MMORPGs are definitely a genre I’ve steered clear of time and time again. The first time I experienced one was with Runescape, back when I was a kid and the concept was still mind-blowing. But I soon got tired of it and dropped them, for what I presumed to be for good. But while watching a stream of Final Fantasy II by a YouTuber I’m subscribed to, a fan messaged him in the chat asking what he thought of Final Fantasy XIV Online and if he thought it was worth buying. Not only did he say he thought it was great but pointed out that the restrictive trial you used to be able to get was a thing of the past and that you could now play it INFINITELY provided you didn’t go above Level 35 as any one class. To put that in perspective, Level 50 is max in the base game.
This suddenly piqued my interest, as I’d seen it when it released and immediately shunned it due to the monthly model. Not to mention you had to pay for the base game on top of that. Now that you could just try it at your own pace, I figured I’d give it a shot. After a painstakingly long download, followed by an even longer set of updates, I was finally ready to play the damn thing. So I jump in, enjoy the very flashy intro cutscene and then make a character. Little did I (or my friend I was starting with) know at this point, depending on which class you select from the disciples of war and magic, that it determines the city-state you start in. I began my hero’s journey in the flourishing forest state of Gridania, while he landed in the sea-faring nation of Limsa Lominsa.
The sheer amount of stuff to take in the first time you get to the gameplay overwhelmed me. Not in the “Wow! Look how much there is to do!” way, no, more the “What the hell am I doing, there’s too much damn stuff happening at once.” way. I got stressed by it all pretty quick and pondered throwing in the towel almost immediately but figured I’d give it a fair shot. A couple of hours, AT LEAST. I’m glad I gave it that chance, looking back the seemingly insurmountable challenge of understanding it is more of a beginner’s trap. It’s nowhere near as intimidating as it looks once you’ve grasped the basics. I realised it wasn’t just me when I encouraged friends to try it and the same thing started happening, but they were soon onboard after the first hurdle.
Soon after that the good kind of overwhelmed happens. You start to learn the in and outs of your home city and progress along the storyline, class-based guild quests, side quests and instant events known as FATEs. But the world truly opens up to you when you get permission to travel by AIR. At the beginning, this annoyed my friend and I as we wanted to play together immediately, but it’s pretty early in the story line. That didn’t stop Level 6 me trying to run all the way to Limsa Lominsa. A city-state only accessible by air or sea. To be fair, I made it to a level 40-50 area untouched somehow before teleporting home. Still kinda salty the jaded veteran types didn’t even stop to ponder what the hell a Level 6 was doing up there. Once you can travel by air, not only do you save a lot of time, but the world feels like it just tripled in size. I remember the exciting, dizzying feeling that came with that.
You’ll notice in the screenshots that my class changes a lot. In order to start learning a new role, all you have to do to swap class is change to a new weapon. That’s it. This makes the gameplay feel flexible and allows you to experiment with what you do and don’t like. It’s not only for combat either, but for crafting and gathering classes. You can also walk into the appropriate guild and sign up and you’ll be given the desired role weapon/tool for free. The obvious downside of swapping to a new class is dropping to Level 1 again. Each class has its own levels. The good part is the higher the discrepancy between your classes levels, the faster the lower level will grow with huge XP boosts. If that isn’t enough you can complete levemetes, guildhests, or dungeons. Repeatable missions AND they give a crap tonne of XP and loot if you need it. There’s also the hunting log and challenge log!
Going back to crafting and gathering for a moment, those are two words I’d normally gut in a dark alley at any opportune moment, but I actually care for them in this game because the roles of crafter and gatherer are actual TRADES instead of pointless mechanics shoved into the core gameplay just for the sake of having them. You can completely bypass them if you couldn’t care less. Which I did for a long time before picking up carpentry and botany which I’ve been enjoying. The crafter/gather roles often mutually benefit from one another. So if you play with friends, spread the roles so you all proceed as fast as possible. Though putting the time into a trade will only be worth your time as a paying member. You can’t trade or use the markets as a free player. So unless you’re doing it for yourself, don’t bother if you’re on the free trial. Unless you want to level up a bit before paying, of course.
Oh, yeah! I forgot to mention the job system. When disciples of war or magic reach level 30 they become capable of undertaking a quest that will promote them to a specialist. Although the transformation is somewhat invisible when you change initially, it unlocks an entire tree of skills for your chosen class that no other class is capable of. So over time you become more experienced and grow into an expert in your field and it’s super fun. There’s been multiple times my friends and I have met up just to show each other what we’ve learnt. My lancer is now a dragoon, my conjurer is now a white mage and last but not least my gladiator is now a paladin. Whether I need to be DPS, Healer or Tank, I’ll always be ready and have a few nice tricks up my sleeve to boot!
So yeah, it’s safe to say I’ve fallen in love with Final Fantasy XIV. I’ve been enjoying stories, the exploration, the weird and wonderful things (and creatures) you find all over the place, the classes and combat gaining greater depth the longer I play. It’s wonderful, is basically what I’m trying to say. I think a lot of the reason I was even encouraged to try it was that I was using a controller. Just thinking of playing something like this with keyboard and mouse is headache-inducing. Hotbars and other crap all over the screen. That said you can completely tweak the HUD and UI to your own tastes but I’m glad the PS4 version introduced me to a genre I’d long forgotten. I’ve missed this sense of adventure and wonder in big open world games. Another reason I like it so much is it still plays and feels like a great single player game, just with the addition of co-op and tonnes of people running around doing their own thing, making the world feel alive in the process. Almost everyone I’ve met has been super friendly (and generous) too, which was a pleasant surprise I’d forgotten could happen after playing a lot more “competitive” online games.
After buying the base game and expansion at half price during a sale, I finally gave in to the dreaded monthly subscription. Or I should say I DID. At this moment of writing my subscription has run out and I’m a little skint at the moment. But I’m already looking forward to the next adventure. There’s also an event going on right now which I’m missing. Darn. At least FFXIV is nice with the subscription. There’s no rush to stay subscribed, no gun to your head, it’ll happily wait for you to return at your own leisure which I think everybody can appreciate. Even the “veteran rewards” are for days subscribed in total, not in a row. So you don’t have to worry about that either. So, thanks to a random fan asking a YouTuber a question on a stream, I’ve found one of my favourite new games of 2017! (Even if it came out years earlier and has been growing since!)
It’s all very bizarre. If you’d told me in the future I’d fallen in love with an MMORPG, I’d have promptly laughed, then slapped you with the Hand of Righteous Justice and Fury™. But it’s nice to be surprised every once in a while… Especially when it’s a genre of game you never would have considered. Well, I mean the world of Final Fantasy may have slightly biased my desire to try it since I love it but y’know. It was still a leap. Fine, a hop…