I am willing to admit I was wrong. I did not think that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn would be as successful as it has become. Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida was not the only one to underestimate fan interest in Square Enix’ reimagined title. I assumed that most of the original XIV players would check the game out (it was free for them after all) but all of the unique new users is staggering. The reason why the game has been so successful though at this point really is not a secret. The game is great. It also helps that every other big name MMO due out in the second half of 2013 pushed into 2014.
Over the past four weeks I have given reviews on some of the new systems the game has added in since the original release. We have talked about the ups and the downs the game has faced since launch on August 27th. At first the servers were excruciating to deal with but now they are down to just a minor annoyance. The duty finder still has a handful of fatal flaws that hopefully over time Square can address. Now let's get to the reasoning behind the number that everyone has been hoping for to replace our FFXIV 1.0 review's "5.1" score.
I have been playing Final Fantasy since the franchise debuted in North America. Two of the primary themes that are part of the core of any Final Fantasy game are a great soundtrack and a beautiful environment. A Realm Reborn has come through on both of these keys in spades. The original soundtrack to ARR could possibly be the best soundtrack in the history of MMOs. It takes all the iconic songs and sounds from the Final Fantasy franchise and reworks them for this game with amazing success. The new scoring works wonderfully and is distinctively Final Fantasy.
A Realm Reborn features beautiful environments. Wandering through the countryside of the Black Shroud makes me want to visit there in reality. Walking through the creeks looking for water elementals to kill evokes childhood memories of playing in creeks looking for crawdads to trap. Limsa Lominsa with its buttes are a marvel to behold. Rolling green fields broken up by sheer walls of white granite make for a wonderful visual contrast. These visages encourage you to go and look for what might be hidden over the next hill. The game really makes me want to explore it and find everything that is out there. I only wish the environments were more open and allowed for more in-depth exploration.
While I love the environments I am not a huge fan of the character models. I really gave SE a lot of flack the first time XIV was on this topic. They reused character models from XI and gave the races new names and hoped we would not notice. It is hard to hold that against the folks behind ARR because at this point in time they were essentially stuck with them. Looking to make the most out of a bad situation the finally made the male Miqo’te and female Roegadyn that everyone has been asking for.
The armor looks great. This game really captured that Final Fantasy feel with the Artifact Armor. While most of these pieces are just updates from art that was originally created for version 1.0 it fits what a Final Fantasy game should be. The spell effects also look top notch and if you end up with too many mages and summoners in one place and the effects are going over the top you can tune them down to your liking.
Gameplay is the biggest detractor in A Realm Reborn. An issue that was brought up in beta and was never addressed is the ability delay in the game. At this point it would appear that SE has just thrown in the towel and said they have done the best they can with it. For those that have not played the game yet here are a few examples. Most enemies telegraph that they are going to perform a special type of attack or maneuver. When they do this will have a casting bar and they will illuminate the ground where the effect is going to take place. Players can run out of this area of effect before the casting bar completes and still get hit by the spell.
On the opposite side of this you can run into the area before the cast bar completes and not get hit by the effect. Also if this an interruptible ability and it is interrupted after about two thirds of the cast bar has completed the ability will still cast. Most people after playing the game for a period of time get used to this. This is not something that players should have to get used to. This is something that the developers should fix. There are too many MMOs out there that get this right. It is unacceptable that an MMO released in 2013 cannot.
A month after release the game is still dealing with server issues that hamper gameplay. The duty finder is still a nasty little thorn in Square Enix’s side. While this is not going to make or break the game for everyone this is definitely going to keep some people from subscribing to this otherwise amazing game. Due to the way that the endgame is set up there is a small number of instances that players are required to run for end game gear and currency. Players can have a full party and still have to wait in line to reserve an instance server to run one of these dungeons. Not only is this a server issue, it is just poor game design. The final problem with the duty finder servers is that on any given primal run a player or two will suffer extreme server lag. To the point where they are just dead weight. It is very frustrating for players to wait in line to take part in content only to be locked out of it once they get in due to additional server issues.
With the abundance of jobs and classes that a player can accumulate and level in ARR there should be plenty for a player to do in the foreseeable future. Also with one of the deepest crafting systems in a themepark MMO since Vanguard you could spend endless amounts of timing fishing, gathering, and crafting. The storyline is one of the most engaging stories I have taken part in. Not only is it good by MMO standards, it is good enough that this game has earned the right to be a numerical Final Fantasy series entry. While the promise of additional content is not taken into account when giving a game a review score, there is already a plethora of content planned for release in the coming months and plenty reason for players to be excited about what the game has in store. Some of this content will advance the main storyline while others of it will focus on finally adding in Player vs Player content. I want to keep this review spoiler free but if you are a fan of the Final Fantasy franchise as a whole, keep your eye out for recurring themes as you make your way through Eorzea. There are subtle tie-ins to past and future Final Fantasies that will make lore hounds extremely happy.