Reviewing an MMO is a troubling experience. How could any person review a genre so massive in such a short amount of time and be as unbiased and analytical as possible? I don't know, you tell me, but as a player who stuck it through during the dastardly inferno that was the '1.0 launch,' I can say that this new XIV game is vastly improved from its vanilla counterpart.
Immediately. just by looking at the game, you can tell Square Enix was put to work and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn's UI is so much cleaner and way more customizable and with only 10 minutes of opening play time, anyone can see quests are so much easier to acquire and accomplish. The mechanics of 2.0 are at the modern standards of today's MMO world as opposed to what 1.0 used to be. Menus are just that much easier to navigate and the feel of the game is buttery smooth. See that? Two paragraphs just talking about what you can see at lv.1, tell me that's not bizarre. But now, let's get on to the meat of the review, or whatever you wish to call it, shall we?
Disclaimer: This review uses all the knowledge that I personally contain. It may not tap into the experiences of others regarding technical issues. The writer of this review has played 1.0 and re-leveled a second character to 50...twice in A Realm Reborn. This review mainly covers, to some extent, levels 1 through 50 as well as a touch of launch day endgame.
Starting the game
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I've 'started the game.' With four beta phases and 1.0 worth of experience, I think I've sent so many Lalafell (War Chao) to their server-wipe doom that I should be called a tyrant. Still, as I began wondering what I would I would be starting the game as (the only option being Lalafell in MY world), I decided to check and see what other races had for customization. Players have a choice between five unique races; Hyur, Miqo'te, Elezen, Tar... Lalafell, and Roegadyn. You can then customize their hair, face, body, busts, and pretty much everything. Honestly, I don't recall 1.0 character creation all too well but I could have sworn the customization options were much more diverse in that game, but alas I could be wrong and won't dock anything from the score.
For A Realm Reborn, I wanted to start a human for once, but could only make them so short yet so wide chested. So much for becoming a slender Dragoon that doesn't have a tail... But the bright side in some of this was I was glad to see a slider rather than "Height 1, Height 2, and Height 3" options, that was refreshing. There were a ton of colors for hair, eyes, and highlights so always a plus. Lastly, I think they could have gone the extra mile on hair styles but in the Live Letter with Yoshida-san, I remember him saying something about a Salon (goodness take all my Gil!) so I'm sure we'll see more later. As for right now, you really can take the time to make your character truly look how you want -- there are a ton of options, nonetheless. Of course, even with perhaps a million different options, I still went with Lala... hue.
Visuals to die for... or die in
The visuals of this game at max settings are simply fantastic. The backgrounds are nice, the world is nice, everything is nice... Except some armor I feel. I felt some of the textures in the armor looked shoddy at best and fairly lazy upon zooming in with some metals looking like plastic. Mind you, most people don't actually play the game zoomed in but I'm sure most players will want a closer look at the delicious armor pieces the game has to offer from time to time. Of course, at the moment, the game is running DX9 and not DX11 so perhaps that's the issue. We should fortunately see DX11 upon the PS4 version release in February of 2014.
Of course, when zoomed out, the armor looks yummy. At least the world itself looks good so yea.
Ease of use is prioritized
So you begin your adventures in the land of Eorzea. As I mentioned in my opening paragraphs, the game is so much easier on the player in-terms of where to go and when to do it. Quests are highlighted for you on your map and quest log and tell you the locations of your next set once you accomplish your current.
The "Active Help" in this game is simply divine. For some, it's a lot of reading but for others, it is the gold mine of information. It tells you what buttons to use and explains how everything goes and sometimes even what to do next. There's an active help log for pretty much everything you do and they're activated automatically when you perform an action you've never done before. Even being invited to a Free Company, or guild, activates how to accept one and what features are found if you were to create one.
The user interface is fully customizable to your liking. You can move everything around and pretty much have the entire HUD the way you want it to look. This is a step up from the previous title where everything was just so big and in the way -- basically, it was a nightmare for those who dislike clutter.
A combat system neither too slow or too fast
The combat system uses a set of skills that utilize the 2.5 second global cooldown (GCD). People say it makes the game feel slow but quite honestly it's fast enough as is while maintaining that sort of Final Fantasy "feel" to it. The point behind the system is to allow the combat team down at SE to create fights that are more dynamic and chaotic since the players, on a personal level, are paying attention to fewer skills and can focus more on the what's going on around them. With that said, the issue with this system is it can potentially feel "spammy" on the users end but that would only be the case if Square never created any appropriately difficult fights to compliment it. This is also highly prominent in the early levels when of course, you have only two buttons to push and fights are relatively easy...
