Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is coming out on the PlayStation 4 next week. Many gamers are probably wondering if it's worth checking out, particularly considering the MMO's troubled history. As you may have heard, the first version of Final Fantasy XIV debuted in 2010 with a laundry list of bugs and issues. It was so unstable, in fact, that Square Enix waived the subscription fee for months on end in apology.
After a major change in management and a mad scramble to save the game, the entire thing was scrapped and replaced by its new incarnation, A Realm Reborn, which launched last fall. Skeptics wondered how this disaster of a game could possibly be remade into a successful MMORPG over a few short years, but many Final Fantasy fans pronounced themselves delighted with the reborn realm. I finally gave in to the hype when the game was part of a February Steam sale, and became a believer myself.
If you love traditional MMORPGs, and particularly if you also love the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a quality example of the genre. Since it's a game with a purchase price and a subscription fee, it's not as easy to jump into and try as free-to-play MMOs, so how do you know if you should take the plunge?
There are two kinds of gamers who will appreciate A Realm Reborn. First are the people who are interested in partaking in an online binge during the game's first subscription-free month, and who might even be tempted to subscribe for a few months thereafter. Leveling a character from 1-50 involves exploring the game's beautifully-realized world and experiencing a story that's surprisingly solid for an MMO.
The world of Eorzea is steeped in interesting lore and filled with lively characters, both likeable and loathsome (in fact, the language and themes found in the game are surprisingly mature). The English-language writers have done a superlative job and are obviously great lovers of the written word. As an extra bonus, tons of Final Fantasy references will delight series fans, especially those who love the world of Ivalice. While exploration and combat lag a bit behind recent Western MMOs in terms of convenience and action, the game sports an interesting character class system and enough gameplay variety to keep most players entertained for some time.
Even players who are solely interested in the game's main story will need to be prepared to group up from time to time. You'll be required to run dungeons on a semi-regular basis in order to advance the story, although thanks to the automatic Duty Finder, doing so is generally quick and easy. Things ramp up in difficulty later on, but veterans of games like World of Warcraft should have no trouble adapting to the dungeon mechanics, and the game's community (at least on my server) is kinder and friendlier than most.
Once players hit the level cap in A Realm Reborn, things change in a way that will be familiar to MMORPG veterans. This is where the game will lose more casual players who prefer only occasional grouping, but it's a treat for traditional MMO fans who dislike the lack of dungeon-crawling, equipment-upgrading “endgame” in newer titles like Guild Wars 2.
To Square Enix's credit, the development team has been continuing the game's main storyline through this new content and adding a certain amount of new content outside of raiding and dungeon-running. Largely, however, you'll need to enjoy the gear-and-raid treadmill if you're going to stick around for more than a few months. The good news is that individual dungeons and raids don't take terribly long (most have a time limit of 90 minutes), so players don't have to engage in multiple-hour dungeon slogs unless they really want to do so.
The PlayStation 4 release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn should be a great time for a newcomer to jump into the game, even if they're playing on the PC or PlayStation 3. There should be a healthy population of new players with whom to run story-required dungeons and challenge (optional, but often fun) the outdoor group events known as FATEs.
It may not be a revolutionary MMORPG, but A Realm Reborn is one of the highest-quality recent releases in the genre. If you love traditional MMORPGs, are a lore nerd, or are simply a curious fan of the mainline Final Fantasy series, it's absolutely worth checking out. As long as you're prepared to do a bit of light grouping and have enough patience for the usual MMO staples of questing and leveling up, the price of admission is worth it, especially while experiencing the game's main storyline.