Final Fantasy XIV is a game with a short but rocky history. The original incarnation of this game, commonly referred to as 1.0 by players, was a mess. Compared to other titles on the market, it was a skeleton of a game, with little content and innumerable bugs. After about a year, Square Enix threw in the towel, and the development team was removed from the project. Ultimately, it decided to completely remake it from the ground up. The PS3 version was scrapped, and work began on what would become A Realm Reborn.
The original game was expanded to direct the story to a climactic battle and natural disaster, turning it into a prologue of sorts, while giving a story reason for the vast changes that were to come. This event happened in-game in 1.0, but is shown to players as a cinematic at the beginning of A Realm Reborn.
MMOs are based around a constantly-changing world, yet to be successful, they must offer players what they are used to. The original interface was designed to be usable by both mouse and controller, but unfortunately it couldn’t serve either group very well. Thankfully, A Realm Reborn has fixed this issue, by providing a more familiar mouse and keyboard interface and an all-new controller UI based on the PS3’s XMB interface. Other MMO mainstays, such as searchable markets and side quests, have also made an appearance. Using the controller interface, I was able to play just as well as with a keyboard and mouse. I would still suggest having a keyboard available, but you only need it for chat functions.
It is clear that the team assigned to the project had a much better idea of how to build a game like this from the very beginning. The game retains much of the initial release’s gameplay, though it has been greatly improved through better controls and a better interface. Zones have been completely rebuilt. While zones felt like something procedurally-generated before, the new areas have the hallmark of a carefully-crafted world, one of the strong points of the Final Fantasy series. Each area has unique features and outposts, all with their own set of side quests. The three capital cities feel large, and are built to a scale that makes them feel like cities but without adding tons of walking time, thanks to free fast travel.
A Realm Reborn borrows from other successful games, adding features such as FATE encounters, randomly-appearing objectives that can be completed for bonus experience. The job system from Final Fantasy XI makes its return. Characters can change classes at will by changing equipment, allowing one character to level up as each class. After reaching high enough levels with certain class combinations, jobs are unlocked. These combine two classes, but are designed with grouping and dungeons in mind. They will not serve as well when adventuring alone, and have fewer abilities than a normal class.
Grouping was a huge aspect of Final Fantasy XI and it remains important, but it is not required for simple tasks. Instead, the group content is focused on dungeons and boss encounters. A system for assembling balanced groups is present, and will find appropriate classes and teleport each member to a dungeon automatically.
Unlike many MMOs, leveling up isn’t generally just running from quest to quest; you will find holes between them which should be filled with dungeons. FATEs are also very good for this. The end result is a game that have a little more grinding than World of Warcraft, but it makes the world feel a lot bigger when you have to stop and look around.
It would be unfair to ignore A Realm Reborn‘s current launch woes. Server problems are a part of any MMO launch, but the North American servers are simply swamped. After a terrible initial release, it’s not unsurprising that Square Enix assumed a reception that’s lukewarm at best. This won’t be another World of Warcraft, but the genre has long been stagnant and players are eager for new experiences. Positive word of mouth during the beta has, along with the PS3 release, boosted player numbers above and beyond what was expected. Square Enix has announced a major hardware upgrade to help solve these issues, which should be in place soon.
If it weren’t a numbered Final Fantasy, it is unlikely it would have ever been fixed. Thankfully, it was, because despite these launch bugs, A Realm Reborn has transformed one of the worst MMOs ever to one of the best.
Pros: Smart adjustments from 1.0, a balance of new and old
Cons: Buggy servers at launch