Get your map out and circle Eorzea, because on April 13 a Final Fantasy 14: Online open beta is coming to PS5. With 4K support, lightning fast loading, and better frame rates it'll make traversing the world and adventuring with friends a breeze.
Plus, thanks to the Free Trial, you can play through the base game and the first expansion for free, so there's no reason not to at least give it a go to see what the next-gen fuss is all about. There's never been a better time, either, as it comes neatly ahead of the Autumn 2021 launch of Final Fantasy 14: Endwalker. As a big chunk of story, it's set to close out the current arc that's been going since the game launched, taking the game into a new era.
So just where should you begin when you load it up on PS5 for the first time? What do you need to know before setting off on this grand (read: hundreds of hours) adventure? We're here to provide you with what you need to know...
What's in the FF14 Free Trial and how do I get it?
Getting started with Final Fantasy XIV Online is as simple as grabbing the Free Trial from the PS Store (bit.ly/opm-ff 14trial). The Free Trial is for new players, so you'll need to make sure your Square Enix account hasn't been previously registered with a version of the game. Last year, the contents of the Free Trial were expanded to make it one of the most generous we've seen. The level cap jumped up massively so you can play all the way up to Level 60 (the current maximum level for subscribers is 80), and even play through the entire first expansion, Heavensward.
There are some minor restrictions on what you can do. For example, you're not able to join free companies (essentially guilds), trade on the Market Board, or form parties (though you can still join ones set up by other players). Both the base game (A Realm Reborn) and its expansion (Heavensward) are packed with the sort of gameplay and story you'd expect from a Final Fantasy game, and it would take about 30-40 hours to complete the main story in each. Bottom line: that's two whole Final Fantasy adventures completely for free.
How does matchmaking and playing with friends work?
While upcoming expansion Endwalker looks set to make cross-data centre travel available at last, for now you'll need to be on the same one to play with friends. Europe currently has two to choose from so make sure you pick the one your friends are already on!
Between servers on the same data centre you can chat with friends via Linkshells, and party up to take on multiplayer content. You can even use the World Visit System to transport yourself so you can hang out with friends physically in the world without having to be in a Dungeon, to run through quests at the same time or do other activities. If you're not within the same data centre, you can transfer your Home World, which may incur a £12 fee, but can also be free if you're moving onto a new or sparsely populated server, or out of a particularly congested one.
You don't need to have friends currently playing the game to get through Dungeons or enjoy multiplayer content. The Duty Finder makes queueing up and matching for content a breeze. Regular parties have roles made up of two DPS (damage per second – the primary attackers), one healer, and one tank. You'll match faster as the latter two as they're more in need, but even DPS doesn't take too long for core content, and you can keep playing while you wait for the match too.
Smartly, Final Fantasy XIV Online has plenty of incentives for higher-level players to keep playing older content, and queue up to fill gaps in parties where needed, such as extra XP Adventurer In Need boosts. This means players won't have a hard time getting through the core Dungeons. New players even have an icon next to their name, so veterans will know they might need guidance on a Dungeon's mechanics. The best thing to do is to communicate – say it's your first time, or ask if you don't understand a boss strategy. For an online game, FFXIV's community is surprisingly friendly, and most players will take the time to let you know what you should be doing (and tell you if you're missing something!).
I enjoy the single-player Final Fantasy games, so can I still enjoy this?
Yes, Final Fantasy XIV Online is a numbered, mainline Final Fantasy game for a reason. It still has a big emphasis on narrative where your main character takes centre stage. The main difference is this time you create your own character, and you play online in a fantastical world that's also filled with other players.
You'll reach points where you'll need to team up with other players to clear Dungeons and Trials (essentially boss battles), but they're spread out enough that you can play most of the main scenario quests completely solo. Just like main Final Fantasy games, there are plenty of extra side-quests to complete, and Hunting Logs to track down. Each expansion has what feels like a full Final Fantasy story, and it's both possible and satisfying to sit down and play through it mostly alone as you would any other.
Beyond the Free Trial, later Dungeons in Shadowbringers allow you to use the Trust System to run content with NPCs instead of other players (each with their own personality), with the amount of loot reduced.
Will I need to play every day to see any real progression?
There are incentives to keep playing, both daily and weekly. But it's not a game that will punish you for taking breaks. If you want to stay focussed on one Job, you'll max out its level through following the story, and unless you're chasing new weapons all the time you'll often have good gear readily available.
Regular updates between expansions add plenty of new Main Scenario quests, as well as side-content like expansive new raids. These follow a pretty regular schedule, and there's little pressure to play them immediately if you'd rather play through more at once.
There are limited-time events to coincide with things like holidays or crossovers (which have included the likes of Nier and Monster Hunter), often with some pretty great rewards such as mounts. These tend to have generous amounts of time to clear, and aren't too demanding if you just want to hop in to check it out. There's no shortage of content to take on, but one of the best things about FFXIV is that it respects your time, and allows you to check out all the new content when you're ready.
Do I need to plan my character in advance and grind?
A little forward thinking never hurt anyone, but FFXIV offers you plenty without being too demanding, and does a really great job of reducing FOMO. Not only can you switch Jobs at pretty much any time, but you can even change your avatar's appearance and race (handy when Square Enix releases new ones).
That means that if you really wanted, you could spend the time to max out all the Jobs on one character. As there are Job-specific stories, you might want to follow those just to see what happens next, or you might fancy stepping out of your comfort zone, say to become a healer just for your friends. An Armoury Bonus will even give you up to 100% extra XP if you're playing a lower level Job than your highest level Job, to make playing multiple Jobs a little easier.
As for the grind, you'll be able to make it all the way through the Main Scenario, past the Free Trial and up to Level 80, by playing mostly primary quests. You might reach some points where you'll need to earn a little extra boost by doing some side-quests, world-clock-based FATE quests, or buying some better gear, but they're very few and far between. For the most part, you don't need to worry about it. Just play and have fun!
What's there to do beside the story?
Some of what you can do in the Free Trial is limited. You won't be able to join Free Companies, challenge players in PvP, or partake of player housing due to the Gil cap of 300,000. But there are still heaps of side-quests, some featuring big stories of their own, such as the comical detective adventures of Hildibrand once you reach Level 50.
Raids also offer a lot of content, mixing epic boss battles with narrative, and push you towards further improving your character as part of the endgame. Raids bring together more players, and come in two flavors: standard raids with eight-player parties, and huge alliance raids that have 24 players. Sounds like your sort of thing? A great place to start is the Crystal Tower raid series, just before Heavensward.
Can I (and should I) skip to a higher level or later expansion?
If you really do want to skip the start of the game and move straight to the newer content, you can buy both story and Job boosts, called Tales Of Adventure, that will allow you to instantly have access to a higher-level Job and get into the action of later expansions right away, as long as you've bought them. (Story boosts can skip you through different amounts of content.) If you do this, you won't miss out on content, as the latest expansion brought New Game Plus mode, allowing you to return to previous chapters of the story. Not only does that mean you can relive your favourite moments from the Main Scenario, but if you skipped them, you can go back to play them.
Tales Of Adventure do cost money, though, and considering such a large amount of content is included in the Free Trial, we'd definitely recommend giving that a go first. Unlike some other MMOs, a large part of the appeal of Final Fantasy XIV Online is, like other games in the series, the narrative.
Even though the base game recently had some filler trimmed, every chapter is a long one. If you're desperate to play the new content as soon as possible, then go ahead, but know that you're missing out on a core part of the experience if you completely skip past the story so far.
The Final Fantasy 14 Online open beta for PS5 goes live on April 13.