After everything is said and done, I'm still loving it just as much as I did while leveling. There's so much on offer here for just about everyone, and incremental patches add such a monumental amount of content that it's hard to keep up.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed])
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
MSRP: $39.99 ($12.99 per month, with a free PS3-to-PS4 license transfer)
Released: August 27, 2013 (PC, PS3) / April 14, 2014 (PS4)
MMO fans often say the game starts at the level cap, and when you hit 50 in A Realm Reborn, that saying still rings true. There's a ton of content to explore and go through, especially when you take the massive 2.1 and 2.2 patches into account. One of the first questlines you might embark upon is the Relic weapon quest, which runs upward of 100 hours to complete in all -- and that's not even including the extensions to the quest that are planned in future updates.
You'll start off simple enough. After reaching 50, you'll have the option to get your Relic, which is basically your starter weapon to really get you ready for endgame content. It's a lengthy but painless questline that takes you through a number of trials (boss fights), and it's truly your first real taste of what endgame has to offer -- since all of the dungeons before it aren't really a true representation of how the fights work after that point.
The Relic quest is engaging, fun, and best of all, it's worked into the core and personal storylines of the game. I really enjoyed getting a free purple weapon for my troubles, and wish more MMOs had a similar mechanic. Of course, you don't stop at the Relic, and after completing a number of dungeons and earning 900 Mythology Tomes (more on those later), you can upgrade it to Zenith, which makes it glow, and by proxy makes you look more badass (it has better stats too, but...it also glows).
After that, you can do the Atma questline to upgrade it even further. Your job is to do a bunch of FATEs (world events) and earn one piece of Atma in nearly every region in the game, which has a very low drop rate per FATE (it's estimated at roughly five percent). This part could take you anywhere from 20-50 hours on its own, and it's extremely divisive in the community as to how fun it is.
Personally, I grabbed a posse in each area either by way of the moving gravy train from FATE to FATE or by making good old-fashioned friends, and we shot the breeze the entire time -- so for me, it was enjoyable. After that you can go for your Animus, which involves collecting nine "books" (at 1,500 Myth Tomes apiece), and filling out said books by completing old dungeons, killing enemies around the world, and doing more FATEs.
The key thing to realize is that this is a time sink designed for hardcore fans, and it's completely optional. Many classes have better weapons that drop from endgame fights just like any other MMO, and the weapon questline is basically just a way for people to spend time and reach something that's roughly the equivalent of hardcore static raiding.
If that sounds absolutely terrible to you, patches 2.1 and 2.2 have added more story to the game, and it's a lot more manageable than a 100-hour weapon quest. You can choose to continue onward with the narrative after your heroic raid on The Praetorium, which eventually leads to a confrontation with Leviathan. It's a short but sweet collection of quests that feels justified and has a payoff -- I'm looking forward to seeing what Square Enix comes up with in the future (Ramuh is rumored for a future patch).
You can also spring for another completely optional encounter with Gilgamesh, which will put you front and center with Hildebrand -- one of the most ridiculous characters Square Enix has come up with in ages. On this questline you'll oil up old gentlemen, take a dip in the hot springs, and come face to face with killer chickens as they attempt to gobble you up. All of that classic Final Fantasy humor is still there, including a brand new Battle on Big Bridge remix and an actual showdown with Gilgamesh. Both of these extra post-50 stories are roughly five hours each and a ton of fun.
Once those are out of the way you can start working towards the main goal of any MMO: earning more gear so you can do harder, higher-tier raids and dungeons. The beauty of A Realm Reborn is in how detailed the "Duty Finder" is -- which gets even better at level 50. The Duty Finder is the same tool you've used while leveling to enter dungeons and trials, but now you can take advantage of a number of high-level roulettes (which choose random dungeons) to earn extra rewards.
The beauty of the Duty Finder is that it funnels max-level players back into old dungeons (by syncing their level and stats while providing them with appropriate rewards), so that newer players aren't screwed by lengthy wait times for their dungeon queues. You can do any given roulette once per day for bonus rewards.
Two of those rewards are Tomes of Mythology and Soldiery -- which help you earn better gear for turning them into a specific NPC (think Badges in World of Warcraft). Soldiery rewards are capped per week, but you can run as many dungeons as you want to earn Mythology tomes currently, which encourages you to keep playing day after day.
Once you've exhausted all the fun you can have in four-man dungeons, you can opt for Extreme trials -- most notably the "Extreme Primals," which is where the game starts to get really tough. For some, this is the dividing line between a good and an okay player, as you'll have to constantly dodge and react accordingly -- sometimes down to a half a second reaction time. It's these battles where I really fell in love with A Realm Reborn, and they show off that the designers know how to craft intense, rewarding fights.
