Apparently Ayne had reviewed Final Fantasy XIV for another site, so she finally got around to putting it here. Sorry that it's not in our usual format. - Rob
So, one of my criticisms about it is no longer applicable, mainly that the demo lasted only 14 days, while now it can be played indefinitely but with a lot of restrictions. Some rabid fans insist that the "game really gets good at 40/50/60" (that probably keeps getting pushed back with the level cap because some seem to think levelling itself has to be a boring grind by default) so if that's the case, 2 weeks was hardly enough to persuade someone on the fence. One of the things that supposedly makes it the BEST MMORPG EVAR OMG is the breathtaking world (and you have to admit the graphics really are amazing) which a player would only have time to maybe explore half of it if they neglect work/school/eating/going to the bathroom/sleep to do nothing but play the game for that time. Those 14 days even for a hardcore player really only add up to a day's worth of game time. Fortunately, lifting the demo's time limit means that you're focusing on whether or not you actually like the game rather than trying to beat the timer and hope you remember whether you liked the game or not after the fact.
Hardcore fans insisted that 2 weeks/a day's worth of in-game time was enough, which at the time I agreed, I simply came to a different conclusion. (It was "enough" for me to judge the game to be overhyped rubbish) Having played the game now for roughly about that time, I changed my mind enough to be on-the-fence about it. So, whomever over at SqEnix who decided 2 weeks/a day's worth of in-game time wasn't enough to form a more informed opinion was definitely right. (Although, I should add that I played the first demo on my PC -- which definitely can't handle those kinds of graphics -- and the current one on my PS4. It really does play a lot smoother; one of the things I hated about it originally was how horribly it played on my PC. Not the game's fault, admittedly, but it was enough for me not to want to play it. Controller play also helps tremendously and makes moving around AoEs considerably less of a pain in the ass.)
Of course, the remaining problem is that the demo's level cap is 35, so the game only gets halfway to supposedly "getting good". But firstly, my thought is that if you have to work at a game like you would a job before it supposedly gets fun, my advice is not to bother. No game is worth that hassle. (And yes, I'd even say that for Destiny. If you're not having fun, play something else. I won't be offended) Secondly, that the game is "admittedly boring" until you don't have to worry about levelling isn't entirely true.
Levelling tends to be a chore for a lot of games, since it can be frustrating dying to the same mobs until you finally have decent weapons/armour/skills, which is why players from various games tend to insist that the fun starts happening once the chore of levelling is completed. That's half the fault of gamers with preconceived notions (many of them coming fresh from WoW and considering themselves veteran MMO players only having played that game for X number of years) and half from game designers not making their world interesting enough. A good game designer will know how to make a game fun even at the lower levels in some way, be it through graphics, story, or some other quirk. (The best ones use story: graphics tend to become simply tedious after running over the same map for 5-10 levels. Blade & Soul is horrible about this) I think FFXIV handles this reasonably well.
To my surprise -- at least at the lower levels -- it isn't too terribly grindy (or maybe my tolerance to grinding is fairly high thanks to the absolute slog of the average Korean MMO. Maybe that was why City of Heroes tanked in South Korea: not grindy enough for them) and I generally repeated only a few of the guildleves (the FFXIV equivalent of bounties) to level a particular class. Hilariously, crafting can be more grindy in a sense, but while crafting in most MMOs tends to feel like a chore, at least FFXIV's crafting system was designed to be like "combat with materials" where your success and the quality of a crafted item depends on careful use of skills. (Which can even be chained into combos like in combat.)
The only problem when it comes to crafting is storage: no matter what, you run out of space quickly. I ended up selling off materials which could easily be purchased from craft-specific vendors and only keeping high-quality drops and items they don't sell. Even that piles up, though; rather than keeping a stack of iron ore (which I blow through lightning-fast) I've found it's better just to mine only what I need right then and come back to the nodes the next time I need iron ore. And forget about levelling a culinarian; as useful as buff food is (especially for fast levelling) food typically requires layers and layers of processed materials...which always stack more than you need and in numbers that don't match. You'll have a permanent stack of table salt forever. And fishing is a Discipline of the Land (gathering) that, while extremely useful, means either maxing out your inventory or selling off just about everything you catch. Even the levels aren't enough to rid yourself of all the crap.
Now, here's the part where I want to slap SqEnix hard. Retainers help alleviate that space problem for a while, but accounts are only granted 2 (demo players can't access them at all. Fun) it's possible to hire two more...for an even larger subscription fee than the already inflated $15/month. (My PS+ sub is $10, that's about the limit on what's reasonable in today's economy) What really brings the game down in my eyes is SqEnix's constant cash grabs, nearly as bad as NCSoft and their freemium fad-chasing model. I really can't understand why a landmark company like that is acting like yet another fly-by-night Korean freemium distributer, it's not like they're desperate for cash.
