Pray return to the Waking Sands
Lately, I’ve been trying to coerce some friends of mine into playing Final Fantasy XIV. While I love the RPG bits of the game, I sometimes find myself shrinking away from the MMO parts, and I truly want to get a more social experience out of the thing I’m inexplicably paying a monthly fee for. The problem my friends are facing, though, reminds me a bit of a problem I was facing just about a year ago when I started my own FFXIV journey in full force: it’s just… not very fun.
At least not without a bit of work. That FFXIV has a terrible new player experience is not a secret. You know that famous copypasta, about how FFXIV‘s free trial includes “all of A Realm Reborn and the award-winning expansion Heavensward“? Well, there’s a reason Heavensward is described in terms of its quality and A Realm Reborn isn’t.
But the thing that’s so frustrating isn’t simply that this good game starts off on a bad foot—it’s that there is fun to be had early on in FFXIV. It’s just hiding. It took me an obscene amount of time to start enjoying the experience, and if you’re in the same boat, I thought I’d share how I got around to enjoying it.
Forget about combat for now
Here’s the single most damning thing I can say about FFXIV: it is a combat-focused MMORPG where the combat is absolutely uninteresting for at least a few dozen hours. I haven’t played every single starting class, but I’ve played enough of them to know that there’s nearly nothing interesting happening in the average encounter until at least level 35. Even after that, the game isn’t “fun” until level 50. I’ve heard from various more committed friends that it gets really good at level 70, but I’m still milling about in early Stormblood and having a solid time in the 60-65 range, so your mileage may vary.
This kind of endgame-brained design makes FFXIV feel really slow early on. The Main Scenario Quest line is plagued by ping-pong mission design, the kind of “go here kill this” nonsense that’s instantly patronizing and uninteresting to anyone who’s played a video game before. Since your kit is so limited in the early game, and since you’re only rarely running dungeons that demand an actual understanding of that kit, these quests can feel totally unengaging on a mechanical level.
I found myself having a much better time when I was able to dispel the notion of having fun with the combat, at least for a little while. Treating the MSQ as more of a visual novel experience that’s curiously nested inside of an MMO helped me appreciate FFXIV‘s writing. Of the story I’ve seen, the writing is probably at its worst in A Realm Reborn, but discussing the “Worst FFXIV Writing” is like debating the “Worst Starburst Flavor.” It’s all pretty good.
Stop and build the roses
When I say I hate the combat in early FFXIV, you might wonder how I managed to force myself through so much of the game. Well, I mostly elected to treat “combat” as a minigame, a meaningless diversion from the real meat: crafting.
I adore crafting in FFXIV. It’s such a simple system on its face but there’s so much depth to it that it truly may as well be its own hundred-hour RPG. It’s built around resource management between the crafting materials you’re holding onto, the Crafting Points you spend to use abilities, and the durability of the thing you’re trying to make. There’s a constant seesaw mentality at play between ensuring that you’re making something high quality and ensuring that you don’t break the thing in the process.
Once you start crafting, it’s hard to stop. A lot of the materials you need can be procured most easily by making them on another crafting class (or by finding them on a gathering class—fishing, my beloved), so it wasn’t long before I started picking up every single crafting and gathering class I could find. The main reason that I’m not further along in the MSQ already is that I simply cannot stop crafting. Once I forced myself off of the free trial, I found that it was also a good way to earn money (which I, of course, spent on more crafting materials). I’ve heard from folks who played the reviled FFXIV 1.0 that you could actually finish the MSQ on a crafting class back in the day, and if that was an option now, I think it would be handily and unquestionably my favorite game ever.
I’m not saying you need to love crafting to love FFXIV, but I am saying that it’s a huge game, and there’s a lot of surprisingly high-quality stuff surrounding the MSQ. If you really do hate A Realm Reborn, there’s no harm in poking around for a bit, and there’s almost certainly something you’ll love somewhere in there. Maybe you’re a master carpenter, maybe you’re a fishing freak, maybe you’re the Yami Yugi of Triple Triad—every Warrior of Light needs a hobby.
To put all that aside, though, Final Fantasy XIV is still a narrative-focused combat game, and the narrative and combat both get significantly stronger as you progress through the MSQ. Again, I haven’t finished the entire game, but everything I’ve played after ARR has been such a noted step up that I seriously think it’s worth powering through the so-so bits.
That doesn’t mean you should try to barrel through the MSQ while ignoring the periphery. On the contrary, the periphery is all phenomenal. But it does mean that if the MSQ isn’t holding your attention, it’s worth finding a reason to stick with it. Preferably with a crafting class on hand.
Final Fantasy XIV is available now on PlayStation and PC platforms.