Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – Tim’s Early Access Experience

I was kinda pleased, at first. Well, not at first – the starting equipment for your average catgirl is pretty much a bikini with extra straps – but after getting my first few pieces of equipment, my character started to resemble someone who was actually protected. Hell, by the time I hit level 8 or so, my gear was so large and padded I looked like someone who trained attack dogs (or, as someone else put it, “a sofa”). A fantasy MMO with female armour that actually covers more than the breasts and the pubis? Too good to be true, surely!

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Good grief. A woman in a fantasy game wearing something that covers more than 8% of her body? I… I’m shocked.

It was too good to be true. After looking like a walking advertisement for Carl’s Couch Company I took a detour into the outskirts of hobo clown territory, had a sharp nosedive into bondage pirate land, went travelling through the centre of the hobo clown kingdom, and now… well, now I’m just wearing yellow and green. Ew.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ve spent the weekend playing in the Early Access bit of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and – barring a very brief stint with one of the earlier betas – it’s entirely new to me. As we’re pretty much at actual launch now, I figured you might be interested in some thoughts from someone who didn’t play the original Final Fantasy XIV and thoroughly abhorred Final Fantasy XI Online.

Initial impressions: well, this is an MMO. Following 20 minutes with a character creation tool that gave me a breast size slider, Snuggle Paws – a catgirl with a stupid name – entered into the land of Eorzea, ready to do battle with all sorts of monsters. Look: if you’re going to give me the chance to be a catgirl with a stupid name, I’m going to take it. My only lament is that I didn’t give her the first name “Barry”, because a catgirl called Barry would be even funnier.

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And now I’m back to resigned depression.

And, honestly, early on it felt like a pretty standard MMO. I started off in Gridania, the forest-iest of the three capital cities, and promptly signed up with the local Adventurer’s Guild and Archer’s Guild, as my quest log demanded. Their initial tests of my aptitude involved murdering squirrels and mushrooms and ladybirds. I’m going to assume this is because I’m a catgirl called Snuggle Paws and they weren’t sure if I was actually serious about this monster-fighting malarkey, because it’s either that or the local populace is so rubbish they lose hitpoints from rain.

Second impressions: good grief, this is a pretty game. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to run an MMO on full detail, and I admit I probably lucked out by picking a character class that starts in a forest region (Archer), but Final Fantasy XIV looks lovely. Some of it’s down to some decent effects with lighting and shading. Some of it’s down to general art design. Some of it’s down to foliage and trees and the like. Some of the textures are a bit muddy close up, but the overall effect is stunning.

By this time I was in my sofa cosplay gear and had moved on from shooting mushrooms with arrows, to shooting monkey beasts and birdmen with arrows. There was some local storyline about a shadowy masked figure causing trouble, and an increase in Ixal (read: birdmen) attacks, but I can’t say I paid too much attention unless it was giving me a lengthy cutscene. I remain disappointed that I wasn’t subpoenaed by any of the Ixal, though.

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Wasn’t kidding. Mushrooms and ladybirds and squirrels. Ambulatory mushrooms, fine, but LADYBIRDS AND SQUIRRELS?

It’s also kinda nice playing an MMO again. There’s just something about the flow of MMO that’s vaguely soothing in terms of getting quests, completing quests, getting better equipment, getting new abilities…

In this case, there are also more important level-specific quests. Barring the story quests that, so far, are leading me from area to area, the Archer’s guild are also offering me quests every five levels which give me better gear, or new abilities, or whatever. There’s my Hunter’s Log which has me kill different kinds of monsters for XP and cash rewards. There’s a fair amount of stuff to do at any given time, really.

Third impressions: Okay, so I really like the class system. Unlike most MMOs, you don’t just pick one class and stick with it unless you start a new character – once you complete your level 10 class quest, you can sign up with any of the other class guilds. Changing between classes is as easy as equipping a weapon from that other class. In my case, for instance, I’m a level 13 Archer – but if I’ve signed up with the Lancer’s guild, I can become a level 1 Lancer by equipping a spear. I swap back to my bow, and I’m a level 13 Archer again.

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Archers can run and jump (and probably sing and dance) while fighting, which makes a nice change from the norm, and having a number of abilities that let them leap backwards while attacking or snare enemies makes it even easier to kite.

