Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn Impressions – Risen From Ashes
Combat was the downfall of the first iteration of Final Fantasy XIV, to be sure. A Realm Reborn had to make everything better in order to avoid falling into the pitfalls of its predecessor.
Thankfully, it does. Those familiar with traditional MMO combat will feel instantly at home. Running around and punching beetles and wolves and cacti is the same sort of auto-attacks-with-abilities system we’ve seen since the days of Everquest. If you know how to play World of Warcraft, A Realm Reborn will be so familiar you may even feel deja vu. However, it does spend a little more effort on making things such as positioning, buffs, and item usage more important. A Pugilist, for example, enters different stances with each attack, and depending on his stance and location relative to the enemy, he’ll receive different bonuses or cause different effects.
This reliance on MMO tradition is A Realm Reborn’s greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. If you’re already familiar with MMOs — especially Rift, Warhammer Online, or World of Warcraft — A Realm Reborn may be too familiar to entertain. The visuals and animations of slashing and casting your way across a battlefield are far better than other contemporary MMOs, but the core of the combat is the same “cooldown management” game players have complained about constantly since the dawn of the genre.
Quests are also very traditional. Go here, kill that, bring loot back to base. Still, there are two quest-related systems that manage to set A Realm Reborn apart. First, there is a very well-implemented public quest system that spawns randomized quests for an area at periodic intervals. Doing these quests can give you great loot and XP, but only if you beat out other players for the top spot. Second, there is a “hunting” system that asks you to kill certain numbers of monsters to complete tasks and gain XP. Both systems were fun, though I didn’t get much chance to really chew into them; our full review will have more detail.
When I say that A Realm Reborn looks better than its peers, I mean it. It’s the best looking MMO I have ever played, bar none, and would give many modern console titles a run for their money in terms of great visual design. Effects are complex, but stay subdued enough to be easily read by nearby players. Racial silhouettes are distinctive, especially some of the more oddball races. Textures are colorful, and the alternation between bright visuals and subdued environments makes characters and enemies pop out at you. Most importantly (especially for a Final Fantasy game), enemy designs are clever and give off a sense of artistic indulgence, despite how dangerous they might be.
Things do does get a bit confusing in larger fights, unfortunately. Effects can be a bit too gaudy, often obscuring the action and keeping players from clearly recognizing certain skills. Likewise, enemies and players can stack into a confused, jumbled mess of polygons and color if someone bothers to aggro too many. This is a problem in other MMOs, to be sure, but it’s especially problematic here thanks to the high fidelity of the visuals.
It’s hard to find a clear flaw in A Realm Reborn. It’s visually engaging, has a good amount of customization, and a functionally sound combat system. It’s certainly better than either of its predecessors (Final Fantasy XI and the original version of XIV), but it’s tough to say if it’s different enough to actually spend time in. It oozes Final Fantasy style, and that’s the most unique thing about it; everything else is taken from other games and polished to a mirror shine.
Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is that there weren’t any real risks in what I played. Everything was straightforward but well-made, and systems all interlocked in satsifying, but predictable, ways. That said, for those looking for a “next-gen” MMO that sticks close to the genre’s established formula, Final Fantasy XIV is worth keeping an eye on leading up to release.