I have a confession to make: I have never played an MMORPG before. Ever. Shocking, right? But it’s not that weird, especially considering that I grew up in a time where this genre wasn’t as popular as it is now. So by the time games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI came out, I had already pigeon-holed myself into a single player JRPG, platformer, fighting, action-adventure game niche. I was happy in it too. I didn’t have to rely on other characters to advance, didn’t have to put up with egos, trolls and just plain weirdos that I kept hearing about from many other MMO players. It was just me and my controller.
I probably would have stayed that way forever but for some reason, A Realm Reborn just drew me in. I was of course one of the many people who laughed when Square Enix’s original Final Fantasy XIV blew up in their face, especially since my eldest brother purchased the limited edition on day one, played it, hated it and immediately uninstalled it, vowing to never play the game again. However, hearing about the massive turnaround of the game made me wonder if Square Enix could really pull off a re-release. After I received the PS3 beta code literally the night before phase 3 started, I woke up at 5am to play the beta like a normal, well-adjusted person and began the quite excellent character creation process. That over, I stepped into the world of Final Fantasy XIV and never looked back.
Following the really weird opening, I was introduced to the cutest little guide and soon enough set out on my own. I immediately started on a multitude of quests since I suddenly began to suffer from single player game withdrawal. The city of Ul’dah seemed almost too huge, with tons of NPCs and even more players. Eventually I headed outside to try out the combat.
My character, Helenia, was a Pugilist because I hate thinking too much in a battle. At first, I didn’t even realize that she had special attacks so my first fights were just me using auto-attack and praying the enemy didn’t kill me. I happened to go into the menu and saw that Helenia had all these awesome moves. Then I fumbled with the PS3 Cross Hot Bar for a bit, and combat became a surprisingly easy matter of learning which attacks chained into which stances. Cross Hot Bars were a godsend and they made combat so fluid and fast. Instead of pressing some random button combo, I could simply set different attacks into whatever slot was most comfortable for me. Naturally I got too cocky and ended up dying at level one to a level five enemy.
During my journey I discovered how much fun FATEs were. FATEs are these awesome and random slugfests that are either against multiple enemies or one big boss. The first FATE I ever participated in was the boss Cactuar Jack one and my mind was blown. For the first time, I was actually cooperating with all these other players I’ve never met before and relying on them to help me damage the foe or to heal me when my health lowered. Then once the fight was over, everyone briefly basked in the glory of the victory and then scattered when the magic of the mood broke.
Another miraculous thing I discovered was that players often cooperated spontaneously. I had always thought players only work together in raids and long boss fights; even the FATEs made sense to me because it was like a surprise boss. But one time I received some much needed aid in the unlikeliest place. I was completing the mission “In the Court of the Rat King” and had found nearly all the gem coffers but of course one still eluded me. The coffer was smack in the middle of a Qiqirn Shellsweeper encampment and as a lot of players might know, they loved to aggro (look I’m using MMO terms) at the same time and slaughter you.
Being the stubborn fool I was, I tried my hand at the mission again. This time I wasn’t alone. Another player (the character’s name was Lavania I believe) was a Thaumaturge and also trying the same mission. I noticed the player casting spells on the Shellsweeper so I decided to join and support them. We slowly made out way inside the camp, cautiously taking out Shellsweepers a few at a time, Lavania casting sleep and elemental magic and me using my Pugilist’s melee attacks and soaking up damage. Finally we came to the last coffer and claimed our prize. With our mission accomplished, we took out more Shellsweepers for fun before finally going our separate ways, but not before I gave Lavania a bow as thanks for the very successful partnership (call me corny but Lavania deserved at least that much).
During the storyline, I also met this cool guy:
More quests, Fates, plot and general tomfoolery later, and my first weekend of the A Realm Reborn beta was over.
During my second week of the beta, I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of Ul’dah. The following happened when I was traveling around Eastern Thanalan. In the distance, I saw this beautiful amber structure, which I assumed to be a part of the background and subsequently put it out of my head. Somehow, through sheer luck, I managed to randomly stumble upon the area, which was called Burning Walls. The amber structures I had seen from afar were actually paths made of crystals. It was breathtaking to see. There was even a gorgeous waterfall called Burgundy Falls and the sound of the rushing water was soothing enough to almost put me to sleep. Of course that area had extremely high leveled monsters. Most of them didn’t bother me – except for the level 40-42 Mirror Wings that were aggro a**holes (for reference, I was level 15 at this point). I managed to evade them for a while as I explored but then they caught up with me and well…my sight-seeing was over. For now at least.
The other areas I discovered were amazing as well. One of my favorite things to do was talk to NPCs and find out their stories. The amount of detail that each character held in their small lives made me feel like I was speaking with actual human beings.
Finding out how silly the players could be was also a real joy. One time in Ul’dah’s Steps of Nald, I spotted four characters in their underwear; three were Roegadyn males and one was a Lalafell boy. They were all using the dance, laugh and jubilant emotes. In the middle of the square. It was amazing. To top it off, their names were Big stache, Super stache, Epic stache and Micro stache. Funny enough, I just happened upon the area and was right about to teleport when I heard the strange noises, and lo and behold…
My third week, I progressed further in the story and was finally able to explore other areas in Eorzea. Gridania was probably my favorite region of the three–the natural yet intricate forests were gorgeous to look upon while traveling (and it doesn’t hurt that my favorite Levemete, a timed mission, happened to be there too):
I also enjoyed Limsa Lominsa’s grand and sweeping architecture:
The nod at Final Fantasy VII with the tropical area called Costa Del Sol was great too:
In my final week, I was finally able to try out the Duty Finder feature, thanks to DualShockers’ Reviews Editor Chad, his friend and one additional random player. I tried to recruit players for the Sastasha dungeon during the third week of beta, but it soon became apparent that you actually need friends (later on I found out that simply allowing for more languages would have gotten me some party members…). We ended up completed the first three dungeons in one night– Sastasha, The Tam-Tara Deepcroft and Copperbell Mines. Luckily, Helenia’s job class was perfect for beginners like me, since she was a consistent damage dealer that drew little hate from enemies. According to Chad, I was excellent at my role in battle and much better than many veterans he played with. What an amazing thing to be told.
While I’m not so sure I could out perform any true veterans, I do know I was better than the second Pugilist we played with; they were convinced that their character was a tank and kept fighting foes alone until Chad’s friend (the actual tank) put a stop to it. It turned out the Duty Finder dungeons really brought out my greed because as soon as I spotted a treasure chest, nothing else mattered. Even to the point of ignoring a battle going on right behind my character until I heard everyone’s laughter through Skype.
I rounded up my playthrough with more exploration, plot and quests. I wish I would have gone to that “Phase 3 Ending” beach party in the Coeurl server though, but since my first and only character was in Leviathan I was being stubborn and wanted to end everything with her.
My experiences with this game have been downright magicial. If you had told me ten years ago that an MMO would be this much fun, I would have laughed and gone back to playing Soul Calibur. Now I see how much a great community can enhance an already great game. I look forward to more amazing memories with everyone in A Realm Reborn.