Did you know that the award-winning MMO Final Fantasy XIV has a free trial including the entirety of A Realm Reborn and the first expansion, Heavensward, with unlimited play up to level 60 on most available classes? Yes? Great. Now with that out of the way, I want to talk about what you actually get when your friends sell you on this sack of magic beans. As someone with no experience playing MMOs and a general aversion to playing games with strangers, I had my preconceptions about what I was getting into. Most of what I believed has gone out the window over the past year. At my lowest point, I averaged a stupid amount of playtime per day. While the experiences are still fresh in my memory I wanted to make a few points from the sober perspective of someone who hasn’t been huffing the fumes pumping out of the Square-Enix data centers for the past near-decade of service this game has seen, particularly now as more and more players migrate over to the rolling green fields and golden shores of Eorzea. In no particular order of importance, this is what every sprout* should know to mitigate the pain of suffering through FFXIV’s early game content.
(*What is a sprout? A sprout is a new player with less than 168 hours of playtime and hasn’t beaten the final quest in the Heavensward expansion. Sprouts are easy to identify by the sprout icon next to their name.)
A Realm Reborn Is Bad
There’s no talking around it, ARR is simply not a good experience for any one that enjoys RPGs in any capacity. Perhaps eight years ago, when this was the only content people could run, someone could make a passable excuse like, “it’s probably going to get better.” And compared to FFXIV 1.0, ARR must have seemed like GOTY, all years. Obviously, it did “get better.” Otherwise there wouldn’t be three expansions and a fourth being released later this year. Anyone who isn’t aware of the history behind the doomed original release of the game in 2010 probably won’t appreciate how workably mediocre ARR is, to the point where enough people had renewed faith in Square Enix to turn their fortune around and save the franchise and the company from financial ruin after the debacle that was the original FFXIV.
A Realm Reborn is both a miraculous phoenix fable of game development and an underwhelming 6/10 piece of media that might make you reconsider the whole idea of getting into FFXIV. Today, ARR is excess baggage that can’t be excised. You will spend most of your first 50 hours shoveling Chocobo shit for hundreds of named NPCs that you will forget as soon as you move to the next region. Occasionally, your character gets a whiff of glory by standing next to important recurring story NPCs who will offer you the chance to prove yourself by walking 30 malms that-a-way and slaying anywhere between 3 to 5 sewer rats. If you’re like me and you have a brainworm that forces you to clear all optional quests before pushing the story along, you will begrudgingly slay as many rats as is asked of you and you will also rue the day you decided to install FFXIV for the first couple of weeks or so.
The story itself is pretty ehh, or at least it is in ARR. You are the chosen one blessed with the gift of Hydaelyn and thus you are tasked with the noble duty of subjugating the local wildlife who apparently haven’t taken very kindly to the presence of imperialist boots and machinery despoiling the land. It’s a lot of nonsense about primals and crystals, light and hope fighting darkness, and the heads of nation-states gathering around tables to discuss taxes and trade routes or something. Yeah, we all know Final Fantasy is heavily inspired by Star Wars, but early on it seems the writers weren’t very discerning about what elements from which to draw inspiration.
Ultimately, I was won over after the hundreds of mouse clicks it took to get through the initial churn. And through my immeasurable tolerance for dull JRPG clichés, I eventually made it out of base game and reached the first batch of patch content that serves as a denouement as well as the prologue to Heavensward. More or less immediately, I was hit with a considerable bump in quality in the script, as if the development team had taken feedback received on ARR to heart and became inspired to make something more than a middling riff on everyone’s least favorite George Lucas film. Nothing can make up for all the faffing about that the game subjects players to at the onset, but if video game RPG plot is your thing, rest assured that it does, eventually, get better … if only after an obnoxious amount of time.
The Game Won’t Teach You How to Play Properly
XIV avoids doing a bad job of teaching new players how to play their class by simply not teaching them anything at all, outside of some of the most elementary mechanics that people could probably have figured out themselves. I can’t stress enough how important it is to learn your class, especially if you’re like me and you have no idea what you’re doing because you’ve never played an MMO. My own enjoyment of the game improved greatly once I understood my role in a party, but in order to get there, I had to study a little on my own outside of the game.
Before I go off on the subject, I do want to mention that a lot of what goes into the criteria of “good” play is strictly theoretical if founded on solid principles. Pretty much anyone can learn how to play badly enough to get through story content with minimal repercussions, and that’s the extent of what the majority of veteran players will come to expect from sprouts. My first time walking into a dungeon with a basic set of tools was enough to fry my brain trying to both keep up and learn on the fly, and so I had to deal with newfound anxiety the moment I recognized where I was failing my assigned party. However, approaching FFXIV like it’s e-sports goes truly above and beyond what is needed to clear normal content.