As you progress through the story, fights become more and more difficult. The great thing about this game is how the developers ease the players into mechanics that will be seen in endgame just off story alone. Your first few set of dungeons will teach you about adds, links, and trash and as you begin to level and progress, bosses will have more things to dodge, more mechanics like a temporary terrain change, and more attacks to understand in the pattern. The whole play through from level 1 through 50 via storyline is a big tutorial in disguise. On paper, that sounds silly as most players hate 'noob island' but it's a necessary mechanic for a game that gets progressively harder as you approach and reach Lv50.
The journey to cap
Getting to level 50 in its own right is an incredibly straightforward process. Playing the story by itself pretty much nets you one level 50 class/job, as the amount of quests and dungeons you will be doing should help get you there. I think every quest and dungeons in total makes you a few levels shy of cap but that's fixed by doing additional dungeons for better gear and FATEs that you will likely stop and do on the way to your next quest line.
All the dungeons up to cap are 4-man dungeons all of which can be ran via Duty Finder, which is a matchmaking system that creates cross-server parties with 1 tank, 1 healer, and 2 DPS. This is a perfect mechanic for those who have yet to make any friends or the solo fan who pretty much only wishes to experience the story and dungeons the game has to offer. Even in endgame, this system can be used to queue players up for 8-man lv.50 content with 2 tanks, 2 healers, and 4 DPS so a guild is not necessarily required.
The story of the lone savior
The story right from the get go is very Final Fantasy. There's you, the chosen bearer of the crystal destined to save the world and single-handedly abolish all evil. Then there are some "bad" dudes called the Garleans and they want to use their power and incredible knowledge in totally advanced technology to over run the world and remove all the inferior leaders... oh there's more, but that'd be spoilers at that point. Oh I guess I can say the bad guys look cooler than you, that should cover everything.
The story is fairly good and is full of dialogue that *gasp* you should actually read! If your first action in any MMO is to mash the enter button till the writing goes away, well stop it, because FFXIV has great reads in pretty much everything from the main story to side-quests. It's full of pop culture references and has a lot of hidden gems deep within the dialogue. You just have to understand... or see them.
Credit to //TehJonel
As far as basic storyline goes, I think it would be a lot better if you could play on the side of the Empire, or at least be more around them to see their side of the world. Yea, there was more info in 1.0, but half of the game's population only knows about 2.0 and large Bahamut explosions, so anything 1.0 related besides gaming mechanics comparisons I consider a non-factor for this review.
Quite frankly, aside from the empire being your opposition, there wasn't anything I hated about them, except maybe their abuse of primal power... which was of course for the greater good nonetheless. I guess the 'real' enemy was kind of, sort of, maybe hiding in the shadows until the ending, which by the way, reaching was worth all the time I played in the game( no spoilers sorry!). Up until then though, these true bad guys pretty much felt like "Rival" from Pokemon, where they just come in randomly to interrupt your adventures... all that time I could have saved not fighting bosses that were rudely awakened, /sigh.
The story of you
In-terms of your character's progression through lore, XIV is very very Final Fantasy. You're the new kid. You're weak. Yup it is what it is. The bright-side? You aren't truly alone. You will meet a ton of hero characters throughout the game whom will aid you in your journey. Many of these characters will help you in your missions, taking on the harder monsters during instances while you fend for yourself against the weaker trash mobs.
Slowly but surely, you'll watch yourself grow stronger, as the characters you once looked up to fight along side you rather than ahead of you. It's a common theme in gaming to progress and grow strong but A Realm Reborn really helps establish this in many ways as you begin to surpass those who once protected you.
The master of all trades
Players have access to good selection of battle classes: The Gladiator, Pugilist, Lancer, Archer, and Marauder as well as three Magical classes: The Arcanist, Conjurer, and Thaumaturge. As you progress through the game, each class upon reaching lvl 30 can turn into a job reminiscent of a classic FF class like Conjurer can eventually become a White Mage and a Lancer can turn into a Dragoon.
One of the most interesting aspects about FFXIV is the ability to switch to any class/job on-the-fly just by simply swapping the weapon that corresponds with said job/class. That effectively means you can level everything on one character. That might be an issue for some of you lore-nuts or RP players but for me, it's an excellent system and doesn't mechanically bother anyone since you cannot switch jobs during a dungeon/instance anyways.
The issue with the current system, however, is even though Square gives you the gift of being the master of all, there is currently only one, that the average player can see, way to effectively level up your character after having done the initial storyline and that is through FATEs, or Full Action Timed Events. Basically, there are these zone-wide events that happen at fixed intervals and can range anything from gather said materials to slay some sort of boss monster and they net a lot of experience points once completed. The problem is not even the FATEs themselves but the way they are done after a certain point... grind grind grind grind grind grind. Yea, you can level through mobs, levequests, and dungeons but they are that much slower and insignificant especially the latter with a non-experienced group. I'd say out of the list of things right or wrong about this MMO, this is something Square needs to address since this is very much wrong. Perhaps amp the experience or at least rewards in doing other leveling methods, I mean technically, FATEs even yield some money if you grind hard enough.
