|System: PC*, PS3|
|Dev: Square Enix|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: August 27, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Language, Mild Blood, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
by Robert VerBruggen
When Square Enix decided to end Final Fantasy XIV, the company didn't just shut down the servers. No, it smashed the entire world to pieces: A dragon escaped from prison and wiped out most of Eorzea.
The idea was to set the stage for rebirth. Today, a completely overhauled version of the game is online, with a story set in the wake of the catastrophe, a new graphics engine, and a seemingly endless series of quests to complete.
There's no question that this launch is going much more smoothly than the last one. Sure, there were some hiccups during the early access period thanks to server overcrowding. But unlike the original game, A Realm Reborn doesn't have the feel of an incredibly promising but woefully incomplete idea. Instead, the title is highly polished, right from the get-go.
Does that mean you should sign up? It really depends what you're looking for. While Final Fantasy XIV has indeed been reborn with this release, the MMO genre hasn't been--this is a very typical experience, with few adjustments to the standard formula. Further, the early-game content is little more than an extended tutorial that can be incredibly boring. But beyond that, if you want a highly competent MMO with amazing graphics and a fresh Final Fantasy plot, and if you don't mind paying up to $40 plus a monthly $13 subscription fee for it, this is definitely the game for you.
The instant you set foot in the new world--either with a character leveled up from the original game, or with a new one created through a simple and wide-ranging tool--it's clear that things have changed. Despite all its flaws, the original game excelled when it came to graphics, and yet the visuals here are noticeably better. Thanks to improved lighting, the entire place comes to life in a way that few MMOs can match. The music is excellent, too, with some familiar themes blending with new melodies to immerse players in the universe of Final Fantasy.
Soon, the land is bustling with activity, and your map is bursting with quests you can take--from storyline missions, to random strangers who need help, to folks who dole out endless "levequests" you can use to improve your killing and crafting skills. There are even "FATEs," randomly appearing events in which players band together to achieve a given goal and earn EXP.
Unfortunately, in the game's earliest hours, all these quests can feel a bit directionless. At first, you're not told much about the plot, and the overwhelming majority of your missions are the kind that give MMOs a bad name--go kill some of this animal, go interact with a bunch of these items, etc. More than once, I had to simply walk up to NPCs and communicate with them through emotes. I even picked up trash.
I certainly appreciate that the game takes its time teaching you the ropes--the various systems are debuted one at a time, and they're always explained clearly. But by the time things started picking up, I was bored silly.
Things do pick up, though. Around Level 10, you start encountering enemies who actually put up a little bit of a fight, and you start earning points you can use to customize your character further. At Level 15, you're turned loose on the world and given a pass to explore other city-states, and you gain access to instanced dungeons.
At this point, the storyline gets a whole lot meatier as well--you're given the details about what you're fighting for (the Empire threatens Eorzea as it tries to recover from the dragon attack), and you receive a bigger helping of core quests along with the more stereotypical MMO fare. And when you are doing fetch quests, which are inevitable to some degree, you're imbued with a grand sense of why your adventure matters.
Even the graphics become more impressive. Exploring Eorzea, and viewing cutscenes set in space, gives you an amazing sense of breadth--there really is an entire universe here, with topography that varies from place to place, and a fascinating aesthetic blend of fantasy and science fiction. The city-states feel like completely different continents. As you learn new moves, the animations really start to pop, and with multiple players fighting at once, it's a veritable fireworks display of visual effects. A Realm Reborn comes as close as any game ever has to realizing the Final Fantasy franchise's potential for beauty.
You also gain access to a wide variety of classes as you exit the earlier levels. One of the best ideas contained in the original game was that you could become whatever you wanted by changing weapons--grab a sword and you're a gladiator; grab a hammer and you can do carpentry--and this feature returns here. Your character remains the same, but each class has a separate level and wardrobe. If you start learning a new class that's capable of battle (for example, if you abandon a high-level gladiator to start a conjurer), the game gives you an EXP boost to speed the process along. And when you choose crafting classes, you need to learn a system that slowly becomes more complex--it's a risk/reward scenario, where improving the item's quality increases the likelihood that it will break.