It´s common knowledge that the behemoth (, no I don't mean the monster from the Final Fantasy universe) in the MMO-market is World of Warcraft. Countless games followed and aspired to recreate its success. It rained down lots of MMORPGs so similar that it can be difficult to tell them apart. Perhaps they were copying WoW a bit too much, because when someone needs a break from their beloved MMORPG, why should that person play a slightly modified version of it?
In stark contrast to this, Final Fantasy XIV attempts to be as different from World of Warcraft as possible. In the short run it felt confusing and inscrutable. In the long run however, this strategy was the right one to bring back the same passion that I felt when entering Azeroth back in its prime.
- Game Title: Final Fantasy XIV - A Realm Reborn
- Created by: Square Enix
- Genre: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG)
- Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows, Mac OS (with cross-play)
- Difficulty: Medium
- Multiplayer: Yes (obviously)
1. Character Creation: Choose A Path Or Walk On All
No surprises during character creation: you pick gender, race, and appearance which all have minimal to no impact on your character´s abilities. You also select a class and a starting city. That´s it. While completing your introductory quests, you gain experience and level up. New abilities unlock automatically. So when does it start to get interesting, you may wonder...
Remember the class you picked at the beginning? I bet you thought that this would be a choice for your character´s lifetime. Like in World of Warcraft where starting a new class meant to abandon everything you had achieved so far. Final Fantays XIV throws this concept out of the window when you unlock the ability to change to any class by simply equipping their corresponding weapon type. Suddenly your straightforward class career explodes into over a dozen of combat-oriented and 11 crafting and gathering classes. Tired of waiting for a tank? Just grab a sword and a shield and do it yourself!
The fact that you never loose progress gives a feeling of persistence, your actions matter more than in a game where you have to repeat everything on every new character (the option to start a new character is still there if you prefer it that way).
Another blessing is the level adjustment when you participate in certain low-level activities. This makes it very easy to play with your friends even when they level much slower or faster than you. Just join an activity where your levels are adjusted and let´s go. The level-adjustment and the fact that you can level different classes on your character leads to another interesting phenomenon: content stays relevant much longer than in other MMORPGs and areas are populated even when everyone already outlevelled them.
2. Combat: A Leisurely Pace
Beware, World of Warcraft veterans! You are used to a 1.0 or 1.5 second global cooldown. Now we have to cope with 2.5 seconds which may come as a nasty system shock but I am certain it is something you can get used to. Combat also lacks the responsiveness and impact that you feel when playing Blizzard´s games. On the other hand your attack are lavishly animated and a joy to look at.
Speaking of attacks, most classes operate on combo moves where using your basic attacks in a certain sequence will award combo bonuses that make them more powerful. It appears pretty simple at a first glance but the complexity increases steadily as you level up.
A notorious example is the Ninja class with its Jutsu system. To activate a Jutsu, you need to perform a certain sequence of gestures which ignore the global cooldown and have to be performed while all the other shit is going on. Like juggling your combo options while keeping up buffs and avoiding enemy attacks. As a veteran World of Warcraft player, I found this surprisingly challenging and performing at full potential in one of the many group dungeons is a pretty amazing feat.
So combat is a bit unresponsive but develops lots of depth later on, got it. Before we finish this section, let´s take a look at the crafting professions. In other games it is a simple matter of gathering all materials and watching a progression bar fill up. Brace yourself for a change because in Final Fantasy XIV the crafting classes learn skills just like a conventional combat class. Instead of unleashing these skills on poor monsters, they use them in a kind of elaborate crafting mini-game where you have to strike a balance between adding some touches to raise the quality of the result and actually finishing your crafting project. It´s not that easy but once you manage to reliably create high-quality products it feels like a big accomplishment. It also pays off because high-quality stuff is better in every aspect than normal quality and it sells at considerably higher prices. As a big fan of crafting in MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XIV provided me with the most rewarding and fulfilling experience so far.
3. Exploration: Gorgeous But Stiff
Well, the world Eorzea itself is as static as it can be. There is almost no interaction with the surroundings except during some quests. The one saving grace here is that it looks absolutely beautiful with intricate architecture and gravity-defying landforms. You even get a snapshot seeker and a group snapshot tool to make the most out of your screenshots.
The quests itself... ummm, they are the most basic tasks you can imagine: kill three enemies, collect four plants, talk to that guy. Probably the worst of any MMORPG out there. On the plus side, the main story incorporates many in-game cutscenes that breathe life into the events. The story itself and its presentation are well done, just as you would expect from a company like Square Enix.
If we stop here, this would paint a rather depressing picture of Final Fantasy XIV. The remedy comes with an unremarkable side-quest which unlocks the so-called Challenge Log. This is a summary and a reminder of all the different side activities that you can pursue in this game. And what a huge summary that is. It also hands out significant cash or experience rewards if you participate in as many different activities as you can. The objectives are usually easy to fulfill and can glue you to the screen so watch out that you don´t spend the whole night on filling the pages of this little time sucker.
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