One of the worst parts of FFXIV is that there are few obvious opportunities in the first 100 hours to distinguish when you’re playing well versus when you’re simply tagging along for the ride. You can get by with button mashing for a long, long time. Veteran players will carry your dead weight without much effort since their items are jacked up and they can roll early-game content before you even reach the boss arena. Even when you think you’re starting to get a grasp on things, a good number of skills that will make your preferred class functional will be locked to higher levels, meaning you’ll have no idea how your class will play at level 60 based on how it handles at level 30.
For the time being, chill and don’t get too worked up about performing well until you’ve moved on from the free content. If you wipe in a dungeon, it’s not the end of the world. If you make the mistake of walking into a floating ball of party-wide death during a boss encounter, someone in party chat will likely chime in with some advice on how to deal with certain battle mechanics. Most everyone will agree that it’s better to play with someone new and willing to learn than it is to play with someone with a bad attitude, no matter how good they might be.
Eorzea Is a People
And, boy howdy, are the people that play this game some outright characters. If “Best Community” were a prize handed out every year, perhaps the FFXIV community would win by virtue of being the loudest people in the room. There’s definitely value in a social game with a positive and helpful community, but to claim that everyone you meet in the game is your next best friend would be an exaggeration.
The truth is that most of the people playing this game want to be left alone to quietly do their thing. There are lots of things to do, and chatting is time away from doing those things. Social etiquette goes out the window in certain areas in the game, like Limsa Lominsa Lower Decks — a den of depravity infested with dommy bunny mommies spanking horny lalafells before the eyes of anyone passing by the Aetherite plaza. Aside from these designated pervert corrals, the most interaction you might have with another player won’t go further than a “gg” or an emote. The number of fellow sprouts I encountered fell drastically by the time I got to Heavensward, but they’ll still be out there, dropping a o/ in party chat before a dungeon. ARR might be tedious but you’ll appreciate the guardrails it provides between you and the potentially super-toxic players that try to get ahead by begging for loot and gil.
While you can go full Kirito and solo the game if you really want to, even someone like me who occasionally breaks out in hives if I have to write an email will admit that FFXIV is only as good as the people you play with. In that case, you’ll want to join a free company (FC) sooner than later. If you play long enough, you’ll be inundated with unsolicited requests from other players to join their FC. And while I can’t vouch for FCs operating without any standards for recruitment, it is the fastest way to meet a bunch of people who will never talk in FC chat.
It’s “Free” as in “Free Lunch”
(Smugly) Meaning, there’s no such thing as “free.” Yeah, I had to take an economics class in high school too.
Someone at a big corporation labored to make the slab of lunchmeat known as ARR, so of course there’s a catch or two to all the benefits of being a free-to-play player. The limitations set on trial players won’t be apparent for a good, long while. Players will feel the max gil cap long before hitting the max level allowed for F2P, and even then, someone who has played long enough to max out their gil has been playing long enough to consider paying the subscription fee and moving on to the standard edition of the game.
The actual worst catch for F2P players is being locked out of all the social features that make the game worth playing for the long haul. You can’t make friends outside of the other F2P cat boys loitering for hours in Limsa’s public chat, you can’t use the market board to buy and sell items with other players, and you can’t even create a party to crush the ARR content with your real-life friends that have been playing for years. The commonly accepted reason is that all these limitations exist to counter the bots that would exploit the free trial to farm items and gil. I caved in and bought standard before reaching Heavensward but shoutouts to all the F2Ps out there that believe they can finesse Square-Enix out of hundreds of hours of content.
Have Fun!!! :DDDDD
This should go without saying, but yeah, the most important thing in FFXIV is to have fun. Being adequately prepared for all the parts that are not fun is also just as important. It’s easy to lose heart when you don’t have any driving motivation to keep hammering away at the tedium on the off-chance that you’ll start to enjoy it. There are a lot of great single-player RPGs out there, some of them are even Final Fantasy games, and the reasons why people play those games are very different from why people play FFXIV. Some people need instant gratification, some people want to master simple tasks that build to a complex and engrossing experience, and some others wish for nothing more than to slay three to five sewer rats and tick away another quest in their journal. People with no idea what they want might as well start with the rats.
So have fun. And if you’re not having fun, stick with it for at least 100 more hours. And if you’re still not having fun after that, consider asking yourself what it is that you want out of the game. The philosophical questions of why we play certain games and not others are going to be different from person to person, and if the end result of your pondering is that you straight up hate FFXIV, then embrace that uniqueness and go forth to find the big, popular game that’s right for you. As for me, I’m going to grind more story content with my heterochromia cat girl so I can eventually run the Nier collaboration content. My sprout icon will soon disappear from my name but I will carry the memory of being an ignorant little turd for as long as I play FFXIV.