Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn


By: Matthew Codd    On: PlayStation 3
Published: Wednesday 4 Sep 2013 8:00 AM
 
 
Captures brilliantly those less tangible elements that make a great game Matthew Codd
 
 
 
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‘Stagnant’ is a word that gets thrown at the current MMORPG market quite often these days. While I question the singling out of the MMO genre in this regard (show me a genre that doesn’t generally cling to the tried and true mechanics of games past), I do agree to a certain extent. I played World of Warcraft (WoW) for some five years, and Ragnarok Online for a couple of years before that, but since retiring from WoW around 2010, no other MMO has managed to hold my attention for longer than a month or two.

However, I don’t think the problem is as much to do with post-WoW MMOs copy-pasting the mechanics that worked in Blizzard’s game as people say. I think the bigger issue is developers isolating the more tangible elements of WoW’s success - quest hub based progression, instanced dungeons, the MMO Holy Trinity of tank, healer, and damage dealer - at the expense of everything else that made those games so engaging. WoW wasn’t great because of it’s quest system or the Holy Trinity; WoW was great because when you entered the game, you had a whole, complete world before you. You felt like you were just one part - a small part, but an important part - of something epic.

This, I think, is what almost every MMO since has been missing. Until now, that is, because it seems as though the team behind Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (ARR from here on out) are on the same page as me about what makes a game stand out in this genre. After a lot of searching, I’ve finally found a game that instills the same sense of awe that got me hooked on WoW and Ragnarok Online so many years ago. And I love it.

A big part of this is how well realized Eorzea, the world in which ARR takes place, is. It’s not as big or seamless as WoW’s Azeroth, but the attention to detail is simply stunning. Little things, like being able faintly see the skyline of distant cities on the horizon or the way sunlight streams through forest canopies, go a long way to make the world feel alive. Weather effects seem almost tangible, subtleties in monsters’ idle animations make them feel like more than just something put there for players to kill, and each zone feels unique and stands apart from the others. Eorzea is a world that you want to live in, that you want to explore, and whose every secret you want to uncover.

Adding to this is the sheer beauty of the environments. Whether you’re in a desert wasteland or a tropical seaside village, the world just looks absolutely gorgeous. Even the desolate Mor Dhona, the site of a great battle five years prior to the events of ARR, manages to be as breathtaking as it is grim and foreboding. I’d probably already be level capped by now if I didn’t spend so much time just looking at things, stopping to take in the scenery. Some areas just command you to stop and drink the ambience, even if it’s your tenth time through there that day.

As much as the pretty scenery invites you into the world, there’s not much point if there’s nothing to do once you’re there. Frankly, this is a problem that I feel a lot of post-WoW MMOs have, with nothing much to do beyond the linear quest grind to the level cap. ARR mostly sidesteps this problem though - even though getting to level 50 is still one of the main goals, you have a lot more freedom in how you get there than most other games.

In addition to the usual quest hubs, main story quest line, and dungeons, there is a decent range of other ways to get experience. Any number of people can take part in frequent random world events, with rewards based on the extent of participation, and each class in the game has their own “Hunting Log” with a series of persistent kill quests. The much maligned Levequest system from the original FFXIV has been reworked here as well, giving you a handful of allowances each day of short, repeatable quests; the allowances can also be saved up.

These sources of experience aren’t just a means to an end, either, and a lot of the time are a whole lot of fun in their own right. The dungeons in ARR are a particular highlight, with some really exciting boss mechanics, even in the early encounters, and Hunting Logs are like catnip for compulsive collectors who like seeing those “Complete!” markers. Most standard quests are your regular fetch quests (those can be fun, anyway), there are also a good number of quests that break that trend with solo, instanced boss fights that providing some refreshing challenge.

Those are just the options available if you are focused on getting your main class to 50 quicksmart. I say “main class” because one of ARR’s defining features is the ability to change class on a whim by changing your equipped weapon or tool. If you need a break from your main class, all you have to do is swap out your weapon, and you can go off and start levelling another (each class has its own level) - this makes it a lot easier to play around with all of the game’s classes than in other MMOs. It’s a worthwhile endeavour too, because not only is each class pretty unique in its playstyle, but select skills can be assigned as “Cross Class Skills” and used for other classes. Feel like your Archer’s defence is lacking? Level a Conjurer until you learn the defensive spell Protect, and set it as a Cross Class Skill for your Archer to use.

Crafting also provides a nice break from the level grind, and ARR’s crafting system is one of the most engaging I’ve encountered in an MMO. Crafting essentially involves a little resource management mini game: each item you attempt to craft has a limited durability, and your aim is to fill a progress bar through various actions before the durability runs out. There’s also a quality gauge which is increased through other actions - also at the expense of durability - which in turn raises the chances of getting a “High Quality” product with better stats. As you get your crafting professions to higher levels, the range of abilities you get really opens up options, and trying to find ways to maximise quality can be a lot of fun. To top it all off, there’s a huge amount of interplay between the different professions through intermediary materials, which makes for a dynamic player economy. The only weak point in this system is gathering, which uses the standard “find a node and click” it system and can get a bit boring.

