Release Date: August 27
Platforms available on: PC, PS3, PS4 (2014)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Square Enix has a lot of fences to mend with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn considering the game was a broken mess when it originally launched in 2010.
The studio has quite sensibly stripped the MMORPG down to its foundations and rebuilt it from the ground up, with a shiny new graphics engine, revamped gameplay and an improved server structure among the new additions.
Merely being functional makes it superior to its predecessor right off the bat, but Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is more than just a grovelling apology. It's an enthralling and beautiful game in its own right.
Although the dramatic overhauls represent a giant leap for Final Fantasy XIV, it will feel familiar to anyone well schooled in the MMO genre, and some of the traditional mechanics it peddles feel somewhat tired.
However, we still had an absolute blast casting spells, levelling up, embarking on quests, and simply wandering around the world of Eorzea, an expansive playing field that simply begs exploration.
Character creation is your first port of call and the customisation options are deep, if a bit cumbersome.
- Merely being functional makes it superior to its predecessor right off the bat, but Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is more than just a grovelling apology. It's an enthralling and beautiful game in its own right.
In typical MMO fashion, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn plants your newly-created character in a starter zone filled with tutorial quests to bring you up to speed with the core gameplay.
The game doesn't take long to open up, and when it does, players will marvel at the level of choice on offer.
There's an overarching story which tells the kind of good vs evil tale that has become synonymous with Final Fantasy over the years, but the aim of the game is simply to become as powerful as possible, and there are a variety of ways to accumulate XP points.
There are your standard World of Warcraft-style quests that involve retrieving items, killing specific enemies or defeating dungeons, group missions called Guildhests, and even Guild Wars 2-inspired public quests called FATES.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn learned everything it knows from its genre counterparts, but it has polished these tried and tested mechanics until you can see your face in them, and the combination of influences from across the MMO spectrum gives players the freedom to climb the level tree however they wish.
The game takes a refreshingly flexible approach to class systems, with players able to switch from one to another by equipping a different weapon.
Knowing that you can change from a magic-wielding Thaumaturge to a gladiator by simply picking up a sword is liberating, and helps keep the experience fresh.
Things get interesting as the game progresses and players are able to carry over attributes that they acquired within each class, combining them to bring an extra degree of personalisation to their character.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn's combat system will offer few surprises for MMO veterans, combining a targeting system with automated basic attacks, special abilities and some light evasive manoeuvres.
Like the core gameplay itself, there isn't much to distinguish it from a dozen other titles in its genre, but it's transparent, refined and fast-paced enough to feel gratifying.
The combat system's level of balance is best demonstrated in group situations, where the role of each character class comes into play. These quests are significantly more difficult than solo missions and can only be bested by playing to your strengths.
For instance, tank characters must draw the attention of enemies while healers and DPS players need to be strategic in their roles or the machine will grind to a halt.
It's during these instances, when a group greater than the sum of its parts comes together in battle, that the game feels every inch a Final Fantasy title.
Dungeons are among the highlights of the experience, providing intense, hour-long raids that are ideal for levelling up and obtaining new gear, as well as honing your teamwork skills.
There are challenging bosses and objectives to overcome throughout, and just when you start to settle into a comfort zone, the game hurls another curveball at you.
In addition to the gameplay and interface enhancements, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn brings dozens of new features to the table that help bring it in line with other leading MMORPGs.
There's now an auction house for buying and trading gear, backed up by an efficient search tool that can be accessed via bulletin boards in any of the major cities.
The absence of traditional PvP might be off-putting to the genre fanatics, but Square Enix has promised to introduce a Colosseum event via a future update to allow players to go head-to-head with one another.
A more significant criticism relates to the amount of grind involved. Experienced players will breeze through the first 20 levels, and while 30 to 40 goes by at a slower pace, it still feels enjoyable.
However, levels 40 to 50 feel like a repetitive slog at times as you milk every last drop of XP to get to the endgame content. New dungeons open up once you reach the final levels to help players make it to the pinnacle, which begs the question of why they weren't there earlier.
- Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn learned everything it knows from its genre counterparts, but it has polished these tried and tested mechanics until you can see your face in them.
Players will meet a vast and colourful cast of characters along the way, and the story missions will drag you from one corner of Eorzea to the other, through wonder-filled forests, across unforgiving deserts, and into the depths of trap-filled dungeons.
With a new graphics engine at its core, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a gorgeous-looking game, with the world of Eorzea often as satisfying to take in from a vantage point as it is to explore.
The character models of old remain, but the rest has been reworked with the utmost care and attention to detail. However, the amount of reused textures and high volume of pallet-swap enemies lets the side down somewhat.
There can be no criticism of the game's soundtrack, a sonic feast from composer Masayoshi Soken that pays appropriate homage to the long-running RPG series.
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn isn't going to win any prizes for originality, but it stands up proud alongside the market leaders in the MMO genre, and is a case of all-round improvement compared to the game launched in 2010.
It's been a long and painful journey for Square Enix, but the studio has finally delivered an MMORPG that lives up to the Final Fantasy name.
Copyright: Square Enix