Now is the time to start playing ‘Final Fantasy XIV’

How to get started in ‘A Realm Reborn’

Like many of you, I have been foolish. For many years, my Twitter mutuals and close friends have extolled the virtues of the Square Enix massively multiplayer online role-playing game Final Fantasy XIV, and I didn’t listen. At best, I gave it my curiosity during games industry events, interested as to why hundreds were lining up at Gamescom to beat a boss in-person and get a T-shirt to commemorate the occasion.

It’s only now as we approach Endwalker – the conclusive expansion of the 2010 game’s first major saga – that I’ve found myself fully committed to it, and bloody hell, is it brilliant. I certainly have a lot of catching up to do, but the good thing is that I couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

XIV is in an extremely strong and accessible position right now, riding the widespread critical acclaim of its last expansion Shadowbringers and an incredible amount of goodwill sown among the game’s growing community over the years. Final Fantasy XIV’s legacy is indelibly tied to a fascinating redemption story, one that deserves to be heard by all.

Essentially, the maligned original 2010 version of XIV was reinvented just years later in 2013. A red moon crashed into Eorzea, the servers perished and a realm was reborn thanks to the work of the now-beloved Naoki Yoshida and his team, who took over and turned XIV into what it is today. You can hear the full story by listening to this humbling, brutally honest postmortem Yoshida-san delivered at GDC. It certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for MMORPG game development, and how brilliant XIV turned out. Yoshida-san impressed so much with the revival that the hard grafter is now producing Final Fantasy XVI, the next single-player title in Square’s flagship series.

Final Fantasy XIV
Final Fantasy XIV. Credit: Square Enix

But how do you get into it? Well, to parrot one of the community’s favourite memes, it does offer a free trial up to Level 60 across PlayStation, Mac and PC that includes the first expansion, Heavensward. For some context on that, I’ve spent tens of enjoyable hours playing already and I’m only Level 35. At the moment, it’s serving me Bloodborne vibes as I solve murder-mysteries and rewarding me for joining a merry band of pirates. I’m coming to terms with its gorgeous, gargantuan world, and my cat boy bard protagonist is starting to find his place in a gripping narrative. From procedural roguelike dungeons to instanced, high-quality boss battles, the sheer breadth of content that is on offer for free is really staggering, given its quality.

Perhaps the greatest boon to new recruits at this particular moment is that Square Enix recently substantially trimmed the base game of Final Fantasy XIV (A Realm Reborn). This has improved accessibility and will help players get to the meatiest storytelling and gameplay morsels that XIV has to offer in a more efficient fashion. By cutting out some tiresome fetch quests and tightening up the story, you’ll be on to the revered expansions in better time than usual, if you’ve been keen to give it a go.

Endwalker is expected to launch in Fall 2021, so you’re in a really good spot if you’d like to make XIV your new game right now. With some elbow grease, you can certainly get in on the ground floor when the new content launches, if you’re bothered about joining the zeitgeist.

What if you’ve never played an MMO before though? Well, I would argue that XIV is a really good place to start. PC is naturally the major platform for the game, but I’ve actually found myself hooked on the PlayStation version, played with a controller. The game can be comprehensively tweaked to your liking, and after watching some YouTube videos and getting my HUD preened and my button and hotbar configuration in check, it just feels like a gigantic, incredibly good-looking Final Fantasy adventure, except with plenty of my real friends in tow. This may be an easier pathway into MMOs for the devout console players among us.

There may be compromises later down the line, but no-one is forcing you into any certain playstyle either. It can be a super slow burn at your leisure if you want it to, and the fact it doesn’t lock you into any particular role early on means you’re always able to pivot at any time. Just simply swap your weapon to another type and you can start levelling that class if your current one is getting boring. I’m no Final Fantasy veteran so don’t worry about knowing the franchise lore before starting either. There are some cute references baked into the story, but nothing that requires any real outside reading. It’s a contained tale and a brilliant one at that!

If you do decide to make the jump, there are a few important tips to consider. As a new MMO player, it can be tempting to just spam your abilities until mobs perish, but this does a serious disservice to the game’s nuanced combat. Once you start to feel a commitment brewing, study all of your action descriptions to get an idea of how they work and what your rotation of inputs should be. From there, you can start thinking about how you can benefit your fellow party members in a dungeon.

Final Fantasy XIV
Final Fantasy XIV. Credit: Square Enix

For me, this is where the game really became something special, when I realised how much of an asset I could be to my team if I put in the effort. To make the grind easier, you may want to stack up on XP buffs in the early game. If you have a friend who plays, use their recruitment code to unlock a Friendship Circlet (+20% XP) and make sure you complete the Hall of the Novice trials at Level 15 to unlock the Brand-new Ring (+30% XP). If you’re really bothered, you could even buy the Abes or High Summoner’s Attire (Both +30% XP) from the Mog Station to get you to Level 30 ASAP. Eating food also provides a +3% XP buff, so keep chomping eggs as you roam the open-world to make things easier.

Then, the only thing you need is this extremely important webpage, which explains all of the game’s level-locked content, providing a solid spine to your progression through XIV. Bookmark it and refer to it all the way through to Level 50. Always do your job quests every five levels to get new abilities and specialize (I was an Archer who became a Bard) and make sure to complete any blue plus-marked quests you see on the map too, as they will unlock new features. Side quests can be avoided as you push through the Main Scenario Quests because the game is incredibly long, but honestly, you do you!

It helps that XIV has one of the friendliest communities around too. There’s a busy Novice Network full of mentors keen to coach new players through the game, and so many explainers and guides freely available on the internet to help you get acquainted with your class. With all of this in mind, there really is no better time to start playing Final Fantasy XIV than right now. We’re approaching one of the most exciting periods in the game’s history, and if you want to be around when it all goes down, there’s still time for you to catch up!

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