Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (Part 2) Hands On Preview

Welcome back to the Travel Log, an ongoing look at Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. This series of previews, impressions, and stories will ultimately culminate in a review of the finished game. In the previous edition, I talked about the improved character creation, tutorial, and quest structure. Now it’s time to talk about the bread and butter of any MMORPG: combat and farming!

If you’ve followed Final Fantasy XIV at all, you likely already know that the starting classes share traits with those classic FF jobs, but have entirely different names and behave somewhat differently than you may expect. So far, I’ve spent most of my time as a pugilist. This class shares a lot of DNA with the monk job from Final Fantasy XI, and since I leveled it so much in that game I thought it would give me a great chance to compare the newer fighting mechanics.

A Realm Reborn steps closer towards PC-centric MMORPGs by providing a slew of abilities to use as characters level up. I’m torn about this at the moment. On one hand, there is more to do at any given point in a battle, but on the other the game becomes much more of a button pushing affair. Final Fantasy XI had far fewer abilities, but by and large they were very situational and players built very specific battle plans around them. Time will tell if that happens with Final Fantasy XIV, but at least for the ten levels that I played as a pugilist it definitely felt like I was just pushing buttons to do more damage.

Thankfully, there is a lot of care that’s gone into the way that the pugilist’s abilities flow into each other. Much like a fighting game, the pugilist has moves that put him into a certain battle stance. These stances add additional effects, such as increasing damage output or speeding up attacks. Flowing from stance to stance in the correct order unleashes these passive buffs, and also creates special combo effects. It certainly gave me more to do than my monk in FF XI, but most of the time I really didn’t need to go through all of that effort, as enemies would fall to me with little trouble.

Items are far more useful than they ever were in Final Fantasy XI, and this is a huge improvement for me. Items in that game were way too expensive for how little they helped with healing, but in A Realm Reborn it’s possible to stock up on potions and venture out solo, confident in the knowledge that you can heal your wounds. Hit points also regenerate at a steady clip outside of combat, a huge boon to anyone that remembers the lengthy healing times of Final Fantasy XI. So far, I’m very pleased with the improvements to the combat systems in A Realm Reborn. I spent a little time with the gladiator and archer classes, but they didn’t seem nearly as fun as pugilist.

I typically dislike farming and crafting in my games. There was a time in Final Fantasy XI when I dreamed that my tarutaru monk would be a wealthy fisherman. Later, I envisioned my elvaan dark knight as a successful alchemist, because that sounded suitably dark knighty, right? In both cases, I gave up, as I had neither the patience nor the in-game capital to make these dreams a reality.

Crafting and farming is handled in a completely different way for A Realm Reborn. Once you hit level ten, you gain access to the armory system, which allows players to change classes on the fly by equipping different weapons. Complete sets of gear can be easily mapped to the hotbar, which does away with pesky armor changing macros that FF XI endgame players know all too well. Before you can switch classes you’ll need to register at the appropriate guild, and this includes the guilds pertaining to gathering and crafting.

I chose the mining guild, and I fully expected to loathe it as I have in other MMO games. Little did I know that I would not only not hate it, but I kind of love it. Pickaxe in hand, I ventured out into the starting area, since I was once again level 1. Using the miner’s search ability I was able to seek out nearby seams that were ripe for mining. In Final Fantasy XI, mining points were few and far between, and the only way to know where to find them was trial and error. Thanks to the handy mini map, these points of interest were easily spotted.

Checking a mining seam brings up a secondary menu, which lists all of the possible items that can be obtained by mining that point, along with the percentage of success for each one. I was blown away. In FF XI, you’d mine the point, and you may or may not get anything. The mining spot would vanish, sometimes with a broken pickaxe for your trobles. The miners in A Realm Reborn actually gain experience from the act of mining, and successful sequential strikes adds an exp bonus. The fun doesn’t stop there, as I was also able to go out and kill monsters with my pickaxe. If things got too hairy I could simply put my pugilist gear back on, and once again be a level ten martial artist.

Color me highly impressed so far. I expected the battle system to be better, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the farming elements so much. When the game finally launches I can totally see myself going deep on the farming and crafting side of things, which is something that I normally wouldn’t even consider.

The open beta for A Realm Reborn begins soon, so why not jump in and take a look? I think you may be surprised at just how good this game is shaping up to be. Come back soon as I begin to play the game in earnest, and stay tuned for our definitive review.