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Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn review

Excellent
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AT A GLANCE
  • Beautiful, unique world
  • Freedom to level how you want
  • Engaging, fleshed-out story
  • Repetitious leveling and questing
  • Occasionally uneven difficulty
  • Awkward UI decisions

A smorgasbord. That’s what Square Enix’s new reincarnation of Final Fantasy XIV is. You want to level? Great, here are three or four ways you can do that, take your pick! Want to play with other people? Here’s a few systems that make it as simple as possible. Want to craft? How about eight different professions! Want to play a different class? There's plenty. You can switch whenever you want.

But this isn’t that straight-out-of-the-'80s buffet joint from your hometown: this is Eorzea, an evocative, finely crafted world that highlights just how reliant MMORPGs have become on Tolkien-cribbing by refusing to bow to the standard dwarf-elf-halfling tropes. It’s a beautiful and polished world: walk through the expansive, melancholy tinged deserts and wonder-filled forests and you’ll start to feel home at home very, very quickly. Add in a stirring and contemplative soundtrack--a standout even amongst Final Fantasy’s storied heritage--and you won’t want to leave.

The world, combined with the myriad gameplay options at your disposal, is what cements FFXIV as a great MMORPG, making it another latter-day entry that refines proven formulas into a consumable, enjoyable whole--but doesn’t add much innovation to an already stale genre.

"It’s a beautiful and polished world..."

At the beginning, you'll create a character, customize him or her--the character creator is deep enough, but clunky; you’ll tire of playing with it long before your character is perfect--and then pick from one of the game’s eight starting classes, which align with the traditional tank/healer/DPS model. Then you'll enter the world. A soporific handful of tutorial quests teach you how to play, and before long, the game opens up. Your only goal is to become more powerful. But you can do it in a few different ways: standard MMO quests; repeatable quests called Levequests; group affairs called Guildhests; straight-up grinding on enemies; or FATEs, which are Guild Wars 2-style public quests that occur randomly throughout the game’s environments. All these are readily accessible within minutes. It sounds simple, but beneath the layers is a certain kind of genius: Square Enix is allowing you to play whatever kind of MMORPG you want.

It’s that smorgasbord again. Want World of Warcraft style quest progression? Or old-school monster slaughter akin to early EverQuest? Perhaps you want something more modern, like what you’d find in Rift? FFXIV manages to encapsulate all these genre styles while keeping the quality level high. As a player, you’re liberated--free to climb the leveling curve as you’d like, and mixing and matching as you go to keep from getting burned out.

The game’s class system lets you eat what you want, when you want, too. Instead of the traditional stuck-with-what-you-picked model, FFXIV ties your class to your weapon choice. Tired of playing as a gladiator? Unequip your sword and pick up a spear--your class will automatically switch to Lancer. Equip a staff and you’ll become the magic-wielding Thaumaturge. It’s a freeing feeling, knowing you can invest time in whatever you feel like and still have it pay dividends to a single character. FFXIV players can change up how they’re playing quickly, without much investment, and it helps to keep the game fresh and enjoyable.

"FFXIV players can change up how they’re playing quickly...and it helps to keep the game fresh and enjoyable."

But the class system also adds depth: at later levels, you’re able to carry over abilities from other classes you’ve leveled. Doing so allows players to customize their characters and sidesteps the doppelganger-ism often found in MMORPGs. Similarly, you can periodically increase an attribute of your choosing as you level, further ensuring your character feels like your own.

Meanwhile, combat in FFXIV is stock MMORPG fare with a sprinkling of systems that work to keep you engaged. It’s polished and fast without sacrificing transparency, and will feel familiar to veteran MMORPG players: tab targeting, a few hotbars, automatically delivered standard attacks, some light active dodging. Each class, though, features a small wrinkle that makes sure you have to keep your mind in the fight--and helps make the leveling curve go by faster. For instance, the Gladiator class features abilities that do more damage and trigger added effects when you do them in the right order. The Marauder receives bonuses for executing abilities on specific sides of enemies. These are some of the most fun and rewarding areas of the combat experience. It’s funny how even small mental procedures make battles feel so much less routine, with an addictive and engaging rhythm and flow.

The game shines the most in group scenarios, where your class can focus on fulfilling its specialized role. FFXIV isn’t afraid to make group encounters noticeably more difficult than the rest of the game--jarringly so. A lot of pressure is put on the tank to hold the enemies’ attention via a combination of abilities and attacks, while damage-dealers and healers need to maintain a certain discipline in their output: too much, and the monster will turn their attention to them with a high likelihood of death. Too little and the fight will last forever. This kind of thing is present in many MMORPGs, but it’s amplified in FFXIV to great benefit. Playing in an effective, veteran group is rewarding and, for lack of a better term, will make you feel like a badass. It’s also true to the game’s legacy--what is Final Fantasy about if not a group of people coming together to, well, fight stuff?

