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You Should Be Playing Final Fantasy 14 - A Starter's Guide To FFXIV

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The generously expanded free trial, overall approachability, and strong narrative payoffs make FFXIV unlike any other MMORPG experience.

There's never been a better time to get into Final Fantasy XIV. For almost two years, it's been my go-to game, but it was thriving well before I started. There's so much to do and so much to see, a lot of which is now free and doesn't require a subscription. With the entire base game, A Realm Reborn, and the highly regarded first expansion, Heavensward, available in the free trial, you owe it to yourself to give FFXIV a chance.

I know, you probably have a lot of questions: Where do you even start? What are you supposed to be doing in the game? How are you supposed to keep up with other players? As someone who gets easily flustered by complex systems and multiplayer stress, trust me when I say FFXIV is not as overwhelming as it may seem.

Although I've dabbled in MMORPGs in the past, having played some World of Warcraft in its early days and liked Anarchy Online way back when, nothing really clicked the way I hoped. But FFXIV has a hold of me unlike any other MMO, or game for that matter. Here, I want to help newcomers or lapsed players understand exactly what they're getting into, what makes FFXIV approachable, and why it's well worth your time.

My character Chie Satoneko has grown a lot since my time in A Realm Reborn.
My character Chie Satoneko has grown a lot since my time in A Realm Reborn.

A Free Trial Reborn

As part of the new 5.3 update, FFXIV has made a very generous chunk of its saga entirely free. Previously, the free trial only let you go up to level 35 and play content that was available up to that level cap, which encompassed about half of the base game. Now, trial players can go up to level 60 (the current cap is 80 for reference) with access to all the playable content that comes with A Realm Reborn and Heavensward, even the excellent post-release content. There is no time limit or subscription requirement, unless you want to start the second expansion, Stormblood--note that there are restrictions on social features in the free trial, however. That's two full games, well over 100 hours worth of high-quality RPG, for free.

The Streamlined Base Game

You may have heard that the base game is slow-going, and there's some truth to that. By no means does that make it bad, but Square Enix has done newcomers a favor--the latest patch streamlined the main questline for A Realm Reborn. About 13 percent of it that was not critical to the story has either been removed or condensed. This is to cut down on unnecessary objectives that were either repetitive or fetch quest-y, or just had you going back and forth between locations without much payoff. Still, ARR has its moments and works well for showing you the ropes.

Looking Heavensward

Now you can get to the exciting stuff sooner, which is great because you'll have Heavensward waiting for you after ARR's dramatic conclusion. This first expansion is when FFXIV truly found its footing in terms of storytelling and gameplay mechanics.

By increasing the level cap from 50 to 60 in Heavensward, each class/job got expanded skill sets that made combat more fun and complex while remaining intuitive. The expansion also introduces three additional jobs: Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian. The actual content of Heavensward took a leap forward, too, with more intricate dungeon designs and bigger zones that first introduced flying in these vast open spaces.

While political drama has always been core to the FFXIV story, Heavensward takes the time to develop characters, factions, and histories. Alongside some great allies, you take action against a corrupt theocracy, disparity, and perpetual war. There's a sense of desperation from the start with goals and motivations established early on. FFXIV no longer has to ease you at this point and it cuts to the chase even as it unravels a new story.

Heavensward is when FFXIV really opens up with vast environments, better mechanics, and a strong story.
Heavensward is when FFXIV really opens up with vast environments, better mechanics, and a strong story.

What Makes This MMO So Approachable

Streamlined RPG Systems

FFXIV has become one of the most approachable MMORPGs by streamlining much of what newcomers would find intimidating about the genre. There aren't any skill trees to decipher, or character build decisions you have to make. There really isn't any min-maxing involved until the endgame--which lies beyond free trial territory. Even then, it's a very straightforward process to prepare yourself at high levels. Here, you're relieved of the burden of having to make game-changing character choices.

As long as you keep your weapons and armor up around your current level as you progress, you'll be fine. Throughout the game, you don't have to be at the mercy of RNG for gear, and there's very little grinding to stay at the proper level to keep pace in the main story.

Any Class/Job Is Viable

Success in FFXIV boils down to understanding your class/job combat mechanics, and in the early levels, your optimal attack or action patterns (commonly called rotations) are easy to grasp. Most actions are subject to a fast-moving global cooldown system (or GCD for short) and your attack combos are either sequentially highlighted on your HUD or easily explained in-menu. The game is also mindful of helping you learn how to play the specific role that your class/job fulfills (Tank, Healer, or DPS) with its tutorial and class quests.

