The announcement that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn would be making the leap to PS4 had me quite excited. As a longtime MMO fanatic, the idea of lounging around on the couch with the Dualshock 4 and enjoying a nice engaging MMO with my friends was too great to pass up. The thought of curling up in bed with my Vita while I grind out a few levels or farm some new gear, an opportunity too sweet to ignore. Following the beta, which I played thoroughly, I had no reservations about spending $40 on this title. And now, having spent the past three weeks playing nothing but Final Fantasy XIV, I feel I have dedicated enough time to properly assess the game.
First, you have to choose your server and create your character. There are five races to choose from in Final Fantasy XIV. None of the races are especially unique, and if you’ve played an MMO before, you’ve seen some variant of these. The Hyur are your human equivalent, Elezen are elves, Lalafell are short gnome-like creatures, Miqo’te are basically humans with tails and cat ears, and the Roegadyn are hulking humanoids with red or green tinted skin. Character customization is fairly limited compared to something like The Elder Scrolls. You have a few options to change body style, skin/hair pigment, a few hair styles, and a handful of other minor alterations, but there are no fine tuning options.
There are seven combat classes in Final Fantasy XIV, each of which evolve into a more advanced class (Job) at around level 30 by acquiring a Soul Crystal. These Jobs leave the classes fundamentally unchanged, merely adjusting stats and granting additional abilities. First, you have the Gladiator (Paladin), a standard sword and board tank. Next up is the Marauder (Warrior), a brutal two-handed-axe wielding tank. The Pugilist (Monk) is an agile fighter who uses various fist weapons to deal damage quickly and efficiently. The Lancer (Dragoon) is a furious soldier who wields, you guessed it, a lance. The Archer (Bard) uses his/her bow to dish out damage from afar while buffing its allies with songs. The Arcanist (Summoner/Scholar) can fulfill either a ranged DPS role or a healing role, and may summon minions to aid them in battle. The Conjurer (White Mage) uses the power of the elements to heal and protect its allies. Finally, the Thaumaturge (Black Mage) calls upon the power of fire, ice, and lightning to obliterate its foes from the distance. Most of my time was spent with the Thaumaturge, which I leveled up to 50.
In addition to the combat classes, there are also several gathering and crafting classes that level up completely independently. I found crafting to be quite interesting compared to most MMOs. Instead of spending the entire time in menus watching progress bars to do your crafting, you have to actively use abilities to craft your items. You have a durability limit, determining the number of turns you have, and you have to balance the use of your abilities within that limit to completely finish the item. Mistakes can result in completely ruining your item, while perfectly executing your abilities may result in an increase in quality.
Perhaps the coolest thing about Final Fantasy XIV is the fact that you can change classes on the fly. Early on in the game, you are given the ability to join the guild of another class, opening up their quest line and allowing you to freely switch to that class simply by equipping the appropriate weapon. Leveling additional classes also grants you several abilities from that class to use across the game, regardless of class. For example, the Archer has a fantastic ability that increases damage by 20% for 20 seconds. By leveling up the Archer and unlocking that ability, I can use it while playing as a Lancer.
MMOs traditionally aren’t known for their great stories, and unfortunately, Final Fantasy XIV does nothing to change that. In fact, I’m confident in saying that the story is the weakest part of Final Fantasy XIV. While some in my Free Company (guild, clan, etc.) seemed to enjoy it, most of them agreed with me. As much as i tried, I just couldn’t get past the writing which felt very stilted and convoluted. Awkward and archaic phrasings made it difficult to follow, and long-winded characters proved to be little more than tedious. There are very few cutscenes that feature voice acting, and most of those felt forced and unnatural. After a while I ended up skipping the dialogue entirely just to get back to the fun stuff.
Endgame content is your standard MMO fare. Once you hit 50, you’ll have to farm dungeons to get enough gear for the next set of dungeons, and you’ll farm those until you have enough gear to start raiding. Raids range from 8 to 24 players, and may all be queued for using the game’s built in group finding system. As you might expect, raids start off fairly simple and grow more difficult as you progress with loot quality improving commensurately. Unfortunately, I did not spend any time PvPing.
The gameplay itself is great, but not if you use the default settings. Luckily, the game features extensive UI and control customization to fit perfectly with your play style. I was very impressed by just how well the game plays with a controller. Targeting is relatively simple, and allows you to quickly toggle between enemies or friendlies. Holding (or pressing) one of the triggers along with a face button is a simple way of allowing you to effortlessly access your extensive list of abilities. It’s not always perfect, and definitely takes some getting used to, but Square Enix has refined the control scheme to make it fluid and responsive. The only thing I found difficult to do with the controller is communicate, but that’s a problem easily resolved with a Bluetooth or USB keyboard. For you more traditional MMO players, Final Fantasy XIV fully supports keyboard and mouse play. As you’d expect, it works perfectly, but doesn’t offer the convenience of a controller.
Another feature that really stands out in Final Fantasy XIV is the cross-platform play. The PS4 version shares servers with both the PS3 and PC versions of the game, so you always have plenty of people to play with. The downside is the lack of cross-buy. You can play your characters on any of the three platforms, but you first have to purchase a license for that version. That brings us to the issue many gamers can’t seem to get over: the subscription fee. Yes, the game does require you to pay a monthly fee of $13-$15 per month. This is a common practice in the MMO world. Subscription fees go toward server maintenance, customer support, and regular content updates. If you think of it as one month of quality entertainment, it doesn’t sting as much. It’s worth noting that your monthly subscription is valid for all three versions, so you don’t have to pay double the monthly fee if you want to play on PC and on PS4.
Final Fantasy XIV, for the most part, is a pretty game. The screenshots really don’t do it justice. The animations are smooth, models are detailed, and most of the environments are unique and beautiful. The game runs at 1080p naturally, but has the option of rendering at 720p, an uncommon option in the console market. The game’s frame rate is unlocked, usually hovering around 30FPS, but sometimes jumping up to around 60. I rarely had issues with the stuttering, even in crowded cities and raids. There are some issues with foliage draw distances, but I was too busy admiring the rest of the game for it to be problem.