Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn Review
Posted by Nathan Michalik
A realm revitalised
When it comes to Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn, improvement has been pivotal ever since its initial release way back in 2010. Due to a poor fan response, Square Enix decided to recruit Naoki Yoshida into the director’s role in a last ditch attempt to salvage the game, but rather than issue a series of patches and upgrades, he instead decided that the title needed to be scrapped and remade. The online adventure eventually re-launched with colossal improvements all around, and even today continues to progress without any signs of slowing down.
However, as we mentioned in our original review, the PlayStation 3 version really pushed the platform to its limits, causing graphical and gameplay issues that held back an otherwise excellent MMO. Fortunately, as part of its constant strides for improvement, the title has been ported to the powerhouse that is the PlayStation 4 – and the enhancements made available by the fresh hardware completely revitalise this incredible game.
The most noticeable improvements can be spotted in the visuals department, with the landscapes of Eorzea looking exemplary in true high-definition. From the lush forests of East Shroud to the thriving rebuilt city of Mor Dhona, the beautiful scenery will really put your DualShock 4’s share button to good use. Alas, these enhancements expand to the title’s performance, too, as the steady frame rate and additional memory allow for a better playing game to boot. Even in crowded areas, the title runs smoothly, and is never victim to the unplayable problems that plagued the PS3.
Of course, there are smaller tweaks to speak of as well. For starters, the game now comes with a more customisable heads-up display, allowing you to move, hide, or re-size elements as you see fit. You can spend hours tweaking the setup to your particular playstyle, and the option is thoroughly appreciated. Impressively, the game even incorporates a separate HUD when you’re playing from the smaller screen of the PlayStation Vita via Remote Play, and it incorporates the touch screen and rear touchpad to give you full control, which works surprisingly well.
When you’re on the console, the game now allows for full keyboard and mouse controls, which is ideal for those who are intimidated by the idea of PC gaming, but still want the added input options of a more traditional MMO setup. The gamepad controls have been greatly improved as well, however, with the addition of an extended cross hotbar configuration, full touchpad support, and better targeting. Whichever option you choose, you can truly play the game to 100 per cent of its potential without compromise.
Once you’ve configured the game to your liking, you can actually begin to experience the story, which perhaps doesn’t possess quite the same polish as a more traditional Final Fantasy game. Make no mistake, the overall plot and lore is extremely interesting, but the narrative is held back due to a lack of voice work. Worse yet, the spoken dialogue that is present is some of the poorest in the series, which can pull you out of the campaign a little. It doesn’t help that the cutscenes tend to rely on hundreds of scripted head nods as well, so it requires a high level of commitment to follow and understand the plot properly.
Still, if you manage to read through the content, there are plenty of pop culture references and Final Fantasy-inspired jokes to sink your teeth into. The game feels a little bit like a celebration of the series, and it pays homage to the franchise’s illustrious back catalogue as a result. With each new patch, the developer has been incorporating elements from past games, with the addition of the Leviathan the most recent example. Of course, it’s not necessary to understand these references, though it will add to your enjoyment if you do.
Given the genre, there’s more to the release than the story, though. As an adventurer in Eorzea, you’ll only need a single character in order to experience everything that the package has to offer. By allowing you to switch jobs or classes at any time, you’ll have the freedom to play whichever role you want, assuming that you’ve unlocked them. By playing multiple ways, you’ll be rewarded with the option to share certain abilities and even combine multiple classes to create even more powerful roles. For example, when you reach Level 30 in the Gladiator class, you’ll unlock the more potent Paladin tank job, as long as you also reach Level 15 as a Conjurer and Marauder. Advanced posts offer their own abilities, as well as pull skills from their respective sub classes.
Even though the game is fairly linear in character builds towards the endgame, this class system offers a bit of flexibility. Otherwise, gear upgrades and stat point allocations are fairly straightforward for most jobs. If you’re itching for a bit more customisation, though, the recently added glamour system allows you to chance the design and look of your gear with very few restrictions, and represents an appreciated extra.