Be-gone one button crafting
The crafting and gathering in this game is something else. Players will have access to several Disciplines of Hand: Blacksmith, Armorsmith, Carpenter, Leatherworker, Alchemist, Weaver, Goldsmith, and Culinarian as well as three Disciplines of Land: Botany, Mining, and Fisherman. It's definitely advisable to level both a DoL and a DoH class to save on materials since you can harvest a lot of what you need out in the open field.
The crafting to some extent is a game in its own right if anything. In my opinion, it can be a "fun" and rather exciting experience but to some, it can be a bit annoying. Yes, both DoL and DoH have their own set of skills that you can use during the crafting process and excellent timing with such could yield a great chance at HQ. Yes, you can also fail a crafting sequence but it's not as scary as it seems -- in fact, you could just make macros to do most of the grunt work for you if you really want. Either way you look at it, it's not like a blender where you pop stuff in and push a button then juice comes out, there's work involved and the career MMO crafter might actually enjoy the change of umm scenery.
The only issue, somewhat, I have with crafting is even at level 50 (max level), you still need the required, HQ crafting gear just to create remotely decent gear for your battle classes. Even though this makes sense to some extent, I feel you should still be able to craft the item, albeit at a rather low or moderate percentage of success and/or little to no chance at making a HQ version of it. At the moment, you are gated by not having the required 'control' stat to even make certain items and is sort of counter intuitive to the amount of time you already put in the game to level a craft to help gear your classes outside of dungeons.
The state of the economy
Straight-up, the state of the economy is poor at the moment. There are a ton of Gil sinks but not enough ways for the game to give players money. This effectively forces players who do not wish to level a craft to level a second character and take all the cash rewards from quests just to make some Gil which means something is wrong. I feel the reason for this is the game caters to types of players: The new and the legacies.
My legacy character on Hyperion server is sitting on millions and millions of Gil. In order for these characters to one day transfer out of their confined legacy servers and into new ones, SE has devised ways for them to sink Gil slowly but surely (repairs, teleports, chocobos, etc etc) out of existence. Nonetheless, this method isn't fair to those barely trying to make an in-game living.
Fortunately, Square Enix has been slowly addressing the issues by reducing repair costs and making dungeons yield a little bit more allagan coins that you can sell to vendors for Gil. Even at the moment, they are continuing to update the game's financial crisis. This shows the developers are working diligently to stabilize the game so that's a one up to them.
Endgame and what there is at 50
The game has only been out for about a month at the time of this writing and well, depending on what you're into there's both quite a lot to do yet not very much to do. Yes, theoretically, you can level all classes to 50 and if you're big on crafting well, you can get all crafts to 50 as well but in-terms of progressive PvE you have 3 hard mode primal fights -- which are required for your relic weapon anyways -- and five turns of The Binding Coil of Bahamut, an 8-man endgame raid. In order for you to do the latter, you have to grind a ton of one singular dungeon to get geared up for it. Alright there are two dungeon options: Ampadoor Keep and Castrum Meridianum, but both serve semi-different purposes in that one gives Mythology Tombstones and the other gives slightly more Philosophy Tombstones (where you need both eventually anyways) as rewards you can excahnge for better equipment.
Fortunately, Square Enix has already revealed the details of what's to come in the near future in terms of content in Patches 2.1 and beyond and there's a lot of it, but for now, we're in that phase of the MMOs lifespan where people are just getting a feel for classes and the general mechanics all in itself. Mind you, this is all alright and there's a good chance that the average player doesn't level or grind as much as I so perhaps my viewpoint is invalid to some of you.
All that matters is the game has an excellent mix of casual and hardcore gameplay, albeit limited (it's launch after all) and should cater to everyone in some way. If you're used to grind grind grind in other games then well, you might find a home here too.
Coming from a failure launch, I say Square did an excellent job at reviving their game and bringing back some honor to the Final Fantasy Franchise. Everything is up to standards and I can say the process of leveling and making it to endgame is a lot less-discouraging than the grind fest of other titles like what was Vanilla Aion and Tera. That's not to say you won't get your fair share of traditional grinding once you reach max level for the first time though...
Great story, good combat, and developers that hotfix the game as often as they can is a great start to any MMO. All the errors have been abolished and so far it's a good start. Hopefully the experience the grows from here in the near and distant future.