MMORPGs are a genre I’ve not got a huge amount of experience with, I must admit, so I approached FF XIV (that’s 14 for those of you not up to par with your Roman numerals) with a degree of trepidation. You hear stories of people getting far too caught up in online worlds and start to wonder whether or not it’s best for you to avoid them for fear of being the next hopeless addict, however despite the massively online nature of A Realm Reborn, I found it to be an experience that lent itself as much to solo adventuring as working in a team, and would have absolutely no qualms about recommending that those with a similar outlook on the MMO genre cast their presuppositions aside and jump into the fray.
A Realm Reborn takes place on the continent of Eorzea, a wonderfully realised and executed location for a game that offers a staggering amount of depth, detail and variety for players, regardless of what approach they want to take. Set five years after the events of Final Fantasy XIV, where a cataclysm has devastated the region, as well as causing a strange (and, it should be noted, strangely convenient) memory loss among her inhabitants, A Realm Reborn sees players create their own Adventure before taking them into the game world to build their legend.
Initially, A Realm Reborn can be a little overwhelming. It’s clear that the game is better suited to a keyboard and mouse interface than a DualShock 4, but with a little patience and some willingness to explore and experiment, you’ll soon figure out how best to get to grips with the control scheme. If you’re still struggling at that point, the game will allow you to hook up a keyboard and mouse and use them instead. Not being much of a PC gamer, however, I opted not to take this approach, as it likely would’ve caused even more headaches down the line.
The main issue is the fact that there’s just so much information that needs to be presented to the player at any given time, while the various combat, movement, crafting and casting options are far too numerous to simply map to the limited number of face buttons and triggers on the controller. This means that you can look forward to an onslaught of modifiers, multifunction buttons and trawling through menus in the early stages.
Like I said, it’s quite overwhelming to newcomers, but once you’ve gotten your head around it all, it’s actually an incredibly powerful system that’ll ensure you’re never too many button presses away from where you need to be.
Like most RPG titles, the early going in A Realm Reborn is a little slow, giving players the opportunity to find their feet, and presenting a variety of quests that’ll better let you get to grips with the game’s controls as well as your immediate surroundings.
At times the whole thing felt a little confusing, perhaps too open at times, and I found myself wandering around aimlessly, chatting to NPCs and watching as player controlled characters ran around with reckless abandon, going about their own quests from who knows where in the world. Thankfully, there’s no need for you to jump right into interacting with other players unless you feel the need to, so you’ll be able to focus on your active quests instead, building your character’s experience and getting yourself up to a level of relative comfort as you go.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of things for you to do within Eorzea, and there are times when your quest list begins to resemble an impossibly large to-do list, but there’s nothing forcing you to stick to a single quest at a time, or preventing you from exploring the living breathing world around you.
Like I mentioned earlier, choice and variety play a huge part in the FFXIV experience, and that’s abundantly clear from the offset when you get to create your Adventurer. There are a total of five races for you to choose from, with males and females available for each. While the race you choose is important in determining your initial skills and abilities, you’re not really running the risk of making the “wrong choice” like you can in some other titles, but it’s nevertheless advisable to read all the descriptive text about each of the races to decide which one fits most closely with your own personal experience and preferences.
As you quest, battle and explore, your character will begin gaining XP and levelling up, following the tried and tested formulas of most other RPG titles. Some items you find or purchase will be locked to a minimum level cap, which can occasionally be the source of some moderate frustration, but there’s no shortage of items in the world, so you’ll never be too far away from finding something useful.
What is particularly interesting here, though, is the way your Adventurer is never bound to a single character class, but rather the weapons you equip will determine whether you’re a lancer, gladiator or Thaumaturge. It’s an incredibly fluid and versatile system that breathes a little freshness into your experience, giving you the option to shake things up as and when you feel the need. More importantly, though, it prevents the game from ever reaching a point of stagnation, and while players will likely find a style that they’re happy enough with, once they reach saturation point and feel the need to try something different, they won’t have to begin afresh and prepare themselves from an endless grind.
