Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn early levels review (PC)

Maybe every MMO should try this ‘come out once and be awful then re-release with a completely overhauled game’ thing, it seems pretty good

ffxiv_2013_08_28_21_44_35_346

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is the re-release of Final Fantasy XIV. Originally when XIV was brought out gamers complained about the aimlessness of its levelling, problems with travel and linear zone. Square actually listened to its fans and took the almost unprecedented step of shutting the game down and spending a bit more time on it. Now they’re back with A Realm Reborn and they’ve almost completely overhauled the entire game. There are some zones and storylines that are the same as well as many art assets and some game mechanics, but the amount that was changed goes far beyond simple ‘tweaking’. They’ve completely taken on board everyone’s complaints about the original game and improved on it in nearly every way.

For this early review we’ve levelled one character to 21, with three crafting/gathering skills between 10-20 and we levelled another character on a different server up to 12. We are not pretending for this to be a full review, but for those on the fence now the server issues are starting to resolve we though we’d let you know how the game plays in the first 10-20 hours. We’re covering character creation, solo questing, crafting, instances and fates. We’ll bring a second review once we’ve got experience of the end-game and jobs. It’s currently around £17 to buy the game and first month’s subscription so there’s a low entry barrier should you be interested.

Like most MMOs, XIV begins with character creation. You get a choice of five different races (a purely aesthetic choice), as well as your gender and ethnic origins. There’s a detailed visual character editor allowing you to choose your facial structure, eye and hair colour as well as your body types. One of the first things you’ll notice about XIV is how good the character models are. MMOs are renowned for cutting back on polygons wherever they can to keep things running smoothly when there’s load on screen but somehow Square have managed to keep the models looking amazing and detailed while also allowing you to customise virtually every aspect. Clothing and gear is much less detailed, particularly in the l as you’ll change that so often it’s less of an issue.

ffxiv_2013_08_29_12_48_46_948

Once your character has been created you need to pick your first class. ‘First’ is important because unlike many other MMOs, your class is dependent entirely on what you have in your hand at the time. At level 10 or so you get the chance to start joining other guilds, giving you access to those classes. When you change class you go right back to level 1, but obviously keep your inventory and quest progress. As you level up different classes on a single character you unlock cross-class skills that make your main class more powerful. For example if you are levelling a melee class it might also be worth starting a healer to get the ‘cure’ spell to give yourself a little more longetivity on the battlefield. If you’re a Black Mage you might also want to be able to summon an elemental creature to fight at your side and tank for you. It leads to a very versatile system where although there is no choice in terms of talents you have a ridiculously open choice of how to progress. Many are pushing their main up to the level cap (50) as fast as possible to get to raid content earlier. Some are levelling multiple classes equally, others are levelling up a pair of classes until they can unlock a ‘job’ like the Black Mage or Warrior that will allow them access to an even more unique set of spells and a story quest.The system is elegant in that you change instantly, with the game having an excellent way of tracking your gear sets and other information, so you can play as DPS but then switch to a tank when you want to group up. My character is a Marauder, a tank that uses a giant axe. At some point I’ll be levelling a healer too for when I’m more in the mood to sit back and heal. DPS characters are having a hard time with instance-finder queues currently so that’s worth bearing in mind.

The crafting classes are also completely separate. So for example the fishing class, which is a gathering type starts at level 1 when you first pick up a fishing rod. Through levelling you get access to more fishing quests, can catch bigger fish and even learn abilities such as stealth that allow you to reach the best spots without worrying about aggroing mobs and attempting to fend them off with a wooden pole. The system also means you can’t level up your main through crafting, you have to level up a class by doing things as that class, so you know when you see a level 50 tank, they’ve learnt to play that class the hard way, they haven’t simply switched to it at the last moment. To avoid the tedium of going through the first few quests over and over you do get a boost to xp based on the difference between your highest and lowest classes. So a level 50 player will be able to level up a brand new character faster than a level 30 character can.