Naturally, there’s no use for sweet stylised garbs if you’re not going to show them off, though. As an MMO, most of your time in Eorzea will be spent playing with others. Tools such as the Party Finder and Duty Finder help you to connect with peers quickly, and speed up the time that it takes to clear content. While it’ll still require a serious chunk of investment in order to see everything that the game has to offer, these additions help to ensure that you spend more time playing, rather than waiting for groups to form. Certain roles and instances may still take a while to fill at odd times of the day, but the game has a healthy and growing population of players overall.
Once you get your group of friends together, the dungeon and instance content is exciting and fulfilling. The mechanics in these challenges range from simple ‘tank and spank’ to more complicated games of pattern recognition. Each dungeon has fairly unique boss mechanics that slowly train you for the ultimate endgame encounters that lurk in the First and Second Binding Coils of Bahamut. In particular, a series of Primal boss fights during the story are some of the most entertaining battles in a modern MMO, and surviving Titan’s Mountain Buster attack by the skin of your teeth to using a Limit Break to destroy Ifrit’s Nails at the very last second offer heart racing thrills and an amazing sense of accomplishment.
If that wasn’t challenge enough, most Primal fights also offer a hard and extreme mode counterpart, so if killing these for the first time doesn’t push your skills to the absolute limit, you may just want to consider a career in electronic sports. All of these factor into the endgame, and make it rewarding to keep playing. Of course, it’s here that you’ll find the best gear, and while you will need to farm for rare drops, the game never feels too grindy. With so much content on offer, there’s always something else to occupy your time. This is evidenced by the Challenge Log, which gently nudges you to try out many of the game’s different features, such as treasure hunting, crafting, gathering, fishing, and more.
Still, while the Player versus Enemy (PvE) content goes down smoothly, the Player versus Player (PvP) options aren’t quite as refined. Due to its late implementation, this area of the experience feels a bit undercooked, and could do with some improvements. Currently, the only PvP area is a four-on-four arena, where your sole goal is to kill your opponents. Sadly, matches devolve into predictable patterns quickly, and while there’s certainly skill involved, the learning curve is huge. Moreover, gearing up appropriately for these battles takes a lot of time, as the rewards are low for losses. It’s all optional stuff, so it’s not really a flaw that this content feels so unfulfilling, but while there is an audience for this part of the package, it’s not really the main draw.
And if you’re staring at all of these words feeling a bit overwhelmed about what you actually need to do, try not to worry too much about that. The story quests and tool tips all make for fantastic tutorials, and there’s more than enough variety in the quest types to overlook the abovementioned story telling woes. It’s true that many of these objectives offer simple fetch and deliver challenges, but these serve as a vehicle for progression, and ensure that you’re constantly gaining access to new content. Features such as unlocking your first Chocobo or choosing which national faction you want to align with come naturally as you invest more and more time into the game. Even without online guides or community support, you should be able to progress at ease without too much of your subscription time lost.
Which we suppose brings us to the hulking elephant in the room, but honestly, given the amount of generous content included in each patch, we think that the monthly fee is more than justified. Major updates often include multiple new dungeons, fresh Primal fights, as well as tons of new gear, crafting recipes, and core features. The developer also does a great job of repurposing old content to make it feel fresh and enjoyable. For example, because of the way that some high level quests are designed, they encourage more experienced players to assist lower and mid level players, which helps to ensure that there’s always something to do for people of all tiers.
Final Fantasy XIV Online: A Realm Reborn proves that Square Enix’s series is special, even when it’s presented as an MMO. Moreover, this excellent upgrade shows that the PS4 is capable of bringing PC quality online escapades into the living room. The narrative could still use an overhaul, and the PvP content isn’t up to the standard of the rest of the game, but the added horsepower of Sony’s new system and overall improvements since its PS3 launch mean that you shouldn’t think twice about taking the trip to Eorzea this time around.