The combat, for someone who doesn’t have an extensive background in this genre, felt a little strange at first. The idea of automatic attacks didn’t really sit well with me, and gave the initial suggestion that combat would prove more of a chore than anything else. However, like most things in A Realm Reborn, once you start to explore the nuances of the system, it springs to life.
Depending on what class your character is at the time of a fight, you’ll have the option of several different ways of approaching battle. Sure, you could opt to just strafe around, delivering automated blows, but that gets old quickly and lacks the level of interactivity we have come to expect from our gaming. Instead, Square Enix has opted to include some clever elements into the fray, with real time modifiers and attack options unlocking a potentially infinite number of tactics, particularly later on as your character becomes more adept at… well… everything.
I haven’t yet touched on A Realm Reborn’s storyline, but it’s arguably the most impressive feature of the game. For me, it was comforting to know that I could progress solo, never being forced to hook up with complete strangers for plot-critical missions. That may defeat the entire purpose of an MMORPG, but there are times that, after a long day at the office, the last thing you want is to have to deal with a faceless gamer a thousand miles away.
While the overall plot progression is typical RPG faire, the rise from a no-name scallywag to a legendary hero and saviour of the world, it’s the way everything is so expertly executed that impresses. There are literally countless NPCs to interact with in meaningful ways, and many times more to throw out the usual generic one liners at your character (and even some of these can offer invaluable information when you least expect it), and it all serves to make you feel like a real part of the world, creating a level of immersion that’ll keep you coming back for more.
The writing is, as you would expect from a Final Fantasy title, exemplary, and players will be served up some wonderful twists and turns, as well as plenty of standalone side quests that bear little relevance to the rest of the game. There’s one thing to note here, however, in that unlike other recent titles, the vast majority of the game’s plot and dialogue is displayed as on-screen text.
There’s none of that fancy audio for you here, and although feeling a little miffed by that initially, after a few hours you’ll likely find yourself thankful, as it’s a lot faster to simply read the text than wait for someone to read it to you. Nevertheless, this might not be to some people’s likings, and there are several points where I became a little trigger happy and skipped over some important quest information, meaning I had to make my way into the game’s menus to figure out what I was supposed to do. That’s my problem, though, not A Realm Reborn’s.
On the visual side of the game’s presentation, the game looks fantastic. Yes, it might not be quite as smooth as you would like at times, and there are occasions where you’ll get a little lost thanks to the fact that some environments are quite samey, but surely the same criticism can be levelled at real life? And in real life you don’t have a handy map at to reference at the top of the screen!
There are moments when you’ll find yourself standing atop a hill or cliff, simply looking out over the horizon and marvelling at just how well-wrought the game is, and the small issues like occasional clipping or collision detection faux pas’ fade into the distance, minor irrelevances in a sea of wondrous execution.
Like every game, though, A Realm Reborn isn’t perfect. There are some niggles that’ll definitely cause beginners issues, such as an incredibly poor tutorial system that essentially leaves you flying solo. It may encourage experimentation, but its failure to mention some key functionality or gameplay features will be a source of frustration down the line – especially when you realise you could’ve increased your character’s XP by small amounts at regular intervals by buying food from the game’s various vendors (something I didn’t find out until reading another site’s review of the game).
The fiddly map controls can also prove to be a nuisance. No matter how many times I promised myself I’d never accidentally start walking while trying to find a location on the map, it happened all too frequently, meaning several more button presses to get back to the map interface.
The quests, too, although so numerous and enjoyable, can often amount to little more than “go here and kill X things, then come back”. The more interesting quests are great, but there tends to be a little too much reliance on fetch quests, and they’re rarely fun for anyone. The silver lining is that they’ll help you to boost your XP along the way, and the story progression element of them just about manages to prevent them from feeling too much like an exercise in grinding.
When all things are taken into consideration, there’s far more positive about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn than negative. When it’s good, it’s nothing short of stunning, and even when it’s not delivering its A game, it’s still a damned sight more engaging than most RPGs, MMO or otherwise.
With The Elder Scrolls Online delayed until the end of this year, A Realm Reborn is the only logical option for console gamers seeking out that connected RPG experience – and even for those who have no interest in befriending fellow Adventurers, the amount of content on offer will ensure that you’ll be spending a huge amount of time in Eorzea.