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Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a gorgeously accessible and flexible MMO (review)

Above: Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn seeks to obliterate its predecessor's bad reputation.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

I told myself I’ve had enough with massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Not because I had some sort of addiction, but I was just tired of it all; the hotbars filled with spells and attacks, the constant quests from nagging villagers, and the mass murder of woodland creatures. After playing years of stuff like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2, The Lord of the Rings Online, and more, I thought I had had my fill.

But you know which MMO I didn’t play? 2010’s Final Fantasy XIV. As much as I love the Final Fantasy series (I’ve beaten every main-numbered, single-player entry), I had heard nothing but terrible things about FFXIV. Critics called it a boring, confusing mess.

Well, someone at publisher Square Enix must have agreed. Instead of trying to fix its blunder with a few patches, Square went ahead and relaunched the whole thing. The result is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, out now for PC and PlayStation 3.

Despite my MMO fatigue, I was incredibly curious to see what a reboot of this magnitude looks like. Shockingly, I discovered my new favorite in the genre.

What You’ll Like

A gorgeous world
A Realm Reborn takes place in the fantasy world of Eorzea, a beautiful continent that’s home to a multitude of races, like the tall, elvish Elezen or the tiny, adorable Lalafell (like my character, whom you’ll see in a lot of the screenshots in this review). While most MMOs go for an exaggerated, cartoony style (like World of Warcraft and even Star Wars: The Old Republic), A Realm Reborn sticks with an art style familiar to Final Fantasy veterans, especially those who played Final Fantasy XII. The result is a handsome experience that doesn’t have that cheap MMO feel.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Above: Even small towns have distinct charms.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Towns feel alive and vibrant, with gorgeous details littered throughout. My favorite, Ul’dah, is an Arabian-style city-state bustling with merchants and draped with tapestries. Character models also look great, with armor and clothing adding surprisingly clear details. The fluid animation of all the characters and monsters also helps make Eorzea feel like a pretty big step up from what I’ve come to expect from MMO graphics.

Class flexibility
When making a new character, you choose between a number of classes, including magic-wielding ones like the destructive Thaumaturge and melee-attacking classes like the Lancer. But this isn’t a permanent choice. Once you finish your level 10 class quest (which doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to get to), you may join other guilds. A Realm Reborn has something called the Armoury System, which follows something of a Final Fantasy tradition of character flexibility found in the Job systems from games like Final Fantasy III, V, and XI. Once you unlock a class, you can instantly switch between it and others just by changing your equipment, which you can save in sets for quick and easy activation. So if you’re tired of your level 25 Arcanist, you can easily give the Pugilist a whirl without having to make a new character.

This same concept applies to crafting and gathering classes. If you want to craft clothes, you have to join the Weaver’s Guild and unlock that class. You then increase your level just like you would for any other class, except you’re gaining experience from making hats and gloves instead of from hunting down monsters.

Leveling up multiple classes gives you a few benefits aside from breaking up MMO monotony. Certain unlockable skills can work across different professions. My level 10 Archer was able to use Swiftcast, a Thaumaturge ability that enables you to instantly use a skill without waiting for a cooldown. You’ll also need to level multiple classes if you want to unlock a Job, which is a specialized and advanced version of one of A Realm Reborn’s battle professions. For example, after I got my Thaumaturge to level 30 and my Archer to level 15, I was able to unlock the Black Mage job.

This sort of flexibility is wonderful. It encourages you to explore an incredible amount of content with a single character, and it also gives you an easy out if you discover that you don’t like the class you originally started with.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Above: I’m ready for some archery. My enemies will cower in fear when they see my Moogle hat.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Quest diversity
Thankfully, the leveling of your classes is fun, largely thanks to the diversity of quests. While most are typical of MMOs (you know, find the guy with the large, yellow icon above their head and do what they say), you quickly find other ways to earn your experience. Fates, for example, are spontaneous events which anyone can join simply by being near them. Each class also has a Hunter’s Log, which is a list of certain monsters you can kill for extra experience.

If you have trouble finding regular quests, you can also take on Guildleves, which you can accept from most towns. They’re structurally similar to regular quests, but you can do a certain allotment of them a day. You can burn through a bunch of them at once for some hefty rewards. Guildheists, meanwhile, are short instances that pair you up with three other players. It’s like running a dungeon in World of Warcraft, but much shorter. These quick tastes of cooperative play are great for players easily intimidated by the daunting task of running a full, hour-long instance.

Speaking of, A Realm Reborn offers plenty of full-sized dungeons, even at relatively low levels. The bosses offer interesting challenges outside of standard MMO tank-and-spanking, like a giant blob monster that you need to split up via exploding bombs before you can destroy it. These dungeons also have some cinematic flair, with short cutscenes introducing the final baddie in epic fashion.

And while the regular quests usually involve simple tasks like killing monsters and collecting items, they’re often framed around interesting narratives. And aside from the main storyline, each class also has a quest-chain of its own that offers a complete tale.

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