When I first played the original version of Final Fantasy XIV, I hated it. Everything about it was terrible. If you'd like a reminder, be sure to read my original review; I... didn't hold back. My opinion was far from an outlier and the game was widely panned. It should come as little surprise, then, that Square Enix decided to chuck it out, rebuild the game from the ground up, and relaunch it as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (ARR.)
To say I was nervous to check it out is an understatement; this is a game I want to be good. Final Fantasy as an MMO? Sounds like a good combination to me (I skipped FFXI due to other commitments.) But last time around, that's just not how it worked out...
Before embarking on my hands-on with the PS3 version of the game, I was treated to a detailed briefing in which the game's general structure, controls, and options were explained. Detail's a good word; the sheer number of customization options available when creating a character, for example, is staggering.
Additionally, Square Enix are hoping to streamline the general MMO experience by making it easy to group up with either friends or could-soon-be-friends-but-are-currently-strangers, although how they're going to go about that wasn't detailed.
You can also switch roles by just changing your weapon, which should give players lots of options without having to reinvent the tank / healer / damage "holy trinity" that MMO players will be familiar with.
Another nod to successful ideas used in other MMOs is the inclusion of event-based quests that you can join in to without having to group up; the rewards you earn for completing them will be directly related to the contribution you made, which should help encourage people to participate rather than just turn up at the end and collect the spoils.
Controlling the game is surprisingly straight forward. To cater to the overwhelming number of options expected of an MMO (and happily delivered by ARR), the developers have assigned the L2 and R2 controls as "shift" buttons; holding these in changes the functionality of the d-pad and face buttons, giving you instant access to 16 spells in addition to those button's normal (un-shifted) functionality. It works incredibly well, and players will understand the implementation almost instantly.
The fight we participated in was a boss encounter with a nasty demon called Ifrit. Fairly typical for an MMO, it was largely a tank-and-spank affair, during which I played the role of "spanker" with my axe-wielding melee damage type. Also true to the genre archetype was the enemy's predilection for placing fiery circles on the ground, which would rapidly burn the unwary but are easily avoided if you've got a brain.
The boss wasn't that interesting, but that in itself will be reassuring to fans of the genre; this is a crowd that likes how stuff works right now just fine thank you very much, and they'll no doubt be pleased to hear that ARR doesn't seem to be messing with the formula too much.
Being an MMO, though, it's obviously pretty difficult to get too deep an assessment on the E3 show floor. What I did see, though, reassured me a great deal, and I left the Square Enix stand thinking that maybe, just maybe, they'll manage to pull this one out of the fire yet.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn releases for PlayStation 3 and PC in August, and on PlayStation 4 next year.
Pros: Works super well on a controller
Cons: It has to compete with its own bad reputation