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Years ago, the world of Hydaelyn met with unspeakable destruction when a great beast unleashed its wrath upon the warring nations of Eorzea. A group of unnamed heroes were able to imprison the beast before fading into history, leaving the people of Eorzea to rise from the ashes and build their civilizations anew. In Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, adventurers are the lifeblood that will drive Eorzea into a new era. As one such adventurer, it feels like my journey into this epic world of magic, clashing swords and prowling monsters is only just beginning.
It’s a tricky thing, reviewing an MMO. I haven’t played the PC or PlayStation 3 version of A Realm Reborn, so I couldn’t just spend half a dozen hours with the PlayStation 4 build and give an updated opinion regarding its implementation on the new console. I’m completely new to the game, starting as a level one thaumaturge with nothing but the clothes on my back and a few coins in my pocket. That being the case, this should be considered the beginning of an “evolving review,” one focused on my first 15 levels of gameplay only. My plan is to provide a second review upon reaching level 30, when the game’s job system truly opens up, and then again at some point even further down the line.
MMO’s are meant to be experienced over time and frequently don’t hit their full stride until the player has poured in dozens upon dozens of hours. There are a ridiculous number of activities to experience in these types of games so, after only a week of play, it’s hard to claim I am able to give a definitive opinion on the game as a whole. That’s why we’re breaking it down, folks. Speaking of which, let’s get to it.
My first steps into a new realm…
Your starting city (out of three) in A Realm Reborn is based entirely off of which starting class you decide to tackle. For your early levels, you’ll basically be sticking to that main hub and the surrounding areas, though I’m told that the other two starting cities will be opening up to me shortly now that I’ve reached level 15. That’s exciting because I want to become a fisher and, beginning my tale as a thaumaturge in the desert city of Ul’dah, it’s pretty obvious why fishing wasn’t one of the area’s primary guilds.
My main gripe with Final Fantasy XIV so far is that nothing has really set it apart from the pack. You’ll take on various missions in the early goings to level up your chosen class, you’ll push the story missions along, and you’ll help out a large number of NPCs who need things delivered, picked up or killed. I suppose that all comes with the territory, though, so it’s hard to knock an MMO for playing like an MMO, especially when everything here has been executed so well. Newcomers to MMOs will find a lot to love in the early going but, for the vets in the audience, you’ll almost certainly be left wanting.
I was fortunate enough to miss out on the apparent tragedy that was the original Final Fantasy XIV, which was panned by critics and players as being poorly constructed, tedious and just plain boring to play. If that’s truly the case, then I can’t imagine what amount of work had to be funneled into A Realm Reborn to make it so solid. It takes few risks, sure, but that’s hard to blame when they had such a huge amount of recovery to orchestrate.
What we’ve been left with is a wholly solid beginning to a massive game, even if it doesn’t tread from the beaten path of the countless MMOs that have come before it. I’ve yet to witness any major bugs and I haven’t had the game crash or stutter on me even once. The landscapes are nicely detailed and pretty to look at, especially for an MMO where graphics are known for taking a back seat due to how much crap needs to be displayed, calculated, crunched and output at any given moment. I also have to spare a moment to mention the soundtrack, which already boasts a number of lovely tunes that keep getting stuck in my head.
I chose a thaumaturge as my starting class because it lays the foundation to becoming a black mage. Put simply, I picked the class because I wanted to make things go boom. The way the game’s job system works is that your main class needs to be leveled all the way up to 30, and a secondary class needs to be leveled up to 15 (an archer, in the case of the black mage), in order to unlock your ultimate skills. I plan to save my archer training until I’ve hit level 30 as a thaumaturge, so I can’t speak to the diversity in classes or anything like that yet. I’ve taken up a side job as a miner, however, and was delighted to find that its tasks are at least a little more varied than in other games. There isn’t much beyond the typical digging so far, but at least I’m learning where certain materials can be dug up, ways of improving my chances of getting desired items, etc.
Perhaps my favorite feature in A Realm Reborn so far is the ability to freely swap between classes, jobs and the like. A game built to only need a single main character, I could easily pick up a sword and start cruising around as a gladiator for a while, then go to work on becoming the next great weaver. This transition is made even easier with the inclusion of gear sets, allowing me to easily equip each version of my main character with the best gear for their task, save it, then swap between them at the push of a few buttons. It’s obviously best to focus on your main class and maybe a single side guild in the early goings but, in the late game, nothing is stopping me from completely shifting gears in the hopes of eventually becoming a dragoon, complete with expedited leveling. It’s beginner friendly and makes it super easy for players to experiment, find what suits their play style, then roll with it.
In the zone of level 15, it’s easy to see that my adventure is only just beginning. I’ve sunk in many an hour this past week, but still feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface. The opening sentences of a big story are barely being told in the main campaign and, through clever writing and interesting characters offering up side quests, I’m finally beginning to get a sense of place in the virtual world I now call home. I’ve taken part in quite a few FATE events, which occasionally pop up in real time on the overworld map and allow players to jump in freely in order to gain some extra experience and spending cash. I’ve ridden on a chocobo, which I enjoyed far too much, and can’t wait until I reach level 20 so that I may adopt one of my own. I’ve burned countless critters to a crisp, gathered loot and spent a bit of time running around in circles because there doesn’t appear to be a player-controlled waypoint system.
Despite all of that, I’ve yet to reach my first dungeon, explore the vast world beyond my starting realm, take part in a raid or join a PvP battle. In short, there is much left to see and --perhaps the best complement I can pay the game at this point—I’m interested enough in what lies ahead to pick up a subscription once my first month comes to an end (Everyone’s first month is free!).
As for how the game translates to the PS4, I couldn’t be happier. While options to play with a keyboard and mouse are available, I opted instead to play with a controller in hand, and it’s worked out surprisingly well. Using a combination of triggers, face buttons and the D-pad makes casting spells and using abilities extremely simple, and all of the other main actions are well mapped to the DualShock 4. Pressing the touchpad bounces between the HUD’s main zones, allowing you to easily select quest info, the chat log, the map, etc. You can also use the touchpad as if it were a mouse, but I find it nice and snappy to just rely on the buttons. Not to gush, but they pretty much nailed it when it comes to translating typically complex controls to a controller. I’ve yet to try out streaming to my Vita, so expect to hear more on that in part two of this review-in-progress.
For now, though, I’m pleasantly surprised by my early experiences with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, in regards to both the technical and gameplay aspects of the game. The game plays like it should with zero hiccups, and it’s been that way since day one on the PS4. There are games that launched with the console *cough*Battlefield4*cough* that still can’t seem to get that part of the equation right from time to time, while ARR managed to hit the ground running.
I’m hoping that the game takes a few more risks in the middle-to-late levels, as everything feels nice and safe at this point. It’s pulled off admirably, but I haven’t done anything in FFXIV that I haven’t done elsewhere before. Thankfully, it at least does all of those familiar things very, very well.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix