Review: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

MMOs have been the realm of PC gamers for quite a long time now. Despite the best efforts of DC Universe Online, there hasn’t been a true MMO on a console that has brought in both fans of the genre as well as newcomers. Square Enix tried with Final Fantasy XIV and for various reasons it fell on its arse, but it’s back. Nose bloodied by previous abuse, but with its head held high A Realm Reborn not only sorts the issues that people had with the original, but also ends up being an engrossing online title that even I, an MMO newbie, has got pretty hooked on.

I’ll admit it, the prospect of reviewing A Realm Reborn gave me mixed feelings. I haven’t touched a Final Fantasy game since completing FF7 at uni, and have never so much as laid a finger on an MMO, but there was something about this which caught my eye. Maybe it was the draw of a console MMO, maybe it was a returning desire to return to the Final Fantasy universe or maybe it was a hidden desire to abandon sleep for a few weeks, but I loaded up having heard horror stories about not being able to log in, watched the gorgeous intro movie and set about creating my character.

There’s a huge number of combinations on offer in terms of race, class and so on when making your character; factor in the visual options as well and you could create thousands of unique characters without much problem, quite a handy thing to have with loads of people online at once. I opted for an archer in the hope to keep my distance from the bad guys, but the apparently common alternatives such as magic or muscle based guys are in there too. Once that was done (some 20 minutes later) I picked my server from the list of those available (helped by not having to join a specific friend-populated server) and logged in. First time. Server problems, my arse.

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I’m happy to assume this was part of the launcher update and online improvements that Square Enix have made since launch that other people had struggled through before they happened, but since I started playing I’ve spent a total of 2 minutes waiting in a queue to start playing on my chosen server. It’s safe to say that new players won’t have much trouble getting online. Once into the beautiful looking world a series of tutorial style missions got me geared up, showed me how to fight and started to fill up my quest log.

Most quests are along the same lines – go to a dangerous place and get this item, go to this dangerous place and kill something, go through this dangerous place and tell someone this message… it sounds like it’d be a bit samey, and to an extent it is, but it’s also bizarrely addictive thanks to the rewards you’re given and that draw of only needing a couple more complete missions to reach the next level and be allowed to wear your funky new trousers. But as you’re wandering about doing your day to day stuff, FATE events appear. It’s this that really sparks off the idea of this being an MMO (so far it could be any RPG game) by giving a huge enemy or objective that anyone nearby can join and contribute towards. They get pretty mental, and the targeting system can get confusing when you’re still new to the game, but it’s cool to know that you and 25 others are all fighting the same pack of bad guys, and you’re rewarded suitably for your contribution when the event has reach its conclusion. I quite enjoyed finding a nearby high spot and raining in some powerful poisoned arrows, often out of reach of the nastier attacks – a nice mix of causing damage while still chickening out of the main brawl.

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Once you reach the higher levels, more options open up to you. You can change your class simply by changing your weapon, although doing so flicks you onto its own experience level for that class, and with earlier (and easier) missions helping your original class level up a bit, switching will be a tough task for a little while until you beef yourself up a bit. You’ll also learn new spells, letting you perform handy new abilities such as teleporting to specific locations, handy considering just how much ground you’re able to cover in a single sitting. You’ll also be able to hunt through various dungeons, which is where you’ll find far more cool stuff than in the open world, and it’s here that even more online teamwork will come into play as you attack some pretty fierce foes with a group of others. At times like this, and during the FATEs, the game comes alive, pushing it well beyond a standard RPG and showing exactly why people have lost years of their lives to the likes of World of Warcraft. It’s a feeling that you don’t get on other co-op platforms, and with most other console titles being limited to a maximum of 4 co-op players it’s a very unusual experience, and one which gives an impressive buzz when it all comes off.

But there’s an elephant in the room at all times, just lurking in the corner of your mind – and it’s an elephant which costs £6.99 a month. A Realm Reborn is not free to play beyond the initial 30 days, so your long term involvement and commitment won’t come cheap. In fact playing it for a year will set you back over £80, something difficult to digest when there seem to be quite a few deeply impressive free to play MMOs available on the PC, and the highly developed (and mostly free) DC Universe Online also available to PS3 owners. That said, the word from my MMO obsessed friends suggests the subscription will lead to better expansions, more solid stability and a total lack of in-game microtransactions. In that sense it’s not too bad, but for folk like me who are new to the concept of a huge online world like this it’s a tough idea to get your head round.

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But to focus on the fee would be paying A Realm Reborn a huge disservice. It’s such a huge game with so much to do that it could easily replace the idea of buying other games that you might’ve spent £40 on, and with 6 months of subscription costing little more than the price of a newly released retail game, you can see why people would be happy to pay out. It’s not as if everything is the same either – if you want to take a break from the fighting then you can turn your hand at crafting and gathering, creating various items to sell on or use yourself. Once you’re set up with some of the more advanced classes available these can become an actual job within the game, and while it’s a slow process initially you’ll soon be able to speed up the crafting sections giving you the chance to dabble in a bit of everything during a single sitting.

As you might have figured out, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a massive, massive game. There’s a seemingly endless world to explore, a vast range of things to do and what feels like an infinite number of quests and missions to carry out. Reach the point when you can head into the dungeons and you open up a whole new level of co-operative gaming, and once you’ve experienced that it’s easy to become hooked. I’ve got a lot more playing to do before being able to give it a score, so don’t be shocked by the lack of numbers at the bottom of the review, but it’s clear how much I’m enjoying it so far, and for someone who never set food in an MMO world until this point, that’s an impressive achievement.

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