I had a slightly underwhelming experience with my first foray into the new and improved Final Fantasy MMO on the PS3. The hardware could barely cope with it and even when it did everything was pretty substandard. There was an impressive world at work but I felt it was destined for ‘greater’ platforms.
Fortunately Square seem to have got a handle on the connection issues that somehow plagued both the original release of FFXIV and A Realm Reborn. I created my character, selected my class and joined a server in no time. I got one disconnect down the road during a quests but I quickly reconnected and got back into the world.
Having a quick and painless entry into Final Fantasy’s world certainly makes the experience a lot easier on the nerves. By the time I actually got to move my character and have a look around on the PS3 version I was already past breaking point. Entering the world with a fresh prospective I made my way towards the first of many, many quests.
As expected it seems every single quest involves finding an item and then delivering it to the quest giver. Even many hours in I’m still performing meaningless fetch quest after meaningless fetch quest. The game that ensure MMO’s aren’t synonymous with DHL Simulator will be a huge success, but Final Fantasy XIV isn’t that game (I’m looking at you Division). Taking on hordes of challenging enemies or giant animated trees doesn’t seem to matter much when you’re dropping off some plants for some lifeless NPC.
If we’re going to be doing fetch quests it would be nice if the NPC’s have something interesting to say. Hell it’d be nice if they had anything to say. Probably the most impressive thing in The Elder Scrolls Online was the fact that every NPC had recorded speech. Sadly Final Fantasy has got barely any speech for it’s NPCs which can at times make questing a little dry. I’m not apposed to reading but when an NPC has three pages of useless commentary before actually saying anything useful it’s easy to lose interest and glaze over.
So the main appeal has to be from co-op questing. Joining up with even a small crew of random players instantly makes FFXIV more appealing. There is an inherent appeal accomplishing feats and completing quests with friends, be they real or digital only. Even without talking there is a predictable Journey-like communication between players.
In particular during FATEs (Full Active Time Event) where for a limited time players must help each other take out multiple enemies or slay a larger foe for a tasty EXP bonus silent communication is ever-present. On one such an occasion we were tasked with taking down a rather formidable tree. Things were looking very bad. I started attacking and did minimal damage as the giant shuffled towards me. With one hit it became obvious I wouldn’t last more than a minute.
But then a mêlée warrior jumped in and we at least started to damage the monster although it was still clear the fight would end soon. But then a tiny mage scuttled towards us and healed us both like there was no tomorrow. He didn’t get bored, run off and leave us to die. He didn’t get distracted and attack. He did his task without being asked, we all lived and eventually killed our enemy to reap the rewards. It was one of those moments only possible in MMO’s. A spontaneous co-op experience among comrades fighting for a common cause.
The UIs and menus benefit greatly from the PS4’s massive increase in power over the PS3 version. Everything has an increased fidelity but it doesn’t entirely stop the menus from being clunky every now and again. The PS4’s touchpad serves as a mouse to help but it’s still easy to lose your cursor and have to stop and figure out where it is. In large holding L2 and R2 to bring up your character’s abilities is easy and the UI makes it obvious how to perform the desired move. There’s still the sense that the controls aren’t native to consoles but they get the job done.
Combat allows itself to get fairly repetitive even quite early in the game. New moves and equipment try to keep things fresh but ultimately you will engage an enemy, hold a trigger and mash a face button. There’s some strategy later on when more moves are available to you but more likely than not you will find a move that works well in most situations and stick with it. Enemy design is what we’ve come to expect from the Final Fantasy series and is just as good as any single player title, but it’s not enough to maintain your interested past the 5 hour mark.
Were visuals are concerned very little, if anything, is comparable between the PS4 and PS3 versions. Textures are now flaunting their full HD capabilities and everything just looks beautiful. There isn’t a sharp edge in sight. The impressively colourful world of Eorzea lets the PS4 version show itself off with a dazzling array of colours. I don’t think there’s a colour that exists that isn’t used. Plus everything benefits massively from a lovely smooth frame rate thanks to the PS4. If you’ve only seen Final Fantasy XIV on the PS3 you haven’t seen it at all. It’s a completely different experience between platforms and the PS4 version really is the only way to see Eorzea.
Despite all the improvements there are still a few issues that run deep through Final Fantasy XIV’s core. The quests can become boring quickly, and so too can the combat. There is a reasonably comprehensive selection of character abilities but you are reliant on levelling up a required amount to earn both stats and new moves. There’s no choice or real freedom beyond choosing a class when you create a character. And if you don’t quest with friends everything is all the more stale. So much time, sooooo many fetch quests.
But still this marks another impressive entry for Final Fantasy XIV’s tarnished history. So great are the differences between the PS4 and PS3 versions that this may as well be another re-release. I certainly consider it so. If you’ve not tried FFXIV on the PS4 you’ve still not tried the ‘proper’ version. Square even allow you to port your PS3 characters across so if you’ve got access to a PS4 I’d strongly recommend giving this version a go – regardless of how much you may have already done on the PS3.