MMORPGs are massive games that require a pretty hefty time investment from players, as well as the willingness to let problems get ironed out over time in these constantly-evolving and constantly-growing worlds. I didn't honestly think I could give a fair or thorough review of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn by myself, so I threw up the Baker-Signal and called on some help from CR's resident MMORPG experts--customer service lead Baker McDonald and forum mods Karkarov and Beardfist!
Much like the co-op reviews I've done with Joseph Luster for The Last of Us and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, we had a fun round-table discussion on Square Enix's just-launched Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a massive reboot that's dead-set on redeeming their failed 2010 MMORPG. Have they, or is A Realm Reborn just another chapter in FFXIV's sad story? Let's get started!
NATE: So, it's kind of awesome to get this many people together for a co-op review. Most of the readers are familiar with me, but can you guys each introduce yourselves for them? [Burlburly Yves]
BAKER McDONALD: Gosh! I'm Baker, a.k.a. Bjaker/Foetberk Yzndornn. I manage the Customer Service Support Team at Crunchyroll, and have been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work in the forums. I also took this last week off (my first real vacation since starting at CR) to play this game. [Foetberk Wyzndornn]
KARKAROV: Hey all, I am Karkarov, also known as Karkybear, Karkypoo, that guy, or hey you. Remember, it is spelled with an OVVVV, not an OFFFFF, I am not a Harry Potter character. In FFXIV I play Varian Black, a Midlander Paladin hoping to be a Dark Knight one day! [Varian Black]
N: Let's wait 'til Beardy's back before we continue.
K: SailorBee spazzed during the week. She came on Skype and was like "where is BAKER?!?!?!?!?!??!" And we told her you were playing FFXIV, and she was like "He plays mmo's? ohmahgawd" and so on.
BM: *laughs* Nice. Yeah, she asked me where I was today and thought I was sick.
K: You caught the worst virus in the world, Baker--MMOitis.
BM: *laughs* I think I'm okay! I mean, I'm not frothing mad that there's maintenance right now. [At the time of this round-table, FFXIV was temporarily down for maintenance. It's back up now!]
Beardfist: Sorry, I'm back. I'm Beardfist, a fairly new mod at CR. This is the first Final Fantasy game I've played since FFVIII way back in the day. I usually play a mage in MMOs, but that's always hard to solo, so I went with Archer for the instant cast times. [Wyra Lyhega]
N: I've mentioned before that I'm not really an MMO player--I played some EverQuest way back when it first came out, and then a lot of Phantasy Star Online and Final Fantasy XI, and then nothing at all until Age of Wushu, just for the review. What about you guys? What kind of MMO experience do you have?
BF: I've played WoW a little here and there, but never really got into it. The most I've played would be in City of Heroes--I liked the superhero theme of that game, but I only played it for like a year.
BM: My first MMO was Final Fantasy XI. I got it when it launched on PS2 in 2004 and played it until just recently (10 jobs at 99). I also played City of Heroes and City of Villains, and all of my characters were named after breakfast foods. Got Power Levelled to 60 in WoW and didn't get a chance to learn the world/lore, so I dropped it pretty quick.
K: Short story time! [Karkarov disappeared for like five minutes, and we were talking about how I've never played WoW, and all my friends disappear whenever a new expansion hits.]
K: If you've heard of it, I have probably played it for at least 1-3 months. My first MMO was a game none of you have heard of called Nexus TK, which has the honor of being the first Nexus MMO released in the States. I've played EverQuest and EverQuest 2, played a very, very long time in WoW, Champions Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, FFXI, a brief stint of Ultima Online, The Secret World, both Guild Wars games, Lineage and Lineage 2, Ragnarok Online, a week of RuneScape just to get the jokes, and about 20+ other MMOs no one has heard of or I can't remember the names to. Claims to fame: I was top 5 in my Spec of my Class in WoW on my server. In that Nexon game I controlled an assistant GM/RP character who ran a country, ran a player-run class for two years, and invented a PvP event. In some other games I won't name here, I discovered two town locations, helped build a bridge, helped found multiple guilds, blah blah blah.