In FFXIV, your class/job is determined by which weapon you have equipped--simply swapping to another class weapon switches your class on the fly. You can literally play and build up all 17 classes/jobs on your one character and each is designed to be viable for any gameplay situation (ignore Blue Mage for now). Although you have a handful to choose from at the very beginning, it's not long until you can access the rest from the base game--you just have to do the corresponding intro quests, which are all very easy. This system leaves all the possibilities open for a single character. (Note that Samurai and Red Mage are locked behind Stormblood, while Dancer and Gunbreaker are tied to Shadowbringers.)

Even playing Ninja, considered one of the more complex melee DPS jobs, you can get a grasp of it over time.
Even playing Ninja, considered one of the more complex melee DPS jobs, you can get a grasp of it over time.

Dungeons, Boss Fights, And Matchmaking System

You'll go through much of the main story as a solo player and are only required to take part in the cooperative multiplayer aspect in instanced dungeons or boss fights at certain points in the story. Don't be intimated, though; this is the fun stuff. They contain some of FFXIV's most enjoyable content and it's integrated through the main questline, so you don't necessarily have to go out of your way to find it. Trust me, I had many doubts about my ability to keep up with other players going into FFXIV early on. But dungeons throughout the game are designed to gradually ramp up in complexity and difficulty as the game goes on, steadily teaching you the things you need to know.

The matchmaking system makes the process of getting a party together very simple for these instances. The amount of social interaction is really up to you, but in my 500+ hours with FFXIV, I can literally count the number of bad interactions I've had on one hand. The FFXIV playerbase is so often accommodating to newcomers, especially in story-based dungeons and trial boss fights--which are fairly low-pressure in ARR and Heavensward at this point.

I mostly attribute this to Daily Roulettes--this is a system that high-level players use to earn bonus perks like big chunks of XP or currency. Roulettes put them into queues to run a random dungeon. What this does is widen the pool of players available to matchmake with, so even a level 80 player is incentivized to run the first level 15 dungeon again alongside a newcomer if they happen to match into it. This system ensures that you're never left without others to play alongside, many of which are veterans who can lead the way.

Beginners Tips

I know that all might be a lot to take in, so in the interest of being succinct, I have a few broad pointers that'll help you get your bearings when you start out.

A list of all the classes/jobs in FFXIV (click to enlarge).
A list of all the classes/jobs in FFXIV (click to enlarge).

Every class and job is designed to succeed regardless of the situation. All things considered, they're so well-balanced that no player will ever shame you for playing a certain class/job. As mentioned, as long as you know how to use your actions and skills, you will be okay. But you need to be mindful which of the three roles your class/job is filling: Tank, Healer, or DPS.

Tank has most responsibility in dungeons and boss fights--generally, they need to draw the attention of enemies at all times and take most of the damage, hence the name. They dictate the pacing and often control a boss's position. It's a very rewarding role, but not recommended for MMO newcomers.

Healer has to keep the party alive, but mainly focuses on the Tank who absorbs most damage. If the Tank goes down, it's likely the party will go down. It's simple to grasp in the early stages, though keep in mind that the Healer has a significant responsibility.

DPS has to worry about dealing as much damage to enemies as possible while avoiding enemy attacks. It's the most straightforward role as you're left to focus on executing your attack rotation to the best of your ability. I would highly recommend choosing one of the many DPS classes if you're an MMO newcomer to ease you into FFXIV's fun times.

Matchmaking sorts through the required roles for each dungeon and boss fight. For you, it's just a matter of playing your part.

Follow The Main Story Quests

There's one thing required to progress through FFXIV: the main scenario quests (MSQ). It's the fastest way to level up and necessary to get to all of the game's content. While ARR doesn't have the most enticing story in the first half, it's a decent time that builds toward something much greater. You'll always know what's next for MSQ and where that quest is located with the label at the top-left of your screen.

Do Your Class Quests When They Come Up

This is the MSQ indicator. Class quests will show underneath it as well.
This is the MSQ indicator. Class quests will show underneath it as well.

At certain levels, you'll unlock class/job-specific quests. These are necessary for learning the intricacies of your class/job, but also unlock new and critical actions and attacks. Like MSQ, you'll always know when the next class quest is ready and where it's located from the top-left of your screen.