A Realm Reborn doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel too much. Combat mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s played WoW, Star Wars: The Old Republic, or any other big name MMO. Some may see this as a point against it, but I think I think Square Enix made the right move in taking what’s worked before and polishing it up.

The classes are well thought out, with a lot of synergy between moves to ensure that the combat never gets stale. For example, Thaumaturges (mages, essentially) have to manage their damage and MP through smart use of fire and ice spells, with the former increasing damage and MP cost of subsequent spells and the latter reducing damage and increasing MP regeneration.

ARR also takes a lot of small steps to address many inconveniences typical of the MMO genre. Inventory space is plentiful, right from the outset, with no need to shop around for extra bags. Quest items that drop from monsters always have a 100% drop rate - if an NPC needs six rats tails for whatever reason, you can count on having to kill six, and only six, rats. Gathering resource nodes are unique to each player, so there is no more fighting over resources. The list of these conveniences goes on and on; suffice it to say that while ARR may not do much to reinvent the genre, it takes great strides to refine and streamline the familiar MMO experience.

Of course, no game is without its flaws. Most glaringly for ARR has been a raft of launch issues - Square Enix underestimated how popular the game would be at launch, and the servers have simply been unable to handle the load, making it very hard for people to actually get into the game a lot of the time. This is par for the course for the genre, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Having said that, Square Enix has been good at communicating with fans and has been working hard on addressing the issues at hand, so hopefully they will be resolved before long.

There’s no kind of talent point system to speak of, and as a result, there isn’t much variance within each class. Gear and player skill are the only things that really separate one White Mage from another one the same level; they all have the same abilities and the same strengths and weaknesses. The Cross Class Skill system does offer some scope for customisation, but it’s fairly limited. If you’re the kind of player who really likes to customise their abilities, you might find ARR lacking.

To some, A Realm Reborn might be just another MMORPG that sticks to the ‘stagnant’ genre formula. To others, though, this game will be a blessing that’s been a long time coming. Does it stick to the MMO tradition? Absolutely. But it takes that tradition and refines it, and captures brilliantly those less tangible elements that make a great game instead of a good one - an inviting, vibrant world, the foundations for a dynamic player economy, and the freedom to take to the world as you please.

While the rest of the market is frantically trying to “innovate”, Square Enix have filled what has become a bit of black hole - a good, polished game that captures the heart and soul of what made the genre great in the first place.


The Score

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
"From one of the worst MMOs to one of the best"
8.8
Great
Rating: PG   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 45 Min

 

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Comments (8)

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yodamax2
On Wednesday 4 Sep 2013 8:35 AM Posted by yodamax2
I have played this a bit on and off - it is much improved over its '1.0' counterpart, and I am definitely enjoying the visuals. The Global Cooldown (GCD) seems quite slow, but I haven't played an MMO in a while so maybe its standard.

The lack of voice acting in the cutscenes is kind of unnerving, given you can see the mouth wobbling about like they are talking but no words come out. There are the odd cutscenes which do have voice, but they are few and far between.

Lastly, I haven't been able to redeem my collectors edition key on their website, so I have only a few days of the grace period left before it locks me out. I have opened a ticket with SE to get this resolved, hopefully I will hear back soon. Aside from these issues though, everything is golden. Just have to catch up with my friends now...
 
 
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sick_wierdo
On Wednesday 4 Sep 2013 12:21 PM Posted by sick_wierdo
Sorry if it was mentioned in the review, I kinda skipped straight to the score, but how much is the subscription fee (if any), I'm quite keen to get into it.
 
 
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yodamax2
On Wednesday 4 Sep 2013 1:13 PM Posted by yodamax2
4 September 2013, 12:21 PM Reply to sick_wierdo
Sorry if it was mentioned in the review, I kinda skipped straight to the score, but how much is the subscription fee (if any), I'm quite keen to get into it.
Entry is $13US for 30 days which gives you 1 character per world to a maximum character count of 8 on your account.

Standard is as follows:
$15US for 1 month
$14US per month for 3 months
$13US per month for 6 months
Standard allows up to 8 characters per world, with a maximum character count of 40.
 
 
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Deanology NZGamer.com VIP VIP Gold
On Friday 6 Sep 2013 2:00 AM Posted by Deanology
Never really play MMO games, they take a lot of time to play.
I am enjoying this one so far, it is fun.
 
 
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Xyk
On Friday 6 Sep 2013 10:35 PM Posted by Xyk
Why wasnt this one released for xbox as well like xiii was?
 
 
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yodamax2
On Monday 9 Sep 2013 12:05 PM Posted by yodamax2
6 September 2013, 10:35 PM Reply to Xyk
Why wasnt this one released for xbox as well like xiii was?
Likely due to the multiplayer restrictions of the Xbox. The Playstation 3 does not require a subscription to use its online component, whereas the Xbox does. Thus you would be paying two subscriptions to play the game. Probably not the only reason though.
 
 
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Bappernz NZGamer.com VIP VIP Bronze
On Tuesday 10 Sep 2013 1:57 AM Posted by Bappernz
if only i had the time to play this...
 
 
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linkdavid
On Friday 27 Sep 2013 1:55 PM Posted by linkdavid
Excellent game, considering im pretty sure i havent checked this website till now since its release because iv been playing so much
 
 
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