N: Holy Jesus f**k!
BM: You're serious, dude!
N: You really are, that is impressive.
K: Long story short, I have forgotten more about MMOs than most hardcore MMO players ever knew. I am now going to cry in the corner.
N: No, no, I need you here--I need you to talk about mechanics and shit! But before we get to that, one more "experience" question--Final Fantasy. We saw that Beardo played VIII way back when, but what about you--Baker, Kark? How many FFs have you worked through?
BM: I've played and beaten FFI (NES), FFI and FFII (GBA), FFIII (DS), FFIV (SNES, DS), FFV (PS1, GBA), FFVI (SNES), FFVII (PS1, PC), FFVIII (PS1), FFIX (PS1), FFX (PS2), FFX-2 (PS2), beat all the expansions in XI, FFXII (PS2), and FFXIII and FFXIII-2... umm... so yeah.
K: I've played every FF up to XI, I skipped XII and XIII. I could not relate to the games and prefer the Vagrant Story/FF Tactics version of the FFXII world.
N: And it was just FFVIII for you, Beardo?
BF: Yup, although I did play a little of FFVII recently.
N: Cool, so you kinda came into this cold.
K: Also, since everything you need to know about a Final Fantasy fan is decided by their top three FF games, mine are FFVII, FFVI, and FFV, in that order. Tactics deserves an honorable mention, as does Vagrant Story, but they aren't traditional!
BM: If we're going top three games, then mine are FFXI, FFVIII, and FFVI in that order.
N: Not counting spin-offs, FFVI, FFXII, and FFVIII. I like when it goes off the rails and does something different, and focuses on the actual game itself. But Vagrant Story is the greatest thing ever, even if it's only accidentally an FF game.
N: So, did any of you play O.G. Final Fantasy XIV? I'd heard horror stories, so I just waited.
K: Yes, it was bad. Graphics: excellent. Sound: great. Gameplay: okay. But it made EverQuest look fast-paced.
BM: I did play it. And while incredibly beautiful, it sort of made me incredibly sad. I was excited for a new FF MMO to get lost in like FFXI, and the world was just empty. Not in terms of players, but the NPCs just had no life in them. I think they've fixed that.
K: They have, yeah. FFXIV 1.0 was like a beautiful painting--great to look at, but if you tried to live there, it just didn't work.
N: So quick answer--is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn a good apology? From what I've heard and seen, I think so. It's actually a lot of fun to play.
K: Definitely. It does everything 1.0 did, only better, with so much more content. It's also more fun to play.
BM: Oh God yes. When Beta Phase 3 rolled around, I only played for 30 minutes, and that was long enough for me to be like "Yup! This'll do!"
N: One thing I'm really enjoying is the constant push to try new stuff. Try a new Battle Class! Try a new Crafting Class! Don't just fight things, be a Weaver! Join the Goldsmithing Guild!
K: Oh God, crafting is excellent. One of the best crafting systems I've played in an MMO.
N: I love the flexibility in customizing your stuff. Sure, you're stuck with some goofy-looking clothes early on, but you can just learn to dye them, or just plain make your own if you want.
K: I could name a few crafting-focused MMOs that are as good or a little better, but that's just it. They have crafting down pat, and not much else. FFXIV: ARR has the chops to do it all.
BF: I liked the hard leather, period.
BM: Amen to that. I actually just got a little sidetracked by the Gathering and Crafting Jobs. I have a feeling that by the time I'm done crafting everything I've collected, I'll be lv25 in all the non-battle Jobs.
K: Gathering is even better because it does all the things right that most modern MMOs do--nodes unique to the player, it has its own minigame in a way. It's fast, simple, but has more to do than just "mount up, hit node, mount up, hit node."
N: I mean, and even with Battle Classes, FFXIV is pretty flexible. It seems to be Final Fantasy's "thing" right now, quickly switching Jobs in mid-battle, or using other Jobs' skills--
BM: You can do that? I thought you had to be disengaged!
