationary spell casting. There’s no gimmicky action-style combat or game changing mechanics that haven’t been seen before, but the system is incredibly polished and feels well done. Class skills are broken down into Actions (active) and Traits (passive) that either have a casting time, trigger the global cooldown or are instantly cast. It seems like most classes have a decent balance of skills that trigger the global cooldown and those that don’t, so the players are rarely just sitting there waiting for something to happen. Additionally, equipment with Skill/Spell Speed reduces the global cooldown and casting time of spells.
While the Arcanist/Summoner is the only class that inherently receives a pet, all classes eventually receive access to a chocobo which can be mounted at level 20 and can fight alongside your character at level 30. Chocobos act similarly to the Arcanist pets, with multiple stances and attack skills, but unlike the summons they can level up and have their own skill tree. They can be specialized as a Defender, Attacker, Healer or a mix of the three. This means that players will never have to travel alone, even if no other players are around to help them.
Unlike most other MMORPGs, gathering and crafting skills are not merely an afterthought but are instead each their own individual class. These “Disciplines of the Hand/Land” act in the exact same way that the combat oriented classes do; equipping the respective tool instantly changes you to that class, complete with active and passive skills. Gathering isn’t simply right clicking on a shiny spot anymore, there’s a whole skill bar associated to interacting with the environment. When creating new equipment it’s important to balance both quality and the speed at which it’s produced. Not only are there skills and traits associated with these secondary classes, but they also have their own specialized equipment.
With all the different classes, cross-class options, jobs, companions, and general ways to play the game, it can seem like Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn would overwhelm players not used to this genre. However, thankfully for those players, tutorials are also spammed throughout the game whenever players do anything even remotely new or complicated. Currently, I’ve probably clicked through around 100 tutorial menus, vaguely glancing at most, but a lot of them are actually helpful and explain the complex mechanics of the game.
Even though Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn doesn’t reforge the MMORPG experience, this shouldn’t be seen as a negative. In fact, it’s really a culmination and polish of the genre that paves a way for future games to either be truly innovative or completely fail.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is vastly superior to its predecessor in every way and is a shining gem in the MMORPG market.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.