The lights are on
This is the world I was hoping to enter in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn.
Why did I pick an MMO? I know that Joe Juba was pleasantly surprised by his time with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, so I bit the hook after he offered it up as a Top 50 challenge. I love the Final Fantasy series. When debating whether or not to play Final Fantasy XIV, I remembered how much I enjoyed Final Fantasy XII and its combat system which felt like a single-player MMO. I felt guilty about skipping Final Fantasy XI, and A Realm Reborn seemed like the perfect invitation. I should start this entry with a couple of key qualifiers: The only MMO I've put a significant amount of time into is The Old Republic, I don't know much about the original version of Final Fantasy XIV, and I'm only at level 9 in A Realm Reborn. I don't want this entry to be a rookie's review of an MMO, I'll just tell you about the experience that I had with the game.
Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For the Top 50 Challenge 2013
This is what the world looked like.
Let's start at the beginning. The opening cinematic is spectacular, telling the story of how Bahamut destroyed the world five years ago. It's an entertaining mirror to how the original release was received by the public, I love seeing the intersection of Final Fantasy lore with real world events. I have a recurring habit in games of always choosing the underdog, whether this is going with what I think will be the least popular decision in The Walking Dead (I'll miss you, Doug) or creating a character in what I think is the least popular race; I started my adventure as a female Roegadyn. The game offers up plenty of customization options, everything from iris size to bust size and where their birthday lands in the astral moon cycle. You choose your class and the game offers you a glimpse of what your character will look like later in the game, in my case that meant a Dragoon character that resembles Kain from Final Fantasy IV.
The game does not immediately throw you into the world with other players. It lets you soak up your surroundings in peace for a short period of time before spawning in dozens of scurrying players around you. I was impressed by how great the game looked, and rounding a corner in my starting town of Gridania and seeing a gigantic crystal was delightful. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the music in an MMO, but it immediately stood out and enhanced the experience. After playing so much The Old Republic, the lack of voice acting was disappointing, but later on I did encounter a larger story quest that was fully voiced. The game was a much bigger production than I expected, but I couldn't help but be distracted by the frenzied movements of all other players robotically min-maxing their way through the well-crafted world.
This might sound stupid, but one of the highlights of my experience with the game was when I saw two other players riding past on Magitek armor. I knew that these mounts were in the game, but I didn't expect to see them so close to the town where I started. I chased after them like a peasant trying to get near royalty. They didn't stop. A majority of my time with the game involved running through the forest, attacking small animals to fulfill the dreaded "kill six rats" objectives. After a fair amount of aimless wandering and petty quests, Joe Juba explained that I should prioritize the main story quests to make it feel much more like a classic Final Fantasy. Eventually I uncovered a story sequence that introduced some mysterious characters wearing futuristic headgear, but a clear story or quest didn't emerge in my early hours with the game. I remember watching an interview with one of the lead writers for The Old Republic where he asked the interviewer what the story was for the starting planet, explaining that if you can tell a friend the story of an MMO then the writers have done a nearly impossible job. I'm sure a more coherent storyline emerges deeper in the game, but it certainly wasn't my motivation during the opening hours.
I hit a snag in my questing when a military figure required me to have level 5 gear before embarking on the next assignment. The only thing that I was missing was level 5 pants. I ran to every quest-giver that I could find and none of them were offering up pants as a reward. I was also out of money due to my frequent paid teleportation around the world. I had the option of grinding for gil, or taking a more entertaining approach and begging strangers for mercy. One of my biggest frustrations with MMOS is the lack of communication between players. Here's a gigantic world built for for socialization and community and nobody can be bothered to stop and talk. I ran around like an idiot for a long time asking higher-level players running across the screen if I could have some spare pants, few people responded. One player said he had plenty and would happily trade them for a Blizzard Hearthstone beta key, but my pockets were empty. Begging strangers for pants was not something I expected from a Final Fantasy game, this long adventure in the game was more affecting than the homeless sequence in Beyond: Two Souls.
Eventually some kind soul crafted pants for my character. You can always count on the kindness of the 78th stranger. Continuing to follow the main quest line, I was tasked with the retrieval of dinosaur eggs from a God-forsaken mountain filled with hungry beasts that were a bit too far above my level. Since I was in a rush to progress the storyline so that I could write this entry in time, I didn't want to grind lower-level quests and set out to retrieve the dinosaur eggs. The result was repeatedly dying on the mountain and being forced to run all the way back from my spawn point again and again. I wouldn't recommend it, but trying to stealth by and then running away from these dinosaurs while trying to grab their eggs led to some of the most action-packed and entertaining moments I had with Final Fantasy XIV.
My VoteSince practically nobody else in the office has played Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Joe Juba is counting on my support during the great debate over which games make our Top 50 list at the end of the year. I don't feel qualified yet to make a judgement for or against the game. I'm sorry for the inconclusive ending to this entry, but you probably saw this one coming. I'd like to keep playing the game. Joe mentioned that you are able to switch to another class and learn new abilities once you reach level 10, so that's a nice gift on the horizon. I'm still trying to get a read on whether or not the positive word of mouth surrounding A Realm Reborn is coming from the fact that Final Fantasy XIV is just no longer garbage. I've been impressed by some aspects of the game thus far, like the roaming missions called Fates and the overall production values, but a lot of the game's opening hours are filled with generic and quickly aging monster-killing quests. There's a lot left to experience in Final Fantasy XIV, and I'm going to keep playing until I have a confident opinion.
Email the author Ben Hanson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.