To say that FFXIV had a troublesome launch is an understatement. Upon release in 2010, every single aspect of Squeenix’s MMO was broken. It was a disaster. Since then, the original development team has been rehauled and now, after 3 years of rebuilding this sinking ship, FFXIV has emerged as A Realm Reborn. But how far do the improvements go?
I recently attended a hands-on session and returned to Eorzea to see for myself. I also interrogated new producer/director Naoki Yoshida as to just what the hell happened. Here’s what I found out.
New Producer/Director Naoki Yoshida knows what an MMO is.
Shortly after FFXIV’s disastrous launch in 2010, I interviewed then-producer, Hiromichi Tanaka and was astonished to discover that, apart from FFXI, he hadn’t played any MMOs.
New guy Naoki Yoshida is the complete opposite. When not cracking the development whip, he’s playing Guild Wars 2. Before this, he spent many sleepless years in Ultima Online, EverQuest, EverQuest 2, World of Warcraft, Tera, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Rift.
Yoshida himself is refreshingly different from most Squeenix dev heads. He’s completely open about just how much of a failure FFXIV was, taking every criticism I had to throw at him, agreeing, then telling me just how he and his new development team have fixed the flaws. He talks with conviction, with the innate knowledge of someone who once ranked first as PvP Champion in Dark Age of Camelot (true fact). He knows what he wants, not just as a developer, but as a hardcore MMO gamer, and his mixture of humility and confidence is reassuring. Square Enix made an excellent call when appointing him to dig FFXIV out of it’s grave.
FFXIV: A Realm Reborn has been entirely redesigned.
“Everything is new!” Yoshida exclaimed during our time together. And he really means it. The entire game has been “remade” and “redeveloped”, hinting at how the game became a ‘realm’ ‘reborn’. Cute. The dedicated graphics server, battle system, user interface, map systems...even the smallest design details have been scrutinised, with idiotic ideas - such as having to buy individual arrows if you’re an Archer - being tossed away like crumpled nighttime tissues. The biggest change however, comes with the server architecture, which has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. Aside from the fugly, labyrinthian UI, the original server was a biggest cause of complaint from players. It was highly unstable and about as successful at match-making as Shag-A-Gamer. But no more! Why? Because “Square Enix will not give up!” (Yoshida’s words, not mine).
The gender lock on various races has now been lifted, so you can be a sexy man cat thing.
The world in FFXIV: A Realm Reborn looks completely different.
As well as boasting bland, empty locations, the original FFXIV was caught out for copy-pasting entire areas of dull terrain - something last producer Tanaka tried to explain as just the way they did things back then. No. Really. Well, that’s not the case anymore. Every single environment has been spruced up and filled out like a Grand Designs special.
Remember how Moraby Docks didn’t actually have any docks, and was in fact just a seaside cliff? It now boasts regal white structures rising out of a glittering ocean. Remember how Camp Tranquil was a deserted ghost town? It’s now full of tents, rope bridges and lush vegetation, while Black Brush (a place Yoshida described as “a plain that’s too plain”) has become a watering hole bustling with resting adventurers, sharing tales around fireplaces.
Squeenix has always prided itself on top-notch graphics and creating rich, gorgeous worlds, and FFXIV: A Realm Reborn really has hit it’s stride in this department. There’s a lot more going on, both visually and physically, making the world feel much more alive than the soulless wasteland it was before.
You can now jump. A feature that wasn’t in FFXIV. Yup.
It plays completely differently, too.
What a difference 3 years, millions of dollars and a complete development overhaul can make. When I played the original FFXIV, I could barely make it into my starting city and buy a goddamn sword without getting lost, walking into a lagging NPC, or failing to figure out just how the hell I could in fact buy a sword. Battles were so slow and tedious, I was actually relieved when the game crashed. This is no longer the case. During my hands-on, I pootled around the leafy rural town of Gridania, marvelling at how much more comprehensive the menus are, how much more intuitive and sensible the interface is, and how the map actually has markers on it. Quests themselves were fairly standard tutorial based missions that gently introduced you to the controls, the guilds, the classes, the lore, but humourous enough.
I then partnered up with fellow journos, jumped into an advance save with a level 35 tank, and headed to a derelict dungeon full of eerily neon plants and aggressive scorpions. Combat is unrecognisable in a ‘Gosh, they actually listened to my screaming’ sort of way. It’s faster, sleeker, and far more entertaining than FFXIV ever dreamed of being. The only thing that’s missing is a way to see the range of your attacks - at the moment there’s no indication beyond a stern ‘TARGET IS NOT CLOSE ENOUGH’, meaning you just have to wade in, tapping ‘attack’ until the proximity is just so. But what I experienced is promising, and the final boss took us working as a team to make any sort of headway - just as any seasoned MMO player would want.
You’ll be able to play with PS3 gamers.
Don’t hiss. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn will launch simultaneously on PC and PS3 later this year, allowing gamers of both platforms to quest together on the same server. What’s more, if you buy one version, you’ll ‘own’ both, so if you get bored of playing it on your PC, you can let your PS3 out of that locked cubby hole and carry on where you left off. Stop laughing.
FFVI’s sexy Magitek armour is available to ride. YES.
FFXIV: A Realm Reborn will make Final Fantasy fans as moist as a Waitrose plum pudding.
Square Enix has remembered that A Realm Reborn has ‘Final Fantasy’ in the title, and as such, there will be plenty of treats for fans of the long-running series. For instance, the Crystal Tower (a key location in FFIII) will appear as a 24-player dungeon, with scary naked snake lady Cloud of Darkness serving as the end boss. Meanwhile, FFVI’s immense Magitek armour suits will be available as stompy transportation, while moogles and chocobos serve as postmen and mounts alike. Yoshida even mentioned that he wanted to recreate FFVII’s mega-casino and theme park, Gold Saucer. Fingers crossed for Chocobo Racing!
Original Final Fantasy XIV players won’t lose too much in the switch over.
For those of you who persevered through FFXIV’s problems - I can’t decide if you’re heroes or fools - and are worried as to what is going to happen to your character and inventory once FFXIV:ARR launches: fret not. Yoshida knows just how painful it would be to lose your hard earned loot and progress, and stated that 98% of your character data will be carried over. But if you’re not happy with the changes, Yoshida wants you to tell him what’s making you so sad and how he can fix that. No, he won’t give you 100,000 gil, but maybe you can have a baby chocobo pet if you’re super nice.
The difference is astonishing - but is it enough?
There’s still a lot of features I didn’t get a chance to test - guild life, auction house transactions, PvP - and I’m eager to see just how well the new server copes with a bigger compliment of gamers than a room full of journalists. But given what I’ve played so far, I’m honestly surprised at just how different FFXIV: A Realm Reborn is from it’s mangled predecessor. It actually feels like an MMO, and plays a lot more naturally than expected. Yoshida-san is clearly very aware of what went wrong and what needed changing, and his passion genuinely shows in the final product. What worries me is whether or not it’s just too late for changes - whether this rehaul is enough to coax cynical gamers back to Eorzea. So far, A Realm Reborn feels like the game that should’ve been released back in 2010, and if it had, it would’ve been a serious contender in the MMO genre. Now? We’ll just have to wait and see.
FFXIV: A Realm Reborn launches mid-2013, and is currently accepting registration for beta testing. Click here to sign up.