Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Beta Impressions
Final Fantasy XIV has an interesting history. Announced at the same time as Final Fantasy XIII and completely panned at release, the entire development team was sacked, the game closed and completely remade. A Realm Reborn is the fruit of that fresh development and it has absolutely everything to prove. Final Fantasy XI remains popular, XIV was a bust and the series seems to be heading in a new direction after the reveal last week of Final Fantasy XV. Thankfully, A Realm Reborn is a realm that’s interesting enough to explore and fun enough to play. But is “enough” really enough?
A Realm Reborn
MMOs aren’t known for their plots and there’s a good reason for that. There’s no real way to sustain a plot over thousands of characters and as many hours. Developers either keep it vague – “there was some stuff that happened and you’re the hero” – or make it super specific, like Guild Wars 2 for example, in which instances cut you off from the rest of the world while you do what you need to do. A Realm Reborn goes in for the former. You do quests, you fight monsters, you explore a beautiful world.
And it is a beautiful world. Although there are occasional flaws in the animation (perhaps the reason the press aren’t allowed to show video?), character models are decent and the environment is stunning. Textures on rock and other natural materials is beyond anything else I’ve ever seen in an MMO. For the most part Final Fantasy XIV looks even better than Final Fantasy XIII (I should note that I played it on PC), which considering it’s an MMO, developed on an open system, is very impressive.
The rest is more par for the course, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. The fact that you walk around fighting monsters and doing quests is fairly typical of the genre, even down to the inclusion of an Adventurer’s Guild, although more modern games are trying to break away from that sort of thing. Perhaps it’s this that makes Final Fantasy 14 A Realm Reborn feel a little dated, a little slow.
Or perhaps it’s the ridiculously long opening. All in – opening CGI cutscene, character creation, opening story – you’re probably looking at up to thirty minutes before you even get control of your character, especially if you want to soak up the lore and backstory. That would be hard going in even a single player game, but in an MMO it might be the difference between somebody accepting whether or not A Realm Reborn has fixed any of Final Fantasy XIV’s problems.
Standard, Done Right
Which is a shame, because in actual fact there are a lot of good points there. The controller scheme, for instance, is the best I’ve ever used, and would suit any MMORPG heading to console. The back bumpers are used almost as a shift key, allowing you access to all of your moves without needing to tie them to a specific button (unlike TERA). The movement and combat is fairly smooth, although needing to use the select/back button to get around the various components of the GUI can be fiddly. If you ever asked how a game like World of Warcraft might feel with a controller, look no further, there’s no better way of handling it.
The quests are about what you’d expect: go speak with people, go kill some things. This lack of originality is made only a touch better by the control scheme and graphics. In fact, maybe that’s this game’s biggest fault. I feel like they didn’t want to alienate Final Fantasy XI fans too much in the transition between games, especially considering how popular XI still remains, they kept too much to the traditional MMORPG format.
Even in the character creation, which isn’t the best I’ve ever used but offers more variety than most, there is a stark lack of freshness. Humans, elves, slightly anthropomorphic humanoids – all the fantasy crowd are here. Subtle touches, like being able to choose two different eye colours, are a nice change from the norm, but overall the characters fail to standout.
Then again, many of these themes first came to the video game forefront in Final Fantasy.
The things that make the Final Fantasy series so special are present and correct here as well. Graphically, as mentioned before, I’m not sure there’s anything quite as good as this. The music is top notch, combining familiar leitmotif with suitable overarching themes to create a body of work that’s almost worth listening to outside the game (again, an impressive feat for an MMO, with Guild Wars 2 the only game that can similarly boast). The story, although wordy, is deep, and the world really does feel alive. There are a ton of NPC characters to speak with and help as well.
And that attention to detail stretches to the level design as well. While it’s still very much within the realm of expectation from an MMO, towns and villages are appropriate and well made, while other areas are beautiful enough that you’ll want to explore. A lot of the monsters will be familiar to you, especially if you’re really into Final Fantasy, but the way you fight them and even the way they move around can be a little underwhelming.
In many ways, Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn is a game that embodies everything that’s great about the MMO genre, while falling back on tried and tested methods. While nobody could accuse it of being innovative, it does everything it ought to.
Like The Old Republic, this is a standard MMORPG done right. The gameplay, especially in terms of controller-support, is flawless, but its inability to move away from the crowd will likely have you feeling like you’ve seen it all before. When it comes around to actually subscribing, players may struggle to justify it when more established titles, Lord of the Rings Online, for instance, are now free-to-play. There’s very little to complain about, especially if you go in with low expectations, and the reliance on menus that once plagued the title is now entirely reduced.
A Realm Reborn is a decent game and I hope people see that when they play in the open beta and after launch. Unfortunately, the game’s history and its place in the biggest RPG franchise of all time may mean people are unforgiving and do little to see the positives. Those people will be missing out on something, and once more content is added (and maybe after they ditch the subscription), Final Fantasy XIV will be up there with the best of its type.
by Mat Growcott