So, issues aside, what's the actual game like? Overall, it's not a bad way to waste a few hours. It'll never be Destiny or even B&S, but it's still better than Aion and both versions of Ragnarok Online. (Though I much prefer RO2's origin stories. I'll get to that below.) Is it the "greatest MMO that ever was"? Well...that really depends. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground when it comes to this game: it's either absolutely adored as the "saviour of the MMORPG genre" or despised as "the same stale, bland fetch-quest-o-rama". The truth for me, trying to be as objective as I can, actually falls somewhere in between. And now, let me draw the ire of both camps.
It's -- and I know I'm committing blasphemy here -- but I find it to be The Mario of MMORPGs. Not the OMGGREAT MMO like hardcore fans find it, but neither is it the most horrible piece of shit since RO like the hardcore haters. In many ways it's your garden-variety tab-target hack-and-slash: not especially groundbreaking or innovative other than being able to play everything (and I do mean everything) on a single character. It does what it does well, but it suffers from the curse of being eternally doomed to be the "Jack of all trades but master of none."
When it comes to combat, I think B&S and TERA do it better. Story-wise, I think SWTOR, B&S, and even RO2 do it better. SWTOR and B&S (admittedly) have better dialogue and voice-acting, CoH had a better "armour" system through Enhancements, as does B&S through Soul Shields. Aion, an otherwise inferior game in many respects, boasts a better housing system. While character customisation is definitely one of the better ones out there, (HUGE props to adding in a heterochromia feature for eyes, one of the only games that has that ability) it lacks CoH's clothing appearance customisation, Phantasy Star Universe's base character customisation, and both for Champions Online. SWTOR's Companion system is slightly better; while you get to choose which skill tree and skills your chocobo will have, not only do you lose a much-needed inventory slot for the required single-use summoning item which only summons it for 30 minutes, but it obviously doesn't have the personality of a sentient companion. (There is a reason that I haven't compared the game at all to WoW or GW2, which are the 2 games FFXIV seems to be constantly held up to. WoW & GW2 might be the only other MMORPGs many current FFXIV players are familiar with...but those are the only 2 big-name MMORPGs that I haven't played.)
So in a nutshell, while it might do X thing better than Game A, Game A will have at least one feature that outshines its competition, and FFXIV's primary shortcoming is that there isn't any one feature it has which makes it really stand out. (e.g., TERA has no real story at all and is one of those Holy Trinity of Tank-Healer-DPS hack-and-slash MMOs that developers can't conceive of anything different with some rather questionable fanservice, but it has an amazing free-target combat system with an elaborate combo system which starts building at the early levels which makes it stand out. FFXIV by comparison features a better story and is generally tasteful, but not only is the combat system dependent on the same Holy Trinity, but it relies on narrow skill rotations and a lack of free targeting. (SqEnix might be trying to fix that problem with the new Red Mage job...but the problem there is that it means everyone is going to want to be a Red Mage if it's successful, or it'll become the new Astrologian if it fails.)
Ultimately, as far as the cookie-cutter Holy Trinity MMOs go, it has average strengths which make it more even overall than most other MMOs. Unfortunately, that lack of mastery in one particular feature with a lack of breaking out of the stale MMORPG mould save one, dooms it to mediocrity. Recommendation: if you're not sick of tab-target, the Tank-Healer-DPS Holy Trinity, and 20 Bear Asses, you'll probably have mad fun in the game. If you're looking for something fresh and new, however, give this one a pass. (I will say this, though: if anyone says the appeal is the community, I won't dispute it. The players really are very friendly. And if you're a newbie to the game itself but a MMO veteran, they can be especially nice because they seem to appreciate newbie players who know their way around a dungeon.)
As for what I'll do with the game? Well...as I mentioned before, I have a pretty high tolerance to grindy crap. (Which makes Destiny nearly a dream game for me since it has only as much grinding as the player wants. Sure, players who absolutely needed to be Light 400 the moment the level cap was raised grinded like hell, but for a dirty casual like me, it took a little more time because I avoided grinding and just did what I enjoyed like Iron Banner/Crucible, Heroic Strikes, and even the occasional half of a raid and managed to get to 400 without grinding for it.) The gate for me is the cost, though I suppose if I have the cash after Destiny 2 launches I might consider buying the game and a month of subscription. Admittedly, I've paid for worse. (We shall never speak of The Order:1886 again.) And a sub might keep me from playing too much when the work is piling up.
Final Fantasy XIV can be found on PS4, PC, and XBox One.
NEXT Media needs to hire a writer. Artists and a plot woudln't be bad, either.