Final Fantasy XIV has gotten something most MMOs never get: a second chance. When it launched, it was one of the great trainwrecks of MMO history, universally viewed as virtually unplayable.
But the developers went back to the drawing board, rebuilt the game from the ground up, and now, against all odds, FFXIV is a well-regarded and successful game, even managing to make a mandatory subscription work in a market where that is almost unheard of.
I decided it was time to give the game’s free trial a whirl to see how this rebuilt MMO shapes up.
A poor first impression:
Final Fantasy XIV doesn’t exactly hit the ground running. After a lengthy character creation process, including several options that seem relevant only from a role-playing perspective (which I like but which is not for everyone), I was thrown into a seemingly endless string of cutscenes.
Now, I’m a big story fan, but these cutscenes were for the most part not even particularly interesting. Many lacked voice-overs, which seems a tad archaic in this day and age.
The most frustrating part came when the wagon my character was traveling on was ambushed by inhuman raiders. I thought, “Oh, good, I get to fight them off and be the hero!”
But against all tenets of good storytelling and video game logic, the cart simply rolled on, leaving the fighting to some local guards. The tedium continued.
Once I finally got control of my character, I then moved on to a seemingly endless spree of quests involving talking to various NPCs, ferrying messages, and doing other menial and irrelevant tasks.
During this time, I also noticed some odd and irritating quirks of FFXIV. For example, unlike every other MMO I’ve ever played, giving items to an NPC involves manually trading them rather than having them automatically taken from your inventory. The world is also heavily instanced, and unlike Neverwinter or other instance-heavy games, I see no compelling gameplay reason not to have an open world.
I’m not sure why this is, but FFXIV also had far more gold spam than any MMO I’ve ever seen. Every five minutes I’d get a whisper from “dfhfk gjgrnwnd” about cheap gil, and it just never ended.
The story also failed to impress out of the gate. It breaks the age-old writing law of “show, don’t tell.” NPCs constantly talk about how the world is recovering from a catastrophe, but everything appears peaceful, happy, and prosperous, and there’s no real sense of danger to the world.
On the plus side, it doesn’t seem to be reliant on knowledge of past Final Fantasy titles. I didn’t feel at all lost or like I was missing anything important by being a Final Fantasy virgin.
It was well over an hour into my excursion into FFXIV that I finally embarked on a quest involving something I would classify as gameplay: I was tasked with killing squirrels.
Yes, seriously. Squirrels. Not even rats.
At this point, I began to wonder if this was really a game or just some incredibly elaborate, Joaqin Phoenix-esque parody of MMO tropes.
Mercifully, things did improve from there.
Once I actually got into the meat of the game, and no longer had to murder squirrels and other small animals, my experience with FFXIV improved significantly.
At first, mostly all you’ll be doing in FFXIV is quests. These are very much in the standard “kill this/collect that” mould we’re all familiar with, but they flow well and don’t feel especially grindy or inconvenient.
There are also occasional dynamic events — bearing the awkward and seemingly random acronym of “FATEs”. These are pretty simple, but they add a nice amount of variety. On the downside, they don’t seem to be readily soloable, so they might become something of a burden once lower level zones are less populated.
Going in, my big concern about this game was that it had a 2.5 second global cooldown, as opposed to the 1.5 or one second global cooldowns used by most other MMOs. As a fan of fast combat, that sounded awful to me.
In the end, though, it didn’t feel that different. It is a bit slower, but the gorgeous skill animations help stop things from being too boring, and since some enemies have powerful telegraph skills similar to what you’d see in WildStar or The Secret World, there’s more to combat than just mindlessly spamming skills.
The only problem crops up with spell caster classes. As with many other MMOs, their casting is interrupted by movement, and that combined with a 2.5 global cooldown and fairly mobile combat makes for an absolutely miserable experience. Thankfully, melee classes and archers can move and fight.
As you level, FFXIV slowly opens up and reveals itself as an incredibly feature-rich game.
Around level ten, you’ll get access to guildleves, which are akin to daily quests with a few minor twists. In terms of gameplay, they play out a bit more like the FATEs than standard quests, and a nice quality of life perk is that they teleport you back to the quest-giver when you’re done.
Related to these are guildhests, which are short instanced challenges reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s scenarios. They’re a good way to learn basic grouping mechanics.
Around this time, I also got a quest to be introduced to the game’s player housing. This was one time where the game swung back into the realm of frustration, because it wasn’t until the very end of the quest I learned housing is only for max level characters — and only very wealthy ones, from the look of it. I don’t understand why the developers wasted my time by telling me about a feature I wouldn’t be able to use for forty levels.
Of course, FFXIV also offers a selection of dungeons. The ones I played were all fairly high quality, if a bit lacking on story and heavy on trash for my taste.
FFXIV offers an excellent automatic grouping tool — something far too many MMOs are still neglecting — for dungeons, guildhests, and other group content. From the look of it, it can even be used to do raids, which is fantastic.