N: Not quite like Command Synergy Battle or Dresspheres--yeah, you have to be disengaged to completely change Jobs. But XIV allows you to make a close-in fighter who has a few buff/debuff spells from other Classes, or to make a ranged fighter with a few nasty surprises for enemies who close distance. It lets you mix and match skills from different Classes pretty freely.
BM: Oh yeah! No, that's definitely nice. Being able to toss Protect on a non-Conjurer Job while low levelling is super helpful!
K: That's a direction a lot of MMOs are going these days, and FFXIV does it very well. Even tanks can benefit from some DPS classes and cherry-picking certain skills.
N: It really goes out of its way to let you make your character, and it really focuses on letting you have your story. The game's really good for soloing--and again, really flexible with letting you party up (or go all lone wolf if you want).
K: Yep, very solo friendly, but I like how it also throws dungeons into the mix in the main story missions. Even if you play alone, it's easy to get a group with the Duty Finder, but it prepares you well. The dungeons escalate nicely and it keeps you stuck in the reality that it is an MMO while prepping you for endgame. I also like that it's only four-man groups--I was a little worried about it at first, but it plays out nicely.
BF: I love the Duty Finder, though. With all the people spamming the global chat, it would be annoying to try and make a party.
BM: True, true! They do it in a pretty good way. And the Duty Finder is nice, giving you the ability to just queue for a group!
N: Duty Finder and Recommendations are the best thing ever. I don't know if they're more universal in MMOs right now, but it's nice to have those resources right there when you log in. I mean, you'll still have people saying "LF DPS PLZ," but the game goes out of its way to make everything quick and simple.
K: Not at all--dungeon finders are getting more common, thank God, but having an actual Recommended Quests list based on your level and zone is nice.
BM: Oh yeah, I play TERA too! *slaps self* There's a similar (brain fart) mechanic in TERA that helps you enter a dungeon.
K: While I'm at it, not enough MMOs do level syncing, either. It's great to be able to go with your lower-level friends into an early dungeon and not break the whole thing because you're OP. Your gear still makes you strong for the dungone, but the challenge can still be there and that keeps it fun. FFXIV does a lot of little things right, actually, like how you auto-loot all corpses. Man, I wish more MMOs did that one...
N: Square Enix has had a lot of time to look at a lot of different games, and it looks like with A Realm Reborn, they've made a game that's a great jumping-on point for new players, but at the same time offers something fresh for people who've been living off MMOs for a long time. I mean, I really liked getting to have my own story about me--that's not narcissism speaking--it's nice to play an MMO and have characters call you buy name and recognize your achievements (even though I know everybody and their mom has beaten up the same boss I just did).
K: It pays homage to the tried-and-true mechanics of other trinity MMOs like WoW, but it's definitely different in many ways, and its own animal.
BM: It was definitely a good move bringing Yoshi-P onto the team. He was much more in-tune with the world of MMOs and did a really fantastic job turning things around. It blows my mind that it was remade and polished this much in two and a half years.
K: Many MMOs are going the single-player story route now, and while Star Wars: The Old Republic has many faults, really... FFXIV isn't bad at all. The only thing I regret that they didn't do is add some choice to the story. I mean, if there's one thing that SWToR does right, it's that.
N: FFXIV does a good job of dangling the carrot, too--there's always something to do. "One more level" is a really dangerous thing to say, because you just switch classes and do like five or six easy levels, or go Gathering or Crafting. Square-mileage-wise, it's kind of a small world--or at least it seems that way--but it feels like there's a lot of stuff to do, and it all feels alive.
K: *laughs* Yeah, Costa del Sol was hard for me because every time I would say "time to go north and get the Hunting Log done," a FATE would trigger somewhere, and I can't resist going for them.
N: Okay, so, for the readers: a FATE (Free Active Time Event) is a location-specific event that lets a bunch of people work together for one goal.
