Fresh arrivals getting on board the Final Fantasy XIV train seems like a daunting prospect, given it not only left the station a decade ago, but has been careening full steam through four major expansions. However, despite the ominously titled Endwalker being the last of these major expansions, there’s yet more on the way, with Dawntrail scheduled for next year, and Square Enix is encouraging more and more people to sign up with their famous free trial.
The free trial allows new players to play and level up to Level 60 for free, with no restrictions on play time, and all jobs and classes available in the base game and first expansion Heavensward available.
I’ve attempted to get into Final Fantasy XIV a couple of times before, notably a couple of years ago when Endwalker came out. However, this time I was able to get much further than ever before. There’s a much faster path to levelling through content than you might expect, especially on preferred worlds such as Sophia on the local Oceania server, which has an automatic buff called ‘The Road to 80’. With this in play, I was able to get to level 20 and fully depart the opening class-specific area within a handful of hours, or a couple of short evenings after work, which for someone with a full-time job is a big deal.
I went with a Lancer this time around, a job which grows into the famous Final Fantasy Dragoon type in later levels, which meant my starting area was the forested Gridania. I actually found the layout of this area much easier than the seaside Limsa Lominsa from my last attempt, with most objectives easily found on one plane without having to sort through multiple lifts and levels.
A lot of the early stages of Final Fantasy XIV revolve around you being a messenger boy for various parties – go here, deliver this message, talk to this person, come back. While these quests aren’t the most interesting, FFXIV has the good sense to make sure the distance between objectives is short and these tasks are over easily, as well as rewarding huge EXP boosts upon completion.
Even easier is the transport mechanic, which while costing Gil to use, allows you to quickly move around maps to cut down on needless wandering. Of course, to use it you need to ‘attune’ to a crystal in each town you visit – something the game teaches you to do early on and a dummy like me instantly forgot and failed to do.
Interspersed with these simple tasks are glimpses of the larger story, as masked men monitor your activities and summon golems to defeat you, and your character receives vision of a giant crystal and a world-shattering event which warped the world and erased the Warriors of Light from memory (the in-game explanation for the real world rest which occurred between the poorly received 2010 Final Fantasy XIV and its current form). While most of the quests in the early game feel like excuses to get you from point A to point B and learn about basic mechanics, these glimpses of the larger narrative do hook you in to getting invested into seeing what comes next.
There’s also plenty of other incentives to carry on, such as accessing the ‘Gold Saucer’ which has plenty of mini-games to play with other players. One, involving Yojimbo from Final Fantasy X, has players dodging massive bamboo chutes, while another coming soon is quite literally a Fall Guys collaboration. You also don’t necessarily have to get together with a real live party every time, as the ‘Trust’ system (which is accessed fairly far into the game) allows you to play dungeons with NPC party members.
In any case, by the end of a couple of short evenings I was out of Gridania and on my larger trip to the world of FFXIV at large, which was a lot easier and quicker than I thought it would otherwise be. The time commitment an MMO requires is still an obstacle in me getting involved any further than infrequent dips into some of my niche interests (Star Trek Online looking at you), but the streamlining of FFXIV and EXP boosts in the Road to 80 system make it much easier to get to meaningful content than I was expecting. It feels like despite the enormous wealth of content, the game is much more approachable now than it has been in the past, especially with the expansion of the free trial to cover a great deal of the game itself. Don’t stress, don’t get overwhelmed by the amount to do, and just focus on doing the story or activities you like, and it’s quite easy to engage with an MMO like this, no matter how much bigger it gets.