There are some good social tools to help players work together, too. The game has an auto-translate dictionary full of commonly used terms that allows you to more easily communicate with players who don’t speak your language, and there’s a player commendation system where you can commend people you’ve been grouped with for being especially helpful. With enough commendations, a player can earn some nice rewards.
Why doesn’t every MMO have something like this?
There’s even more stuff later on that wasn’t included with the trial. Players can raise large birds called chocobos as combat companions, and there’s a retainer system that allows you to send NPC minions on mission, which sounds reminiscent of similar systems in Neverwinter and World of Warcraft.
FFXIV is also an incredibly beautiful game, with vibrant and detailed graphics and breathtaking environments. What most impressed me was the weather effects. Some MMOs might occasionally throw in some rain, but FFXIV offers a full battery of weather effects: fog, overcast, clear skies, rain… Coupled with the day-night cycle, it makes for a very vibrant world that is always offering new visual thrills.
The only slight downsides from a visual perspective are that certain creatures and characters have a very cartoonish anime-style appearance, which contrasts jarringly with the game’s otherwise realistic style, and it does have a fairly bad case of “female armor.”
The one other noteworthy thing about Final Fantasy XIV is that it allows player to multi-class infinitely. In theory, you can learn every single class on one character.
There are incentives for doing so, too. Certain skills can transfer between classes. For example, my archer gained an extra DoT, a defensive skill, and a heal by spending a few levels each as a marauder, a lancer, and a conjurer.
The downside to this is that taking up a new class essentially involves starting over at level one. You do get a sizable boost to experience on lower level classes, but it’s definitely not trivial to develop secondary classes.
It’s still better than not being able to learn other classes at all, but I definitely prefer the systems for changing ability sets in Rift and The Secret World.
The classes also don’t seem to have a lot of mechanical variety. They all felt more or less the same to me — just with different animations.
An odd quirk is that crafting and gathering skills also count as full classes, complete with their own gear. I’m not sure what the point of this is — seems a bit unwieldy to me.
Is it worth it?
Tedious opening aside, Final Fantasy XIV is a very solid MMO. It has no shortage of options, and most of its flaws are minor.
Despite that, though, I have trouble recommending it for one simple reason: If you take away the Final Fantasy name, there’s nothing to distinguish this from Rift, Aion, World of Warcraft, or countless other similar games. There’s little FFXIV does poorly, but there’s equally little it does exceptionally, and you can get an experience of equal or greater quality from many other titles — most of which are free to play.
If you’re already a Final Fantasy fan, you should definitely play it. Otherwise, it’s just another entry in a crowded marketplace.
Pretty good review but I have to argue against a few things that you didn’t seem to actually pick up.
1. The only quests required to do are ones with a flaming marker – while normal quests aren’t exactly fun, they are optional and skippable. Their stories are generally self contained to their plot so you rarely get quests that open up the area, so they are entirely skippable if one chooses.
2. The game has a lot of instanced zones because it is necessary for it to play one the PS3. The game can be played on the PS3, PS4, and PC all on the same server. Come the expansion in June, you’ll also be able to play on a Mac.
3. I’m kind of wondering what dungeons you played that were lacking in story though.
4. Housing is meant to be this grand goal, so it is naturally for level cap and expensive. Also, keeps gil sellers/buyers from getting them early game.
5. I find it strange you seem to remark the crafting and gathering being treated as their own class – thus treating crafters and gathers with respect and making it an actual part of gameplay – as bad.
6. FATE – Full Active Timed Events
7. I will say that the first levels of classes do feel mechanically the same but as they level, they feel a lot different. Most likely to make any class feasible to learn. It’s why they start you at level one too – so you learn your class.
8. You also skipped over another nice feature besides the payer commendations (which can only be given to randoms, not ones you enter with as a pemade), a new player bonus. Higher rewards when a new player enters so vets are generally happy to see a newbie rather than angry.
9. Finally, while it can be argued that Rift, Wildstar, WoW, etc do a better job at a featuer, FFXIV is one of the only to offer most of their features in one game at a high quality. It’s a buffet effect.
All in all though, the Free Trial is merely there to wet your whistle, and it’s not until you get past it that you really drink up the game world. You also obviously didn’t go through all of the systems – female armor except for I think four pieces is not an issue (Subligar is unisex), the armory system, attribute system, musical composition (FFXIV offers very high quality music and a variety of it – such as day time Ul’dah music being different from night time), fully customizable UI, the reccomendation list system, teleporting, well written quest text, hunting logues, etc.
I hate to say this but if you are going to review something and you aren’t timing yourself – first three hours or something (which would be real short for an MMO) – try to go through ALL of the systems first because it really sounds like you missed or didn’t touch on quite a few things.
Just to respond to a few points:
I know many quests are skippable, but that’s no excuse for tedium. The game should make you want to do every quest.
I played the first two or three dungeons. I don’t quite remember their names, as there was some delay between my writing this post and publishing it. One had an aquatic theme, one was a crypt, and another was a mine, I think.
I don’t agree that FFXIV is the only game to offer such a breadth of content. Rift, for example, has roughly as much variety, and gives you everything quicker and with less hassle.
