Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Preview

August 15, 2013

The MMO landscape is littered with the bloated, rotting corpses of games that didn’t make it. At one end of this vast, desolate plain sits an incomprehensible giant. Massive, overfed, but slightly smaller than it used to be, World of Warcraft watches over the plain like a hellish lord, occasionally picking at the bones of those games that challenged it and failed.

Not everything dies in this landscape. Smaller, more agile MMOs have sprung up from the bones of the dead, flourishing by doing their best to not be WoW. Over there is a Guild Wars 2 scurrying among the ruins, while on the other side you can see the ancient, bearded Everquest still drawing succour from this hostile wasteland. Every so often a small Chinese MMO flits between corpses, taking what it can before it gets caught by several competitors and consumed.

Somewhere towards the middle of this plain lies the corpse of Final Fantasy XIV, a game who’s launch was so disastrous that Square Enix chose not to charge subscription fees for more than a year afterwards. An incomprehensible user interface, coupled with restrictive and extremely dull questing and a fatigue system that punished players for playing more than a few hours at a time were just some of the things that kept everyone away.


Now, something new is rising from the corpse. A rare attempt at a resurrection in this brutal realm. That something is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a complete rebuild of the original game, with a new graphics engine, new quests, new classes and even, in the case of some races, new genders. Is this the game FFXIV should have been in the first place?

Well, yes. But that’s only because FFXIV was so bad at launch that a bad Korean MMO would have been more fun to play. While this isn’t the first time an MMO has seen a major overhaul— even World of Warcraft got a dramatic overhaul with its Cataclysm expansion— it’s definitely the most dramatic overhaul we’ve seen. The result is a game that’s only superficially recognisable as the FFXIV that launched in 2010.

The good news is that FFXIV:ARR is actually playable. The menu system that made everything a tedious chore in the original is gone, replaced with the more standard set of windows for inventory, character, questing, grouping, friends and everything else you’d expect. Quests are… quests and dungeons are dungeons. There’s no restrictions on how long you can play for, and it’s possible to actually have fun now.


Which is great and all, but it’s also FFXIV:ARR’s downfall. Sure, it feels like the game it should have been back in 2010. What it doesn’t feel like is an MMO that should be released now, in 2013. Everything about this game feels dated and backwards somehow.

That’s a shame, because when it gets things right, it gets them very right. The story quests are really cool, and presented in a way that only a Final Fantasy game can: heavy on the cutscenes and convoluted revelations, light on the actual going out and doing things. This story drives the game, and it’s a shame the beta cuts it off after roughly twenty levels. If it weren’t for other aspects of FFXIV:ARR, I’d probably play it for this story.

On the other hand, non-story quests are bog-standard “bring me twenty bear arses” quests that are as much a chore to do now as they were when WoW launched in 2004. There are also “Levequests”, which are the same thing, except you can only do a few of them per day, and “Guildleves”, which require a group to complete.


There’s also a really annoying feature when you turn in a quest. Rather than just handing the quest in, you have to go through this whole process of moving a quest item out of your inventory— where they are stored in a separate category to all your other items, thankfully— and into a special turn-in window. Only then can you turn the quest in.

It doesn’t seem like much, but this kind of busywork is indicative of a much larger problem with FFXIV:ARR. The game just seems to want to get in your way at every opportunity. Take class skills and combat, for example. I picked an Archer because bows are awesome, and soon learned that I had to contend with a 2.5 second cooldown time on my skills. This reduced combat to a painfully slow succession of turns interspersed by a lot of bright flashes that, at first, didn’t feel like they did a whole lot of damage. On the bright side, the enemies didn’t seem to do a whole lot of damage either, and it wasn’t until I was well into the game that I found myself dying to an elite mob.

The obvious comparison here is with Guild Wars 2, an extremely streamlined MMO that eliminates exactly the kinds of problems that seem to be deliberately invoked in FFXIV:ARR. There, you don’t even really have to accept quests, they happen automatically around you as you level and explore. There’s some aspects of that in FFXIV:ARR, but it’s frustratingly rare.


One great idea that GW2 and FFXIV:ARR do share is the concept of different weapons changing the way your character plays. In GW2 this manifests itself by giving you access to different skills based on your equipped weapon (and you’re encouraged to change weapons often in certain scenarios), adding a lot of diversity to the individual classes. In FFXIV:ARR however, your entire class changes based on the weapon you have equipped. This is basically an implementation of the Final Fantasy job system that has been a series staple since Final Fantasy III.

Combat itself is very static, and you often don’t feel like your input is having much of an affect on the outcome. Despite all the visual flashiness of the attacks, they feel, individually, weak. Worse, most skills share a 2.5 second global cooldown, which is an eternity in an MMO such as this. While this can be reduced as you progress, it makes the early game feel slow. It doesn’t help that combat isn’t particularly active out of that, with nothing like GW2’s dodging and rolling to keep things interesting.

Visually, FFXIV:ARR is a curious mix. There are some technical issues with the graphics, such as a lack of anisotropic filtering, and overall they’re not exactly cutting-edge, but they look fine enough, and the game’s imaginative locations are well-rendered. One notable feature is that every light in the game is dynamic, which looks great, especially at night.


Sound and music are decent enough. I didn’t find the music especially memorable, but it’s nice enough to listen to as you play. One curious aspect of the sound is that there’s no voice acting at all, which makes the game’s otherwise excellent cutscenes feel unfinished.

Ultimately, Square Enix has a huge challenge on its hands with FFXIV:ARR. Not only do they have to make up for the dramatic failure of the original Final Fantasy XIV, but also try to recapture the magic that made their previous Final Fantasy-based MMO such a huge success. What they have right now is a solid, if somewhat unambitious, starting point. If you’re already heavily invested in an MMO such as Guild Wars 2 or World of Warcraft, then there’s nothing here that will get you excited. Fans of Final Fantasy on the other hand, especially those who feel that Final Fantasy XI is dated now, should definitely take a look at FFXIV:ARR however.