Once you actually get into the game, you’re treated (or subjected to depending on your viewpoint) a lengthy cutscene introducing you to the starting area and the world. Different classes start in different areas from the lush forest of Gridania to the open port of Limsa Lominsa and the prosperous desert city of Ul’dah. Each look spectacular in their own way, with Limsa’s spectacular vistas and lighthouses or Gridania’s lush forest. The landscapes are truly a wonder in the game and you explore for the sake of seeing new sights rather than just wanting to grind out more levels. Every area has a huge amount of detail lavished on it and most are completely open, rather than the linear corridors of the first release. The starter zones all share similar quests with conversations and simple fetch quests teaching you the basics of getting around then leading you on to combat quests and ‘kill 5 of these types’. XIV is a very traditional MMO in many senses and the quests are exactly what you’d expect. There’s very little or no puzzle solving to be done, it’s about going to a place and often fighting some things, and that’s about it. The script is interesting and often hilarious and the locations are beautiful, but the actual questing is extremely standard. Unfortunately very few cut-scenes are voice acted so you’ll be reading a lot of the text, which does tend to lead to people skipping through it without taking much in. The story starts off slow but picks up pace around levels 15-20 when you start learning more about the history of the world and what the people are dealing with, as well as the interesting adversaries. Without spoiling anything they’re almost certainly not what you’d expect from a game like this.

ffxiv_2013_08_29_15_37_50_604

The combat is again very similar to traditional MMOs with some of the movement-based attack signalling from Guild Wars 2 but nothing on the level of TERA. You get a lot of abilities quite early on and you assign them to a hotbar. Since this is a joint PS3 and PC release (with cross-platform play) controllers are fully supported and work very well, using the triggers as modifiers to make sure you have access to every ability on the fly. The UI changes to reflect the fact you’re using a controller and there’s already many PC players using them to successfully Tank and Heal which was unexpected.

Progress in the game is fast with no grinding in the first twenty levels thanks to the abundance of quests available. The only real issue with this side of the game at the moment is the travelling that stretches out sequences within quests for no real reason. You’ll often be asked to speak to someone in a different town, then come back. By level twenty your shooting off from region to region just to speak to people and then return. It gets tedious extremely quickly and while you can teleport to most towns if you’ve been there before, it costs a lot of in game currency and can leave you broke if you’re not smart about when and where you decide to teleport. Chocobo rides are much cheaper and more fun but sadly they only go for short distances within regions. The travel starts to feel like padding on a game that will already devour hours of your life, it isn’t helped by loading screens between indoor areas and levels within cities when you’re travelling between them regularly. It’s a small annoyance but at certain stages of the game you come across it many times.

The instances in the game are already outstanding, having played the first four available. While there is a lot of trash groups that you need to wade through, the environments are still stunning and the dungeons don’t drag out too long with regular mini bosses along the way. The final boss of each dungeon is a real treat and have been carefully designed to train you in elements of fighting bosses before you get to the level where you’ll be expected to raid to progress. Simple things like recognising tells, using the environment and even kiting are all used in fairly simple but interesting fights. The loot from dungeons is generally quite disappointing but this is just the first half of the game, we expect that to ramp up as you get towards the level cap.

ffxiv_2013_08_30_08_34_23_010

Currently within the game there is so much to do it’s almost overwhelming. From crafting (which employs a minigame that is similar to the combat and allows you to affect the quality of the item you’re producing) to questing and grouping up there’s a lot to do and thankfully no rush to do it. All the servers are constantly full so there’s always people around to help out with a generally positive community being found throughout. If you buy into this game now you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth and if you don’t ever resubscribe it will only cost you £17. For fans of traditional MMOs, this may be the peak so far and a real contender to the likes of the Elder Scrolls Online which won’t be launched until next year. Coming from the ashes of what was seen as a catastrophic failure, XIV has truly been reborn into an excellent game. We’ll bring you a further review once we’re raiding but for now we just want to get back online!

Verdict 9

Don't forget to follow us on Facebook and on Twitter