Having played FFXIV: A Realm Reborn in Beta on the PS3, I wasn’t really too sure what to expect on the new generation console. Would it be the same thing, just made a bit more pretty? Or would it make a decent game into a fantastic experience? Square Enix has made an excellent contribution to the MMORPG genre, perhaps the best MMO that I’ve played to date. Most of their awful UI and account management issues seem to be resolved on the new console, which means I could focus on playing the game instead of the chore of its admin.
Character creation in FFXIV offers a ton of variety. To begin, there are five races to choose from: Hyur, the stylistically human race; Elezen, an elf-like race; Lalafell, a tiny humanoid race; Roegadyn, the large, muscular and vaguely orc-ish race; and Miqo’te, the cat people. Each race allows for a variety of customization – not only can you choose your eyes and mouth, you can also adjust the size of your ears or the length of your tail if applicable. The characters are definitely Final Fantasy-esque, with enough customization to make it feel like your own.
After picking a race, you will need to give your character a class. Players can choose between being a Disciple of War or a Disciple of Magic. Disciples of War can become Archers, Lancers, Pugilists, Gladiators or Marauders while Disciples of Magic can choose between Arcanist, Conjurer or Thaumaturge. Most interestingly, once players reach level 10 in their beginning discipline, they can actually change and take up other new jobs. This includes new disciplines. Disciples of Hand includes all the crafting classes in the game: Alchemist, Armorer, Blacksmith, Carpenter, Culinarian, Goldsmith, Leatherworker and Weaver; Disciples of Land is all about gathering careers: Botanist, Fisher and Miner. Changing class is a simple as changing your main hand equipment. This means, that players can actually learn each and every class or discipline if they’re so inclined. As such, players will end up with a variety of equipment sets – each class gets its own.
What I found surprising was how much I enjoyed playing characters that I didn’t think I’d like – my favorite character that I created wasn’t my awesome Miqo’te archer, but rather my Lalafell Thaumaturge. Starting as a Thaumaturge, I then took on alchemy as I thought it would be useful to make potions. However, I later realized that I could craft my own staves if I did goldsmithing – this led me into a career of mining as well. Each class is leveled separately, featuring its own quest lines and activities. Players who tire of combat can easily spend hours exploring the countryside, gathering resources and crafting them into items for sale on the marketplace or to NPCs.
Characters of course start the game in specific areas complete with low level quests. However, rather than grouping characters by race, this is actually done by starting class. There is only one Archer’s Guild – if you want to play with a bow and arrow, you will start the game in Gridania. This leads to more racially diverse cities and environments, making starting areas feel more varied.
To say the world is stunningly beautiful just doesn’t seem to do it justice. Running on PS4, the environments are truly impressive. Fans of the Final Fantasy franchise will appreciate the various area types. Of course there are cities and outposts to run around in, but I was most happy running around the desert landscape of Thanalan and the wooded lands of The Shroud. Perhaps that’s because I also enjoyed their main cities, Gridania and Ul’dah the most.
Unlike so many other new MMORPGs, the world feels alive. Wandering around, there were plenty of things to interact with, discover and observe. It was a delight just watching the sun set over some craggy rocks, or finding hidden areas behind waterfalls.
To further bring the world to life, FFXIV uses the FATE (Full Active Time Event) system. These are timed quests taking place in specific areas and include defending outposts or killing a mutated enemy. They are set within specific levels, so if your character is over the level point you will have to sync down if you want to participate. Alternatively, if your character isn’t high enough level yet, you will gain bonus XP for your contribution. If you needed any proof that the worlds were alive and busy, just watch as a FATE pops up on the map – I often hardly even had time to start attacking an enemy before a whole bunch of heroes had joined me, working together for a common good. XP is shared based on contribution, so it never feels like a kill steal and you don’t need to fight over loot.
Speaking of not fighting with your fellow heroes, resource gathering is actually instanced on the world map. Unlike other MMOs which would see resources get depleted by one enthusiastic miner, everyone can mine the same nodes because they are specific to each character. This means that gathering is a much more enjoyable experience – it is strangely addictive and soothing, and ate up more of my time than I’d care to admit.
Travelling around the vast world can take a few forms. Upon attuning to your first crystal, players learn the Return spell which can bring them to that home crystal. You can change your home, as well as set other crystals as favored destinations. There are also Chocobo porters which you can use to ride a Chocobo from one town or outpost to another for a small fee. Alternatively, you can choose to teleport to crystals you’ve attuned to in the past. This is a more expensive option, but can be worth the hassle-free travel. There are also airships between continents, and later you can get your very own Chocobo mount. That said, my character’s run wasn’t all that slow – it was actually nice to journey from one area to the next on foot, especially when initially exploring. Unlike other MMOs I’ve played, traversing the terrain never felt slow or laggy.
For the most part, the mini-map is workable, although it does sometimes glitch out and give quest markers in the wrong places. The world map requires some sort of super eyesight – I can barely read the location marker names no matter how much I zoom in, meaning that I usually rely on my memory of the layout rather than referring back to my mini-map. This can get frustrating, and I sincerely hope they patch it in the next update to be more user friendly.
Combat and Multiplayer
Combat in FFXIV is very fast paced. As expected, there are auto-attacks, special spells or actions, all of which can be mapped to your hot bar. However, enemies will attack normally, or with special attacks that can have areas of effect. These are highlighted so that players can dodge out of the way, keeping combat active and filled with movement. Of course, my internet connection wasn’t always the greatest (at the best of times I only have a 1 Mbps line) – often I would dodge out of the way, only to still be hit by lagging attacks. When my internet flowed smoothly the combat was fantastic and organic.
For the most part, I don’t play with others in MMOs. I like to explore on my own, only teaming up with real life friends if I want some social interaction. However, the game does push you into some multiplayer experiences – as you reach higher levels, you will need to complete multiplayer dungeons in order to progress through the plot. These are instanced dungeons – you can sign up to do one, and then carry on with other quests. Once the dungeon has the necessary team, players will be teleported to their dungeon crawling event and upon completion, they are returned to their previous location.
So yes, you will need to play with other people. That said, I found the FFXIV community to be ridiculously nice. During one dungeon, our healer accidentally changed hot bars in the middle of a boss battle, resulting in our tank (and eventually the whole party) getting killed. No stress, we all just restarted the battle, told him it was no problem, and owned it on the second try. There wasn’t drama or trolling, just everyone being supportive and enjoying playing the game. I’m sure there will be some bad apples in the game, but I have yet to encounter any of them.