"You have to get to level 50 somehow, and most of it is going to be a fetch quest or a kill-10-rats kind of thing."

Also true to the Final Fantasy name is the game’s focus on plot. And that’s a good thing, because this is one of the most fleshed-out and well-executed MMORPG plotlines you’ll find. It charts your progress from a no-name adventurer to a celebrated hero, and you’ll meet a large (confusingly so, perhaps) cast of characters along the way. The narrative also does a good job of sending you out into the world away from your starting area, ensuring that the work Square Enix put into all the corners of Eorzea isn’t wasted. Each class has a story-based quest-line that largely focuses on your class guild (these also determine your starting city). The brilliance of these is they exist as more than just leveling content--they’re challenging tutorials that teach you the role your character is supposed to play in group contexts.

(A note to all our Final Fantasy nerds out there: this game is stocked with references to older games in the series--they’re welcome additions that will make you smile, even if they don’t add much in the way of substance.)

And rejoice, MMORPG players! You can now grind levels from the comfort of your couch, because there isn’t a huge difference between the PS3 and PC versions of the game. The PC version is significantly prettier, and the console offering’s draw distance will seem very underwhelming after playing on your computer. But the really important thing is that Square Enix has finally delivered a controller scheme that works for MMORPGs. It’s not the easiest thing to grasp, and you might experience some accidental deaths because you get your fingers in knots at first, but give it a few hours and a handful of levels and it’ll become a more-than-serviceable way to play the game.

"Both versions of the game are marred by occasionally annoying design decisions."

Both versions of the game are marred by occasionally annoying design decisions. Quests often ask you to go all over the map, making for annoying travel times, even with the game’s generous teleportation system. Some interfaces have annoying quirks that take time to get used to, especially when you’re trying to sell something. These are minor complaints that are only noticeable because of how polished most of FFXIV is.

It should be noted that FFXIV is not a game without grinding. You have to get to level 50 somehow, and most of it is going to be a fetch quest or a kill-10-rats kind of thing. Yes, there are many ways to level. But sometimes it’s just window-dressing: killing 10 rats for a quest or killing 10 rats just for the experience they grant is still the same activity. Levequests--a form of questing that is slightly customizable in difficulty and offer rewards for speed--and standard quests really aren’t that different, barely bubbling up beyond played-out MMORPG tasks. Even FATEs, the game’s public quest system, often just have you killing monsters. Those interesting wrinkles in combat help make this all more palatable, and so does the array of leveling options you have. But if you’re grind-sensitive, FFXIV will burn you out. Sometimes, though, in a world this gorgeous--wait until you see that sunset!-- it doesn’t matter that you’ve been doing essentially the same thing for four hours. It’s just nice to be there.

The thing about buffet dinners--smorgasbords--is that they’re not where you go to try a chef’s latest, craziest concoctions. When you’re trying to cram everyone’s favorite meal in, it’s hard to try something new, to push the envelope. Square Enix doesn’t offer much innovation with Final Fantasy XIV: this is a realm reborn, not the MMORPG genre. But the game is expertly prepared, and even if the systems are all familiar, they take place in one of the most enchanting MMORPG settings ever. So eat up. Get your fill. This one’s an enjoyable feast.

This game was reviewed on PC.

More Info

Release date: Aug 27 2013 - PC, PS3
Apr 14 2014 - PS4 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Franchise: Final Fantasy
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence, Mild Blood

We Recommend

26 comments

  • MajorDragoon1991 - January 22, 2014 8:40 a.m.

    I have been playing for almost a month and must admit that I am incredibly addicted. When I was a kid I loved playing MMO RPG'S. Then I got really bored because there wasn't anything that I liked. The thing I hated most was the lack of freedom in MMO RPG'S. Being able to select my class on the fly makes the greatest difference, and with so many ways to level I find myself always dragged into something even if that something isn't the most efficient way of leveling my character. I can see myself playing FFXIV RR for the next couple of years at least. Especially so if Square releases more classes and future content for other realms. That would be so nice.
  • Swedish_Chef - September 23, 2013 5:42 p.m.

    Final Fantasy a Review Rebound
  • Talvari - September 23, 2013 2:52 p.m.

