This preview is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game
When the original version of Final Fantasy XIV Online come out, it was met with general distaste. While it was well-intended, bad design choices and its buggy release forced Square Enix to take the game off the servers last year. Since then the company has been hard at work on Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, a new MMO built from the ground up as an attempt to regain fans and give them an experience worthy of their time and money.
Now that the game is entering Phase 4 of the beta, it's time to ask... will A Realm Reborn give fans a reason to come back, or will it be another failed attempt?
Jumping into the beta, I was first treated to a beautiful opening video giving some backstory to the world of Eorzea. During a grand war, a moon falls and the elder primal Bahamut is released, wreaking havok upon the world. It isn't certain how exactly the primal is stopped, as it is muddled and misremembered constantly in the minds of the people. However, eventually Bahamut is stopped, and five years after this event (named The Calamity) is where you, as the player come in.
The opening video is pretty informative to someone like me, who did not play the original version of Final Fantasy XIV. Also, it's worthwhile to note that this backstory actually ties into the original game. The player's main quest in the original was to find a way to stop or mitigate the damage the falling moon Dalamud would cause, which eventually ended up in the player's failure, thus The Calamity.
After the video, it's time to step into the world and create a character. You can choose from five races and eight starting classes. The game assures you that you can change classes later--in fact, it's as simple as changing your equipped weapon! I did not try this myself and just stuck with my original pick of Lancer throughout my time with the beta.
The character creation process allows a lot of customization. You can tweak the appearance of your character in a grand number of fashions, insuring that your character will in fact be unique amongst the groups of players. You can also choose one of two sects out of each race, which will affect your appearance. For example, Midlander Hyur (the human race) look like a typical human, while Highlander Hyur are more muscular in build and look more like vikings.
Afterwards, you're dropped into one of Eorzea's main cities, after a cutscene introducing you more into the world. Which city depends on your race and class, and every city has a few starter quests to get you familiar with the game's flow, mechanics, and even the city's layout. The city I was in, Gridania, was a wonderful forest city, and was really just a joy to walk through as I completed the quests. It was a bit large for what the city offered, but those bored with walking could easily teleport to various areas of the city crystals and the Aethernet.
As with most MMOs, A Realm Reborn focuses a lot on completing quests. Retrieving and delivering items, beating up a set number of monsters, and other staple quests will be found here. However, there is also the neat addition of FATEs, or Full Active Time Events. They are basically world and time-sensitive events that anyone can join in on. For example, one FATE I stumbled across was to beat a large number of the newly-spawned enemy in the area. Players also get rewards based on how well they did participation wise, so you can't just get rewards for coming to the FATE and not doing anything.
For a game so focused on 'beat this number of enemies' for quests and the Hunting Log, the battle system has to be engaging and good... and that's no problem for A Realm Reborn. Combat is fluid and fast-paced, and using skills is intuitive. For 'Disciples of War' classes (basically any physical class), skills are used with TP, and for 'Disciples of Magic', their spells use MP. This can help to juggle abilities later on in the game with various class masteries, but in the time I've played in the beta, having both was not all that helpful.
My only main concern for Final Fantasy XIV is how repetitive the quests may become later on, a problem with many MMOs. However, with the game's emphasis on story, the main story quests will entertain the typical Final Fantasy crowd well enough. Also, the inclusion of party dungeons helps to keep the MMO fan busy, even when they don't feel like doing the average run of quests. It's also a boon that you level up relatively quickly, so that if you're not a high enough level to attempt the next major story or guild quest, it's only a few minor quests until you're of the right level.
Final Fantasy XIV:A Realm Reborn may still be in beta, but it's already shaping up to be a great MMO experience. The game comes out August 27th, so if this piqued your interest, consider giving A Realm Reborn a preorder!