Do Not Worry About Side Quests And Most Menus

When you first jump into FFXIV, you'll be overwhelmed by its number of menus, most of which won't be necessary for you to engage with early on. Just know that you'll need to use the map to find MSQ locations, the inventory for items, and the character screen to equip stuff and check your gear. The actions and traits menu also lists all your available attacks and skills, and let you customize the control layout for your actions. The Duty Finder is your matchmaking tool for dungeons, which comes into play once you unlock the first one at level 15. (However, do pay attention to the tips that pop up with green question marks on the middle of your screen, helpful ones they are.)

Also, when you pull up the map, you're going to be showered with quest markers. You can ignore almost all of them. MSQs are marked with a little meteor icon, and class quests (and other key side content) are marked with an icon that's filled in blue with a gold outline. Everything else, you're free to ignore for now.

Some great boss fights await in the main story questline, especially in Heavensward.
Some great boss fights await in the main story questline, especially in Heavensward.

Let Your Party Know You're New

This might sound intimidating, but if you're in need of guidance in a new instanced dungeon or boss fight, it helps to let the match-made party know you're new in the chat. They'll understand if there's something you don't know yet and will likely give a few tips about that instance. It's about setting expectations, and FFXIV players often have a good understanding of this--although by nature of online games, I can't guarantee that'll be the case 100% of the time.

Check Out FFXIV Creators For Additional Help

Not only does FFXIV have a strong community, content creators (streamers and YouTube channels) carry this into their work. For starters, I would peep Larryzaur's wildly popular "Basically, Which Job?" video--it's hilarious, informative, and will give you a solid overview of each job from the time he made it. (There's also an updated version available.)

As I mentioned earlier, it's a good idea to let your party know if you're new. But that doesn't mean you have to go into dungeons and boss fights without some preparation. For that, I would highly recommend MTQcapture (aka Mizzteq), who can be your dungeon guide. She has every single dungeon, trial, and raid covered from A Realm Reborn all the way to Shadowbringers. Her video guides are succinct, detailed, punny, and consistently high-quality; be sure to check out her content as necessary.

Another creator worth checking out is ZeplaHQ, who covers a broader range while also going in-depth on certain topics. For starters, you should watch her videos "Mistakes New Players Make," "Why FFXIV Isn't Toxic," and "Overcoming Anxiety In Group Content." Zepla has an FFXIV video for everybun.

Taking It Easy And Setting Expectations

As much as I love FFXIV, I don't want to set unrealistic expectations and disappoint newcomers who start A Realm Reborn, the base game. It's not the most exciting thing to play, but I found it to be rather pleasant. It's easy-going and low-pressure, and in that regard, ARR can be a tool to ease you into systems and mechanics in really fun ways.

FFXIV earns its reputation as the strongest story in all of MMORPGs and one of the best in franchise history. But don't expect all the cool, wild stuff upfront. Although ARR is key to getting a grasp of FFXIV's foundation, the narrative payoffs take time. Enjoy it for what it is and take it easy, and eventually you'll establish a groove.

One thing that can be a roadblock is the first real boss: the account system. It can be difficult to navigate Square Enix's account system, especially if you want in on the free trial and tried the game in the past or have certain editions of the game tied to the account. Their site is confusing, and we have more detail on what to do if you're having trouble, but once its set, you'll be fine moving forward.

The story of FFXIV is unlike any MMORPG, or any game in the franchise for that matter.
The story of FFXIV is unlike any MMORPG, or any game in the franchise for that matter.

Having finished all the expansions and the latest storyline in the 5.3 update, I consider FFXIV one of my favorite games ever. When I started in early 2019, I had no idea what I was getting into, but found value in its wonderful aesthetic, whimsical soundtrack, and digestible mechanics. Now I look at it as an affecting story experience backed by strong characters, sharp interconnected lore, great gameplay challenges, and tremendous use of music.

It's also one of the few games where I understand its complexities and intricacies, but it taught me well over time. While the game may not be for everyone, FFXIV is approachable and so much of it is now free--and who knows, it might be your next favorite game, too.

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Michael Higham

Senior Editor and Host at GameSpot. Filipino-American. Ask me about Yakuza, FFXIV, Persona, or Nier. If it's RPGs, I have it covered. Apparently I'm the tech expert here, too? Salamat sa 'yong suporta!

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