    So glad that Yoshi-P and his team could save FF14 from disaster. Hopefully this review among many other reviews will show the people who hated on squeenix for doing this a thing or two >.>
  • RamenChimera - September 16, 2013 5:15 p.m.

    And suddenly, it's available for purchase again! Today is a grand day!
  • MasteroDisasta - September 16, 2013 3:01 p.m.

    A review reborn then. . .
  • ~LanceR. - September 16, 2013 2:19 p.m.

    I didn't expect myself on liking this game, but I did. What a fun MMORPG. Very grindy, but the quests makes it less obvious. Some quests have a cool side-story. Can't wait for the final review.
  • RamenChimera - September 11, 2013 11:58 p.m.

    I've never even considered subscribing to a game before... But I don't think this will be going free to play. I hope I keep hearing it's worth it, because I desperately want to play. My only question, is the combat more akin to something like WoW or Guild Wars 2?
  • Xtapolapopotamus - September 12, 2013 7:55 a.m.

    It's worth it if you enjoy FF games and more "old school" MMO's. Combat is more like WoW's. There's some degree of movement (enemies telegraph their special attacks with an orange circle/square on the ground) but auto-attack and all that business. There's a ton of content, beautiful graphics, interesting story, all that good stuff. If nothing else, it's $30 on PC ($40 on PS3) and you get the 30 day trial to see if you enjoy it before subscribing. I've been having a blast, any issues people had with the launch due to busy servers or whatever is ancient history now. I'm on Excalibur, one of the busiest servers, and at most there's a few minute queue to get in on evenings.
  • RamenChimera - September 12, 2013 2:44 p.m.

    I might just have to try it out then. I've been a fan of every final fantasy since I was a kid, and to have it in MMO form like this.... I can't resist.
  • MasteroDisasta - September 8, 2013 7:25 p.m.

    I wish I had an extra 300+ hrs. for this game.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - September 6, 2013 4:46 p.m.

    I wish I could buy this game T.T
  • GOD - September 6, 2013 8:19 p.m.

    Why can't you?? Unless you're referring to the digital downloads if they're still not being sold... but you can still buy a physical copy as it's just an install disc with an access code, for PS3 anyways. Lucas, buy a disc for PS3, join the JP Ultima Server, and then you can always pay again later to get the PC copy as you can use your account with either game copy. And ha if only you'd joined a JP server like I did Ryan! I have my main class, Lancer, to 23 and then he's also a: 15 Arcanist, 14 Marauder, 8 Conjurer, 8 Archer, 7 Gladiator, 6 Pugilist, 6 Thaumaturge, 10 Fisher, and 6 Botanist. Of course even with experimenting with all the different classes I still haven't even touched Mining yet or any of the 8 Disciple of the Hand classes. Also leveling all those other classes wasn't for nothing as every 5 levels a class is allows it to use one more compatible skill from any other class, which is really cool Also getting the ability to dye the pieces of your outfit the way you want makes your character feel more like your own rather than just the strongest equipment you have slapped on. Also it's really nice that since there was server trouble for people during the first week everyone gets a free week added to their initial 30 days!
  • ObliqueZombie - August 29, 2013 6:12 a.m.

    Happy to see this review in progress! After playing many, many MMOs in my time, I'm incredibly happy and surprised with FFXIV. And I've never even played/beaten a FF game before! It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it's a solid MMO with some of the best graphics this side of gaming. Pretty good story, too.
  • Chuckstar6 - August 29, 2013 6:01 a.m.

    So, where on earth do you get the Mog Cap? I've entered the pre-order code and can see an email icon in the top right with a 2 next to it, which I assume means my pre-order bonuses. I cannot find a Moogle Mail anywhere in Limsa Limonsa. Now Level 5! Grrrrr..
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - August 29, 2013 7:56 a.m.

    Keep your eye on the lookout for the mail icon on the city map :D
  • ~LanceR. - August 28, 2013 9:16 p.m.

    Can't wait to see your opinion about the game; personally, I find this game pretty great for long-term MMORPG addiction. Definitely better than the crap vanilla FFXIV that was, thankfully, destroyed.
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - August 28, 2013 6:42 p.m.

    After being dumb enough to have picked up FF14 before reading up in detail about it, it'll take quite a bit of convincing before I consider trying this again. Looking forward to seeing what you think Adam.
  • A1rh3ad - September 1, 2013 12:09 p.m.

    If you bought the original the new one is free
  • TokenGamesRadarFurry - September 1, 2013 12:26 p.m.

    Huh...does that include a free month as well? If so, I'll might have to try it.

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

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