I also somewhat resent the implication I didn’t see enough before writing my review. I spent a week playing the game, reached max level for the trial, rolled an alt, and sampled every form of content available in the trial. I was, in fact, more thorough than I normally am when writing these posts.
This is also a good time to reiterate that “the game opens up later on’ is a hallmark of poor design. Developers should not make players wait and grind in order to have fun, and players do not deserve the blame if they give up on a game because its opening hours fail to impress.
I didn’t say your review of the quests is wrong just that you misinformed anyone who reads this that not all of these quests have to be done. Past text, there are only about three quests (unless you count every person you talk to as a quest) that need to be completed within the city before it sends you out exploring. I also question what wouldn’t make side quests tedious to do at an early level though.
Sastasha, Tam-Tara, and Copperbell are the three dungeons. I’m still trying to figure out how they are light on story or do you mean lore? Because you need to talk to NPCs to get the lore.
I hate to tell you this but you barely scratched the surface of FFXIV – did you even go to the Golden Saucer? Also, faster and less hassle are not necassirly good things either, and it also depends on how you view things as a hassle.
Everything I wrote that you didn’t cover is in the trial too – I’m not saying you didn’t see them but you didn’t cover them. The teleportation system, for instance, is great for travelling around and makes questing a lot less tedious when you just have to click the teleport crystal on the map to get where you are going. The armory system is one of the biggest and best things about the game – especially being able to save whole sets. Your complaints against female armor is not true beyond your starter gear and a couple high level gear.
I also don’t say the game “opening up is poor design”. I think that’s very good design because you earn these things rather than just given them. I would argue just giving them is poor design because people burn through them and there’s less a feeling of reward for less work. It’s a common enough thing – getting your own Chocobo for instance requires a bit of work, but just about everyone is super fond of their Chocobo for it.
Also, there’s something to be said about a game opening up the more you play it – as if rewarding you for playing. These last two points are opinion, however, but I would at least add that your statements seem like you want instant gratification rather than putting effort in. While XIV has ways to progress your character no what you do, you only get better rewards as you do the harder content.
I didn’t cover things like teleportation or the ability to save gear sets because those are standard features of virtually all modern MMOs. It’s like praising a game for having a chat window.
The idea that fun should be a reward for effort is one of the biggest things holding MMOs back. It makes no sense and serves no purpose. I earned my reward through the effort of earning the money pay for games, a good computer, and an Internet connection. I want a game, not a second job. So you’re right: I do want instant gratification. It is something that every other entertainment medium offers, as do most video games. Only MMOs abide by this fallacy that having fun in a game should require work.
If those are standard fair, why does the system get praised so much then? Why do people say “One of the best things about FFXIV is the armory system”? The armory system which can be used for quick changes between classes.
Also, RPGs do not offer instant gratification. In fact very few mediums do. Watch a superhero show – you got watch a lot of humor and in some cases, character development before you see an action scene or long pauses between them. Read a book – you normally have to start at the beginning before you get to the climax don’t you? Racing game? Skins and cars and roads unlock as you play. RPGs? Unlock and go to places as you level.
There are very few games that turn on and give you everything with a “here ya go!” Even WoW doesn’t for new players. Most games that do are usually burned through quickly and left behind. A “second job” is not the same as “doing stuff to earn stuff”. It’s progression but I didn’t come here to debate with you. I merely pointed out that you didn’t say all of the features, how well done they are, and that the trial is merely meant to give you a taste for the game.
I think it is appreciating entertainment on a very shallow level if you only consider climaxes and action sequences to be enjoyable. The natural rhythm of storytelling is most definitely not analagous to the way many MMOs make you wait to get to the actual meat of the game. A better analogy to make your point might be sitting through commercials, but those only take minutes, not hours, and they’re easily avoided in the age of Netflix and DVRs.
I won’t speculate on why people are eager to praise a gear manager, but the fact remains it’s been a stock standard MMO feature for many years.
I completely agree that the game starts slow. I got bored of it and stopped after a couple of weeks with my highest class being Weaver at level 20, and my highest combat class of Thaumaturge at level 18. After about a month away, I decided to re-sub becuz I wanted to get the chocobo mount….and something clicked with me then, becuz I’ve been continuously subbed for the 6 months since then (actually just paid for month 7 a couple of days ago) and while I’m in a bit of a slump while waiting for the expansion to drop, I’m still happily playing it at my primary focus a couple or 3 nights a week.
That said, I certainly can’t fault your criticisms. Been there, seen them, but… game’s got me hooked enough to either overlook them or be willing to just accept them.
I can certainly see that it’s a quality game with a lot to offer. It just didn’t stand apart from the crowd enough to grab me.
I played this game for over year with subscription. My hope was, as you had to pay it would keep out cheats and gil sellers who would be banned and have to pay again on the risk of being spotted early. Well, there are plenty of cheaters. So, I quit as I refuse to play AND pay, for a game where people devalue my hard effort with bots. They need to create a game were each player cannot buy or sell to other players, hard but it can be done.