Back in November, the launch version of the game had its final event. I was there, fighting against the forces that would ultimately bring Dalamud crashing down upon Eorzea, but all those efforts were for nothing. And I knew it. All veteran players knew that this was a losing fight, that Eorzea could not be saved. The moon fell, destruction rained down upon the land... and the launch version of the game was no more.
Now, nine months later, the MMO is relaunching to an unenviable task. Final Fantasy XIV doesn't just have to be a good game; it has be such a good game that its original launch is no longer under discussion. It has to turn itself from a punchline into a praiseworthy title. The end result, much like the launch version, is a game that's not going to be for everyone, but it's going to be just right for a lot of people who might never have expected it.
At its core, a good chunk of FFXIV's gameplay will be familiar to veterans of other MMOs. Combat isn't quite a World of Warcraft clone, but it's a close cousin with a slightly longer global cooldown. The flow of quests from one area to the next isn't revolutionary or unheard of, even if the quests are more spread out than what you'd see in the now-expected hub format. It's easy to reach level 10 and find yourself thinking that you've already played this game before, and you might stop before you start doing your level 10 class quests.
But that would be a shame because then you'd never see how much the game actually has to offer. The revelations are slow, but when they come, the world expands exponentially.
Every character in FFXIV can be every class. You're locked into one class until you hit level 10 and have done a quest in your first class, but as soon as you do that, you can start unlocking and playing other classes. Better yet, abilities that you learn on other classes can be used on your first class and vice versa. If you've leveled a Gladiator and want to try playing a Marauder, you can -- and you can gain access to several of your defensive Gladiator skills to help your tanking. The skills you can access are limited, but the result is that leveling is not a simple march to the top.
This is, as you might expect, a lot of fun. Yes, you'll probably favor your main class, but you can mix things up as you choose. Better still, the fact that the game has a level sync option ensures that you're never running out of things to do. If you want to practice on your tanking class at a lower level, queue up for a low-level dungeon and you'll be synced to match the party. It's easy to customize your character for tanking or soloing or whatever is necessary for a given piece of content once you've got a few class levels under your belt.
Or perhaps you'd like to craft. Crafting in FFXIV isn't simply a matter of grabbing a tradeskill. Crafts are tied to the class system as well, and leveling works the same way. Yes, a low-level Weaver will have to spend a lot of time grinding up by making spools of Hempen Yarn, but as you reach higher levels, you can produce amazing garments for anyone to wear. And you've got plenty of gear waiting for you even as a Weaver, a whole set of upgrades and improvements that you have to work for. Crafting isn't a sideline but a fully expanded feature of the game; the same is true of the gathering classes, which have a log full of information about what can be gathered where to provide raw materials for crafting.
The game even takes on the problem of crafted gear vs. dropped gear with the Materia system. As you use an item, you build up its spiritbond meter, and when it's fully bonded, you can destroy the item to create a piece of materia. That materia can be attached to armor with some gathered materials and a sufficiently skilled crafter, but it can be attached only to gear with open slots. Crafted items can be custom-tuned, while dropped items are fairly fixed, and you'll be continually converting and replacing gear to access the most powerful materia.
But even that doesn't explain why I'm addicted to this game. All of those points are just facts, marketing points and important considerations that don't get at the core fun of the game. Everything it does that feels familiar also feels polished, and almost nothing feels forced.
For some people, this is going to feel directionless. It resembles World of Warcraft and similar MMOs, but not closely enough for some players. I've seen combat described as "slow" because the game gives you longer cooldowns, neglecting that the longer cooldowns reward tactical choices more acutely and encourage more thought. I've also heard the quests described as unclear because the game is willing to let you do things other than quest, but sometimes it's all right to wander and take care of a different objective.
And for some people it's going to feel too restrictive. You can't start off playing everything right away as you could at launch; you have to learn how to walk before you learn how to run. The quests do give you direction, even though most of them are there to guide you to something and then let you ignore it as you wish.
There's more structure, but it doesn't clamp down on you. There are lots of options for "what do I do now," but the game doesn't demand you take part in any of them. Not everyone is going to like that, nor is everyone going to like the idea that the game liberally borrows ideas from other games and combines them into a new whole. Some are from distinct games (FATES resemble the eponymous rifts of RIFT, guildleves closely resemble radio missions from City of Heroes), others simply come from the structure of most mainstream MMOs over the past several years. This is a game that strives for polish and innovative combinations, and few individual elements will strike veteran players as novel.
But I love it. And I'm not alone. I have many friends and coworkers alike who had no interest in the original but who are now finding something astonishingly lovable. FFXIV cares not a whit for the distinctions of genre; it's pulling ideas together and polishing them to a bright shine, especially ideas that other major MMOs neglect. We already know housing is due out with the first patch, for example, and what we've seen of housing indicates a great deal of depth and attention to detail. Player mounts can also be used as companions in battle, with the promise of a breeding system down the line. There is nothing in the game that feels casually tossed in; elements work in harmony like an ideal machine.
Not everything is perfect. While the game itself is solid, the launch thus far has been plagued by the usual spate of login failures, server issues, and emergency maintenance that should never happen and always seems to when a new game comes out. These issues could be solved by Wednesday, or they could persist for a month. Some ability descriptions are more arcane than entirely necessary. Dynamic events are unpredictable and difficult to chase despite sometimes offering the best rewards around.
Still, at the end of the day, A Realm Reborn is one of the best games I've played. It scoops up the MMO genre's good elements and splices them together into one cohesive whole, and it does so while looking gorgeous and playing smoothly. When your MMO's biggest issue is server-related rather than game-related, you're doing fairly well overall.
I failed to save Final Fantasy XIV. And I'm glad I did because the resulting resurrection is so much better.
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