In the first part of this review I focused on the differences between Final Fantasy XIV: a Realm Reborn and other MMOs I’ve explored in the past, particularly when it comes to the new player experience and building a starting character.
As much as I beat up the game last time, I do want to give credit where credit is due: the game is indeed very pretty. I’m a big fan of the rolling grasslands, the creature design (particularly those in the desert), and the way each city has an ebb and flow all its own. Similarly worthy of note is the weather, including the day/night cycle, which actually makes atmospheric changes to the game. Guild Wars 2 has a day/night cycle, but in FFXIV it’s actually difficult to see at night, which adds some very neat immersion.
In most MMO RPGs there’s some manner of fast-travel, meaning a character can pay some trivial amount of coin and teleport or fly to a remote city instead of running there on foot. To be blunt, the fast-travel stations in FFXIV did not help me much. They were at once too far apart and too close to be of any practical use – each map or zone may only have one teleportation entry point, but smaller teleport junctions within the zone can feel like they’re 10′ from one another. Compared to my experience with GW2 (teleportation hubs everywhere), it was a genuine pain in the neck to move from one adventure to another, particularly because the in-game cost for doing so seemed fairly astronomical – when you only have 2,000 gold to your name, spending 400 on one-way travel is not an attractive idea.
UI and Customization
One aspect of the original Guild Wars that I absolutely loved was the ability for a player to completely customize the location, size, display, and other elements of the user interface. It allowed everyone to set things up how they wanted, if they didn’t like what Arenanet had set as the default. FFXIV takes this and goes a step further, making everything‘s position alterable. This is good for people wanting to truly customize their experience, but wow was the interface to do so overwhelming for a new player. There were so many elements I just hadn’t encountered yet that I didn’t know what half of the names even meant.
I know gamers are largely split along two lines: those who play with mouse and keyboard and those who play with a controller. PC gaming has always had the former, console gaming the latter, but advances like the XBox controller, PS4, and Steam gamepad have all allowed PC-users to explore life with a controller. As the majority of Final Fantasy games have been released on consoles, it was interesting to note that this PC MMO had not only support but active encouragement for players to use a controller instead of mouse and keyboard. One of the people who got my buddy to try out the game exclusively uses a controller, and swears that it’s a more comfortable experience doing so.
Having played through for a few hours, I can now see exactly why he says that – there are menus everywhere, particularly in the middle of cutscenes. A short list of bullet points is easier to navigate via controller than mouse and keyboard, which is designed for more precision operations. Admittedly I found the amount of menus I had to navigate (including to skip cutscenes) onerous and unpleasant; similarly finding the many prompts for dialogue.
Handling Overleveled Characters
The games Guild Wars 2, World of Warcraft, and Eve Online all combat the idea of “high-level person in a low-level zone” in different ways, and I think each of them does a much better job of addressing player scaling than FFXIV. In GW2, a character’s stats and equipment are automatically downleveled so a player still has their full compliment of abilities but will find challenging enemies and situations everywhere they go. The process is seamless and very, very smooth – players can participate in world events and dungeons without having to manually sync their stats, gear, or abilities. WoW, if memory serves, handles this slightly differently, in that a level 70 character is a level 70 character no matter where they travel in the world, killing scores of lesser enemies with one shot. Only in specific dungeon instances is a character scaled, much as GW2 does across the board. In EVE, some areas are only accessible by certain classes of ships (frigates, destroyers, cruisers, et cetera), which necessarily limits the kinds of armament that a player will bring to a given circumstance. Other than that however, there’s no restriction on what you do or what you use.
Final Fantasy XIV takes what feels like a very unintuitive and jarring take on the idea of players being overleveled for a given situation. In my previous article I discussed how many dungeons and story quests disable or suppress character abilities, and I felt that was a ham-fisted way of tackling a game design issue. When it comes to instanced dungeons and story quests, the problem gets worse – the character is forcibly down-leveled to the desired target for the dungeon. While that doesn’t seem bad on the surface, and similar to how GW2 and WoW may handle things, this regression also locks you out of any skills that were unlocked at higher levels. It takes not an inconsiderable amount of time to set up the skill bars and items so they make the most sense, and the player suddenly discovers that many of their familiar abilities no longer work; something they don’t discover until they try to click them since there’s no visual indication otherwise.
This aspect of FFXIV really displeases me because, as with the removal of my rogue’s Stealth ability at seemingly every turn, there are so many better ways of handling the situation, as evidenced by the games listed above, among many, many others.
I could easily go on to write a third entry in this panning of Final Fantasy XIV: a Realm Reborn, but honestly it’s not worth my time to do so. I think by now my conclusions about the game have been fairly obvious, and while I can appreciate that there are many different players who want many different things out of an MMO experience, I can certainly say that this game does not provide me with the experience I hope to find when playing online.
I would absolutely not recommend this game.