Since my first experience with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn AKA FFXIV 2.0 on PS4 started just over fortnight ago I decided to do a little digging to see how much the game has changed from its initial release on PC in 2010.
From what I’ve read, it’s pretty safe to say that the original Final Fantasy XIV was a complete disaster. If you can think of an issue, it had it. Critics hated it, citing a laundry list of issues including an incredibly laggy server-authenticated UI, a decentralized market, and random skill point gain.
Those that did take the plunge found the game almost unplayable thanks to rampant server issues and a complete lack of in game documentation or explanation for most of the game mechanics. This forced players to use online guides made by some seriously dedicated fans, but if you alt tabbed out of the game? It crashed.
As such, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s release on the PS4 proof that an awful lot can happen in four years: it’s clear that Square have made it their mission to rectify every last problem the game had at release, and I’m happy to say they have succeeded. In fact, they have done such a good job that A Realm Reborn is almost unrecognisable from the broken mess that Final Fantasy XIV apparently was in 2010.
As you would expect, the PS4 version presents a significant visual upgrade to the PS3 version, comparable with the PC version on high settings. If you have the means, I would certainly recommend the free upgrade. Basically, it takes everything that was great about the game on the PS3 and adds a whole lot more graphical polish and slightly better controls.
The world of Eorzea is as beautiful as it is diverse. From the scorching Deserts of lower Aldernad and the Qarth inspired trading hub of Ul’Dah, the dense forest and Tolkien-esque city-state of Griadan, to the port town of Limsa Lominsa. Its bright spires and long suspended walkways felt reminiscent of the Galbardian Garden from Final Fantasy VIII.
In many ways, A Realm Reborn is a paradise for long time fans of the series, full of nods and winks to previous installments; Materia can be used to improve weapons and armour, you can buy your own chocobo mount that will also help you out in fight and Moogles deliver the post. It even has its own version of Cid who is the leader of a group of Magitek engineers.
The game’s narrative is also a wonderful hodge podge of elements from previous entries in the series as players band together to defend Eorzea from multiple threats. Including the technologically advanced Garlean Empire that which to conquer the peaceful realm and strip it of its natural resources and the beastmen tribes, worshippers of almost godlike beings known as the Primals. The Primals take on many forms including the great dragon Bahumut, the horseman Odin and the demonic Ifrit.
You would think that with the stakes being so high and the world being so huge and densely populated, you would feel like an insignificant speck: a minor bit part player on a much grander stage. However, A Realm Reborn makes each and every player feel like the hero of the story, Imbuing players with a sense of purpose by successfully integrating single player elements into the main quest line that is different depending on what class you decide to start as.
My character, Mungo the Mauraduer started his adventure on the wind-swept isle of Vylbrand, in the city-state of Limsa Lominsa as part of the Marauders guild: a group of reformed pirates that now keep law and order in the city as well as protect the settlement from all manner of ferocious fauna that live outside its borders. After fighting a particularly difficult battle against a big elemental beastie, Mungo stumbles across a mysterious crystal and has a vision of the return of the primal Bahamut: A colossal dragon that all but destroyed Eorzea the last time he was summoned into the world. This marks him as a warrior of light, chosen by the gods to defend the land form the primal’s return, Although in truth he is one of thousands, as far as the main story quest line is concerned Mungo is part of a very select group.
Outside of the story missions there’s the usual fetching, slaying and raiding missions, as well as minerals to mine, equipment to craft, dungeons to plunder, guilds to join, daily quests to complete and all manner of hunting and crafting logs to complete. What sets A Realm Reborn apart from the competition though is how seamless and quick the whole process is. Instead of just doing one quest than moving onto the next, every activity feeds into another, making all of your actions feel interconnected and worthwhile. Whilst on a quest to clear out a dungeon full of monsters that are harming a farmers livestock, you’ll also fill in your hunting log, gain additional XP for each kill and collect various materials to use to craft into new weapons and armour.
Then on your way back to collect your reward from the quest you may stumble across a Full Active Time Event, FATE for short. A timed mission locked to a small area where you usually have to kill a bunch of enemies or one rather large and nasty bastard in a set period of time. They really are a wondrous sight as all the players in the area descend on the area to wipe out the threat and grab a share of the bonus XP and gil (money) on offer.
With so much to do, your character levels up very quickly, this opens up more quests, more areas, more items to craft and better rewards. This mitigates the problem of grinding and makes sure that players always have a new carrot to run after.
What really sets A Realm Reborn apart from its contemporaries though is the ability to play as multiple classes with a single character. I may have started as a Marauder but thanks to the armory Chest system, unlocked at level 10, by simply equipping the relevant tool or weapon and joining the relevant guild Mungo can become Mungo the Miner or Mungo the Thaumatuge. Leveling up multiple classes to a certain level as unlocks additional jobs related to your particular skill set such as paladin, black mage and warrior. Certain skills are also transferable between classes enabling you to customise your character further.
Despite their complexity, the game’s controls are surprisingly intuitive. Running around and controlling the camera are done with the left and right stick respectively. Holding L2 or R2 enables you to use the actions on your hotbar. You can map 8 actions to each bar, useable by pressing either face buttons or a direction on the dpad. You can also have up to 8 different hotbars which you can in turn cycle through by tapping R1 or by holding it down and pressing the relevant face button in the same way you would to activate an action on the hot bar. Pretty much any action can be tethered from emotes and opening logs, to special attacks and items, with 128 available slots anything you want is only a button press away.
Alternatively, you can plug in a mouse and keyboard instead and then the controls are identical to the PC. Personally, I preferred using the pad as it’s a lot better suited to long couch based gaming sessions.
Generally, the game does a good job of introducing you to the myriad of quest types, systems, and mechanics within the game. The first twenty or so levels act as an extended tutorial, breaking new players in by gradually drip-feeding them new mechanics and mission types whilst they level up.
The game also features a comprehensive help guide. Every time a new gameplay element is introduced, the game will prompt you to open up the relevant entry in the guide by pressing the touchpad. It could almost be seen as over compensating for the original games lack of information but having it there is great for when you need something clarifying an there’s tons of useful tidbits of information in it if you take the time to read it.
Unfortunately, the only thing that doesn’t work very well is the map. It works well enough to tell you where you are in a specific area as well as fining all nearby objectives and quest givers. It just does a terrible job of telling you where you are in relation to the rest of the map and with it, which direction you need to head in to get to objectives in different parts of the Eorzea. I spent a long time wandering around in circles getting lost until I found this fan made map. It helps but is far from an ideal solution.
Hopefully, this won’t be the case forever though as a Realm Reborn is regularly updated with additional quests and expansions to the storyline, new equipment to create and buy, new primals to battle and other tweaks and fixes that make a great game even better.
As it stands, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is still well worth your time and a fine way to weather the current drought on PS4. Not only is it the best MMO currently available on consoles, It’s also one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had this year and this is coming from someone who generally doesn’t like MMOs.