Both MMORPGs and RPGs in general have always been a touchy point for me. None have had enough pull to keep me in with the gameplay and world enough in the past to keep me actually playing. And just as importantly, I sure as heck wasn’t willing to pay a subscription. I’d given a lot of games a try in the past, most of which I don’t remember (except for Rift) or didn’t stick with in a meaningful, gameplay-focused way (my 450+ hours in Secret World which are genuinely 90% roleplaying).
I was left wandering until Shadowbringers brought Final Fantasy 14 back into the spotlight. I heard praise from friends, and as a game writer, it turned out so many of my colleagues had been playing all along. They just didn’t say anything about it! So I gave it a shot. Honestly, I was surprised I stuck with it. I thought I’d drop out after my initial four months, and I nearly did, especially with a few Heavensward level gates.
On a lot of fronts, Final Fantasy 14 accomplished many wonderful things that kept me coming back into the game and resubscribing. Many of them surprised me, given MMOs’ habit of not keeping me hooked, but surprises can be good.
Yes, this is the first thing everyone points to with Final Fantasy 14. It does start out cliche for an MMORPG, and even an RPG as a whole, but that feels like the point. You do some fetch quests and menial labor for some locals, and you build up both your skillset and reputation.
The game doesn’t ignore any of that hard work. Your reputation as a decent do-gooder sticks through in a meaningful way, and unless you’re a horrible person in real life, it’s a sort of empowering drive that keeps you going. You’re not anyone special, just another adventurer, until you prove yourself otherwise, and you do so over and over again.
And that makes the rest of the story so special. You’ve accomplished so much over time that moving into grand tales of battle, magic, technology and even politics feels natural and even expected. Your losing moments feel dramatic and grounding, but you’re easily uplifted by your allies and those who support you. You’re not a lackey, nor are you the true leader of everything around you. You’re a powerful tool who people want on your side, and that’s a fantastic feeling.
Not to mention the plot is just really freaking good in general, and it keeps getting better. Like, “its epicness is a punchline of a major webcomic recently” good.
Easy combat gameplay
Gameplay in FFXIV can be a little RSI-inducing, but not any more than an FPS, a sports simulator, or excessive typing can manage, done right. Like other major MMORPGs or even MOBAs to a degree, gameplay happens in “rotations,” which is just shorthand for “a long, consistent combination of button presses.”
In a game that’s so long and heavily story-focused, repetition is not bad, per se. It allowed me to breeze through the required tasks with little to no thought. It does get difficult as time goes on, especially if you realize too late that certain “classes,” known in FFXIV as “jobs,” are a bit of a doozy, such as Summoner. The fundamentals stay the same, though, and the game eases you into things, for the most part.
As time goes on, you do have to pick up new little details: situational rotations, procs, raid and dungeon mechanics, and gear combinations. It’s thankfully nothing overwhelmingly difficult to understand nor adapt to, and plenty of people both in-game and out-of-game are willing to help. The Balance is generally great for that, and there are plenty of guides on YouTube, Reddit, and elsewhere for basics.
And if you don’t like a job, you don’t have to remake a new character; just pick up a quest for another! Unless you really just want to reroll into a Miqo’te, which is the correct choice.
Minimal, optional, and chill grinding
I won’t lie: the best part of FFXIV gameplay is that you don’t really don’t need to grind long hours to accomplish anything necessary in the game. Especially in recent patches, FFXIV takes care of your experience climbing well enough that there aren’t major issues until, arguably, Shadowbringers (and I’d say Heavensward as well).
I was largely scared off of MMORPGs because of the grinding infamy, and even typical RPGs require so much questing outside the main storyline that I eventually turn them off and swap gears. But the only instances of “grinding” I’ve really run into are high-tier arms and gathering.
Yes, “gathering.” It’s really just running around and collecting plants, fish and rocks. A lot of people I know love to casually gather, self included! And given it’s so low-stakes, everyone I know pops on a podcast, Netflix, or Crunchyroll in my case and vibes out. I think it’s because it’s a good way to kill time and take up brainspace, especially as someone with ADHD who requires a little bit of multitasking to engage with anything at all. I frankly started to get in-game currency, but this casual grinding is a nice way for me to relax now.
You can also just grind to get every single job in the game. Again, you don’t need a new character for every job. You just need to start the quest line for a new one. And that means a lot of people make a task out of just getting every single job. I reemphasize that this is an entirely optional form of grinding, too; I only have one combat and one crafting job fully leveled at the moment.
Interesting endgame variety
I was kind of stuck on what to do when I reached the endgame. They aren’t very clear about what there is to do, aside from the current raid series, roulettes, and expert versions of story bosses. But I was actually kind of shocked. It’s more than raids and dungeon grinding!
I actually adore the casual endgame content. Some colleagues introduced me to little endgame tidbits such as Treasure Maps, Wondrous Tails, and FATE Farming. These friends also enjoy a good player-versus-player Rival Wings match, but I never seem to find the peak times and end up in a ceaseless queue. And there also seems to be a “retirement cycle” for fighting game players, where they get into FFXIV, play its mahjong variety, move into real-life or online mahjong, and then eventually rotate back into FFXIV.
You can also try to make a living of sorts in-game. There are housing and apartments, as well as the aforementioned gathering tasks and crafting. Both gathering and crafting allow you to make items for yourself to use in battle, fashion and housing, all of which are well-utilized aspects of the game.
And again, a lot of people make a task out of leveling every job in the game, whether for combat or the crafting/gathering classes. It takes a while to chip away at, but plenty have accomplished it!
While not every community is perfect, the FFXIV player base is far more than nice enough. In fact, that’s the first thing many MMO expats notice about the game. Dungeons run quick and smooth because most people are willing to help or are generally cooperative.
You do have plenty of edgelords who’ll amplify the worst parts about the community, or just be the worst parts of the community. They somehow find each other, though, and stay sequestered in their own corners until you happen to run into them. And everyone does have a bad day, or encounter a bad player, but it’s easy to remember those over the vast majority of players in casual runs.
More importantly, the community puts out more good-spirited joy than malevolence. Those with Bard classes run around playing songs (yes, actual songs) in community hubs; there are festivals and concerts, I ran into a group marching around with a Zelda callback just last week (https://streamable.com/d2wtdy). Cosplay and roleplaying (of course) are common, as are in-game events, even of the raunchy variety.
If you don’t have friends that play, out-of-game forums are alive on common social media sites like Reddit, Twitter and even Facebook. The present and growing sizes of the communities are a testament to FFXIV’s appeal and longevity that I’ve fallen in love with.