This is a copy-and-paste of my Steam Review for Final Fantasy XIV. I decided that it would be good to have it here as well for future reference, as it was extremely well received on the site.
I was very skeptic to play Final Fantasy XIV at first. Coming from Phantasy Star Online 2 back in 2015, FFXIV looked slow, stiff, and overall not challenging to play. The subscription model made it even harder to justify playing it, as I had always seen monthly subscriptions as a way to milk players' money as much as possible. When I was gifted the game by a friend (there was no free trial back then), I decided to give it a try just to confirm my thoughts. I could not have been more wrong.
Disclaimer: as of writing this, I have around 500 hours of playtime on the standalone version. I’ve played through two of the first expansions and I’m halfway through Shadowbringers.
As someone who usually ignores stories in video games as they tend to not conform to my standards, I was blown away by how captivating this game’s narrative is. It’s incredibly refreshing to come across an MMO that not only has a good story, but knows it has a good story. FFXIV has no problem throwing you 10 quests in a row where you don’t fight a single enemy, because it knows the story alone is enough to keep you interested, and it is absolutely right. Every sentence was crafted to enhance your immersion in the world through character development that goes way beyond what I’ve come to expect from JRPGs, and story beats that hit you like a truck when you least expect them. If you care in any way about story-driven video games, you cannot miss this game.
The combat, at first, is slow. You’ll be pressing the same three buttons over and over for a good couple of hours when you first start this game. While I considered it a problem as an MMO veteran when first starting out, it makes sense as an introduction to non-MMO players, or even people not used to games in general. That said, the game quickly develops on your class' toolkit giving you action after action until you have two hotbars of skills that are all universally useful in the right situations. Some of the more fast-paced classes (Ninja, Astrologian) feel like playing Dance Dance Revolution as a kid, all while dodging whatever the gigantic f*****g monster you’re fighting throws at you. I’ve not yet done end-game raid content, but from what I’ve seen of my guild mates they expand on this even further.
If you don’t play this game, it’s completely understandable to be flustered by the payment model. Paying for a game, expansions and a monthly subscription on top of that rings a siren in the ears of any sane consumer, but this is different. Final Fantasy XIV does NOT pull any tricks to keep you subscribed. You get a good game with a huge amount of content and that’s it. If you play for the story, you can subscribe while there’s story content and simply stop paying until the next patch. If you play for raids and end-game content, you can pause your sub once you’re tired or feel like playing other games.
Three years ago, a japanese player asked YoshiP (the game’s director, Naoki Yoshida) how to stay motivated to keep playing in between patches, when content naturally dries out for a little while. His response was the following:
“It’s alright not to play it everyday. Since it’s just a game, you can stop forcing yourself if it’s hard on you to keep that up. Rather, it’ll just pile up unnecessary stress if you limit yourself into playing just that one game since there are so many other games out there. So, do come back and play it to your heart’s content when the major patch kicks in, then stop it to play other games before you got burnt out, and then come back for another major patch. This will actually make me happier, and in the end, I think this is the best solution I can answer for keeping your motivation up for the game.” (source: /u/elevenmile on /r/ffxiv)
Reading this response is what made me realize what kind of experience I was paying for. In PSO2, to play end game content you have to log in at certain times of the day where such content is available, otherwise you miss out completely. After playing for years I grew resentful of the game because it felt more like a job than an enjoyment for me, yet I couldn’t quit because I’d be behind if I did. In Final Fantasy XIV, you’re experiencing the world on your own terms. No pressure, no time gated content, no manipulative tricks to keep you subscribed. If you don’t feel like playing, just don’t. The developers very clearly respect the player’s time and it shows in game.
I can’t force you to play this game, but I hope my thoughts helped you decide for yourself. Even if you ultimately decide to not play it, I recommend you watch Noclip’s FINAL FANTASY XIV Documentary on YouTube. The development cycle of FFXIV and how it went from a financial disaster to SquareEnix’s biggest hit is a great story.
See you in Eorzea, Warrior of Light.