Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn reintroduces the Square Enix MMO, but feels stuck in the past
FFXIV originally launched in September 2010, but reception was so abysmal, the game's problems so numerous, that Square Enix dared not even charge players the planned subscription fee for their experience. The game's producer resigned, and Square Enix set in motion a plan which would eventually culminate in a complete re-launch of the game as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. To make this re-launch work within the universe's lore, the game's story had Bahamut, a powerful dragon, awaken. Bahamut's magic destroyed the world, and the one created in its place serves as the new setting for Final Fantasy XIV. If that idea sounds just a little familiar, you're not alone. Unfortunately, the borrowing of ideas doesn't stop there, and playing FFXIV feels like being offered tofu in a candy store: why would you want something so plain when you're surrounded by sugary sweetness?
Final Guild Fantasy Wars XIV-2
In our Guild Wars 2 review, we talked about how the streamlined nature of the game cut out extraneous busywork and rewarded players for just about everything. Square Enix seems to be taking such lessons to heart. For example, your character will possess a hunting log, which tracks your kills automatically. You'll find out what creatures live in each area and, by slaying the requisite number, earn small boosts to your character progression. The Final Fantasy games are known for their “wander around and level up” game play, so it's good that FFXIV is going to reward players for doing what they've always done. The game will also feature FATE, short for Full Active Time Event, which serve as public quests that anyone can participate in. It works almost exactly the same as in Guild Wars 2: players can see a highlighted section on their map, marking the area in which a public event takes place. Once you reach the area, you'll receive tasks to perform – kill this monster, help this NPC, etc. The more players contributing and completing the tasks, the faster the FATE is resolved. Copying this design from Guild Wars 2 isn't a crime in and of itself; plenty of games take from one another to form enticing game play. FFXIV's problem is in the imperfect, punishing implementation. I solo'd a monster designed for groups, only to have the game inform me once I'd killed it that I had wasted my time. If you're too high level for a FATE, your contribution is ignored, regardless of how much time and effort you sink in.
A sub-par fantasy
There's a good idea in the FATE system, but it comes across half-assed, and it's not alone. You can click on one of your quests to be shown where you need to go on your map, but each area is displayed separately. Let's say you're in Gridania, which is divided into “old” and “new” districts. You pick up a quest in the old district, but you don't see it on your map, so you click it to be shown exactly where it is. Your map view changes to the new district and marks the location. You want to see how to get there from here, so you try to zoom out and orient yourself. The map only shows the new district though, and doesn't mark the locations where players transition from area to area. Mind you, this is a place you're relatively familiar with. Try to imagine being out in the wilderness, with quests sprouting off in all directions, and you have no idea where to go. One NPC handed me a quest and said, “I assume you know The Brannok?” Uh, no. No, I don't.Even the inventory system is just plain inconvenient to use. Like most MMORPGs, FFXIV has plenty of “keel seex snow moose” style quests. However, whereas in most modern games those snow moose pelts would be extracted from your inventory automatically or with a double-click, I had to drag them into a screen and then hit a button to hand them over. Why? Why are there three steps when none would suffice? There's no getting around it: in its current state, Final Fantasy XIV is a pain in the ass to use. There's nothing unique that outweighs how utterly not fun it is to navigate the game's interface. There's nothing that feels unique at all really, save for the story and the job system, staples of the Final Fantasy franchise. Quest-givers are marked with question marks and exclamation points. Quests themselves are of the “fetch this, kill this many that, talk to them” variety, and not terribly exciting to complete. Combat – which, to its credit, is much faster than before and has new animations and effects – is based around having a plethora of abilities, strung out across your hotbar. It's a rote MMORPG experience, the kind you've had a hundred times before, and it makes Final Fantasy XIV feel old. Note that “old” is not a synonym for “beyond all hope.” The game is just entering its first phase of beta testing, so I'd expect at least some of these issues to be ironed out over time. The game also looks great, the setting is unique, the world and story are interesting, and the areas have all been revamped to be more visually appealing. I was happily lost in character creation for almost 10 minutes, just because I loved seeing all the different options available. There are redeeming qualities, and I want to spend more time in the game, but Square Enix needs to make doing so less painful. Final Fantasty XIV: A Realm Reborn is entering its first round of closed beta testing February 25.