Almost every encounter forces the group to adapt in a completely new way (Garuda tests tanks, and Ifrit tests healers, for instance), and I loved learning each and every facet of the fight. You can also opt to explore the Binding Coil of Bahamut (presented in five floors called "Turns"), a fight with a Moogle King, the 24-man Crystal Tower raid, and the Second Coil of Bahamut -- the latter of which is the newest dungeon that requires a static group. Many of these battles deserve a spot in the Final Fantasy hall of fame, and shouldn't be missed by series fans.
So yeah, about that last bit. Around Titan Extreme you will hit a point where the Duty Finder that matches you up with random people isn't cutting it. Players either don't look up a crash course on how to proceed or refuse to learn, and without making connections with people you can trust, your fun factor may crash and burn like any game that relies on other players.
To help ease this pain a bit you can use the "Party Finder" tool, which lets you set up certain gear requirements to weed out people who just want to be carried through the tough fights. The only issue is the Party Finder isn't all that elaborate, and you can't really set anything other than item level and class requirements. While there are plenty of "learning groups" to help teach people the fight first-hand, it would be a boon if you could require players to have at least completed the fight one time. But that's the nature of MMOs -- sometimes your fun is reliant on the people you hang out with.
If all of this endgame stuff bores you, thankfully A Realm Reborn has a ton of other stuff to do. For instance, I'm currently working on a Paladin in addition to my 50 Dragoon, and I'm loving every minute of it. Even though I'm going through many of the same areas, I'm having a blast because of how beautiful and well designed they are.
You can also opt to go for the Disciple of the Hand or the Disciple of the Land classes, which basically translate into crafting and gathering classes, respectively. Here you'll roam the world in a different way -- in search of nodes and resources as you solve the various puzzle-like crafting recipes on your way to the level cap. Crafting generally isn't my thing in any MMO, but rest assured the system itself is extremely detailed and well done. There's even master-level quests at level 50!
If you hate the sound of that, there's even more to do. For instance, there's an NPC in one town that grants you special rewards (like a tiny chocobo with a pope hat) for completing certain achievements. You can fight world bosses like Bahamut or Odin in rare FATEs that spawn and garner over 100 participants hacking away at the same enemy. There are treasure hunts that you can embark upon with other players in search of loot.
There's player housing, complete with land plots, hundreds of pieces of furniture, and full towns to roam around and explore. You can glamour your gear to make it look like anything you want (within your class), earn new mounts and pets, raise your rank in your core story faction, and complete daily Beast Tribe quests for more rewards.
The only lacking areas in the above sections are PVP and Beast Tribe dailies. The daily system is very bare-bones at the moment, as you can only complete a small amount of tribe quests per day in total -- not just for one specific faction. The rewards also take weeks to earn, which doesn't really inspire anyone to do them. With an increased cap and better faction reputation rewards though I'd easily complete more.
PVP is also very limited. While other MMOs like Guild Wars 2 blow it out of the water, A Realm Reborn limits things to arena fights. While they do work on a base level, I have no real desire to play PVP in the slightest outside of earning some cool-looking gear to glamour.
Battlegrounds and other interesting fights need to be added at some point, because at the current moment the scales are heavily tipped in favor of PVE -- which isn't much of a problem for me, but will be for a lot of prospective players. It would also help if there were a few extra quests that were particularly lengthy outside of the Animus weapon storyline. At the moment, players are heavily grinding Mythology tomes and nothing else.
There are also a few technical issues that feel odd when juxtaposed to the relatively complex nature of things like the Duty Finder. When engaging in an instance, the game segments players off-server -- so if you want to whisper to someone who's currently engaged, you can't even reach them. While some players probably don't like being disturbed during intense fights, a simple "do not disturb" command (/dnd) would solve that issue instantly.
The chat program in general is pretty bare-bones as well, with very little in the way of instant commands. Whereas World of Warcraft can have you switching between party chat, guild chat, and whispers in seconds, A Realm Reborn is often limited by the fact that it doesn't offer any outside mods of any kind. While it's nice that the game is "clean," so to speak, I come across an issue every week that could be solved by a simple mod.
Despite those issues, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is my favorite MMO since World of Warcraft. It has a lot of things going for it, tons of content to explore, and best of all -- lots and lots of support. I have no doubt that the popularity of A Realm Reborn will continue to rise with every major update and expansion, and I wish Square Enix nothing but the best. I didn't think it was possible, but they have absolutely atoned for the original mess that was Final Fantasy XIV -- and then some.
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