To say that Final Fantasy XIV 1.0 was underwhelming would be akin to saying the Goodyear blimp is just a balloon. Very few could argue that it was a good, much less, a great game. While it came as a surprise to many that Square Enix was willing to reboot the game the reasons for the makeover were painfully evident. But how is the beta version for FFXIV: A Realm Reborn fairing in comparison? I spent some time with it over the weekend, and am pleased to say that a turnaround is definitely possible.
Two and a half years after the fiasco that was the FFXIV 1.0 launch we find ourselves in the midst of a Final Fantasy resurgence. What was once largely considered to have turned into vaporware, Final Fantasy XIII versus, has been rebranded and thrown into the media spotlight as FF XV. Final Fantasy X and X-2 have had a HD makeover and were met with great fanfare at E3. Square Enix has even announced that the fan favorite Kingdom Hearts is going to receive another original entry to the main series. With buses, bus stops, hotel room keys, and elevator doors all over LA pasted with FFXIV: A Realm Reborn artwork Square Enix was determined to get the message out. Final Fantasy is back, and it’s going to be good again.
I have spent the last few beta weekends poking around under the hood of the new Final Fantasy XIV. In general, I have enjoyed the changes that I have seen. I believe that most things deserve a second chance; people, companies, botched MMOs, and with SE completely redoing this game I promise not to hold any of the game’s previous flaws against this new incarnation. However, I am still left to wonder: are all these changes enough? If nothing else the timing for this reboot is perfect. With the news that Elder Scrolls Online is pushing its release into first quarter 2014 at the earliest, and WildStar is still up in the air on their release, Square Enix is left with very little competition in an MMO market that is always craving the next big thing. The only other games left that can compete with FFXIV:ARR are the possible release of ArcheAge, when Trion decides to release it here in the States.
But enough about all that for now. Let’s talk about the game itself. Visually it looks great. If you loved the way FFXI looked you will not be disappointed with XIV:ARR. The game is the same basic art style with a fresh coat of 2013 paint on it. Spell effects and animations are present but are not over the top. You can still see what is going on in a battle. They have also added in character models for a male Miqo’te and female Roegadyn. These were not only absent from the original release of XIV, they were not in XI either when they were called the Mithra and Galka.
Another item Yoshi-P and the Square Enix team added in for FF:ARR is the FATE system, or Full Active Time Event. FATE is a lot like dynamic event systems you can find in games like Rift or Guild Wars 2. FATEs randomly spawn in zones and have different objectives. Most require you to kill a certain amount and type of mobs and progress to the next stage where a boss mob will appear. The event will scale the number and difficulty of mobs based on the amount of active participants in the FATE. So far pretty standard with current games with active dynamic events. Square Enix has put their own little twist on it though. If you are five levels over the active FATE you can kickdown to match the level. If you choose to match the level of the FATE you will be rewarded with experience and money that is commensurate with the true level of your active job. You can also choose not to down level and over power the content. It is nice to run around and one shot mobs from time to time and really feel how powerful your character has become as opposed to how your character started off. Automatically down ranking characters would never allow for this.
Something that was present in FFXI that made its way into FFXIV, and I wish was present in more MMOs, is the ability to level every class on a single character. You can also use up to three abilities from different classes on a character they are not native to. For example I chose to use Cure from Thurmatage on my Gladiator. I also had Lay of the Land from Miner. This allowed me to recognize if their were nice mining points around that I would want to switch from my Disciple of War to my Disciple of the Land role. You also switch classes in a very novel way. Your class is determined by which weapon you have equipped. Have a sword? You are a gladiator. Wand? Conjurer. You can switch classes on the fly. In most games this could become a real struggle because of all of the different types of equipment you would have to lug around with your character at all times. Final Fantasy XIV has a solution for that. Your character has an armour vault that they carry around with them. Now this will completely break immersion for the RP lovers out there but for everyone else this is a welcome addition. You character at the start of the game already has 100 inventory slots. As an added bonus to this you can carry with you up to 25 items of each armor and weapon slot. You can have 25 main hand weapons, 25 off hands, 25 breast plates, etc.... My fellow pack rats, rejoice! This is a far cry from what we have to deal with in the modern glut of microtransaction based MMOs which rake you over the coals for bank and bag space.
Even with these nice additions I’m concerned how well the game will do. The reality of the business side of MMOs is that the market has changed and I am unsure that Square Enix is really in tune with the western microtransaction surge. There is only one subscription AAA MMO left. With every other game having converted to a microtransaction, buy to play, or a hybrid subscription and microtransaction model... is charging a box fee and having a tiered subscription fee really the right way to go? Yoshi-P has said they would rather work with a steady stream of revenue as opposed to dealing with the ups and downs of a microtransaction model. Personally I find it refreshing to play a MMO again that requires a subscription and I am not always left feeling like the developer is trying to see how far they can dig into my pockets under the guise of a free game. I do not know if I’m in the majority with that sentiment though. Because of that I’m left wondering if SE has not just built this nice new train but already blew the bridge out from in front of themselves at the upcoming release because they picked the wrong business model. Even if SE wins back all of the original people that played FFXIV for ARR can that really be considered a success? The answer is no, and after the new car smell has worn off, is there enough really new to keep people playing? I hope so. Besides the FATE system questing in FFXIV:ARR is pretty generic.
All that said if you can get into beta I would give FFXIV a nice long look. Enough has changed that I’m willing to call it a new game. We will explore all of these topics, and more, in further depth once the game goes into open beta and I start the review in progress. If nothing else we can finally jump into a Final Fantasy MMO that feels up to date.
Robert Lashley / Robert Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com and RTSGuru.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen
Read more of Rob’s work: