Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn kicked off its Early Access weekend on Saturday. For those still on the fence about Square Enix's latest MMO offering, I'm here to hopefully make your decision a little bit easier.
The game has been reworked from the ground up, so if you're worried that you'll be experiencing the terror that was Final Fantasy XIV when it first launched in 2010, I'm here to alleviate that fear.
Combat is fun again
Combat in Final Fantasy XIV was boring, slow, and overall terrible. It took forever for your character to take out their weapon, then put it back after battle. Not to mention each attack took painfully long to execute, making battles against even the smallest of enemies take longer than they should.
That is no longer the case in A Realm Reborn. Combat is fast, skills execute rapidly, and you're usually moving around a lot thanks to some much smarter enemy AI. The game also encourages you to be on the move through various enemy area attacks, which are marked on the ground in red.
Playing solo is a viable option
Final Fantasy XI was notorious for forcing players to group up into parties. I remember I could barely take down a mob of overgrown sheep without losing most of my HP. Square Enix heard the frustrated cries of lone-wolf players and has made A Realm Reborn mostly solo-able.
And even though soloing is allowed, Square has added some incentives to have people group up, such as offering devastating Limit Breaks, or allowing players to amass Chains of kills, yielding extra XP for each subsequent kill until the timer runs out.
Inspiration from past Final Fantasy titles
One sad thing about Final Fantasy XI — and even vanilla Final Fantasy XIV to some extent — is that besides the Moogles and Chocobos, the games certainly didn't feel like Final Fantasy. A Realm Reborn certainly changes that.
Sure, you have still have the specialized Job system with iconic classes like Black Mage, Summoner, and Bard, but ARR draws inspiration from past Final Fantasy titles and works them into the story. From Final Fantasy VII, players can craft and forge Materia into weapons and armor and even use Limit Breaks when grouped in a party. Final Fantasy VI's Magitek armor makes its MMO debut as a rideable mount. The Crystal Tower from Final Fantasy III will also be making its way to XIV as a dungeon. Even Lightning, the heroine of Final Fantasy XIII, makes an appearance as a guest character in one of the public quests.
Square Enix certainly wasn't shy about including elements that fans not only recognized, but could relate to, and that's definitely a plus in my book.
Multi-classing done right
After reaching a specific point in your quest line — around level 10 — you're able to join other guilds that grant you access to their respective classes. Switching your class is as easy as switching your weapon, though be warned, you are basically starting back from level 1 whenever you take advantage of this.
This is actually a pretty genius system that constantly allows players to continue to advance. Not to mention, specialized classes, or Jobs, require a base class of level 30, and a secondary of at least level 15.
The classes that have to start from level 1 even get an EXP boost (based on the discrepancy between the level of your current class and the level of your highest class), making the advancement of those classes a little more bearable.
Crafting is a worthy and fulfilling time investment
Don't think of crafting as a side activity anymore. Crafting takes a life of its own in ARR. Much like switching classes, each crafting and gathering profession is essentially another class of its own. That's right, there are 50 levels to acquire as a Fisherman, and that's awesome.
While it may sound tedious at first, it really opens up the game for those that don't want to only invest time in questing and farming kills. One of the great things in Star Wars Galaxies was that you could live out your online life as an Entertainer. You didn't necessarily have to go and kill Bothan Spies in order to get a full enjoyment out of that class. ARR works in a similar fashion. While yes, you will still primarily have to quest and murder various forms of wildlife, you can take the time out of your busy adventuring day to whip out that fishing rod and travel the world in search of the best fish.
Gorgeous next-gen graphics
Outside of trailers and some demos at E3, I haven't really seen the true power of next-gen visuals first-hand. However, I'd like to think that ARR comes damn close. There are times when I'll be running through the forest of Gridania and just stop and stare at the amazing environments. Especially when it's sunny and the light shines through the trees, hitting your character at just the right angle.
I think I'd go on record saying that this is the best looking MMO I've ever played. If you have a good PC, or hell, even if you're planning on playing it on the PS3, just remember to occasionally stop and glare at the ridiculously gorgeous graphics.
Play with friends, no matter the platform
If Final Fantasy XI did something right, it was allowing PC players and Xbox 360 players to play alongside each other on cross-platform servers. This holds true for A Realm Reborn as well. PC and PS3 players can play together (I can personally confirm this) and eventually PS4 players will be added to this ecosystem as well.
It's only $29.99
Sure, A Realm Reborn is technically a reworking of a 2010 game that cost full retail price back then, but the asking price of $30 is the sweet spot that will not only make Final Fantasy fans happy, but entice those that might just be looking to try out a new MMO. A Realm Reborn does have a subscription fee, but given what I've already experienced in the game, I'm starting to see justification for this.