Version Tested: 2.2
My first foray into the MMORPG was Final Fantasy XI.
As a huge fan of the franchise, it was the most logical place for me to take the plunge into this whole other dimension of gaming. And it served its purpose. FFXI introduced me to the foundations of the genre, gave me a feel for teaming up with my mates and questing together and provided my first real taste of a thriving, expansive world.
But let’s face it, it had a slow-pace, was pretty bland and really wasn’t much of a Final Fantasy game at all. And pretty soon after, I got into World of Warcraft, so that was that…
Move forward a couple of years: Final Fantasy XIV first launched in the hopes of delivering big. Unfortunately, it was met with a poor reception. I felt no inclination to dive in based on previous experiences and critical reaction. I’d hoped Square would have learned a lot from the competition this time. It seemed I was wrong.
Still the desire to get it right was clear for all to see. The launch was quickly followed by a massive ‘A Realm Reborn’ relaunch last year, followed by console releases, making it the first major new-gen MMORPG on Playstation 4.
Square have shown they’re not ready to give up just yet, and I’m glad they haven’t. There’s a really solid game brewing underneath the surface, and lots to like here, though I am concerned that the future of the game may not end well with a continued subscription-based model.
Starting from the beginning..
The first few levels are an utter breeze. You’ll be close-enough to Level 4 before you’ve even thought about venturing outside of the opening city. This will easily set you up for the first hour of gameplay. The quests take the time to familiarize you with some of the game’s core dynamics, whether you’re learning about the guild system, the Lodestones, interactions, conversing or any other number of things.
But when you do move out into Thanalan and start up wars with Wasps and Ladybirds, the full fledged MMO starts to come to the surface. It’s all pretty familiar as MMOs go, but there are a few quirks that differentiate it from the rest.
Auto-looting is a useful feature for consoles, in particular. In FFXIV, when you kill a quest enemy, you’ll get exactly the item you’re looking for without having to kill x amount of foes before one drops. This makes for swift levelling unlike other games in the genre and you’ll find yourself coasting from place to place.
However, the mechanics soon push their way into the limelight, making themselves the central theme of the game, and not the narrative. Unfortunately, this slows the game’s momentum down a bit. The quest stories never draw you in to the extent of The Elder Scrolls Online, and you’ll find yourself becoming more invested in your character’s statistical growth as opposed to the wider-world you’re supposed to be exploring. The actual story-hubs are a slightly different kettle of fish, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The combat system also feels relatively bare-boned despite the reinvigorating relaunch. Deep down, you feel the mechanics are a bit dated and slightly safe, where other games recognize the need to iterate and evolve.
What’s actually different?
Still, this is not our technical assessment of the full product and our observations are far from all doom and gloom. Where Square have played it safe on some things, they’ve been more creative in other aspects. For instance, the Fate System emphasizes the whole open-world/open-war dynamic. When questing in areas appropriate to your level, you’ll occasionally stumble across a light area full of bad guys. A brief paragraph provides you with a breakdown of mission objectives and from there, it’s about how much effort you put into the proceedings. Your contributions in battle are considered from the moment you first engage and the game takes into account when you joined in, how much damage you inflicted and how much support you’ve provided. When it’s all over, you’ll receive an XP and gil bonus to match your efforts. It’s nowhere near as elaborate as Guild Wars 2, but it’s fun, frantic and a nice way to build experience in-between quests.
And the game fits Playstation 4 like a glove. You can actually Remote Play FFXIV on your Vita, making it the first major Portable MMORPG experience. That is a huge selling point and means you can keep grinding those quests and rewards while you’re lying in bed or watching an episode of Game of Thrones, having all the touch-screen benefits and beautiful screen of Vita to compliment it.
And the touchpad on the Dualshock 4 also bring console gamers closer to a mouse-like interface, something they’ve never had the chance to explore before. However, if you are more of a traditionalist, you can just plug in a Bluetooth Mouse and Keyboard and you’ve got the game up-and-running as if you were playing on PC.
But why F2P?
For a console gamer, this release is huge. With the limited library currently on the new-gen system, Final Fantasy XIV is definitely an opportunity for Playstation 4 owners to keep coming back to their console with an ever-developing game. But the subscription costs may still be a hard-sell for some. Where DC Universe Online and Warframe are F2P experiences that you can download and play right away, FFXIV is trying things the old-fashioned way, making you pay to play.
We previously stated that FFXIV requires PS+ to play. That is incorrect info and we’ve amended the post accordingly.
If you look at the figures for both Warframe and DC, both have seen a lot of success since the launch of the PS4. It’s already an established, working model for console-owners and is working very well for many other games. Many aspects of FFXIV would work with F2p: the purchasing of special equipment, additional cosmetic pieces, materials for developing trades and skills, and a hulking pouch worth of in-game currency to spend on anything your heart desires.
Final Fantasy, of course, has the name and heritage to continue asking players to pay and subscribe, and the game boasts 2 million players, so Square are clearly doing something right, but with TESO coming to consoles shortly, offering a slightly newer, fresher MMO experience, and with others sure to follow, I wonder, long-term what the future really holds for FFXIV, particularly as other MMORPGs are sure to come along and do similar things while stripping away the cost. It’s a subject certainly up for debate as continued flow of income helps sustain a game unlike anything else and I, for one, would rather see a game continually supported and given fresh content, rather than just the odd load of bug fixes every week. If subscription charges mean constant fresh content for your buck each month, then I’m sure people would be willing to stick with it, but if Square can’t keep that up, what then?
For now, however, there’s a solid, working MMORPG on your Playstation 4. It appears to be regularly supported, it’s accessible and fun to play and just as FFXI was my introduction, FFXIV is sure to introduce many more players to the genre. But will it have the staying power and quality to retain your play-time, especially with The Elder Scrolls Online around the corner? Only time will tell…
Expect regular columns, a technical overview of the game when we’ve waded through a bit more of the content and patch reviews when there are significant content updates.
Basically, if you want Final Fantasy XIV coverage, stick with us!