Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – A Year in Review

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is celebrating its 1 year anniversary and it’s a year I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. Before we delve into my review of FF XIV’s first year, a little history on my MMO experience. My MMORPG “career” started in the 90s with EverQuest after a friend showed it to me. It was a mind blowing idea to be able to play a character in a living, breathing world, something I’d never seen in a game before. After a number of years in EverQuest, I finally hung up the armor and stepped away from Norrath, but not before I had pulled two new friends into the adventures. About a year after leaving EverQuest, these two friends, along with a new one, and I logged into Vana’diel together when Final Fantasy XI launched. I didn’t last long with that game. Two friends, who were roommates, were between jobs and leveled a good dozen levels without me. I found my warrior spending more time shouting for a group than actually playing the game. It didn’t take long for me to cancel.

Then came World of Warcraft. It took some time, but eventually the friends who joined me in EverQuest and Final Fantasy XI all started characters in Azeroth. For 9 years I played WoW and for most of that time one of the friends that came in with EverQuest played as well.  We made friends in WoW who we met in person and have become friends out of the game now as well.  This one friend that I pulled into Norrath, grouped with in Vana’diel, and adventured with for years in Azeroth convinced me that Eorzea was our next grand adventure.  I had pulled him into two worlds, EQ & WoW, and he had pulled me into one (FF XI), so I guess it was my turn to follow his lead.  And so on September 30, 2010 we had our Collector’s Edition in hand.

Things were already off to a bad start.  Final Fantasy XIV offered the worst collector’s edition I’ve ever purchased.  The only things it offered were some in-game items, a blank journal, an authenticator, and codes for adventurer’s certificates.  That was it.  No soundtrack, no art book, no mouse pad or physical items.  I’m sure everyone is rather aware of how poorly the game itself was received.  Combat was arguable (some did like it), zones were fairly uninteresting with reused assets and no change in scenery, but the biggest thing that grew so dull for me was the menus.  Menus, menus, and menus.  Final Fantasy XIV: Menu Screens would have been a fitting title.

Two years later and Square Enix knew the game was going to collapse.  It would go down as one of the most colossal failures in MMO history if not for the determination of Square Enix putting a team in place to turn the game around.  They kept things going for a while with FFXIV 1.0, a storyline building to a climax that may be the most epic conclusion to an MMO prior to an expansion.

The friend that convinced me to try XIV had continued to play off and on during the 1.0 wrap up between time in WoW.  He was again speaking highly of the plans for A Realm Reborn.  Considering I didn’t have to even buy the game and would even get some in game rewards simply for having the original Collector’s Edition, I decided to give it a fair shake.

Even if you don’t care for FFXIV: ARR, you have to admit it’s impressive how much Yoshida and his team have turned the game around.  The 16th best selling game of 2013 with over 2 million subscribers is no small feat after relaunching from what was named the worst MMO launch of all time.

When I first tried A Realm Reborn, my summary description was simple: “There’s nothing particularly new here, but it’s like the World of Warcraft of 2013.  It’s taken all the features that work well, polished them, and put them together in an extremely impressive package.”  I still stand by that description myself.  The questing is like WoW (and every WoW imitator), the combat is familiar, dungeons are instanced, there is raiding, progression is gear based.  A Realm Reborn strikes me a lot like the feeling from the Burning Crusade era of WoW with a few nice additions.

From the start, a major thing that stands out for FFXIV now is the crafting game. Where many MMOs treat crafting as a side activity, Square has an entire game built on crafting.  Crafting has its own full hot bars of actions requiring players to choose what’s best to use, and when, in order to improve the quality of their items. There’s a completely separate gear progression, with stat requirements and caps, for the crafting game.  If a player doesn’t care for traditional gameplay with dungeons and raids, one could conceivably focus all their time on gathering and crafting and still have a lot of things to do. Now, just so nobody jumps on me for ignorance, I’m not saying FFXIV is the only game to go in depth with crafting. Plenty of MMOs have done so. I’m just saying FFXIV is another that has done well with it.

Square has also treated the MMO as a traditional RPG. Taking notes from their success with FFXI, there is a main storyline quest chain that drives the overall main story of the game, complete with cut scenes.  Classes also have storyline quests with cut scenes.  All cut scenes are done with the game engine, which are rather impressive with the animations and expressiveness they’ve put into the models. Those same animations are often seen in various emotes as well.  Where other MMOs I’ve played have animations with their emotes, FFXIV has impressive ranges of facial expressions with theirs as well.

Yoshida and his team have also put in a good balance of content for “casual” and more dedicated approaches and have done a fantastic job implementing systems to prevent lower level content going dead as players reach max level.  Similar to WoW, FFXIV has bonuses offered for running dungeons per day, but they are broken down into Extreme (newest dungeons), Hard (high level), Low Level, Trials (single fight 8 man raids), and Main Scenario, which are various raids.  Players get bonuses for doing these, even the low level dungeons at max level, which syncs you down to the appropriate level.  There are 8 man raids in the Binding Coil of Bahamut, which push the difficulty and 24 man random group raids in the Crystal Tower entries, which release in alternating cycles. 

In addition to all this, there is Free Company (guild) housing, chocobo raising, gardening, Beast Tribe daily quests, Bounty Hunting, and the option to level every adventuring, gathering, and crafting classes on a single character.

After a year of playing Final Fantasy XI, it was a welcome change to be able to play solo in World of Warcraft, but as WoW became more and more solo focused and the story became less and less enjoyable, the nice balance of group and solo with a very cohesive and engaging story is a welcome change in Final Fantasy XIV.  WoW kept me engaged for 9 continuous years.  Final Fantasy XIV has kept me engaged for one year.  Here’s looking forward to the soon expected to be announced expansion and many years to enjoy.

 

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