Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Fantasy MMO
 
Rating: PG
 
Release Date: April 14, 2014 (PS4 version)
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


User Rating
1 total rating

 

Positives


Vibrant, detailed world
Everything you love about Final Fantasy in MMO form
Great music

Negatives


The subscription fee will be hard to justify when so many competing games don't have it


0
Posted May 6, 2014 by

 
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My relationship with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a complicated one. At first, I couldn’t help but feel that it wasn’t bringing anything new to a genre that had been revolutionised by Guild Wars 2, and that it was going to get crushed, as all MMOs tend to do, under the heel of the next World of Warcraft expansion. I decided that it was best to wait for it to go free-to-play before jumping on board.

Then it went on sale on Steam for the introductory price of $15 and I decided that I couldn’t pass that up either. Essentially this was paying for a month of game time and getting the game for free. I could live with this. I found myself having a decent amount of fun with it, too. The game has improved somewhat since the beta I played a year ago, but, well, it still didn’t feel like something I would want to play enough to justify an ongoing subscription.

Now, I have the PS4 version in hand, and, while playing it, I came to a rather disconcerting realisation. I am actually having fun with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. There’s something in this game that’s exactly tickling the reward centre of my brain and I keep coming back to it, day after day. Would it be enough to justify a $15-a-month subscription? I don’t know. Not yet, at least.

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So what is it about the game that’s kept my interest? It’s hard to say, really. It’s not like FFXIV:ARR is doing anything particularly revolutionary to the genre. It’s still full of the same “collect twenty bear arses” quests that have sustained MMOs for well over a decade at this point. It still has all the annoying busywork crafting and grinding that I hate in all MMOs. And the combat is still painfully slow and uninteresting to engage in.

Perhaps it’s the story quests that keep my interest up. These quests provide great rewards, lead you through each part of the game and teach you new things. They involve a fairly traditional Final Fantasy story, but nonetheless one that’s enjoyable to play through. This kind of story quest helps solve the problem a lot of MMOs have where you never quite feel like you’re having an impact on the world around you. Here, the game goes out of its way to put you at the heart of the events taking place.

There’s also some refreshingly cool world design going on here. Final Fantasy has a strong tradition of imaginative locations and settings, and Eorzea is no different. Taking place after a major calamity (essentially working the original FFXIV’s failure into its backstory), the zones all feel like they’re part of a living world, and there always seems to be something to see or do in them. The three major cities are all thriving and alive as well, both with players an NPCs. I haven’t seen MMO cities this populated since the glory days of Shattrath in World of Warcraft.

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Alive and vibrant are good ways to describe Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Now just over half a year into its life, its managed to overcome the incredible negativity that surrounded the original release, and, despite retaining a somewhat outdated subscription model, seems to be picking up players at a furious rate. At launch, I was fully expecting the game to abandon subscriptions and go free-to-play, but it’s clear now that it doesn’t need to do that. The good news is that lots of players are taking out subscriptions beyond the free 30 day trials, meaning that, for many, there’s enough here to justify a monthly price tag.

There are imperfections, however. I’ve already mentioned that, for the most part, quests aren’t particularly exciting, and the game’s convoluted “levequest” system is yet another example of why daily quests are the least interesting aspect of any MMO’s content. The instanced dungeons are also not all that great, essentially being loot corridors that can be easily steamrolled by a competent party. Perhaps the biggest failing, however, is the rather bizarre choice to have unvoiced cutscenes. Some cutscenes are voiced (and Japanese audio is available, if that’s your thing), but the majority are not, leaving characters to voicelessly move their mouths at each other. It’s an odd dip in the otherwise high production values of the game.

Visually, the game is nice, but with a few rough edges that give away just how old it really is. The real standout is the game’s lighting, with very heavy use of dynamic lighting everywhere, and one of the most detailed day/night cycles and weather systems I’ve ever seen in any video game. It’s actually kind of amazing just how well this works to create atmosphere, too. I’ve seen beautiful beachside sunsets, misty morning dawns and dull, rainy afternoons that really helped convey the liveliness of the game.

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The downside to the visuals is the low polygon counts on some models, some rough textures here and there and a troublesome aliasing effect in the middle distance, especially noticeable in grassy areas. Framerates, too, can be a bit of a mixed bag. The PS4 handles the game quite well, and there’s no drop in visual fidelity between it and the PC version, however the PS4 will drop frames more often in crowded areas such as the trade districts of each town.

The PS4 version supports mouse and keyboard control, and this works exactly like the PC version. This is great news as the controller interface is incredibly clunky and tends to be more of a hindrance than a help. If you have the opportunity to play on a PS4 with keyboard and mouse, then there’s no reason not to.

In the end, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn comes down to that subscription fee. Yes, it’s a reasonably well-made MMO with a beautiful, vibrant world, a fantastic story quest system, lots of places to explore and quest in and an active playerbase. On the other hand, there’s a lot of games that have all these things which don’t also require a monthly subscription fee— you can pay roughly the same at retail for a copy of Guild Wars 2, for example, but you’ll never need to keep paying to play the game after that. There’s even some pretty good free-to-play MMOs that offer a lot of the same things— Neverwinter, for example.

Getting value out of any subscription-based MMO is all about how much you’re willing to put into it. Just being a Final Fantasy game will be enough for some, and I can see a lot of players being engaged and captivated by the game itself. For me, personally, however, the subscription fee is too high a barrier to entry when I have so many other games I could be playing instead. Perhaps the itch will bite me in the future and I’ll buy a month here and there, but once this trial ends, it’ll be a long holiday from Eorzea for me.


Tim Norman

 
Raised in the arcades of the 1990s, Tim believes that if you're not playing for score, then you're not playing.


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1
Posted August 15, 2013 by

 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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