K: You would equate it to a Rift opening in... Rift. Or one of the open-world events in Warhammer Online.
N: Yeah, you all gang up and fight a boss, or a bunch of enemies, or collect stuff and bring it to a certain (marked) person, and it's chaotic as hell. I mean, it's awesome to see travelling FATE groups, just running around a server in a huge line.
BF: It's always funny to see a bunch of people just swarm into an area to help fight a boss. No need to form a party or anything, just INSTANT BOSS FIGHT!
BM: Or to swap from Fisher into your Battle Class, to turn around and fight a Giant Enemy Crab that just spawned behind you!
K: They're a ton of fun--some of them have pretty crazy fights, too, or take place over multiple stages.
N: So, here's another thing I've heard, this time regarding endgame. With some MMORPGs lately (*cough* RO2) there's a lot of game and a lot of stuff to do... until you hit endgame, and then it dies. But with A Realm Reborn, word is that the real game starts at endgame. There's more stuff to do, better and more challenging stuff to do after you beat the story. Beard, is that accurate?
BF: Yes, after you finish the main questline, you start to unlock hard versions of the Primal Fights. They're 8-man trials--
N: Hold on, lemme check my press thingy that Square gave me with the review copy. We can't talk about certain parts of endgame. [short pause] Okay, we're good. Tetsuya Nomura's not gonna show up at my house with his belt(s).
BM: No belts!!!
BF: I've only done two so far, but they're really hard every time. Besides that, I'm working on my Gathering Class at the moment, because although the level cap is 50, the item cap is much higher--it's at like 80, so you can keep getting better gear even if you're at max level. I like having the goal of an awesome weapon to work towards. To make it better, I don't just have to kill ten wolves or collect some flowers, I have to build up my Classes and craft some stuff myself.
K: Yep, from what I've heard, crafting is the best way to prepare for endgame. The high-quality crafted items at lvl50 are almost equal to the dungeon equipment.
N: Now, here's kind of an important question. I haven't experienced many problems with the game... at least, not real ones. It's early enough in the game's life that server issues and slowdown and long queues are just part of the experience. There's the occasional crash here and there, and it's rare for me because I'm playing on an EU server [playing from California], and everybody's in bed when I'm on. But what about you guys?
BF: The biggest problem I've had was a "he" in the place of a "she" in a single line of endgame dungeon text, and some Japanese text in a couple of descriptions.
N: I got that, too.
BF: Besides the login issues, which are expected, it's played very smoothly.
BM: Eh, I get a little tired of the gil sellers sending me private messages, and I actually turned off the shout/yell/global chat stuff because man are people noisy. But other than that, no.
K: Other than the well-documented login and server load issues they're taking a stab at, there are actually only two issues I've found. 1- on PC, I saw some black screens and forced minimizing on my Nvidia card--this was fixed by a driver updated. Update your drivers, peeps! And 2- if you Alt-Tab, it does sometimes crash when you try to pull the client back to fullscreen.
BM: And those are really things that aren't in Square's control.
BF: I have pretty slow internet, and I'm still able to play just fine even with my high ping, and I like that a lot. Having a high ping in other multiplayer games can be killer.
N: Yeah, I actually kinda hate PSN for playing online (it suuuuucks for fighting games), but FFXIV just has plain excellent online. Slightly off-topic, how many Drizzts have you guys seen? Because I take a screenshot of every dead Drizzt I find. I mean, I love the Forgotten Realms books, but for some [sadistic] reason I always relish seeing people play as Drizzt in MMOs, and getting their shit wrecked.
K: Surprisingly, not a one.
BM: Honestly, I haven't seen any. I've seen a lot of Uchiha and Uzumaki running around, though--I think my favorite one was an Uzuchiha, and I was like... OH NOOOO!!!
K: Goblin is strange. Everyone is either "Mr. Potato Head"-level names or "Insert an Actual Cool-Sounding Name Here."
BM: Yeah! There are a ton of people who stuck with lore for their names! That's pretty rad.
