In 2010, the release of Final Fantasy XIV Online was met with heavy criticism. Impressive presentation aside, the MMO was riddled with issues, so much so that Square Enix eventually apologized for the quality of the game. The company promised a complete revamp, and hired a new producer who worked on the online-focused Dragon Quest X to spearhead development.
The result is Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. After our lengthy journey through the closed beta sessions of this new version of FFXIV Online using a Lalafell lancer, it's obvious that the producer and his team meant serious business in wiping the slate clean. A Realm Reborn is a completely different experience from the original Final Fantasy XIV. A new story, new gameplay, and a new graphics engine will make this title feel fresh to Final Fantasy fans, particularly those who were longtime players of Final Fantasy XI. However, the new additions to A Realm Reborn may not be eye-openers for MMO veterans, especially those who have played recent releases like Guild Wars 2 and Rift.
While the concepts of random encounters and daily quests aren't new, they are fresh ideas if your experience with the genre is limited to the Final Fantasy MMOs. Take the FATE (Full Active Time Event) system, for example, which is similar to random quests found in games like Guild Wars 2. While players are wandering around the enchanted hollows of Gridania, random FATE events will occur, such as an outbreak of monkey-like Opo-opos stealing coffee beans from a village or a gargantuan horde of Ixali insurgents storming a nearby fort. Players in the game world can jump in and earn more experience or loot by joining in the slaughter of these mobs. To reap the benefits, however, players will need to be about the same level as the requirements stated on the FATE event. High-level adventurers who complete a low-level FATE will get absolutely nothing for their troubles.
Another feature that's reworked is the Levequest system, which works exactly like daily quests in World of Warcraft. Once players have been to their first Guildleve club, they can start doing Levequests. These are entirely optional and do not come with a fatigue system like in the original FFXIV. The objectives for Levequests come in multiple consecutive forms; once a task in a Levequest is completed, players move on to the next until the entire mission is over or time runs out. Players can get bigger rewards if they complete these, though these quests can take up more time than usual and are meant for large groups.
A Realm Reborn also introduces a system called the hunting log, a feature that's familiar to anyone who's played Ragnarok Online 2. Players go through a checklist of enemies they need to kill for the log. Killing a required set of enemies will net adventurers extra experience. Players can take their sweet time and wander around Gridania at their leisure while doing these logs, as they're meant to reward those who explore the sights of the game world.
The new game play additions may be familiar, but they still make for an enjoyable experience. Our play session during the beta weekend was filled with similarly-leveled pugilists and spellcasters joining in unison as we beat down the aforementioned Opo-opos and Ixali birdmen until we had fulfilled the required amount of mob deaths. The up-close offensive capabilities of the lancer we used help complement the ranged attacks of our temporary partners during several FATE missions. Visually, Square Enix again show that they are masters of their craft. The sights of Gridania's huge forest areas and towns are easy on the eyes, while the background music that plays during exploration are relaxing to the ears.
Players seeking for something new in an MMO may not find the FATE and Levequest systems groundbreaking. However, the developers promise that there are more changes to come, like Chocobo-back battles, new player-versus-player options, and other nostalgic additions like enemy Behemoths and Iron Giants (from past FF titles), as well as Magitek Armor mounts (from FFVI). The new additions have done a lot to raise A Realm Reborn closer to modern standards for MMOs, now the challenge remains to elevate it even further.