Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-09-03 17:08:58
My first six hours with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
My first six hours with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PS3) were spent, like many people, trying - and failing - to get into a world. It was especially excruciating trying to get into a world with my girlfriend. Accessing a world in general wasn't completely impossible - I managed to do so at least a couple of times over the course of a couple of hours - but getting into the same play session as the one person I wanted to play with was an entirely different story. Every time one of us managed to create a character for a world, the world would be full by the time the other was ready. We even synced up creating our characters and pressed enter at the exact same time, only to find that we had been automatically placed into different servers.
Playing in different worlds isn't a viable option, given that you need to make a new character for each world you enter. Thus, if I get forced into a different world to my girlfriend, any leveling up I do to my character in that world will ultimately be pointless, as when we eventually manage to get into the same world we'd need to start from scratch. While I've heard about potential data-transferring, the game hasn't adequately explained how it works or if it's even possible. For the first three days of owning the game, I didn't bother playing - if I couldn't play in the same world as my girlfriend (which was the ultimate intention) what was the point in playing it at all?
We spent the next few days attempting to log in, only to be plagued by error messages, worlds not appearing and server crashes. Given that A Realm Reborn doesn't kick away-from-keyboard players out of its servers, we quickly came to learn that lots of players simply refuse to log out when they finish playing, leaving the game on indefinitely to guarantee their place the next time they wish to play. With overpopulated servers saturated with AFK players and endless iterations of 'failed to join session' messages, we were both about ready to throw in the towel. But then we remembered that MMO launches are often troublesome, and we continued to wait it out.
We finally got into the same world earlier today and played the game across the course of the day for about six hours. And, if we consider that those six hours were the first six hours spent playing (rather than waiting to play) the game, then I can say that my first impressions of A Realm Reborn are generally positive. Environments are rich and expansive, reminding me of a bite-sized Xenoblade Chronicles; the Final Fantasy lore translates well to the world of MMOs, with chocobos serving as mounts and potions and ethers littering shop shelves; and the job system from the earliest games naturally allows for players to differentiate their play-style through a variety of combat types. I chose to play as a Gladiator, because I'm boring and like to spam melee attacks.
Quests rarely go beyond fetching and killing things, as is typical for MMOs, but A Realm Reborn does a good job of making every task feel as if it has some greater significance. You're not killing a bunch of antlions to get their hides because someone randomly told you to do it; instead, you're killing antlions to get their hides in order to repair damage to the roof of a tavern struck by lightning (not an actual quest in the game, sadly, but emblematic of the narrative arcs seen throughout).
While the interface is clearly designed for PCs, playing on a Playstation 3 isn't the worst thing in the world; some tasks are fiddly, such as targeting specific enemies or doing emotes, but it's nothing that can't be sorted with a bit of practice and careful button presses. The controls frustrate occasionally, but they rarely impact upon the overall experience. It should also be mentioned that when we finally got into a game together, neither of us experienced anything in the way of drop-out, lag or slowdown. The session was fluid and stable, which is impressive considering that the game is still having issues and plenty of people are experiencing error messages and, in many cases, still can't log on.
I don't recommend buying A Realm Reborn right now, simply because every extra player makes it a fraction harder for me (and other players) to get on in the game's congested current state. However, once the server and world issues are sorted and everyone can get on without trouble, I have no doubt that A Realm Reborn will be good fun. It has a deep class system that welcomes experimentation and a rich and detailed world to explore. While I do pine for an MMO set in Ivalice (my favourite Final Fantasy universe) I'm happy to make do with Eorzea. Despite the many issues we had coordinating a play session together, both my girlfriend and I had a great time playing A Realm Reborn for the six hours we experienced it. We're now looking forward to getting another six hour stab at the game...as soon as we can get back into the same world again, of course.