During Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn’s open beta this past weekend, something dawned on me while playing. Yes, FFXIV is a nostalgic and almost old school theme-park MMORPG, and in many ways I’m tired of these sorts of games. But then why can’t I stop thinking about ARR now that the beta is over and we’re waiting for the early access and official launch? I mean, it’s just another grind and treadmill, right (no, it’s not)? It might be easy for the disenfranchised gamer to brush this one off as an also-ran, but there’s something about its old school nature and nostalgia grabs at the Final Fantasy IP that has me happily playing for as long as I can get enjoyment from Square’s resurrected Eorzea.
You’re presented the same old quests, however well written they may be, and often enough the same old annoyances are present. “Oh, you want me to get you six of these and bring them back here? And you want me to deliver this useless item to the guy three feet from you?” I mean, why on earth should I like this game? In many cases, I’ve been playing it for years. But it’s done well, there’s a fantastic class system and crafting in place, and the IP and its many nostalgic undertones keep me going. But more than the Final Fantasy IP and classic (which is now novel) MMORPG gameplay, what I think grabs me the most is the fact that FFXIV does enough different to keep me hooked. I’m learning how to play the game, and it’s been a while since any MMO made me actually explore, experiment, and (gasp!) ask questions in chat.
There are a lot of systems in FFXIV, though the game may start slowly with a lengthy (and boring) tutorial tour of your starting city, and they’re slowly added to FFXIV’s bag of tricks by progressing through the content. Think about that for a second. When was the last time you played an MMO and actually had to work towards a goal other than the level cap? I know it’s cool to hate on the Giant these days, but do you remember when your first mount in World of Warcraft came at level 40 and cost a fortune? Remember when just beating the Deadmines was actually something to be proud of? Go further back, and remember the hubbub of dropping the Sleeper in EQ? When it was actually a big deal to have killed the Sleeper at all?
A Realm Reborn brings back this feeling for me, at least somewhat. You’re constantly unlocking new content and features in the game, but all of it comes at a pace that actually feels like meaningful achievement. You begin FFXIV with three simple tasks at your disposal: quests, FATE, and the Hunting Log. But once you hit level 10, things begin to open up. First it’s your second class, also crafting, chocobo porters, guildlevels, guildhests, and so forth. Then in your 20s, you’ll open up Grand Companies, get your own Chocobo, do GC Leves, more dungeons, you unlock Materia usage on weapons and armor, and more. Then in your 30s, a little more than midway through the level climb, you’ll unlock access to advanced jobs, housing, chocobo breeding, hamlet defense, FC advancement, and eventually the game’s PVP systems and raids when they’re added in later. Our own Ryahl has a great write-up on his fansite, Eorzea Reborn.
It’s been a good while since an MMO didn’t just hand me everything on a plate. And it’s nice to have a game finally treat me like a person that can learn systems again in FFXIV. And what’s more is that at each successive addition to the game’s systems, you really do open up more and more content to partake in. Guildleves and Guildhests might just be repeatable content, but they’re fun to play through, and a great way to supplement your questing and leveling of other classes. I look forward to learning the rest of the game, and if it keeps being this interesting I really won’t mind the sameness of the questing and the slower-paced combat. In fact, in a lot of ways the old school flare of FFXIV is what draws me to the game. Funny that in a world where the “MMO standard” is being quickly shunned, I can find some joy in a game that’s content doing a lot of things the same as they ever have been done, while innovating in other areas that make the experience wholly compelling.
Granted, I don’t know if anything in FFXIV will feel as meaningful of an achievement as that first-ever kill of The Sleeper. I don’t even know if my zest for all things FFXIV will hold through more than a couple of months. But what I do know is that it’s nice to be learning how to play an MMO again. And A Realm Reborn, if nothing else, should serve as a reminder to all designers that players do want to earn things, as long as the process of doing so is fun and not a dreadful grind.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He likes the Lancer class in FFXIV, but hates the tiny underwear he’s forced to wear as “armor” at level 13. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.