Final Fantasy XIV had a very rocky start. It was Square Enix’s second foray into the MMO world and it failed miserably. The world was open for just under two years before it was finally shut down. Most people did not have many positive things to say about the broken world. Square Enix closed the doors to XIV. Instead of leaving the game there, they began a massive overhaul of the entire game and released Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Comparing the two, the difference is like night and day. FFXIV: ARR is a very solid game. It has its problems like any other, but overall it is very well made.
One of the best parts about FFXIV:ARR is the fact that you actually feel like you are playing a Final Fantasy game—something I did not feel in the original XIV or XI. The game’s story and writing are fantastic, making you feel like you are the hero who is saving the world. The first 20 or so levels of the story feel pretty generic and are a pretty typical unknown-hero-versus-world-destroying-villain kind of affair, seemingly a trend in a lot of Final Fantasy games. However, as in most Final Fantasy games, once you get to a certain point the game grabs the story and runs with it into something much more fleshed out and interesting.
The cutscenes are well done and the voice acting, while not appearing as frequently as many might desire, is also executed well. The story, tragically, is mainly compromised of fetch quests and go-talk-to-this-NPC (non-player character) quests that will have you running all over Eorzea constantly. It can get a little stale, but the story is interesting enough that you want to follow it through. Plus, the dialogue is hilarious at times.
Several of the side quests also have long-running stories that keep you interested. One such story is the infamous Hildibrand questline, which is a hilarious story following Inspector Extraordinaire Hildibrand Helidor Maxmillian Manderville as he looks for the ever-elusive Phantom Thief. I won’t spoil anything for you, but definitely do this quest line. It’s one of the best ones in the game.
The world is gorgeous; there’s plenty of scenery to take in as you traverse Eorzea. The forests of the Shroud, the deserts of Thanalan and the oceanside views of La Noscea, all of these are absolutely beautiful. The biggest issue with the world, however, is that it is broken up into many zones and there are a lot of loading screens when you’re traveling. This is in part due to the fact that the game was made to be able to run on the Playstation 3, which limited some of their capabilities of making a seamless world. You will run into a lot of loading screens; if you are playing on a weaker PC or the PS3, you may experience some long load times pretty frequently.
There are also a lot of invisible walls that you will run into as you explore. There is currently no swimming in the game, so you are cut off from oceans, lakes and deep rivers. It is still a very pretty world and there’s plenty to see and to have fun exploring. There are plenty of quests to do as you explore the world. While many of them are typical fetch or kill-this-many-monsters, the game does a good job of keeping the grind to a minimum as you are questing. There is a grind, though: once you hit max level, that’s how you will get all of your gear, but more on that later.
On the flipside of the world, all of the dungeons are well-made and attractive to look at as well. The beginning dungeons are very straightforward and considered more of a tutorial to get you used to the game mechanics. There isn’t anything very special about them but they are still very well made. As you progress further in the game, you unlock more and more interesting dungeons, Haukke Manor being one of my favorites. You will also run into primal fights along the way that take you into a mini-dungeon of sorts and have you battle a primal. The primals are summons from earlier games and they are some of the main villains in this game. Your first fight is Ifrit, followed by Titan and then Garuda. The primal fights were one of my favorite parts of the game. Each primal fight is unique and has several game mechanics you will have to master in order to defeat them. The first time you run into them in the story, they are toned down a lot and are much easier to beat. Once you reach the level cap, you can do the Hard mode and Extreme mode versions, which mix things up much more; you also have the ability to fight several more primals in addition to the first three. Expect to wipe multiple times as you to tackle them.
At the level cap, the game really starts to shine in terms of dungeons and trials. This is good, because there’s a heavy dungeon grind if you want to get the best gear. Most of your best gear is purchased with tomes that you get from running dungeons, and you need quite a bit of them to get the best gear. You can also get some nice gear from dungeon drops, and your ultimate goal is to get well enough geared to be able to run Final Coil of Bahamut, which is the current endgame raid. I, unfortunately, have yet to experience Final Coil, as I am behind on the gear; the other coil fights are a blast, though.
Another place where FFXIV: ARR shines is the crafting system. While not as complex as some other MMOs, it still has its own special way of doing things. As a crafter you will get a new set of abilities that you use as you craft. You can also cross class from the other crafting abilities with the ultimate goal of making high-quality items, which have better stats than their normal quality counterparts. It’s not just a handful of extra abilities either—you will fill up your hotbars with crafting abilities in an effort to make high-quality items. There’s a specific rotation you will have to learn as well as adapt to changes in the crafting process as you make the item. Each item takes a bit of time to make, though they do have an automated process for crafting when you need to make a lot of something. The high-quality chance hovers around one percent when you use this. Once you get used to the crafting system, you can crank out items quickly and make a pretty penny. I ended up maxing out every crafter (they follow the same leveling system as the other classes 1–50) because I enjoyed it so much.
As far as gathering goes, there are only three classes: Miner, Botanist and Fisher. Miners mine rocks, gems, stones, etc., and Botanists harvest from trees and get lumber and various other items. Fishers . . . catch fish. The grind to level up the gathering classes is rather tedious compared to crafting, I ended up getting Mining and Fishing to level 50. Fishing is more relaxing and easy to level as you watch Netflix. Botany and Mining require you to move around constantly as you gather from nodes and there really isn’t a super-quick way to level them. It’s very much a grind. The payoff is worth it as you essentially make free money, but it does take a while. The gatherers also have their own set of abilities to use, though not as many, or as complex as the crafters.
While FFXIV: ARR doesn’t take very many chances and follows a pretty standard formula for MMOs, it does it very well. The game is a lot of fun, pretty, the story is interesting, and you actually care for a lot of the characters. If you are looking for something innovative you probably won’t be too pleased with FFXIV: ARR. If you don’t mind the traditional MMO system, however, it’s a very lovely game and you will be hard pressed to find many disappointments.