Welcome to the end of the decade; the end of the 2010s; Al at Decade’s End. This is a miniseries where I celebrate the past ten years in video games, starting by talking about my favourite games from each year, and ending with the end-of-year extravaganza for 2019! The games I talk about here might not necessarily be the best of the decade, but they sure left the best impressions on me for one reason or another. And so, without any more delay, we begin our look at 2013!
Final Fantasy XIV has quite the Cinderella story behind it. From humble beginnings as one of the worst MMORPGs ever created, it would eventually become one of the best. It wasn’t a case of just simply slowly updating the game until it was good enough either. After the extremely poor reception of this game’s initial release in 2010, a completely different game director was brought in to look at the game from a different perspective compared to those who worked on the live game and to do what had to be done to fix it. What followed from this was something virtually unheard of in gaming. Not only was the decision made to scrap the game completely and rebuild it from the ground up, they also applied the scorched earth approach in a near-literal sense. Instead of just quietly shutting down servers and rereleasing the game whenever it was ready, a disaster of cataclysmic proportions happened in-game to signify the end of 1.0’s lifetime: Bahamut’s awakening. An extremely powerful primal force woke up from slumber and laid waste to the world, and the servers were killed after this destructive event. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn would release in 2013, featuring a brand new game engine, combat revamped to more resemble that of World of Warcraft, and a brand new character role structure. The story of A Realm Reborn also takes place 5 years after Bahamut’s rampage, with extremely noticeable effects on the realm of Eorzea. Yup, that calamity actually happened. They killed 1.0 with fire as a sort of metaphorical admission of its failure. And it was one of the best decisions that Square Enix ever made.
I never played the 1.0 release of FFXIV. I jumped on the A Realm Reborn train as I thought it looked both interesting, and infinitely better than what I had seen from 1.0. The thing that immediately drew me towards the game was the class/job system. A single character could be every class and job class available in the game, including both combat jobs and crafting/gathering jobs. You can play multiple jobs without ever needing to make a second character, which I thought was amazing. At the time the system also offered robust cross-class options, where you could bring skills from other classes into the one you were currently playing to augment your playstyle. Cross-classing was also closely tied to jobs, where you needed to have a specific secondary class levelled up to a certain degree in order to be able to upgrade your primary class into its corresponding job. As an example, if I wanted to upgrade into the Bard job from Archer, I needed to also have Lancer at a specific level. At the time of writing this is no longer the case, but I loved how unique of an approach this was and how it encouraged the player to try different roles and classes.
The story of FFXIV feels like it’s just a massive love letter to fans of the series, and in some respects it’s comparable to the single player entries in the series. I’d even argue that the latest expansion, Shadowbringers, has one of the best Final Fantasy stories ever, but that’s a tale for another time. FFXIV has your standard MMORPG beginning where you start off as a random no-name adventurer who’s only out to make a name for themselves, but you eventually come into your own as a Warrior of Light and become a central figure in both the game’s story and the world at large. There’s a lot of story content outside of the main scenario as well, with a large number of side stories focused around certain characters, certain dungeons and raids, and even your class and job. Most of it is quite well written. This game also has one of my favourite soundtracks of all time, and it keeps getting better with each new expansion and content patch that’s released.
One major issue I’ve had with other MMOs that FFXIV addresses quite well is obsolete content. In games like World of Warcraft you’re encouraged to mostly stick with group content that’s within your own level range, with lower levelled dungeons becoming obsolete as you become stronger. FFXIV makes use of level scaling, which scales your level down relative to the content that you’re doing. You’re also encouraged, and rewarded, for doing these old dungeons and raids by throwing yourself into a roulette that picks one at random that you’ve unlocked. It provides a sense of variety that’s hard to find in other MMOs.
It’s hard to keep going with talking about Final Fantasy XIV without going into detail about some of the expansions, which I would like to avoid for now. So I’m just going to finish this with my obvious recommendation to play this game. I’ve put over 600 hours into this game, and I still consistently play it. In my honest opinion this game is the number 1 MMORPG on the market right now thanks to the sheer amount of content available, the production value, the Final Fantasy fan service, and the soundtrack. The only knock I have against this game is that at this time getting into the game can be quite daunting on account of the horrible pacing between the end of 2.0 and the beginning of 3.0, and the fact that it’s currently on its third expansion. This game is my favourite of 2013, no contest.