Of course, because most equipment has level restrictions, it’s probably a good thing that equipment is stored in a special Armory Chest rather than filling up your basic inventory. It’s also probably a good thing that it’s really easy to save different equipment sets and swap between them with ease. I’ve got my equipment set for my level 1 Lancer, as well as my set for my level 13 Archer, and I can update or change over pretty quickly.

Even levelling up a second class is pretty easy. While I’ve done most of the quests around Gridania as an Archer, there are still FATEs (randomly-spawning world events that require a group to take down, which anyone nearby can partake in) as well as a new Hunter’s Log for that class, and a bonus to XP earned based on the level disparity between this class and your highest level class. In other words, with a level 13 Archer and a level 1 Lancer, said level 1 Lancer will hit level 4 within a few fights.

There are a few bonuses associated with this. For starters, you can equip a couple of the skills you’ve earned with one class on the others – if you level up a healer-y type, you can slap a couple of curative spells on your Archer to fill in the gaps. Better still, these skills actually work with your current weapons – I’ve got a Lancer skill on my Archer at the moment, and it works at typical bow range rather than requiring me to be up in melee.

Or, to put it another way: it’s sort of like Final Fantasy V‘s Job system and, when it comes to picking what extra skills you want, is a lot less complicated than it could be.

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FATEs – which stands for Full Action Time Event, fact fans – can get a little bit… messy.

Also, it looks like there are advanced classes that open up when you hit certain levels with multiple classes. I have no idea what these might be because I’m still rubbish, but from what I can gather you might unlock Circus Clown if you get both Jester and Unicyclist to level 15. (These are not real classes.)

Archer and Lancer actually fight pretty differently, too. Archer reminds me a lot of World of Warcraft‘s Warlock right now, in that it’s pretty much a continual rotation of trying to keep any DoTs you have on the enemy while keeping your own buffs up and dishing out burst damage whenever you get a chance, while Lancer is more about comboing attacks together, with attacks having different effects or doing more damage if done directly after other attacks. From what I can gather, the Archer’s also pretty unique in terms of being a ranged character that can move while attacking, making kiting tremendously easy.

Crafting works in much the same way, in that you equip your crafting tools and then “become” a level 1 Carpenter or Leatherworker or whatever. Crafting’s also a bit more involved than in most MMOs – your crafting class has a variety of abilities at their disposal, and things actually have to be made. If you’re making a leather helmet then, rather than just getting the materials and hitting Synthesise, you have to fill up a progress bar by using abilities before its Durability gets too low, at which point you’ll fail to create the item.

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At this point, Snuggle was still only level 2 with the whole Making Leather Armour thing, but the action bar starts to fill up with more crafting-related abilities before too long.

But you also have other abilities. Some might restore Durability. Some might increase the chance, every time you use them, that the resulting item will be higher-quality than normal. You can even wear equipment to boost various crafting stats, so that you gain more Progress when you use your basic ability to craft an item, or to give you more Crafting Points or whatever. It’s a lot more intricate and interesting than crafting in most MMOs, although I admit that having to click about fifteen times just to make five circles of leather that I can then turn into other stuff is getting a bit dull.

While we’re on the topic of things that annoy me – because that’s my favourite topic when it comes to anything – it’d be a bit remiss of me not to mention the horrible, horrible server problems that struck during Early Access. Barring servers regularly going down or being taken down for maintenance, some were locked off to prevent people from even queueing to enter them, and there’s been a fair bit of lag. It’s unfair to judge an MMO on its Early Access period (and it’s usually a terrible idea to judge an MMO on its launch week) but this doesn’t exactly bode well for what’ll happen when the servers actually open to everyone.

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In case there was ever any doubt: yes, this is a Final Fantasy game. With mention of Garland and Magitek and Materia and Limit Breaks and all sorts of other lore nods.

But, right now, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m now level 16, and I’ve done a couple of instanced story battles and have finally opened up access to the other two capital cities (and thus to the other classes), but I have yet to take on any dungeons and I’m still not quite sure where the plot is going, so there’s still a lot for me to explore. I’m curious to find out, though, and I’d honestly quite like to go back to the game right now. When it comes to an MMO, that’s usually a pretty good sign. I’m kinda hooked.

Tim will continue to report on his experiences in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and his adventures in Eorzea as he continues playing. We’ll also be setting up a Final Fantasy XIV guild – sorry, Free Company – at some point in the near future, so if you want to play with us, you’ll want to roll your character on NA/EU Cerberus. Stay tuned to IncGamers for more details on the Free Company as and when it happens.

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Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.