K: The only one I've seen that really annoys me... is "Chrono Trigger." My favorite non-lore-friendly one was a Lalafell named "Willow Ufgood," I was sad to hear almost no one recognized him.
BM: My favorite name so far was a white mage named "Aetna Healthcare." I may make a second character and be like "Toyota Tacoma" or something. (Pretty sure that's against the Terms and Conditions, kids... don't do it!)
N: Oh, and speaking of Lalafell, I cannot believe that my rival in the Pugilist storyline is a little two-foot-tall Sephiroth lookalike. I play a Roegadyn, I should just be able to step on him and call it a day. "I AM THE MASTER OF THE DARK FIST OF ASSASSINATION ow you just soccer-kicked me down the street"
BM: He's all puffed-up on steroids.
N: Little punk.
K: *laughs* Yeah, I am thankful that in the Gladiator story, I'm only dealing with Highlanders and such.
BM: With Marauder, you deal with a snotty child, a coma, and a giant rabid killer elephant/cow.
K: One thing I've found ironic so far, other than the least manly of my Jobs (Conjurer), all of my Class Leaders and Masters have been women.
N: The world of Eorzea's a pretty balanced place. Some tough men, some tougher women, like Admiral Whatsherface.
BM: Admiral Merlwyb! She's a lady! I love her!
N: Yes, her, I love her... a little too much. Also, Mother Miounne. My word, Mother Miounne.
BM: "What's this? A button! Oh, it's beautiful!! It's absolutely lovely! Where did you say you found it? A corpse... LOVELY!!"
K: Miounne is cool. Of course, I take orders from Momodi...
N: Momodi is awesome.
K: She is very happy.
BM: The writing has made me really happy. "Fishing is like philandering... you never know what you're gonna catch!"
N: It's an adventure that borrows from every Final Fantasy game. There's Job Classes, there's Materia, there's Magitek. Hell, there are the Warriors of Light. So, are you guys going to be sticking with FFXIV? Or do you see this whole deal not lasting very long? Like, are you interested in future content for it?
BM: Oh, heck yeah! I think the game did it right this time, and is here to stay--I already signed up for a 90-day recurring subscription! The expansions for XI were increasingly better with each one, so I can't wait to see what they do for XIV.
N: The monthly fee's not that bad either for the game, although I can see how it'd be a dealbreaker for some.
BM: This is true, but I'm glad they're moving towards a more WoW-like model where you'll be able to prepay time, and get cards at GameStop and whatnot. I'd like them to implement a "Gift" system!
K: I'm definitely sticking with it for at least 2-3 months. Right now I'm not playing any other MMOs, so I've got room! I also want to see the new Job Classes, that's one thing I wish they had more of.
BF: I'll be sticking with it when I can, but I will probably not keep up the subscription because I am moneyless.
BM: Hence, why there needs to be a gifting system.
K: Beard will stick with it! Me and Baker got his back!
N: And we're done! Except for one final thing...
+ This is not Final Fantasy XIV 1.0--Square Enix fixed the problems of the original game and came back stronger
+ Even for a several-year-old game, the graphics look great, and the world feels lived-in and welcoming (N)
+ Mechanics may not offer anything new, but what is there works great and is fully functional (K, BF)
+ Great pacing for story mode and endgame play (BF)
+ Stellar soundtrack, although that's to be expected with a Final Fantasy game (BF, BM, N)
+/- Nice to be able to do almost everything on a single character thanks to flexible Class system, but limited content on follow-up Classes (BM)
+/- The world is incredibly beautiful, but honestly pretty small in terms of actual size (K, N, BM)
+/- It does have a monthly subscription--this is a problem for some people, but we feel it's worth it for what you get (K, N)
- Can get really grindy if you try to do it all. It's going to be tough getting that second Battle Class to 50, much less a third (K)
- It would be nice if there was actual tension and danger in Eorzea, instead of having a safe haven every fifty feet (BF, BM)
- Pretty weak voice acting (N)