Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a strange beast. I can acknowledge that the original iteration of FF14 was some sort of horrific mess, both completely baffling and completely unfun. I can also acknowledge that A Realm Reborn is likely a huge improvement over that first version, in so much as it’s pretty much a completely different game. However, my problem is that I didn’t have that context going in to A Realm Reborn. Going in blind and judging it on its own merits, I found the game to be mostly just plain boring.
A Realm Reborn does have a few things going for it. It’s astoundingly pretty, for one. I feel like it’s not quite the accomplishment in artistic design as Guild Wars 2, but it’s definitely easy on the eyes. It plays well, too. ARR doesn’t have that “swimmy” feeling to the movement and controls that I notice in a lot of less-polished MMOs. I found the UI to be clean and simple enough, even though I found a lot of the systems contained in that UI to be weird and confusing.
Honestly, my favorite thing about the game is a really beautiful orchestrated rendition of the classic Final Fantasy harp theme that plays over the game’s main menu. Give me a way to rip that out of the game and listen to while I go about my day and this will have all been worth it.
So yes, there are certainly admirable qualities to A Realm Reborn. I even had fun, here and there. My time with the game was split between two characters, a gladiator and a pugilist. The pugilist was a sort of anime kung-fu man with some sweet animations, the ugliest gear/clothes ever designed, and 2+ hour waits to get into group dungeons. I didn’t get too far with him. I did actually enjoy a lot of my time with the gladiator, though. He’s your standard sword-and-board tank class. The dungeon waits were minutes instead of hours and it was fun to manage all the enemies with his ability-chaining system. Also, he wore standard plate armor, so it wasn’t painful to look at him.
It feels like the new designer behind A Realm Reborn has a lot of experience and respect for the MMO genre. There are good ideas clipped out of other games all over the place, and they’re mostly used to good effect. From modern WoW, there are outfit systems that let you set different groups of gear to wear, as well as a half-decent dungeon finder tool. There’s the FATEs, which are basically just public quest events from Guild Wars 2. There’s a proper main story with fancy cutscenes, ala The Old Republic. These are all good things, but what about A Realm Reborn is new? Catgirl butts? I could honestly pass on that feature.
What is it, exactly, that drags ARR down (besides catgirl butts)? I could talk forever about how load screens between zones break up the pace of the world and negate that “massive” descriptor, or how having two different bags for different kinds of loot is weird and unnecessary, but let’s get back to the main topic: how ARR is so boring. This game is full of nearly endless text. Almost every quest giver, in the first several levels particularly, wants to tell you their life story before giving you their task. It’s not even interesting or fascinating text, considering most of it is just context for a task like “take x item to y location” or “bring me 7 bear asses.” When I first started, I tried to read all the text that was presented to me and it was minutes before my eyes started to cross.
The text ties into the fact that A Realm Reborn has the most boring starting quests of any MMO. The first thing I did in WoW, over five years ago, was fight some boars. Not particularly exciting, but at least I was fighting something. The first thing I did in Guild Wars 2 was battle a giant earth elemental that was the size of a building while Troy Baker shouted at me. That was awesome! The first thing I did in A Realm Reborn was…oh…it was talking to some lady. Then she sent me to talk to some dude. Who then sent me around the capital city talking to various people and delivering items around. I think I was like level three or four before I left the city and fought some bugs. It shouldn’t be like that! First impressions matter in video games just as much as in real life!
Even one of the most interesting features of A Realm Reborn has boredom-inducing issues. You can basically change your class to anything based on what weapon you have equipped. If you want to take a wizard (or whatever dumb name they have for it) as a secondary class, just equip that classes’ main weapon and you’re suddenly a level one wizard! It’s cool, but that level one part is a problem. Every class you play other than your main class starts at level one, and this includes crafting professions like miner or tailor. Say you maxed out gladiator and now you want to do a secondary class in whatever the healing magic-user is called. You’re level one in that class, so you need to level up all the way to max all over again on that same character. Because you’ve already done all the quests in the game as a gladiator, there won’t be any quests available for you either. Better get started grinding, it’s a long way to go.
Speaking of quests and grinding, when you get to about the last third of the level climb, the quests pretty much run out. When you reach that point, the best way to gain experience points is to basically grind on the FATES that I mentioned earlier. There are roving bands of upper-level characters who just move from FATE to FATE, hoping to grind out that last little bit of experience they need. This was about where I got to when I decided that I’d seen everything I needed to.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that A Realm Reborn is terrible, or that you’re terrible for liking it. It does have some serious polish and, like I said, I did eventually get some genuine fun out of my gladiator later on. But let’s face it, the MMO genre is changing and needs to continue to change. Things like monthly subscriptions, grinding, and the awful “trinity” of class roles need to be phased out in favor of a more robust and less manufactured experience. Guild Wars 2 polished public quests, diluted the class role problem, removed subscriptions, and added variation to the ways of progressing your character. It certainly didn’t “fix” the genre, but it was a step in the right direction. A Realm Reborn is more of a step backwards; if this had been the FF14 everyone bought in 2010, it would’ve been more progressive.
If you’re one of those people who drift from MMO to MMO and chew through all the content super fast, you’ll probably find value in A Realm Reborn. There’s certainly value to be found in it. But if you only play one every now and then, and like to really sink your teeth into it, just keep waiting. There’s bound to be something on the horizon that blows us all away.