Last November, the original Final Fantasy XIV went out with a bang. Soon after the game’s second anniversary, the adventurers of Eorzea met their fate in one last fight against the malignant Garlean Empire. Neither side was destined for victory however. Unwittingly, the Empire called forth the Dragon King, Bahamut, whose immense, uncontrollable power left the entire realm in flame and ruin.
However, where most apocalyptic events signal the end for an MMORPG’s lifespan, for Final Fantasy XIV it heralded a new beginning.
Truth be told, Square’s second foray into the world of massively mulitplayer gaming was a bumpy ride from start to finish. 2010 saw an unprecedented rise in the number of free-to-play MMO alternatives and, on the other end of the spectrum, World of Warcraft still monopolised the subscription market. Competition was at an all-time high and, with Final Fantasy XI being almost a decade old, fans were eagerly anticipating yet another instalment in on the industry’s most iconic franchises.
Put simply, Final Fantasy XIV failed to deliver. A number of its mechanics and systems simply didn’t gel and the whole thing came across as rushed and uninspiring. In a matter of months it slipped straight off the radar despite years of anticipation.
However, Square Enix wasn’t about to give up. A year after the game’s launch, it announced Final Fantasy XIV 2.0, which would later become known as “A Realm Reborn”. Looking to eradicate the game’s troubled past, Square -as previously mentioned- obliterated version 1.0 during a final in-game event ironically dubbed the “Calamity”.
Almost three years after the game’s original, ill-fated launch, Final Fantasy XIV has finally risen from the ashes. Though far from perfect, A Realm Reborn is one of the most refined and in-depth MMOs in circulation and a true testament to Square’s dedication.
Still set in Eorzea, A Realm Reborn charts the journey of new adventurers as they look to rebuild their fallen realm and push back the Garlean Empire. It features five playable races which can pursue any of the eight available classes, including Archer, Marauder, Lancer, Conjurer, and more.
This latter choice will determine which of the three city-states your character will operate from, at least to begin with. By completing a combination of story-driven quests and side tasks, you’ll be able to roam Eorzea at your leisure and partake in conventional MMO tropes such as dungeon crawls, and crafting.
Each class operates in a similar way but, through learning new abilities, divisions start to materialise. Conjurers and Scholars, for instance, will prefer to strike from afar whilst constantly topping up their health and wards. Marauders and Gladiators, on the other hand, will beef up their health and armour whilst developing skills used to attract an enemy’s attention. These distinctions become increasingly evident as you move towards group-based encounters which start at level 15.
No matter which of the game’s disciplines you decide to follow, gameplay remains largely the same. On PlayStation 3, A Realm Reborn handles fairly similarly to your regular third person action title when navigating the in-game world. However, targeting and using abilities is a bit more complex yet manages to channel the PC version’s precision and the overall feeling of a traditional MMO.
This is done mainly through hotbars. Divided into sixteen slots, here you can assign abilities, menu short-cuts, items, and emotes to the DualShock’s face buttons and digital pad. To use an action on the hotbar, you will either need to hold down L2 or R2 and press the corresponding button. It feels strange at first, especially whilst having to juggle targeting and movement, but soon feels natural and fluid.
Quests, as in any MMO, are you main source of currency and experience. In A Realm Reborn they still follow conventional templates such as “go here, talk to this NPC,” or “kill X amount of these enemies” but such tropes are unavoidable in a genre that has stuck to its core tenants for well over a decade.
Aside from quests and FATEs, the Hunting Log provides a nice diversion with some major XP pay-outs.
Final Fantasy XIV tries to spice things up a bit, however. One of version 2.0s biggest new features is the inclusion of FATEs. These are self-contained, on-the-fly missions that appear from time to time and can be tackled by anyone within the nearby vicinity. FATEs include tackling huge boss monsters, escorting NPCs, gathering, and other objectives, each public quest offering a true sense of co-operation and fairly big pay-outs too.
Another fresh approach is the way Square Enix handles crafting and gathering. In most MMOs these are secondary skills which can be trained by visiting certain locations of occasionally activating nodes such as ore deposits or herb bushes. However, in a Realm Reborn these professions are treated as fully-fledged classes; this means that if you don’t fancy combat or questing you could quite easily play the game as a Miner, Botanist, Leather-worker, or Carpenter.
It’s an interesting premise and one that highlights a growing trend in MMOs, yet has plenty of shortcomings. In becoming a “Disciple” of the “Land” or “Hand” you essentially confine yourself to a very limited, tedious gameplay experience. Where crafting in games such as WoW and Guild Wars 2 is a semi-automatic process, Final Fantasy XIV tries to make it more interactive with the use of abilities and success rates. It may succeed in offering a fresh dynamic but there’s simply no enjoyment in running between mining hotspots or sitting in forge for hours on end (which is needed if you want to benefit from the game’s crafting system).
Luckily, you don’t have to commit yourself to a specific job or profession. As soon as you hit level 10 you’re free to take up as many other classes as you which. Some of the game’s more advanced jobs, including Warrior, White Mage, and Dragoon, even require dabbling in two separate professions.
However, in switching to a new class, you’ll have to start at level one and work your way back up which is hard, especially if you happen to have completed many of the early game quests: a crucial source of experience for beginners.
The switch from Final Fantasy XIV to 2.0 didn’t just introduce refined mechanics and a succinct console port, the visuals also received a noticeable makeover, though the change will be more evident for PC users. Still, the PlayStation 3 version looks stunning. Sure, in densely populated areas, it will begin to stutter yet the level of detail is fantastic and the art direction peerless. Eorzea plays host to many a landmark, most of which will have you stopping in your tracks to behold their beauty. Furthermore the game is supported by a magnificent soundtrack which occasionally reaches into the Final Fantasy annals for inspiration.
- Stunning art direction.
- One of the deepest MMOs in circulation.
- Expansive class/job system.
- Handles well on PlayStation 3.
- Carries the series’ well-known charm.
- Refined mechanics and new additions such as FATEs.
- Stutters from time to time.
- Can prove overwhelming.
- Crafting/gathering simply isn’t fun.
- Story-driven segments feel drawn out in places.
A Realm Reborn is a pure product of Square’s admirable determination and passion. It’s not ground-breaking in any shape or form yet introduces enough new and refined ideas to warrant attention. Not only that, it manages to replicate that classic MMO feel on consoles, something which seemed like an impossibility not that long ago.
It must be said, however, that Final Fantasy XIV isn’t the most accessible game on the market. Even veterans of the genre will struggle through some of its more laborious systems and processes, though there’s nothing a quick glance at a wiki or video guide cannot solve.
However, once over these barriers, there’s an enriching, if sometimes inconsistent, experience awaiting and one that has that definitive Final Fantasy charm.
We’ve chosen not to score A Realm Reborn due to the incredible amount of content on show. After it releases on PS4 next year, and once we’ve spent a long time playing the game, we’ll be better suited to assigning a number, so stay tuned.